It was a most unlikely marriage, forged right after Minnesota became the nation’s 32nd state in 1858. With pre-Civil War Washington, D.C., serving as a romantic backdrop, a well-connected Dakota tribal leader in his late 30s and an English saloon waitress in her early 20s were hitched.
John Other Day — a hard-drinking warrior in his youth — converted to Christianity, assumed the white man’s farming practices and dropped his Dakota name of Anpetutokeca. White settlers would remember him as a hero for guiding 62 of them to safety when the U.S.-Dakota War erupted four years later in 1862. Dakota fighters considered him a traitor and sellout, burning his house and possessions during the six-week clash.
Back to their improbable wedlock: Other Day was among the Dakota leaders summoned to Washington for treaty talks just a month after statehood. The negotiations, to use the term loosely, lasted more than three months.
The Dakota leaders “were detained until they signed another treaty relinquishing all land north and east of the Minnesota River,” according to the Minnesota Historical Society’s 1862 war website (usdakotawar.org).
“The selling of that strip north of the Minnesota caused great dissatisfaction,” Wamditanka (Big Eagle) later said. “It caused us all to move to the south side of the river, where there was but very little game, and many of our people, under the treaty, were induced to give up the old life and go to work like white men, which was very distasteful to many.”
Despite that bitter outcome for the Dakota, the months in Washington included a trip to the theater and a costume ball with 20 senators and President James Buchanan in attendance.
The Dakota delegation even met a Turkish military entourage at a weaponry display staged at the U.S. Army’s arsenal. A Washington newspaper contrasted the face-painted, war club- and pipe-toting Dakota with the “collars, cuffs and … heavy gold embroidery” of the Turks’ uniforms.
Government leaders urged the Dakota to avoid “fire water” and womanizing during their visit. Other Day ignored the advice. He “signalized himself in debauchery,” according to one missionary and translator.
One night, Other Day became “so enamored” with a bar waitress named Roxana, he married her, according historian Gary Clayton Anderson and other accounts.
Little is known about Roxana. The Historical Society says her name was Roseanne, although her gravestone at St. Paul’s Oakland Cemetery is etched with “Roxana.” She might have been a prostitute.
Other Day “brought back with him a white woman that he took out of a house of ill-fame whom he married after he got back to the reservation,” according to Thomas Robertson, who joined the treaty delegation.
Yet another account says they were married in Washington, where Roxana worked as a hotel waitress. “She was admiring Other Day, such a fine looking man he was, when some of the other girls bantered her to marry him,” according to one pioneer’s secondhand account. Through an interpreter, they both agreed and headed west as husband and wife.
When the war broke out in 1862, the Other Days were living on the reservation along the Minnesota River in a government-provided house with a fenced corn and potato field near modern-day Granite Falls.
As violence and killing began at the lower agency some 30 miles southeast, Other Day said he “took his wife by the arm, took his gun” and went to inform white missionaries and settlers. He hustled them to a stone warehouse before leading a predawn escape with five wagons filled with 62 men, women and children.
“They were conducted by their heroic guide through unfrequented routes to a place of safety,” said Minnesota’s first governor, Henry Sibley, who commanded U.S. Army troops during the war. “The self-sacrificing devotion of Other Day in rescuing so many … was … remarkable.”
Roxana motivated his heroics. “A great ado has been made over the acts of John Otherday,” Robertson wrote in a 1918 reminiscence. “He was interested in getting his wife back to her own people.”
Along the five-day, 150-mile flight to settlements in Hutchinson, Shakopee and St. Paul, Roxana Other Day served as an interpreter for her husband — convincing suspicious settlers to trust him.
When they reached St. Paul, Other Day was heralded, interviewed and photographed. Thankful settlers raised $41 after he gave a speech. Congress would later appropriate $2,500 for his benefit — a sum Sibley considered too small “for his brave deeds.”
The Other Days used the money to buy a farm near Henderson, but their limited farm knowledge doomed the effort. With Roxana at his bedside, Other Day died from tuberculosis on Oct. 30, 1869, at Fort Wadsworth in the Dakota Territory. He was about 50.
“His widow, a white woman, is now destitute,” Sibley wrote.
Roxana was later robbed, grew ill and moved to Redwood Falls, Minn. Gov. Horace Austin and Dr. William Mayo pulled some strings to get her to a care facility for the homeless in St. Paul — where she died in 1871.
Her death came an unlucky 13 years after the Washington waitress married the Dakota leader.
Curt Brown’s tales about Minnesota’s history appear each Sunday. Readers can send him ideas and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. A collection of his columns is available as the e-book “Frozen in History” at startribune.com/ebooks.