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Prescott Family Monument Mary Prescott:

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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