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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

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.

1876 Map of Nebraska

1876 Map of Nebraska. Santee is circled.

Credit: Library of Congress

Stephen Riggs

Born on December 6, 1837, Alfred Riggs was destined for a life guided by the Dakota language. At his birthplace in present-day Chippewa County, Minnesota, his father Rev. 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. 

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.


Because of this, Alfred set up The Santee Normal Training School in 1870 with the teaching of the Dakota language serving as its pedagogical foundation. It would become one of the most renowned boarding schools of its time, with former student Ohiyesa Charles Eastman calling it "the Mecca of Sioux country."

Background Image: The Santee Normal Training School 

Credit: Santee Dakota 

1856 New Testament

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 Green Heath Collection

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