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Hennepin County, Minnesota

Early History

An excerpt from the
"Geographical and statistical history of the county of Hennepin : embracing leading incidents in pioneer life, the names of the early settlers, and the progress in wealth and population to the present time"
by Mitchell, W. H

Transcribed by K. Torp, 2007


Few countries, if any on the face of the globe, can boast at so early a stage of their habitation by a civilized people, of having contributed so great a share to the history of the Country's wealth and prosperity, as our young State of Minnesota, and as the settlement of Hennepin County antedates that of any other County in the State, we need not go out of our way in the least to give a sketch of the first settlement of the State, as well as that of the County. As early as 1680 a Franciscan priest, named Louis Hennepin, ascended the Mississippi as far as the Falls of St. Anthony. Struck with awe and astonishment at the sublime spectacle of the vast multitude of waters plunging down the precipice, which he represents as being at that time sixty feet in height, he gave the falls the name of his patron Saint -- St. Anthony. He was soon afterwards taken prisoner by the Indians and held in captivity for some two years in the vicinity of Lake Minnetonka. This appears to have been the first visit of a white man to Hennepin County, or even to any portion of the country now known as Minnesota.

Not until the year 1819 was there any settlement made by civilized people, and then only a regiment of United States troops were stationed at the point where the Minnesota empties into the Mississippi, and where now stands Fort Snelling. The improvements at the Fort were commenced that year, but the breaking of land for Agricultural purposes was not made till 1823. So thoroughly impressed were these people with the idea that Agricultural products would not arrive at maturity in this latitude, that the Commissary of subsistence was directed to procure all supplies, of whatever nature, from the country farther South. In the spring of 1823, Lieut. Camp, stationed at Fort Snelling, tried the experiment of planting potatoes, corn, cabbages, and onions, and it is said that the Irishmen in the Fort voluntarily gave up their rations and feasted themselves on the luscious potatoes that were the first fruits of Agriculture in this new country. To Lieut. Camp must be given the credit of first breaking soil for Agricultural purposes on the west side of the upper Mississippi. He died at the Fort in 1824, this is supposed to be the first death of a white person that occured. In 1820 Col. Leavenworth was relieved of the command and succeeded by Col. Snelling, who commenced building the Fort the same year. Dr. Purcell, who was a surgeon in the army and came up with Col. Leavenworth's command, was the first physician in the country. He was stationed at the Fort for several years, and witnessed many of the changes and vicissitudes of pioneer life. The first white child born in this country was born in 1821, to Mr. and Mrs. D. M. Hubbard, the father a sturdy private in the army, and the mother a laundress. To Mr. Hubbard also belongs the honor of felling the first tree, which he did in clearing the ground to erect a cabin for his wife and himself to live in. Their's was the first private house erected in the Territory.
The first merchant who ever brought goods into the Territory was a Mr. Devotion, a sutler to the army, who arrived at the Fort in the fall of 1819, Mr. Philander Prescott was his clerk. In 1821 Messrs. Kenneith, McKenzie, Larmont, and Ludlow, arrived with a large stock of goods and opened an extensive trade among the Indians at a point about a mile above the Fort on the Minnesota, called Land's End. They were known as the Columbia Fur Company. The Hon. J. R. Brown has the honor of having made the first claim in the county, at the outlet of falls, or Brown's Creek, now known as Minnehaha. He selected and made the claim in 1826, but made no improvements and abandoned it in 1830.

In 1822 a Saw Mill was built by the United States troops, a short distance below the Falls of St. Anthony. The mill was built under the Supervision of Maj. B. F. Russel, who afterwards resigned his position in the army and became a Real Estate dealer in Chicago. The crops continued to flourish and soon turned out so well that the Government Officers built a grist mill to crack their corn, this being at that time the only grain produced. All the beef cattle belonging to the Government were for many years herded where now stands the city of Minneapolis. The first emigration to Hennepin County commenced in 1827, when a party arrived from the Hudson Bay Territory, whence they were driven by high water. The names of these emigrants were Louis Massey, a Mr. Perry, Pierre Garvas, and some others. Owing to the tyrannical and arbitrary use of power by the Government Officers they were in 1836 and 1837 driven from their homes. The Commanding Officers at the Fort held supreme and undisputed sway over all this Northern country. They were emphatically the lords of the land, reigning supreme, and dictating to all their neighbors the terms upon which they might live in that section of country, and citizens were liable at any time to be arrested and imprisoned for even the most trivial offences, or even some imaginary wrong. Some who dared to rebel had their houses torn down, and others less fortunate, had them burned. Mr. Perry was at that time the patriarch of Hennepin County, and owned more cattle than all the rest of the inhabitants of Minnesota. After being driven from his first home he pitched his tent at the mouth of the brook between the cave and St. Paul.

