When minstrels of olden times dwelt in lordly castles and gave to willing ears the chronicles of bygone generations, they only did in their sweet way what we of a more practical age do less sentimentally today. Though coat of mail and quartered shield are no longer in evidence; though King Arthur’s “Knights of the Round Table” have passed from song and story and from field and hall, it does not follow that romance is dead and that no more tales of heroism are to be recorded. The world is as full of adventure now as it was centuries ago. In place of the barbed horse, the armed retinue, the plumed knight, and the quixotic pilgrimages to the lands of the Saracen, modern men of spirit have gone forth to do battle with the allied forces of Nature. They have controlled rivers, subdued forests, conquered wild beasts, subjugated bloodthirsty savages, and along their myriad trails have sprung up towns, cities, and imperial States. They obliterated the “frontier.” They led the way to Kentucky, to Illinois and Wisconsin, to Iowa and Minnesota. Indeed, it is to the territorial pioneers that Minnesota is indebted in more than one way. They not only bore the torch which lighted up the wilderness—their Intelligence led to development, guided the march of progress, and made the North Star State what it is today. For they are not dead, these pioneers— not all of them. Scores of them still live; and among them are men and women whose names are honored and influential, and who, dying, will leave behind them a long record of splendid achievements.
One of the most beautiful States, Minnesota is also one of the most interesting. It has never been desolate. In times unknown the Mound Builders occupied the land. They were the first settlers. Then came the Indians. After a great lapse of time the country was visited by Jesuit missionaries, whose courageous zeal carried the cross far inland from the great waters, and did much to further the advance of civilization. Du Luth, the trader, visited this section of country in 1678. In 1680 Father Hennepin wandered hither and named the Falls of St. Anthony. Several years later a French officer named Perrot constructed a fort on the shore of Lake Pepin, a fine body of Water bordering the Mississippi River about fifty miles south of the present city of St. Paul. Le Sueur followed in 1700. Turning the pages of history, it is seen that the English and French occupied the country alternately in 1763, their fights, broils and disputes, in which the red men were always involved, oft times assuming tragic proportions.
It was in 1760 that picturesque Jonathan Carver lent his personality to the scene. He was a Connecticut Yankee, keen of intellect and full of the spirit of adventure. The exploration of the Upper Mississippi and many of its tributaries followed at once, and Carver, noting the great natural advantages of the country, lost no time in advertising them to the outside world. It must have been a delightful experience for him. Even the Indians treated him kindly. They showed him a big cave under what is now called Dayton’s Bluff, and at a later day, some time in April, 1767, according to Carver himself, a “grand council” of Indians was held in the cave, and he made a speech to the warriors which, for hyperbolical grotesqueness, would be entitled to a master’s certificate anywhere. At the same time and place, if traditions are to be believed, the admiring Indians affixed their respective seals and X-marks to a document which deeded to the explorer the whole of a tract of land extending from the Falls of St. Anthony to the south end of Lake Pepin, where the Chippewa River joins the Mississippi, thence eastward five days’ travel or one hundred miles, thence north six days’ travel or 120 miles, and from this point back to St. Anthony in a direct line. Carver does not mention this deed in any of his records, and naught was known of it until after his death in London in 1780. Then it was that an alleged deed was found, and from that day to this it has been more or less of a nightmare to certain timid property holders within the boundaries named.
Thus runs the story of Minnesota’s early days down to the year 1783, at which time Great Britain gave nominal possession of the country to the United States. It was not until 1812, however, that our Government assumed control of the region, and it was then the abiding place of numerous tribes of Indians. The red men were partial to it. They loved its noble bluffs, its beautiful lakes, its winding rivers, its deep, balsamic woods, its quiet valleys and its rolling plains. Wanderers over the land, as they were, they grew familiar with its varied scenery and its unequaled picturesqueness. The forests abounded in game, the waters teemed with fish. Where stately business blocks and homes of opulence now stand, the red men reared their wigwams and staked their long-maned ponies. Bark canoes skimmed the waters now sailed by white-winged yachts. It was primeval. Nature was in a lounging mood. Neither steam nor plow was seen in all the land—nor mill, nor workshop. It was the home par excellence of the American aborigine.
