Jefferson peace and friendship medal
Description Thomas Jefferson peace and friendship medal removed from a Mdewakanton Dakota burial site during the construction of Main Street in Red Wing, Minnesota. The silver medal is of the type distributed by the United States government to honor chiefs or to establish friendly relationships with Native groups. The obverse features a bust of Thomas Jefferson in relief facing left with the inscription "Th. Jefferson President of the U.S.A. D. 1801." The reverse shows two hands clasped in a handshake; a crossed pipe and axe decorate the area above the hands, as do the engraved words, "peace and friendship."
Quantity 1 item
Format Content Category: artifacts
Measurements 4 inches diameter
Nomenclature Medal
Subjects Jefferson, Thomas
Used by Mdewakanton Dakota
Dakota Indians
Used in Red Wing, Goodhue County, Minnesota, United States
Found at Red Wing, Goodhue County, Minnesota, United States
Indians of North America--Government relations--1789-1869.
Badges, Buttons & Medals. Peace & Friendship Medals
Indian. Badges, Buttons & Medals. Peace & Friendship Medals
Dates Creation: Not earlier than 1801
Discovery: Not earlier than 1825 - Not later than 1854

Notes Evidence indicates that this medal was presented to and buried with Chief Red Wing, the Mdewakanton Dakota chief for whom the city of Red Wing, Minnesota is named. A letter written in 1869 from the city of Red Wing states, "Red Wing an Indian chief is buried on one of the bluffs here[.] [T]the city was named after him[.] [T]there is as much as a hundred of their graves up here on a bluff...last spring the [R]ed [W]ing boys dug into a chiefs grave and found a silver medal given by Harrison to the chief and they sold it for $75."(1) "Harrison" could have been William Henry Harrison, the U.S. president and general. Harrison's tenure as governor of Indiana Territory (1801-1812) coincided with the two-term presidency of Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809), the period during which Jefferson peace and friendship medals were presented. As Territorial governor, Harrison was responsible for maintaining relationships with Indian leaders for a region which included Chief Red Wing’s village on the Mississippi River. It is possible that Harrison encountered Chief Red Wing during a Territorial tour and presented him with this medal during their meeting.(2) A second theory maintains that Lieutenant Zebulon Pike presented the medal to Chief Red Wing during his 1806 expedition to the headwaters of the Mississippi River. An expedition report authored by Pike indicates that Chief Red Wing was presented with a flag and a commission (a certificate which was often included with friendship medals).(3) Chief Red Wing's eligibility to receive a large-size medal is confirmed by the inclusion of his name on a contemporary list of the twenty-seven "Chiefs or Principal Men" living between St. Louis and Red Lake.(4) Former Civil War officer and Minnesota historian William J. Colvill, Jr. was an early proponent of the Pike-Chief Red Wing medal association.(5) Colvill's name appears in an 1885 report regarding geological surveys conducted in the vicinity of Red Wing, Minnesota. The report states, "At Red Wing was formerly a mound, situated on Main Street, which, when removed, was found to contain a human skeleton, and with it a medal having date 1801. On one side is the date, with the head of Jefferson and his name...According to Col. Colvill, this medal was probably presented to Red Wing in 1806, on his return from the headwaters of the Mississippi."(6) The circumstances surrounding the discovery of the medal--its size, location, and association with a skeleton in a burial mound--support the supposition that it was presented to Chief Red Wing during Zebulon Pike's expedition.
(1) Edward A. Henderson letter; Red Wing, Minnesota. November 3, 1869. Native American History Collection, William L. Clements Library. Retrieved from on August 30, 2012. (2) The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia entry on the Jefferson medal states that “Federal officials distributed medals when traveling through Indian territories.” Retrieved from on August 30, 2012. (3) Grace Lee Nute, “Indian Medals and Certificates,” Minnesota History (25:3), 269. (4) Elliott Coues, ed., The Expeditions of Zebulon Montgomery Pike (Minneapolis: Ross & Haines, 1965), 347. (5) Winchell, N.H, The Aborigines of Minnesota: Jacob V. Brower, and on the field surveys and notes of Alfred J. Hill and Theodore H. Lewis (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1911), 170. (6) Elliott Coues, ed., The Expeditions of Zebulon Montgomery Pike (Minneapolis: Ross & Haines, 1965), 347.
Restrictions Through curatorial review and/or additional consultation with American Indian elders, spiritual leaders, tribal officers or lineal descendants, this item has been determined to be culturally sensitive. As advised by the Minnesota Historical Society Indian Advisory Committee on April 20, 2012, the Minnesota Historical Society will not display images of culturally sensitive items on the public database.
Holding Type 3D Objects
Identifiers 8407

User Comments

  • Sara Childers on August 16, 2012 09:52:19 AM

    This medal is from Chief Red Wing. He died in 1829. He was buried in town what became Main St. When they unearthed him their was a Dakota man in attendance. He said he was a boy when Chief Red Wing was buried there. His documents from 1806, 1812 and 1815 still reside with our family. So where is Chief Red Wings remains? Sara Childers

  • Karen Mueller on December 29, 2012 06:53:46 PM

    I am curious as to how I have such a coin vaccume wrapped but smaller than the 4 inches described in the story . It has the peace and friendship on the back side and his picture, name and date on the front. Is this part of a larger collection? I can't remember when I purchased it or where I purchased it. Any adivice? kcmueller @

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