In 1830 Mr. Prescott, as Indian Farmer, broke the first soil outside of the Fort, near Lake Calhoun, under the direction of Maj. Lawrence Talifiero, the Agent of the Dacotah Sioux. There were at this time encamped near these two lakes two bands of Sioux, the Chiefs being Good Road, and Man-of-the-Cloud. Their stamping ground was where the city of Minneapolis now stands, and the Falls of St. Anthony the centre of their dancing district. They were self-invited guests of the white citizens whenever they chose, and not unfrequently to the no small discomfiture of the inhabitants.
Soon after the farming operations of Mr. Prescott were fairly under way, two brothers by the names of S. W. and G. H. Pond arrived from the State of Connecticut - the land of steady habits and wooden nutmegs, and embarked in the noble cause of reforming and enlightening the red men of these western wilds. They built a house in 1834 from lumber found buried in the sand at the mouth of Bassett's Creek, where it had probably by some mishap been lodged by some trader or voyager. This was the first private dwelling in this part of the county. The same year there was quite an awakening of religious sentiment at the Fort, and in the adjoining country, and some fifteen or sixteen were added to the church. The next spring Rev. Thos. S. Williamson and family, of South Carolina, accompanied by Mr. Alex. Huggins, arrived, having been sent by the same board as were the brothers Pond, as missionaries to the Dacotahs. Soon after Rev. J. D. Stevens, of New York, arrived on the same errand, and in 1835 Dr. Williamson established a Presbyterian Church at the Fort, which was the first one in the county, and probably in the Territory. Col. Gustavus Loomis, Hon. H. H. Sibley, A. G. Huggins, and Rev. S. W. Pond, were chosen Elders. Mr. Stevens supplied the church for some time, and until his successor, Rev. E. G. Gear, was chosen to fill his place. Dr. Williamson, and his family and associates, stayed only a few weeks, when they removed to Lac Qui Parle. That summer Mr. Stevens built a house on the west shore of Lake Harriet. In the Autumn of the same year he had a daughter born, which was the first white child born in the vicinity of the lake. Mr. Stevens labored at the lake for three or four years, when he went to Wabashaw prairie, as an Indian farmer. Rev. S. R. Riggs was sent to this point in 1837, to act in conjunction with Mr. Stevens, but soon left the lake and took up his residence at Lac Qui Parle.

The inhabitants of the Territory were few and frequently far removed from each other, but what they lacked in numbers they made up in hospitality and kindly offices to each other, or any stranger, who, led by the adventurous spirit that thrilled the hearts of all the bold pioneers, made their way to the almost unexplored regions of the Northern portion of Iowa Territory, as all west of the Mississippi river was then called. It mattered little so far as expense was concerned whether they traveled or laid by, every one was considered as at home, and no bills made or paid. The hearts of the pioneers were open, and the latch strings of their cabins always within reach of those who needed shelter and refreshment.
So little was known of this country at this day, that it was generally spoken of as an unexplored wilderness. The National Geography, published in 1845, in describing this section of the country, says: "a large portion of this region is unknown, and occupied by Chippewas, Manonimees, and other Indians. Wild Rice, growing in the marshes furnishes a considerable portion of their food. The soil is fine, and there are rich mines of Iron, Lead, and Copper." It will be seen that only twenty-two years ago, all this country that is now so prosperous, and bears so prominent a part in shaping the destinies of the nation, was reckoned by geographers, not only as uncultivated and uninhabited, but unknown. What wonders time will bring! Truly the march of civilization bears a magical wand, and nations feel and acknowledge its potent influence.

