Finding Ancestors wherever their trails led with Genealogy Trails History Group

Dakota County, Minnesota

. . . about Mendota, Minnesota

NOTE: The following history is from an 1882 publication:

(Mendota Township)


The village of Mendota is the site of the first settlement in what is now the state of Minnesota. The spot now occupied, on the west bank of the Mississippi river, just below the confluence of that stream and the Minnesota, was once covered with a dense growth of sugar, or hard, maple trees, which were ruthlessly destroyed, supposed by the troops engaged in building Fort Snelling, in 1819. The stumps of the trees were yet numerous in 1834.

There is no absolute certainty as to who made the first habitation here, but it is believed to have been a half-breed Sioux, by the name of Duncan Campbell. He was located at Mendota as a trader in 1826, and was afterward at the falls of St. Croix.

The place only assumed importance after the building of Fort Snelling, when the American Fur Company, at whose head was John Jacob Astor, of New York, selected it as the most eligible location for the main depot of their trade with the Sioux Indians of this region. Here were equipped with goods, the different traders whose posts were established along the Minnesota river to its source, and on the Red River of the North, and the dividing ridge between the Missouri and Minnesota rivers, and on the Cannon and Des Moines rives.

The trade in furs and peltries with the numerous bands of Sioux Indians in all this vast expanse of country, was under the control of the partner of the American Fur Company, whose headquarters was at Mendota. The capital employed was very large. Each summer, those in charge of the trading stations, brought the collection of furs made by them to St. Peter's, as Mendota was then called, in boats or in carts, and were furnished with goods and provisions requisite for their trade the ensuing year. During this busy season, there was a concentration of a large number of traders' clerks and voyageurs, at the main depot, which gave it a bustling and important air. The name Mendota is formed from the Sioux word "mdo-te," which signifies the junction of two rivers, or, more euphoniously, the "meeting of the waters." It was substituted for St. Peter's about the year 1837.


French traders must have been stationed near the mouth of the Minnesota river, at a very early date, for in 1779, Joseph Renville, son of a French trader and a Dakota woman, was born at Kaposia. In 1812, Aitkin came from the Lake Superior country, and joined James Aird at Mendota. In 1820, Jean Baptiste Faribault located on Pike's Island. He came through the solicitation of Col. Leavenworth then in charge of Fort Snelling. To Jean Baptiste Faribault properly belongs the honor of making the first settlement in Dakota county. He was born at Berthier, Canada, in 1774, and died at Faribault, Minnesota, which town his son Alexander was instrumental in founding, in 1860. He came into the western country as trader, in 1798, and from posts in Illinois, and on the Des Moines river, was appointed to a post at Little Rapids, on the Minnesota river, now Carver, in 1803-4. He was a staunch friend of the United States during the war of 1812, and on that account was arrested by a colonel of the British militia, and for some time held a prisoner. His entire property was destroyed by the British and their Indian allies, and he found himself obliged to commence again the work of accumulating a competency. When he located on Pike's Island, in 1820, he built log cabins, and had several acres of land under cultivation. In 1822, the island was submerged by the high water of the Minnesota, and Faribault was obliged to remove, which he did, locating on the east bank of the Mississippi, some distance below the island. He suffered a considerable loss in furs and stores.

In 1826, the water again rose to an extreme height. An ice gorge some forty feet high, formed just above Fort Snelling, and Colonel Snelling, at the fort, seeing Faribault's danger in case the gorge should suddenly break and precipitate the volume of water upon him, sent down a boat which rendered timely service in enabling Faribault and his family to escape and save a portion of their goods, consisting of a valuable collection of furs and skins. His buildings and stock were all carried away. Then it was that Faribault erected his dwelling at the spot now called Mendota, then known as St. Peters. His family continued to reside here for many years, while he passed his winters at Little Rapids, where he had established a trading post.

Fort Snelling was commenced in 1819, and completed in 1824. The first barracks for the troops was constructed on the south bank of the Minnesota river, near the site of the present railroad bridge, within the limits of the present township of Mendota. In 1821, Colonel Leavenworth procured from the head men of the Sioux bands, a grant of land nine miles square, at the junction of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. In this treaty was a clause by which the Indians gave to Faribault's wife and children, "Pike's Island." This gift was not, however, recognized by the government. Mr. Faribault outlived his wife and four children, out of a large family. His son Alexander, born at Prairie du Chien, was the eldest of the children, and is still living near the city of Faribault, of which he was the founder. Faribault deservedly held the respect and esteem of all with whom he came in contact.

