Learn about Dakota plants (traditional food & medicinal uses) and landmarks of Dakota homelands in Mnísota through the 1861 Minnesota journey of Henry David Thoreau.

All resources are free to download and share!

Who was Henry David Thoreau?

Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) is known for his masterpiece Walden (1854), a philosophical novel of living a life close to nature, based off the two years he spent in a small cabin at Walden Pond (Massachusetts) as an “experiment in simplicity”. Over the years, Walden has inspired and informed the work of naturalists, environmentalists and writers; some even call him the “father of environmentalism”.

By immersing himself in Nature, Thoreau hoped to gain a more objective understanding of society through personal introspection. He was strongly against slavery, working in the underground railroad to help slaves escape to Canada. One of his most well-known essays “Civil Disobedience” argues that it is sometimes necessary to disobey the law in order to protest unjust government actions; it has inspired later civil rights movements led by Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.

You can read further details about his journey to Minnesota here as provided by the Minnesota Historical Society. 

Free coloring book of Dakhóta plants

Coloring book of Dakota plants inspired by the 1861 Minnesota Journey of Henry David Thoreau

This coloring book features the natives plants of Minnesota as noted by Henry David Thoreau during his 1861 journey to Minnesota. In the year before his death, he took a month long trip to the mid-west and explored the area around the Twin Cities and kept a journal of plants and animals. He was much more interested in indigenous plants then he was with meeting politicians of the time.

One of the reasons I wanted to use his journey to Minnesota as the inspiration is because of his respect for nature: Thoreau was a Transcendentalist who connected spirituality through living as a relative to Nature. Dakota people have similar philosophical views such as the Sacred Hoop and Mitákuye Owás’iŋ (we are all related) which means our existence depends on a balanced, harmonic relationship with all things.

Sources for the Dakota plant knowledge are from the First Scout Blog (secondary source), Linda Black Elk’s Culturally Important Plants of the Lakota (secondary source) and the notes of Father Eugene Buechel (primary source), a Jesuit on the Standing Rock reservation.

Places visited during his 1861 Minnesota Journey

It doesn’t seem commonly known that Thoreau visited many locations in Minnesota, especially in the Twin Cities. He came for health reasons, hoping the fresh air would help his ailments.

During his time here explored the area around the Twin Cities with his friend Horace Mann, Jr. He traveled along the Wakpá Tháŋka (Mississippi River), stopping in Bde Óta Othúŋwe (Minneapolis) and Imnížaska Othúŋwe (St Paul); while there, he visited Owámniyomni (St. Anthony Falls), Wíta Tópa Bde (Lake of the Isles), Bde Makhá Ska (formerly Lake Calhoun), Bde Umáŋ (Lake Harriet), Mní Iȟpáyedaŋ (Minnehaha Falls), and Bdóte (Pike Island). He traveled down the Mnísota Wakpá (Minnesota River) and saw the Dakota people at the Lower Sioux Agency; he rightly predicted in his journal that their mistreatment by the US government would lead to a war (Dakota War of 1862).

Before returning to his home in Massachusetts, he climbed Ȟemníčhaŋ (Barn Bluff) in Red Wing where he read his mail, wrote in his journal of the natural beauty of Tháŋka Bdé (Lake Pepin) and ate Wažúšteča (wild strawberries). His journals offer scientific and poetic studies of the indigenous plants he saw growing throughout his Minnesota journey.

I created two Dakota landmaps where you can find these locations for yourself! You can also explore other placenames as you learn about the past, present and future of Dakota people in the area. 


Dakota Landmaps & audio pronunciation

These are two Dakota land maps which tell the past, present and future of Dakota people and language. There are 8.5″ x 11″ prints available for download. You can visit the Dakota land map page for information on ordering larger sizes if desired. Also, I included the Dakota pronunciation of the place names Thoreau visited in Minnesota. All pronunciations can be found on the land maps page as well.

  1. Minneapolis & St Paul Download 8.5″ x 11″ free print ]
  2. Prairie Island • Red Wing • Winona Download 8.5″ x 11″ free print ]

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