Lacemaking

(Reference: The Story of a County, pg. 441)

Redwood County’s oldest congregation was St. Cornelia’s Episcopal Church at the Lower Sioux Community, which traced its roots to 1860. It became the center of Redwood County’s most unique industry — lacemaking, and gained worldwide reputation. Sibyl Carter, Episcopal deaconess, gets credit for the foundation of the industry, but the name of Susan Salsibury is most closely identified with the work at the Lower Sioux Community.

Miss Carter recognized in the late 1800s the need of work for Indian women whose occupational habits were greatly changed by reservation life. Noticing the skill they possessed in fine sewing and bead work, she went to Japan to study lacemaking. She established schools at Chippewa missions first and then in 1894 came to the Birch Coulee station with her first assistant, Miss Salisbury, a niece of the bishop’s and a Miss Barney.

Mary Whipple, a cousin of the bishop, was in charge of lace production at the Redwood County Mission from 1895 to 1897 while Miss Carter and Miss Salisbury were in New York establishing a sales headquarters. Then Miss Salisbury returned to head the mission until her death September 8, 1930. She too, was buried beside the church, in a location she had chosen herself. Miss Whipple left in 1905.

The first piece of lace from the mission was bought by Mrs. J. Pierpont Morgan of New York City. In a 1901 issue of the Gazette, a story reports that “Sybil Carter has an exhibit of lace at the Pan-American exposition in New York City in the arts building … the committee in charge of display is Mrs. Pierpont, Morgan, Mrs. Abraham S. Hewitt, Mrs. Bayard Cutting, Mrs. Levi P. Morton, Mrs. Whitelaw Reid and Miss Amy Townsend.” The article did not add that these women collectively represented enough money interests to have bought Redwood County and turned it into a rest pasture for retired polo ponies.

So adept did the Indian women of Redwood County become in the intricacies of the fine work that their entry won a gold medal at a world’s exposition in Paris. One person still living in the community in 1962, who vividly remembered the work was Mrs. Jeanette (Crooks) Campbell, who as a teenager went to New York to demonstrate how the work was done. She also had the opportunity to go to Paris that year of the gold medal, but her elderly grandmother protested the girl’s being so far from home, so she returned.

Lacemaking endeavors disappeared when machines provided competition the Indian women could not meet and eventually faded away.