D. Lamont was a trader located at the mouth of the Minnesota, in 1826. Alexis Bailly, of whom an extended notice is given in the chapter on the city of Hastings, was for many years a resident of Mendota, beginning about 1826. He was here in the interests of the American Fur Company and had charge of this post until 1834. Vetal Guerin came to Mendota late in the fall of 1832. He came with a company of voyageurs from Montreal, and traversed the entire distance in boats. He resided here until 1839. Antoine Le Claire came about the same time. In 1882, John L. Campbell, was born at Mendota.

The year 1834, marks the arrival of Henry Hastings Sibley, who infused life into all branches of trade and industry. He remained devoted to the interests of Dakota county and of Minnesota, for many years. He was a partner in the American Fur company and came as superintendent of the interests of that company in this portion of the northwest, and remained as a citizen. In 1862, General Sibley, then in charge of the military district of Minnesota, removed to St. Paul. He is the oldest surviving settler of Dakota county, and as he originally stood, with native kindliness, between many of its pioneers and financial ruin, so is he still trusted by them and looked to for advice on many subjects. As the chapter advances more will be said in reference to General Sibley.

William Henry Forbes, a Canadian of Scotch descent, came in 1837, and for ten years was employed by General Sibley, then removed to St. Paul, where he died in 1875. He was well known as trader, citizen and official. Major Forbes married a daughter of Alexander Faribault, in 1846. Parrant, known as Pig's Eye, the founder of St. Paul, came to Mendota in 1832 and was prohibited in 1835, by Major Taliaferro, Indian agent, from coming into the Indian country, on account of his whisky selling proclivities. In 1838, Parrant left Mendota entirely and became the first settler at the point known as Pig's Eye, afterwards the city of St. Paul.

At the time H. H. Sibley arrived, 1834, the only buildings at Mendota, were those occupied by the fur company and its employees. In 1836, a large stone store was erected, and followed by the completion in 1837, of a dwelling of the same material by Mr. Sibley, partner in the fur company. John Miller was the mason. This residence still stands, in a good state of preservation, and is the oldest private residence in the state of Minnesota. It is occupied by the Catholic sisters as an industrial school.

During the early days of St. Paul, Mendota was the only place where tea, flour, pork and other necessities of life could be obtained. General Sibley's store, opened soon after his arrival, marks the beginning of the great commercial interests of the state, as well as county. The stone hotel, built by Alexander Faribault, in 1837, was the first public house of entertainment, and furnished shelter to many of those who came the succeeding year and settled on the east side of the river. The log houses previously constructed and occupied were all taken down and removed.

Mendota remained the depot of the fur trade for several years, and, indeed, until the final abandonment of the business by the firm of P. Choteau and Company, of St. Louis, Missouri, who were the successors of the old American Fur Company. The land embraced in the village was entered, under what was termed the townsite act of congress, passed in 1844, by the lion. Andrew G. Chatfield, judge of the district, for the benefit of H. H. Sibley and his co-partners. The village was made the county seat in 1854, one year after the organization of the county, and remained as such until 1857, when, by a popular vote, the county seat was removed to Hastings.

The earliest religious services were held by the missionaries, who devoted themselves to work in this region. These have already been alluded to in chapter XXXIV. In 1839, Rev. E. G. Gear arrived as chaplain at Fort Snelling, and probably held Episcopal services on the Mendota side of the river.

In October, 1842, the Catholic chapel, of modest dimensions, supplemented a few years thereafter by the stone edifice, which still occupies a prominent position, was built under the auspices of Father Lucian Galtier, the first missionary of that church in this region. Father Galtier was soon succeeded by Rev. Father Ravoux, who labored long and faithfully with the whites and Indians for many years, and was then called to a more extended and important sphere of action, as vicar-general of the diocese of St. Paul, a position he still holds.