From 1812 to 1830 the march of events was slow, but between 1830-40 settlement was rapid and development sure. Successive treaties gradually dispossessed the Indians of their holdings, and the richness and loveliness of the country attracted scores of pioneers whose names are closely interwoven with the State’s young history. Among them were Henry H. Sibley, first governor of the State of Minnesota, and Norman W. Kittson, whose commercial enterprise did so much to develop the resources of the great Northwest. Ft. Snelling, established in 1821, had already attained to considerable importance, and there was also a straggling settlement at what is now called Mendota. Those are interesting days to look back upon. There was slavery here then, though in a very mild form. It was at old Ft. Sneliing that the famous “Dred Scott Decision” had its rise. Some of the officers quartered there were owners of slaves, whom they used as body-servants. Among these bondsmen was Dred Scott, an intelligent negro owned by Doctor Emerson, the post surgeon. After the doctor’s death at his home in Missouri, Scott claimed that he and his wife and two children were free by virtue of their one-time residence in a free territory. The United States Supreme Court held to the contrary, however, and Scott continued in slavery.
The treaties of 1837 opened the territory to general settlement. Anticipating this outcome, certain wide-awake fellows at Ft. Snelling and Mendota feathered their nests well by locating upon some of the richest and most desirable lands in advance. One of these shrewd operators in real estate was an alleged scapegrace named Pierre Parrant, a Canadian voyageur, who, the historian says, built his whisky hovel in a lonely place near the fort in 1838, and thus became the founder of St. Paul. At a later day he made a second claim on a tract fronting the Mississippi River and extending from what are now Minnesota and Jackson streets back to the bluffs. He put up a shanty at the foot of Robert Street, where he again dispensed firewater to all comers. After holding this claim about a year he sold it for ten dollars. The property is now worth millions. Parrant was a good deal of a character. He had only one eye, but its range was wide and it was always open to the first chance. When he was not selling the vilest of whisky to Indians, soldiers, and settlers alike, he was employing his eye and his wits in sundry attempts to evade the crude frontier laws. He and his place were known as “Pig’s Eye.” When circumstances compelled his removal to the foot of Dayton’s Bluff, the malodorous soubriquet followed him, and that corner of the city of St. Paul is dubbed Pig’s Eye to this day.
Not until 1841 did the future capital of Minnesota receive its christening. In that year the Rev. Lucien Galtier came to this locality to dedicate the first house of worship, which he called the “Chapel of St. Paul.” It was a good name, and he expressed the desire that it should become the name of the little settlement as well. To this there was no objection, and thus it happened that the North Star capital received its title from a priest of God. It was an isolated community. There were only three points on the Upper Mississippi above Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, where the river boats landed with any regularity, and Prairie du Chien, the nearest settlement, was 200 miles distant. Now and then travelers and would-be pioneers found their way to the hamlet, but it was still on the borders of civilization and decidedly primitive. Nevertheless, St. Paul continued to make slow advances. Occasionally a man came who was destined to fill a prominent place in town and State in after years. Such a man was Pierre Bottineau, who became a resident of St. Paul in 1841. His whole life was tinged with romance. He was a famous guide, his services having been peculiarly valuable on account of his familiarity with various Indian tongues. When he died in North Dakota, a year or so ago, many were the heartfelt tributes paid his sterling worth as one of Minnesota’s most noted pioneers.
All this history was made fifty-seven years ago. A log chapel, a store, a grocery and a few cabins constituted the settlement. By 1845 some thirty families inhabited the district between Seven Corners and Phelan’s Lake. Nearly all of them were Canadian French, Red River refugees, and their descendants. There were only three or four American whites in the neighborhood, although there were scores of them at a later date. The same year witnessed the erection of St. Paul’s first schoolhouse. It was a log building on the bottom, near the upper levee. But St. Paul did not have children enough to support an institution of learning. In those days, and the school was abandoned. All conveniences were crude. The justice of the peace was also a merchant and a saloon-keeper, and finally his place expanded itself into a sort of inn, which became headquarters for the free and untrammeled exchange of every description of frontier gossip. He was acting postmaster, too, in his easygoing way. There were no “frills” connected with this future great post-office. The inquiring citizen was put in possession of all the mail in the “shebang,” and was told to help himself. A year later, when a regular post-office was established, this same merchant-landlord-saloonkeeper-justice of the peace was made St. Paul’s first postmaster in fact. The old letter case of sixteen pigeon-holes is still preserved among the valued early-day relics of the St. Paul Historical Society. Those were rude days at best, and postal conveniences were few and far between. There were only three or four duly commissioned post-offices in all the vast section, one of which, older than St. Paul’s by nearly four months, was in Stillwater. Letter-writing was an expensive luxury. A letter from the Eastern States cost twenty-five cents, while the postage on a message from England involved an outlay of fifty [Top of Page] cents.
