Like Father, Like Son:

Rev. Alfred Riggs

“The [Dakotas] we have come to conquer are themselves furnishing recruits for this war, so that we, the sons of the mission, stand among them as captains of the host and our fathers are as generals.” - Rev. Alfred Riggs

Rev. Alfred Riggs (1837-1916)

Credit: South Dakota State Historical Society

In June of 1870, Rev. Alfred Longley Riggs traveled to northeastern Nebraska to establish an Indian boarding school at the Santee Sioux reservation. Accompanied by his family, Riggs was greeted by a group of Santee men upon arrival. His wife Mary later wrote of the scene in her memoir:

A few Indian men stood around, for they were glad to welcome Zitkadanwśte (Goodbird), that being the name the Dakotas gave Mr. Riggs in his childhood, and he is known by that name all over the Sioux nation.

This interaction is telling of the relationship the Dakota people had with Riggs, one that began long before that summer day.

1876 Map of Nebraska. Santee is circled.

Credit: Library of Congress

Born on December 6, 1837, Alfred Riggs was destined for a life guided by the Dakota language. It was at his birthplace in present-day Chippewa County, Minnesota, where his father Stephen Riggs sought to convert the local Dakota people. 


Initially met with hostility, Stephen realized he would fail to convert the Dakota if he continued his missionary work exclusively in English, which neither interested nor motivated his students. He devoted his time to learning the Dakota language and later translated a number of religious works, including the first Dakota Bible. 

Rev. Stephen Riggs (1812-1883)

Credit: Minnesota Historical Society

Alfred also understood the Dakota language as both a legitimate form of communication and as a tool of assimilation. He saw his father's success as evidence that teaching pupils in their native language increased their assimilation to Western cultural values. 

Therefore, Alfred set up his school with the teaching of the Dakota language serving as its pedagogical foundation.  

Background Image: The Santee Normal Training School 

Credit: Santee Dakota 

This 1856 New Testament translated into the Ojibwa language is similar to what both Stephen and Alfred Riggs would have used to convert Dakota Natives.

Credit: The Logan Museum of Anthropology, Albert Heath Collection, 1991.02.001