The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 4, 2011

Chief Sleepy Eye’s possession returns home

By Tanner Kent
Free Press Staff Writer

SLEEPY EYE — To hear Karyn Douglas Cissell tell the story, a peace pipe has a spirituality of its own — and this one always intended to return to Sleepy Eye.

The official record, of course, will show that Douglas Cissell — the fourth great-granddaughter of Chief Sleepy Eye, the man for whom the Brown County town is named — contacted the Sleepy Eye Area Historical Society and offered to return the pipe to the same city where its original owner is buried.

But the spiritual record, Douglas Cissell said, will tell a different tale.

“It’s been very special and we’ve been very honored to have the pipe in our family,” said Douglas Cissell, a resident of Palm Desert, Calif., who visited Minnesota for the first time on Saturday to present the peace pipe.

“But the pipe wanted to be here.”

The pipe in this case is one that belonged to Chief Sleepy Eye. It is fashioned in two pieces and made from pipestone. Since Chief Sleepy Eye died in 1860, the object is at least 150 years old, yet hardly shows wear.

 The pipe was last seen in 1972, when Cissell’s grandfather (and Sleepy Eye’s great great grandson) Lazarus Adams was given the pipe during the city’s week-long centennial celebration, for which he was grand marshal.

Prior to that, the pipe was believed lost for good. And to this day, no one is sure who gave the pipe to Adams.

But before he died, he gave the pipe to Cissell’s mother. She, in turn, gave the pipe to Cissell’s brother.

Cissell came into possession of the pipe after her brother died last year. Having no descendants of her own and being the last of Sleepy Eye’s lineage, Cissell felt compelled to restore the pipe to its final resting place near Chief Sleepy Eye’s burial site.

“Seeing how Chief Sleepy Eye is so revered here, I know this is where the pipe should be,” Cissell said. “We’ve been blown away by the (historical society’s) enthusiasm and excitement to receive it.”

The pipe is now on display at the Sleepy Eye Depot Museum. Just outside the museum is the tall, granite obelisk that stands above Chief Sleepy Eye’s remains. Across the street, his likeness is cast in a large, bronze statue near the post office.

“He is always watching over our city,” said Sleepy Eye Mayor Jim Broich.

Chief Sleepy Eye was born in 1780 near Swan Lake in Nicollet County. He was not a hereditary chief, but rather commissioned by the Bureau of Indian Affairs because of his compassion and friendly relationships with traders and settlers.

He met with President James Monroe in 1824 and signed four treaties in his lifetime — including the Traverse des Sioux Treaty, which he did reluctantly according to historical reports.

Following the so-called Spirit Lake Massacre in 1857, Chief Sleepy Eye and his people were asked to move to a reservation near Sleepy Eye Lake. He died and was buried in South Dakota in 1860.

In 1902, however, his remains were disinterred and brought to the city that bears his name.

Judy Beech, a member of the Sleepy Eye Area Historical Society, said the organization is excited to put the pipe on display.

Anthony Morse, site manager for the Lower Sioux Agency, attended the presentation ceremony and said Chief Sleepy Eye would be pleased.

“What we’re doing today is a very good thing,” he said.