Doubtless these passing events in the pioneer history of tine State will be regarded by younger residents as “very small potatoes,” but they were not so esteemed by the hardy men and women who participated in them. Every new arrival was an incident. The first Sunday school in 1847, the first doctor, arid the first schoolteacher each marked an epoch of great importance in the growth of the settlement. The first school was held in a log cabin which stood on the corner of Third and St. Peter streets. It was not supplied with adjustable desks, folding seats and steam-heating apparatus, nor was the teacher put to her wit’s end in order to find room for all the pupils. Today St. Paul numbers her huge and splendidly-equipped public school buildings by the dozen and her school children by the thousands, but in that pioneer schoolhouse the attendance was limited to four or five pupils—never exceeding ten. It was in this same year that the town site was surveyed. There were ninety acres of it, all owned by fourteen men, among whom were Henry H. Sibley and A. L. Larpenteur. General Sibley is dead, but Mr. Larpenteur is still an active resident of St. Paul. He came to the settlement in 1843, Mrs. Larpenteur following in his footsteps two years later. She has the honor of being the third white woman settler within the original limits of the Saintly City. The lives of this aged and estimable couple have compassed many strange and eventful experiences. To hear them describe early-day incidents is like listening to the reading of a romance—like turning back the pages of history till one comes to the border stories of the Revolutionary Period.
Rapid changes took place in these middle years of the forties. Norman W. Kittson, Joe Rolette, and Alexander Fisher had developed a very important trade with the Red River Country. The records show that as many as 125 cart loads of furs and merchandise were brought from the upper country in one year’s time. Rolette lived in Pembina, and was afterwards a member of the Territorial Legislature. It was he who created so much consternation in 1857 by spiriting away the Legislative Bill which provided that the capitol of the Territory should be removed from St. Paul to St. Peter. In 1847 St. Paul’s first regular hotel was built. It was one and a half stories high, and constructed of square-hewed tamarack logs. Many an old settler partook of its hospitality before it was torn down in 1870, to make room for the more pretentious Merchants’ Hotel of today. This same period of time witnessed the coming of Rev. Benjamin F. Hoyt to St. Paul, he having cast his fortunes with the place in 1848. Shortly after his arrival he built a tamarack log cabin on the corner of Eighth and Jackson streets, his claim extending from Eighth to Broadway and up Broadway and Jackson back to the bluff. All this property cost him but $300; It is now worth hundreds of thousands. It was this same energetic pioneer who was mainly responsible for the building of the first Methodist church in St. Paul, and also for the establishment of Hamline University. He performed the first marriage ceremony in Minneapolis, projected beautiful Oakland Cemetery, and was in every way a useful and honored citizen.
The Territorial period was one of great activity as well as anxiety. It culminated in 1849, when the Territory of Minnesota was created and St. Paul was named as its capital. At this time the entire Territory did not contain more than a thousand white inhabitants. Civilization had gained a foothold, but it still looked out upon a wilderness. There was little promise of the magnificent development which was so soon to follow. Life was simple, wants were few, and many of the settlers, doubtless, were satisfied to limit their ambition to the betterment of their immediate surroundings. There were a few, however, who realized that a new order of progress now awaited them. This expanding of a wilderness into a regularly constituted Territory meant a great deal to such men, and it was with ready hands and willing hearts that they set to work to build, to improve, and to develop local and Territorial resources. We of the present day know little of the discouragements which everywhere attended the efforts of those hewers and builders fifty years ago. There were only 150 or 200 people in St. Paul, then, and a scant thousand in all that vast territory out of which eighty-one counties have since been formed—an average population of twelve human beings to a county. Whatever progress lay before these pioneers must result from their own individual enterprise. There were no railways, no bridges, no highways. It was a new country, in which the hand and the genius of man were pitted against all that is wild, rugged, and intractable in animate and inanimate nature. But these Minnesota forefathers were equal to every task. They reached out after new settlers, and the population grew by hundreds, and finally by thousands. Wherever communities had been formed, there followed the tide of emigration and evidences of improvement.
