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DAKOTA IMAGE | Matilda Picotte Galpin

DAKOTA IMAGE | Matilda Picotte Galpin

Lakota trader and educator Matilda Picotte Galpin—known for much of her life as Wambdi Autepewin, or “Eagle Woman That All Look At”—earned a reputation as an intermediary between Indians and whites on the Upper Missouri River.

Eagle Woman was born in 1820 near the Big Bend of the Missouri southeast of present-day Pierre to a Two Kettle father and a Hunkpapa mother. She married Honorè Picotte, a prominent American Fur Company trader, in 1838. Picotte retired to Saint Louis and his white family a little over a decade later. One of his protégés, Charles E. Galpin, married Eagle Woman in 1850. As Galpin’s only wife, Eagle Woman took on a significant role in his business affairs, traveling as far upriver as Fort Benton to trade with local tribes.

Because of her fur-trade experience, Eagle Woman encouraged cross-cultural understanding. She urged Indians to work with white settlers and insisted that government officials and private traders deal fairly with tribes. In 1868, she aided Father Pierre-Jean De Smet in convincing the Lakota leader Sitting Bull to participate in negotiations over the Fort Laramie Treaty. When De Smet baptized her later that year, she took the name Matilda Picotte Galpin. Following her husband’s death in 1869, she assumed control of his trading post, and gained renown for her generosity toward the Lakotas who faced dwindling resources following their move to the Great Sioux Reservation.

Galpin accompanied a cadre of Lakota leaders to Washington, D.C., and New York City in 1872 on a tour that federal officials hoped would showcase the power of the Americans and discourage Indians from leaving the reservation. In 1876, alongside the eldest of her four daughters, Louise, she helped establish the region’s first Catholic Indian day school at Standing Rock. While Galpin encouraged the Lakotas to adopt American norms, she opposed the treaty that ceded the Black Hills, formalized as the Agreement of 1877.

Galpin died at her daughter Alma’s ranch near Cannonball, North Dakota, in 1888 and is buried at Fort Yates, south of her longtime home on Porcupine Creek.