Dakota Datebook: Mrs. Byron Wilde

Dakota Datebook: Mrs. Byron Wilde
December 16th, 2008


What do James Russell Lowell, Edward Greenleaf Whittier, and Longfellow all have in common?  Apart from being renowned poets, they all had the pleasure of sharing company with Wild—-no, not playwright Oscar Wilde – but Wild Rose, also known as Anna Dawson, a young Boston socialite and a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes who would later become an activist during the relocation for the Garrison Dam.  So how did a young Native American girl come to know some of America’s great poets?

Anna’s life on the East Coast began as a young girl when she and her mother attended the Hampton Institute in Virginia, the only government-operated school for Native Americans at the time. She then went on to a school in Framingham, Massachusetts, where she became acquainted with Alice Longfellow, the daughter of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was through Alice that Anna became a member of Boston’s “Back Bay” society and met the literati and socialites of the day.

But Anna had other obligations, and her “Back Bay” social life would soon come to an end. She came home and taught on the reservation before returning to the East Coast for two more years to finish her schooling. And after returning to North Dakota for good, she married Byron Wilde.

On this day in 1946, when Byron was in Washington, D.C., to negotiate for land to replace property flooded by the Garrison Dam, Anna stayed back to pray for a successful mission. The Bismarck Tribune reported, “If Indians on the Fort Berthold reservation don’t get a square deal in their negotiations…it will not be because they didn’t pray for it.”

Byron’s trip to Washington prompted the paper to also report on Anna, a woman, the Tribune said, who was “an unusual person and has had experiences which few, if any, North Dakotans can match. Who else from this state, for example, had entree to the cream of Boston society in the 1890s and what other North Dakotan hobnobbed with such literary greats as James Russell Lowell, Edward Greenleaf Whittier and the elder Oliver Wendell Holmes, famed “Autocrat of the breakfast table.” Mrs. Wilde met and knew them all.”

Proud of her culture, Anna Wilde remained dedicated to preserving the traditions of her people. And so on this day in 1946, she prayed for her husband ... and for that “square deal” ... so that her people might not lose their land as well.

By Tessa Sandstrom

“Same Dam Story,” Sanish Sentinel, 12 Dec. 1946.
“Indian, friend of famous poets, fights Garrison Dam,” Bismarck Tribune, 21 Dec. 1946.
Brudvig, Jon L. Ph.D. Hampton Normal & Agricultural Institutes American Indian Students, 1878-1923 / Compiled and edited from American Indian student files held in the archives of Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia.. c1994, 1996. Original location: http://www.umary.edu/~jlbrud/Hampton/HUINDBIO.htm


Dakota Datebook, Prairie Public. (2008) http://www.prairiepublic.org/radio/

Grade Level


Subject Matter

Social Studies

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