In 1849, the census on which the representation was based, placed the population of Mendota at 122. Subsequent to the treaties of cession, the village increased very considerably in population. Judge Chatfield, Isaac Holmes, a prominent citizen of Wisconsin, James Thomas, W. H. McCollum, Edward Lemay, Jeremiah Nealy, Hypolite Dupuis, Michael Dupuis, J. J. Noah, John Kennedy, now postmaster at Hastings, Francois Le Claire, H. J. Scheffer, Thos. Provencalle, Michael Finch, Joseph and Octave Beaudet, and others, whose names cannot now be ascertained, were among the first to establish themselves in the village.

Mr Sibley was elected a delegate to congress from the territory of Wisconsin, while yet a resident of Mendota, and at the session of 1848-'9, succeeded in procuring the passage of a bill for the organization of Minnesota territory. He was elected as delegate from the new territory, for the two successive congresses, serving five years in all, during which time he secured many appropriations for public buildings, roads and other objects. Among the most important was the negotiation of the treaties with the Sioux, or Dakota Indians, the result of which was the cession to the government by these bands, by the Mendota and Traverse des Sioux treaties, of their possessory rights to the whole of the magnificent domain West of the Mississippi river. The successful result of the negotiations was mainly due to the exercise of the great influence of Mr. Sibley among the Indians, as they were naturally reluctant to part with so splendid a heritage on any terms.

The treaty consummated at Mendota was made in 1851. July 29th of that year, the chiefs and head men of the two prominent bands of Souix, the Med-e-wa-kan-ton-wan and Wak-pa-koota, met at the warehouse in Mendota, for the purpose of holding council with the commissioners of the United States government. After the pipe had been passed around the circle, a speech was made by Governor Ramsey, Rev. G. H. Pond acting as interpreter. He stated that game was becoming scarce, and that the lands were of little value to the Indians, alluding to the fact that the whites were surrounding them, as the upper bands had already sold their possessions. They would be paid money and furnished supplies to a certain amount, and still live on their own lands, if they complied with the request of the government.

This council was also addressed by Colonel Luke Lea, Indian commissioner. After this the council was broken up to allow the proposition to be submitted to the Indians, which was done through an interpreter. The following day, the Indians declined to again enter the warehouse, claiming that it was too warm. Their real objection, however, was that they were afraid the building would not stand the weight, and they confessed to their friends that they thought the walls would fall. An arbor was then erected on the high ground near Pilot Knob, to which they repaired. The Indians continued to hesitate over parting with their lands. Nothing was effected that day and the next. August 1st, the council adjourned, leaving the Indians sitting surprised on the benches. The council did not meet again until August 5th, the matter in the meantime having been talked up outside. Finally, after considerable discussion and objections on the part of the Indians, the treaty was concluded, and the lands on the west of the Mississippi became the property of the whites, and were thrown open to settlement. These treaties were confirmed by the senate at the succeeding session, and Minnesota thenceforth became the center of attraction to emigrants from the states as well as from abroad.

It is not certain at what date the first school was opened, but it was prior to 1850, and was taught by a Canadian named Lejendre. The log chapel, erected by Rev. Father Ravoux, was used for school purposes.

Mendota was, on the 11th day of June, 1849, declared by the governor, to be the seat of justice for the third judicial district, territory being divided into three districts on that day. The first court was held on the fourth Monday in August, Judge David Cooper, presiding, and H. H. Sibley, foreman of the grand jury, the first ever empanelled west of the Mississippi river, in Minnesota. Only three of the twenty old men, composing the jury, understood the English language, and Major Forbes acted as interpreter through the term, but no indictments were returned. The large stone warehouse belonging to the fur company, was used for a court-room.

Mendota was laid out on land owned by H. H. Sibley, Jean B., and Alexander Faribault, on the north-east quarter and the west half of section 27, township 28 north, of range 23 west, of the fourth principal meridian. Hypolite Dupuis was the justice before whom the plat was sworn to, and the date of record was May 1st, 1855.

Beaudets addition to Mendota was laid on land owned by Joseph Beaudet, part of lots 3 and 4, section 27, township 28, ranges 23 and 24. The plat was filed for record, November 17th, 1856. It was surveyed by W. E. Beall, and recorded March 27th, 1857.

