This article originally appeared in the Phillips community's Alley Newspaper, November 2004.
Photo: Susan Hunter Weir
Daughter of Man Who Flies, “Spirit of the Moon,” Buried Here with Son and Husband
Mary Prescott is the only known full-blooded Native American buried in
Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery. The exact date of her
birth was not recorded, but she is thought to have been born in either
1804 or 1806. Her father, Man Who Flies, was a subchief of the band of Dakotas
who lived by Lake Calhoun. The name that Mary was given by her family was
Nah-he-no-wenah, or “Spirit of the Moon.” In 1823, she became the
common-law wife of Philander Prescott, one of the first traders to provide
provisions to the soldiers at Fort Snelling. Prescott had arrived in
territorial Minnesota in 1819 and later worked as a government interpreter
and agricultural agent.
In 1823, Prescott approached Man Who Flies to ask for permission to marry
his daughter. In keeping with the custom of the times, Prescott brought
Mary's father gifts including ten blankets, a rifle, a pony, and five gallons
of whiskey. Man Who Flies took three days to agree to the marriage but it took
another ten days before Mary consented.
There are several descriptions of Mary in histories that were written by
territorial pioneers. She was known to have understood French and English
although she was only heard to speak Dakota. She was pictured as a
gracious hostess, but one who always stood silently in the background.
The marriage between Philander and Mary Prescott has been portrayed as one
of the great romances of Minnesota territorial pioneer history, and in
many ways it was.
Those descriptions of Mary Prescott, with one notable exception, seem to
have been derived from territorial pioneer Colonel John Stevens'
recollections of her. In his memoirs her husband, Philander Prescott,
described her as a far more complex person. He depicted her as a resolute
woman who remained close to her family and continued to share their values.
Mary left him on at least one occasion over a disagreement about how to raise
their bi-racial children in 1830's Minnesota. In turn, Philander left his
wife and children and went South in search of business opportunities;
two years later he returned to them. At a time when it was not uncommon
for traders to live with, but later abandon, their Native American wives
and children, Prescott observed, “Little did I think at that time that
I should live with her until old age.” The Prescott's marriage lasted
almost 40 years.
Philander Prescott was one of the casualties at the Lower Agency
during the 1862 Dakota Conflict. He was brought back to Minneapolis and
buried in Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery. After his
death Mary moved to Shakopee to live with their daughter, Lucy Pettijohn.
Mary died there on March 29, 1867. She was buried next to her husband and
their son, Lorenzo Taliferro Prescott, a Civil War veteran. Lorenzo died
from ulcers on January 2, 1869, at the age of 30.
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Samuel Howard -- December 2004