With the coming of Alexander Ramsey, first governor of the Territory of Minnesota, who arrived in St. Paul on May 27, 1849, a new dignity was given to the people and the country. The time had come for established law and order, and all the people looked into the future with hopeful hearts. Governor Ramsey proved to be the man of all men for the place he had been appointed to. Under his wise administration the Territory grew and prospered amazingly. He was beloved by the people then as he has been honored and loved by them in all the long years that have followed. His name and deeds are associated with every important event in Minnesota’s history; so well are they known, by young and old alike, that anything we might say here would be superfluous. He still lives in St. Paul, he still is honored and beloved, and it is the hope and prayer of the people of this great State that he be spared to them many years longer.
Settlers now poured in rapidly. The month of June, 1849, found 142 buildings in St. Paul. They were either frame or log buildings, and among them were stores, hotels, and warehouses. A newspaper -- the Pioneer -- had been started, and other enterprises had been set on foot. In October of the same year the people were privileged to scan the returns of Minnesota’s first Territorial census. St. Paul now had a population of 840, the number of settlers in the Territory having increased to 4,780. Steamboats made the landing frequently, and great loads of newcomers swelled the population of the Territory every month. Stagnation had ceased; in its place had come a marvelous degree of human enterprise and progress. So rapid was the growth of the capital that a better form of government was needed, and in the latter part of the same year the Town of St. Paul was duly incorporated.
The year 1850 continued the prosperity so well inaugurated in 1848-49. At the opening of navigation a single steamboat brought to the new Territory 500 additional settlers, to be followed by other hundreds on steamers which came afterwards. But all this growth, prophetic as it was, could not yet vie with the overpowering forces of Nature. The roar of St. Anthony Falls and the morning reveille at Ft. Snelling could be heard distinctly by pioneers for miles around, a thing utterly impossible in these latter days. Indians of the Chippewa and Dakota tribes thronged the streets then, and war-dances were not uncommon features of everyday life. It is said that Larpenteur’s store was one of the red men’s favorite gathering places, Sioux chieftains meeting there frequently to recount their tales of the war-path and exchange pelts of wild animals for tobacco and other merchandise. Doubtless they read their doom in the numerous signs of the time; for still the population grew, until finally, on March 4, 1854, the incoming tide made it necessary to incorporate the “City of St. Paul,” with David Olmsted, a Democrat, for its first mayor.
The three years following may be described as Territorial boom years. It is a matter of record that the steamboat company brought 30,000 settlers to Minnesota in 1857. Some of these new people became residents of towns and villages, while others entered upon their work as tillers of the soil. St. Paul, of course, was a very busy place. Even in 1855 its population had increased to 4,716, Ramsey County having 9,475, and the Territory 53,600 people. There were large accessions to the population of every considerable town. It was in 1855 that St. Anthony Falls was incorporated as a city. Not much headway had been made on the site now occupied by Minneapolis, however. In 1820 a Government lumber-and grist-mill was erected just below the falls, but it was not until 1854 that the first private mill was constructed—a lumber-mill which had a capacity of 75,000,000 feet per annum, and which led the way to the Flour City’s present industrial greatness. Minneapolis was given a village organization in 1858, and from this date it entered upon a spirited rivalry with its larger sister ten miles down the river.
Naturally enough, all this development created the choicest possible opportunities for speculation. Town lots, under the skillful manipulation of enthusiastic real estate boomers, were sold at ridiculously high figures, and new buildings of brick, stone, and frame were put up as fast as carpenters and masons could place the timbers and nail on the boards or lay the brick. By May 11, 1858, Minnesota had become a State, with a population exceeding 150,000, and by 1860 St. Paul had 10,279 people and the county 12,150. In June, 1862, the first railway was operated under the name of the St. Paul & Pacific Railroad Company, and on August 20 of the same year, as if in mockery of all these civilizing agencies, occurred the fearful Sioux massacre on the Minnesota frontier, one of the most bloodthirsty and unprovoked outbreaks in American history.