A Bill, to establish the Territorial Government of Minnesota, was introduced on leave, by Hon. Stephen A. Douglas, in the United States Senate, on the 23rd of February 1848, and was reported, with Amendments, on the 8th of August following. It passed the Senate on the 19th of January, 1849, and the House of Representatives, with Amendments, 28th February, and became a law on the 3rd of March, 1849. Only eighteen years since Minnesota has claimed an organized and separate existence, then only as a Territory, with a Governor appointed by the President. In the Fall of 1849 the Presbyterian Church was reorganized at Fort Snelling, under the name of the Oak Church, which was afterwards changed to that of First Presbyterian Church of Minnesota, at Little Falls. Rev. G. H. Pond was Pastor of the church for many years.

The second church established in this county was the Episcopal Church, at Fort Snelling, which was for a long period of time under the faithful care of Rev. E. G. Geer. The third church organization took place on the 5th day of March, 1853, and is the Baptist Church of Minneapolis. Ten members was all the Society could boast of at its organization, among whom was the venerable Joshua Draper, a native of Onedia County, New York, and one of the first white children born in that county, as well as one of the first settlers in this. The first officers of the Baptist Church were Asa Fletcher, deacon; Dr. Hez. Fletcher, clerk, and Samuel Franklin, treasurer.

The fourth church in the county was the Presbyterian Church of Minneapolis, which was established July 3rd, 1853, by the Minnesota Presbytery, with Rev. J. C. Whitney as Pastor. The ruling elders of this church were Dr. A. E. Ames, D. M. Coolbaugh, and J. N. Barber. The first sermon preached in the town of Minneapolis was on the 10th of October, 1851, in the house of Col. J. H. Stevens, by Rev. G. H. Pond. Much credit is due Mr. Pond for his untiring and unceasing efforts to disseminate the truths of the Gospel of Christ, and plant the standard of faith here in the wilderness; his appointments were always met, and neither snow nor rain, cold nor heat, kept him from the path of duty, or prevented him from ministering to the temporal or spiritual wants of his fellow man.

The Free Baptist Church of Minneapolis was organized in June, 1854, with Rev. C. G. Ames, Pastor, and H.C.(?) Keith, and Allen Harmon, Trustees. The fifth church in the county, however, was the Congregational Union Church at Excelsior, which was organized in September, 1853, with Rev. Charles Galpin as Pastor. As early as 1852, Rev. M. Newman, a Methodist itinerant preacher, held meeting at the residence of C.A. Tuttle.

The first Court ever held in the county was on the second Monday of July, 1849, Judge B. B. Meeker presiding. Franklin Steele was foreman of the Grand Jury, and Taylor Dudley, Esq. Clerk of the Court. The Jury were in session for a week, but failed to make any indictments. Judge Meeker had also the honor to preside over the first court after the county was organized. Dr. A. E. Ames was foreman of the Grand Jury, and Sweet Case, Clerk of the Court. Several indictments were found, but none of them were held legal by the Judge.

On the 10th of October, 1852, an election was held at the house of Col. J. H. Stevens, and 73 votes were polled, for the following officers, all of whom were unanimously elected.

Dr. A. E. Ames, Representative.
Alexander Moore, John Jackins, Joseph Dean, County Commissioners.
John T. Mann, Treasurer.
John H. Stevens, Register of Deeds.
Warren Bristol, County Attorney.
David Gorham, Coroner.

Joel B. Bassett, Judge of Probate.
Charles C. Christmas, County Surveyor.
Edwin Hedderly, Eli Pettijohn, S. A. Goodrich, Assessors

George Parks, Road Supervisor.
Warren Bristol was also the first Notary Public in the county.

The first meeting of the Board of Supervisors
was on the 21st of October 1852, at which time the county was organized, under an act of Legislature, approved March 6th, 1852, Alex. Moore was chosen Chairman of the Board. The first member of the House of Representatives, before the organization of the county, was Rev. G. H. Pond, the next B. H. Randall, who served for three years. He was succeeded by Dr. H. Fletcher, who was also the first Justice of the Peace.

