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A center of Mdewakanton Dakota community life for several generations, St. Cornelia's Episcopal Church is a symbol of Dakota continuity in the homeland from which they once were exiles. In 1987 the remains of 31 Dakota who died in an Iowa prison following the U. S. - Dakota Conflict of 1862 were returned to rest here among their own people.
Forced to sign away most of their traditional lands, the Dakota by the 1850s lived on a reservation along the Minnesota River. The U. S. government at the Lower Sioux Agency was slow to provide the schools it had promised. Finally, in 1860, hereditary chief Wabasha and leaders Good Thunder and Taopi asked Episcopal Bishop Henry B. Whipple to start a church and a reservation school.
Whipple sent 21-year-old Samuel D. Hinman to work with the Dakota people. Soon Hinman's school had 50 pupils, and by 1862 a church building, its cornerstone selected by Wabasha and laid by Whipple, was nearing completion. The church was destroyed in the 1862 conflict, and the Dakota were driven from the state.
After more than 20 years in exile, some Dakota people returned to their former home in the 1880s. By 1889 a new church was under construction. The same cornerstone used in the 1862 church was now installed in a new location on land donated by Good Thunder. Named for the wife of Bishop Whipple, St. Cornelia's was consecrated in 1891.
Among those Dakota who led the congregation after Hinman's death in 1890 were Napoleon Wabasha, the Rev. Henry Whipple St. Clair, George Crooks, and Sam Wells. Members of almost every Dakota family in the area provided support, and many of their children attended the mission school until it closed in 1920.
St. Cornelia's Church was placed on the National Register of Historic Sites in 1979.
--Minnesota Historical Society marker