The selection by the war department of Fort Snelling as the rendezvous for volunteers during the war of the rebellion, was a fatal blow to Mendota. Its proximity to that post was an inducement for the soldiers to frequent it by day and night, to the annoyance, and indeed, danger, of the families of respectable residents, many of whom sold their dwellings and other property at any sacrifice, and transferred themselves in all haste to other and more quiet localities. Mr. Sibley, who had been put at the head of the forces in the field to suppress the hostile Indians, after the terrible outbreak and massacre of 1862, was appointed general of volunteers by President Lincoln, and placed in command of the military district of Minnesota, embracing also northern Dakota, with headquarters at St. Paul, to which city he removed with his family in November of that year.

It is an historical fact that Mendota was the place selected by the senate committee on states and territories, when the bill providing for the organization of Minnesota as a territory was pending. In the original bill, as reported to the senate, Mendota was named as the capital of the territory, and it is owing to the strict integrity of Henry H. Sibley, then delegate from Wisconsin territory, that St. Paul was substituted. The circumstances were as follows. Stephen A. Douglas, chairman of the committee on states and territories in the United States senate, had, a short time before the question of Minnesota as a territory had arisen, made an extended pleasure trip to this region. During this tour, he visited Pilot Knob, the elevation in the rear of Mendota, and was particularly pleased with the magnificent and extended view to be obtained from that point. To the left, stretched the valley of the Minnesota, and in the center, the gorge of the Mississippi and the country surrounding the Falls of St. Anthony. To the right, the "Father of Waters," sweeping majestically through a grand curve, past the white bluffs and the embryo city of St. Paul. Douglas had this view in his mind, when drafting the bill, and decided that Pilot Knob was the place for the capitol buildings, as they could be seen for miles on every side. At that time, 1849, the only settlements of importance in the proposed territory were those at St. Paul. St. Anthony and Stillwater, and Mr. Sibley knew that the wishes of his constituents were that the capitol should be located at St. Paul, the University at St. Anthony, and the penitentiary at Stillwater. When a copy of the bill was presented to Mr. Sibley, he discovered, to his consternation, that Mendota had been inserted as the capital instead of St. Paul.

He immediately went to Senator Douglas for an explanation, and was given the senator's reasons for wishing the capitol placed at Mendota. "But," said Mr. Sibley, "this will not do at all. St. Paul is the place the people of the territory wish for their capital, and I cannot go contrary to their wishes." To this Douglas replied, that he supposed as Sibley owned land at Mendota, that it would benefit him to have the capital located there. Sibley told him, that for that very reason he objected to having the capital located there. Douglas then offered to assume all responsibility of the affair, and to guarantee that Sibley's name should not appear in the transaction. But it was of no avail; Sibley still insisted on having St. Paul named, instead of Mendota, stating that he did not come to Washington to cater to the individual interests of H. H. Sibley, but to carry out the wishes of those who sent him. Finally, Senator Douglas agreed that if the committee saw fit to make the desired change, he would not oppose it. Accordingly, Sibley went before the committee, and after much persuasion, secured the change and the bill passed, naming St. Paul as the capital. General Sibley would undoubtedly have benefited greatly had Mendota been named, but his native honesty and love of right would not allow him to go contrary to the wishes of those who placed him in the position he then occupied as the representative of the people, and thus Mendota was deprived of the distinction Douglas wished to confer upon it.

In 1848, there was a post-office established at Mendota, H. H. Sibley as the first postmaster, succeeded by others who continued until 1873, since which time Timothy Fee has held the office.

In 1856, General Sibley built a stone church which was used for Episcopal services. This church was erected at a cost of $2,000, which was defrayed entirely by General Sibley. The building has since been purchased by the school district, and is now used for a schoolhouse. In 1856, a saw-mill was erected on the river or slough by P. J. Scheffer. It was run by a portable engine. In 1857, Eli Pettijohn purchased the property and brought from Shakopee an up-right saw and the machinery for a flour-mill. He run the mill a few years, then disposed of it to Franklin Steele, who sold to other parties. The investment was never a paying one, and the mill finally became the property of the Questions brothers, who removed it to Scott county.

The village of Mendota now contains a population of 348. The railroad station at this point is known as St. Paul Junction. The Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha, formerly the St. Paul and Sioux City railway, here diverges from the Iowa division of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul railway, both lines using the same track between St. Paul Junction and St. Paul.
[History of Dakota County and the City of Hastings, by Edward D. Neill, North Star Publishing Co. Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1882, transcribed by Mary Kay Krogman]

Dakota County Home Page

Visit our National Site:
Genealogy Trails

© Copyright by GenealogyTrails