From this time on great strides were taken. Extending from 1865 to 1870 was a period of extraordinary development. Railways were multiplying, capital was plentiful, and confidence throughout the State was strong. Every center of population drew its fair quota of new settlers. Minneapolis became a city in ‘67, and in 1872 it absorbed St. Anthony Falls. Three years later St. Paul’s population exceeded 33,000, and the property valuation of the city was placed at $27,755,906. The State had fared equally well. In twenty-six years the number of its inhabitants had grown from 2,935 to a grand total of 595,407. Today, forty years since Minnesota was admitted into the Union, there are nearly 2,000.000 people in the State and it ranks as one of the richest, most progressive and best developed commonwealths in the Great Northwest.
In thus tracing the epoch-making periods in the history of the North Star State, a single object has been kept in view—the perpetuation of incidents, experiences and achievements which marked the lives of Minnesota’s early pioneers. They are the men, and their help-meets are the women, to whom all Minnesotans owe the splendid heritage of the present. Many of them are dead, but many of them still survive. The names of a number of these pioneers have already been mentioned, but there are hundreds more, whose lives, perhaps, are equally interesting, who must be satisfied with the simple enrollment of their names in the long column of honor. Not even this would be possible had it not been for the enterprise of Mr. W. H. Hoyt of St. Paul, who some time ago conceived the idea of calling a meeting of parties interested and of organizing a Territorial pioneer association. An Old Settlers’ Society was already in existence, but this did not include many who were born in Minnesota prior to its admission into the Union, nor did it include the children who first accompanied the early settlers to this region. Mr. Hoyt, whose father, Rev. Benjamin F. Hoyt, has received honorable mention elsewhere in these pages, came to St. Paul in 1848, when he was seven years of age, and therefore felt that he, and others in common with him, should in some manner be banded together as surviving pioneers. He communicated his idea to other old-timers, and it proved very popular. A meeting followed, and on May 11. 1897, the “Minnesota Territorial Pioneers” was a duly organized association with a representative membership. Col. A. Allen of St. Paul was elected president, William E. Lee vice-president, H. S. Fairchild second vice-president, W. H. Hoyt secretary, and John A. Stees treasurer. Any man who settled or who was born in Minnesota on or before its admission to the Union on May 11, 1858, no matter where he may reside now, is eligible to membership; and all women who were in Minnesota on or before the date mentioned, are eligible to honorary membership.
The movement so successfully started has been fraught with gratifying results. It has brought the surviving pioneers into touch with one another; it has cemented old-time friendships and renewed old-time associations; it has re-invigorated dying memories, aroused new pride in early-day experiences, and established an esprit de corps that was hitherto unknown and unfelt by the old settler fraternity. It culminated most triumphantly on the night of the eighth of January, 1898, when a host of gray-headed men and women came together in the legislative halls at the capitol in St. Paul, for the purpose of holding “The First Grand Jubilee Social of Minnesota Pioneers.” This event also originated in the fertile brain of W. H. Hoyt, the founder of the association, to whom much praise is due and has been given. It was a huge task; but Mr. Hoyt, who fought in the ranks of the First Minnesota Volunteers during the War of the Rebellion, and who is now a member of the old Acker Post, knew no such word as defeat, and succeeded in piloting the First Grand Jubilee Social to a memorable and most happy ending. Hundreds of old settlers throughout the State were not present on this occasion, but those that were there hallowed the place and sanctified the hour. For many of them, doubtless, this first reunion will also prove the last. They are growing old—these fathers and mothers, these sons and daughters of fifty years ago. Whitened locks, [Top of Page] trembling voices, and faltering footsteps, each remind us of the nearing end.
But no one thought of such things on the night of that glad reunion. The spirits of these makers of a commonwealth ran high, and it was with pardonable pride that they listened to the stories of their eventful past. Hon. Ignatius Donnelly, who was lieutenant-governor of Minnesota under the able administration of Governor Ramsey, was master of ceremonies. On one side of this noted orator, statesman and litterateur sat ex-Governor Ramsey, on the other side was ex-Governor Andrew R. McGill. Seated upon the platform with President Allen of the Minnesota Territorial Pioneers was A. L. Larpenteur, one of the oldest living settlers in the State, and H. L. Moss. It was a large assemblage. Each of the legislative halls was crowded, and every one of the pioneers wore a little red, white and blue flag badge. There were pioneers from Minneapolis, from Stillwater, and from other parts of the State, many of whom are representative of the present as well as of the past.
