[Our Note: This is only the portion of the book that dealt with
the Stagecoach journey from St. Paul to Crow Wing, MN]
Crow Wing, October, 1856.
Here I am, after two days drive in a stage, at the town of Crow Wing, one hundred and thirty miles, a little west
of north, from St. Paul. I will defer, however, any remarks on Crow Wing, or the many objects of interest hereabout,
till I have mentioned a few things which I saw coming up. (Note:
View our Crow
Wing County, MN website for the description of this locale
and the Chippewa Native Americans who lived there at the time)
Between St. Paul and this place is a tri-weekly line of stages. The coaches are a Concord manufacture, spacious
and comfortable; and the entire equipage is well adapted to the convenience of travellers. Next season, the enterprising
proprietors, Messrs. Chase and Allen, who carry the mail, intend establishing a daily line. I left the Fuller House
in the stage at about five in the morning. There was only a convenient number of passengers till we arrived at
St. Anthony, where we breakfast; but then our load was more than doubled, and we drove out with nine inside and
about seven outside, with any quantity of baggage. The road is very level and smooth; and with the exception of
encountering a few stumps where the track has been diverted for some temporary impediment, and also excepting a
few places where it is exceedingly sandy, it is an uncommonly superior road. It is on the eastern bank of the Mississippi,
and was laid out very straight. But let me remark that everybody who travels it seems conscious that it is a government
road. There are several bridges, and they are often driven over at a rapid rate, much to their damage. When Minnesota
shall have a state government, and her towns or counties become liable for the condition of the roads, people will
doubtless be more economical of the bridges, even though the traveller be not admonished to walk his horse, or
to "keep to the right," &c.
Emerging from St. Anthony, the undulating aspect of the country ceases, and we enter upon an almost unbroken plain.
A leading characteristic of the scenery is the thin forests of oak, commonly called oak openings. The soil appears
to be rich.
Seven miles from St. Anthony is a tidy settlement called Manomin, near the mouth of Rice river. But the first place
or importance which we reached is Anoka, a large and handsome village situated on Rum river. It is twenty-five
miles from St. Paul. The river is a large and beautiful stream and affords good water-power, in the development
of which Anoka appears to thrive. A vast number of pine logs are annually floated down the river and sawed into
lumber at the Anoka mills. The settlers are principally from Maine. By the treaty of 22d February, 1855, with three
bands of the Chippewa Indians, an appropriation of $5000 was set apart for the construction of a road from the
mouth of Rum river to Mille Lac. The road is half completed.
We took an early dinner at Itasca, having come thirty-two miles. Itasca is quite an unassuming place, and not so
pretty as its name. But I shall always cherish a good-will for the spot, inasmuch as I got a first-rate dinner
there. It was all put upon the table before we sat down, so that each one could help himself; and as it consisted
of very palatable edibles, each one did help himself quite liberally. We started on soon afterwards, with a new
driver and the third set of horses; but with the disagreeable consciousness that we had still before us the largest
part of the day's journey. In about three hours we came to Big Lake, or, as it is sometimes called, Humboldt. The
lake is anything but a big lake, being the size of a common New England pond. But then all such sheets of water
are called lakes in this part of the country. It is a clear body of water, abounding with fine fish, and has a
beautiful shore of pebbles. Several similar sheets of water are passed on the journey, the shores of which present
a naked appearance. There is neither the trace of a stream leading from or to them, nor, with few exceptions, even
a swamp in their vicinity.
Sauk Rapids is 44 miles from Itasca, and it was late when we reached there. But, late as it was, we found a large
collection of people at the post office waiting for the mail. They appeared to have had a caucus, and were discussing
politics with much animation. There is at Sauk Rapids a local land office. That is of more advantage to a place
than being the county seat. In a short time, however, some of the land office will be removed further west for
the convenience of settlers. The village is finely situated on rising ground, and contains some handsome residences.
It was midnight when we arrived at Watab, where we were to lodge. The weather had been delightful during the day,
but after nightfall a high wind rose and filled the air with dust. I descended from the stage -- for I had rode
upon the outside -- with self-satisfied emotions of having come eighty-two miles since morning. The stage-house
was crowded. It is a two-story building, the rooms of which are small. I went to bed, I was about to say, without
any supper. But that was not so. I didn't get any supper, it is true, neither did I get a bed, for they were all
occupied. The spare room on the floor was also taken. The proprietor, however, was accommodating, and gave me a
sort of a lounge in rather a small room where three or four other men, and a dog, were sleeping on the floor. I
fixed the door ajar for ventilation, and with my overcoat snugly buttoned around me, though it was not cold, addressed
myself to sleep. In the morning I found that one of the occupants was an ex-alderman from the fifth ward of New
York; and that in the room over me slept no less a personage than Parker H. French. I say I ascertained these facts
in the morning. Mr. French came to Watab a few week ago with a company of mechanics, and has been rushing the place
ahead with great zeal. He appears to make a good impression on the people of the town.
A heavy rain had fallen during the night; the stage was but moderately loaded, and I started out from Watab, after
breakfast the next morning, in bright spirits. Still the road is level, and at a slow trot the team makes better
time than a casual observer is conscious of. Soon we came to Little Rock River, which is one of the crookedest
streams that was ever known of. We are obliged to cross it twice within a short space. Twelve miles this side we
cross the beautiful Platte River. It would make this letter much more monotonous than it is, I fear, were I to
name all the rivers we pass. They are very numerous: and as they increase the delight of the traveller, so are
they also a delight and a convenience to the settler. Like the rivers of New England, they are clear and rapid,
and furnish abundant means for water-power. The view which we catch of the Mississippi is frequent, but brief,
as the road crosses its curves in the most direct manner. Much of the best land on either side of the road is in
the hands of speculators, who purchased it at public sale, or afterwards plastered it over with land warrants.
There is evidence of this on the entire route; for, although we pass populous villages, and a great many splendid
farms, the greater part of the land is still unoccupied. The soil is dark colored, but in some places quite mealy;
everywhere free from stones, and susceptible of easy cultivation.
We arrived at Swan River at about one o'clock, where we dined on wild ducks. That is a village also of considerable
importance; but it is not so large as Little Falls, which is three miles this side. At that place the Mississippi
furnishes a good water-power. It has a spacious and tidy hotel, several stores, mechanics' shops, a saw-mill, &c.
At Belle Prairie we begin to see something of the Chippewas. The half-breeds have there some good farms, and the
school house and the church denote the progress of civilization. It was near sunset when we reached Fort Ripley.
The garrison stands on the west bank of the Mississippi, but the reservation extends several miles on both side.
The stage crosses the river on the ferry to leave the mail and then returns. The great flag was still flying from
the high staff, and had an inspiring influence. Like most of our inland military posts, Fort Ripley has no stone
fortifications. It is neatly laid out in a square, and surrounded by a high protective fence. Three or four field-pieces
stand upon the bank of the river fronting it, and at some distance present a warlike attitude. The rest of the
trip, being about five miles, was over the reservation, on which, till we come to Crow Wing, are no settlements.
Here I gladly alighted from the coach, and found most comfortable and agreeable entertainment at a house which
stands on the immediate bank of the river.