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Nebraska...Our Towns

SANTEE -- KNOX COUNTY

The history of Village of Santee is unique. While it is one of Nebraska's very early settlements, it is one of the latest to incorporate.

It is said that members of the Santee Sioux Indian tribe were responsible for "the great Minnesota massacre in 1862." As a result of this, they were banished to the northwestern plains along the Crow Creek area in the Dakota Territory, where they experienced much suffering.

On February 27, 1866, President Abraham Lincoln withdrew a 115,000-acre tract of land from the market in the Nebraska Territory on which to provide the Santee with "a more suitable home." With the help of the government, the remaining Santee nation, 1,350 in number, came to the beautiful but rugged land along the Missouri River in Knox County. The final boundaries, determined in 1869, enclosed an area 12 miles wide and 15 miles from north to south.

In 1868 the first of many agents, all members of the Society of Friends (Quakers), was appointed to the reservation. This dedicated but strict sect worked with the Santee to help them adjust to "more civilized customs."

The first missionaries arrived by steamboat in 1870. Their mission was to establish a school, both for religious instruction and industrial training. It was hoped that graduates would not only become Christians, but also go on to teach others some of the useful skills they learned. They established the Santee Normal Training School, and built separate cottages for boys and girls. A shoe shop, carpenter shop, and blacksmith shop were constructed as time and money became available. By 1885 there were 18 buildings situated on 480 acres.

The Santee, however, preferred living in tents and dressing in their native costumes, complete with tomahawk and scalping knife, rather than in the frame houses, citizen's clothing, and work with farming tools and pencils that were available to them. After many years, however, farming was accepted, with 150 families able to plow, plant, and reap without assistance. By the early 1880s the Santee were nearly self-supporting, with only one-fourth of their support being contributed by the government.

A newspaper, "Iapi Oaye" or "The Word Carrier," printed partly in English and partly in the Dakota language, was published at the Santee Agency. Established in May 1871 about 1,200 copies were circulated each week.

A number of businesses provided for training and services to the village. In addition to the schools and work shops, there were two warehouses, a machine shop, a saw-mill, a smoke house, an ice-house, a physician's office, a harness shop, a grist-mill, two granaries, and an office.

There was, however, a major obstacle that made progress toward the goals of the mission difficult. Santee Indians were not able to acquire a title to their lands. In 1873 nearly 300 Santee moved to Fladreau, Dakota, to take up homesteads at that location instead of continuing to live and work the land on the reservation.

The settlement at Santee continued to centered around the mission and normal training school that operated until 1928. Discontinued for a time, there is now a community college operating at that location.

A post office, established in the 1860s, was discontinued in 1956, with mail now coming out of Niobrara.

The records show that the Village of Santee became incorporated on February 18, 1974, making it one of Nebraska's newest towns. The current population is listed at 412. Among the offices of the village board there is one titled, "tribal business manager." Also unique is the fact that there is no tax levy for the community.

 

Material gathered by J. Graff