When ex-Governor Ramsey, the guest of honor, approached the speaker’s stand in time hall of representatives and ascended the platform, the brilliant occasion was formally opened with prayer by Rev. W. C. Pope, the audience joining in repeating the Lord’s Prayer. There was pathos in this act, and all felt it. Chairman Donnelly then tendered an eloquent welcome to those who were present. He said that the concourse before him was an extraordinary sight. It was composed of the founders of a commonwealth, who had carried the beauties and glories of civilization into a land of barbarism. Whittier’s poetic vision in his poem on the eagle’s quill from Lake Superior was no fancy flight. The poet’s characterization of the elements ‘plastic and warm,' which he predicted would soon become “an empire in form,” had been realized. The history of Minnesota was peculiar. The early history of other countries was lost in the mist and clouds of tradition and told only in the tales of folk lore. “But, here tonight,” said Mr. Donnelly, “are the men and women who made the early history of Minnesota, and all posterity may learn every detail of the remarkable drama.”
After the production of a new version of “A Hot Time In the Old Town Tonight,” by a chorus of Territorial Pioneer children, Mr. A. L. Larpenteur made a few remarks. This aged pioneer heard William H. Seward say on the capitol steps in 1860 that Minnesota was destined to become the center of the Republic, and he rejoiced in the fact that he had lived to see the prophecy fulfilled. Frank Wilson followed this with “The Song of the Ax,” and then ex-Governor Ramsey was presented to the audience, which he addressed happily but briefly.
As variety is the spice of life among old folk as well as young folk, speechmaking was interrupted at this point in order that a double quartette of men might sing the following original lullaby, dedicated to the “Old-Time Boys of Territorial Days,” by W. H. Hoyt, the final stanza having been sung by the author himself in response to an enthusiastic encore:
1) “Territorial days” were good old days,
And we old boys were here;
And men didn’t have such devilish ways,
When the good old days were here.
Candidates for governor were not too thick,
When the good old days were here;
And Populists didn’t make the people sick,
And Ignatius Donnelly was here.
Bye, baby, bye-o, Bye, baby, bye-o, Bye, baby, bye-o,
The old-time boys are here.
2) The first boat comin’ round the bend,
When the old-time days were here,
Brought the very first news since the last summer’s end,
For the old-time boys to hear.
Wild ducks and geese didn’t fly too high,
When the good old days were here,
And everybody ate wild pigeon pie,
And we old boys were here.
3) There was no railroad then on hand,
When the old-time days were here.
But steamboats so thick they couldn’t all land,
In the spring-time or the year.
Now the locomotive shrieks, and the birds fly high,
And the telegraph brings the news,
And we couldn’t buy a wild pigeon pie,
If we had the wealth of the Jews.
4) Then. the half-breed driver, the Red River train,
With its wooden carts shrieking so shrill;
Now the palace coach rumbles o’er mountain and plain,
And the driver is James J. Hill,
He was one of us then, he is one of us now,
Though his station in life is now higher;
He was then a mud clerk for a stern-wheel line,
Now he sails with the highest high-flyer.
5) Our legislators they were wise,
In the Territorial days;
But some would steal and tell big lies,
In the Territorial days.
They tried to steal the capitol,
But Rolette stole the bill,
And that’s the reason why St. Paul
Is the seat of government still.
Shortly afterward the social was brought to an end. Further remarks were made by ex-Governor McGill, and some very interesting reminiscences were listened to from Mrs. Charlotte Ouisconsin Van Cleve, widow of the late Major-General H. P. Van Cleve. She is nearly eighty years of age, probably the oldest settler of her sex in the State, and is still in full possession of all her faculties. Her father was an officer in the Fifth U. S. Infantry, and came to Minnesota many years ago to build old Ft. Snelling. A few words from ex-Lieutenant Governor C. A. Gilman, a few more songs, a hearty vote of thanks to the originator of the occasion, Mr. W. H. Hoyt, and then the First Grand Jubilee Social of the Minnesota Pioneers had passed into history.