Edwin Hedderly was the first Justice elected after the county was organized. Martin McLeod was the first member of the Territorial Council.

The first school in the county, outside of the Fort, and aside from the missionary schools, was taught by Miss Mary E. Miller, now Mrs. Marshall Robinson, commencing on the 3d of December, 1853, in a house belonging to Anson Northrup, where nearly all of the public meetings were also held.
The first Post Office in the county, or even in the Territory, was established at Fort Snelling, in 1822, and the first mail contractor was James Welles, who used to transport the mails between Fort Snelling and Prairie Du Chien once a month.

Many incidents of deep interest occurred in the early pioneer life of the settlers of Minnesota. Among them we may mention the appearance at the Fort of a Miss Harriet Newell, in 1823, who announced herself as a missionary to the Dacotahs. Beautiful in person, and possessing rare intellectual abilities, of a refined and pleasing deportment, with fervent piety marked on every lineament of her countenance, she won the hearts of the entire garrison. She gave no more of her history to any one than her name, and the object of her visit, and just when all had learned to love and esteem her, she sickened and died. Many were the stout hearts that mourned over her untimely fate, and with grief made more poignant by the apparent mystery that enveloped her history. Could her new friends have had the satisfaction of transmitting to dear ones left behind the sad tiding of her early, yet happy departure on that journey that terminates in that better country, on the thither shore of the dark river, it would have been a consolation, but none knew whence she came, nor whether she had other friends.

In 1823 there was erected on the bank of the river, under the Fort, a house, for a laundry, which was occupied by Mr. McDonald and his wife until April, 1825, when one night Mrs. McD. was awakened by a heavy crashing noise, and immediately sprang from the bed to astertain the cause. On going out she found, to her surprise, that the ice had broken up in the Mississippi and was being piled up in huge masses just below where the house stood; the water was rising very rapidly, and she hastened with all possible speed to inform her husband of the danger, but too late, the immense body of water and ice came sweeping fearfully along and taking the house in its course, and the unconscious sleeper with it. Neither house or occupant were ever heard of after.

There were occasional incidents in which the red men took prominent parts, not unfrequently to their own disadvantage. On one occasion a Sioux brave had shot a buck, and after dressing the animal, and selecting the choicest meat to carry to his own lodge, he cut off the huge antlers of the noble animal, and threw them, with great force, into the bushes. The next morning some of the Indian children, in playing about the spot, found the horns of the buck in the skull of a dead Chippewa. Upon examination it was found that the Chippewa had hid himself in the thicket in order, if possible, to kill some of the Sioux and carry away their scalps. Thus the Indian, in throwing away the buckhorns, accidentally, but very providentially, killed his enemy.

The Chippewas and Sioux were very hostile to each other, and improved every opportunity to increase the number of scalps of their enemies. One evening, in the same year that the Indian was killed by the horns, a Sioux squaw was cooking some fat in a spider over the fire, when she saw the reflection of a Chippewa's face in the dish. She neither spoke nor looked up, but with great presence of mind walked to the back part of the room, to where her husband's rifle was standing, which she quickly seized and going outside the wigwam, with well directed aim, she made the rascal bite the dust. It appeared that the Chippewa had stealthily entered the Sioux encampment, and intended to creep down the chimney, murder the squaw and her children, and take their scalps to dangle at his waist; such occurences were not frequent, yet often enough to give touches of romance to the life of the hardy pioneers, who were braving the hardships and perils of frontier life.

Early in May, 1823, the "Virginia," the first steamer that ever passed through Lake Pepin, landed under the walls of Fort Snelling, bringing glad tidings from the world below, and opening up a new era in the affairs of life on the western shores of the upper Mississippi. The steamer was laden with supplies for the garrison. As it neared the Fort and the whistle was sounded, the natives placed their hands over their mouths in token of astonishment, and when it came in sight, sending out clouds of smoke, and the shrill whistle piercing the air, and sending back a thousand echoes from the surrounding hills, they shrieked in alarm and fled in terror from the monster which they imagined the Great Spirit, in his anger, had sent to redress the wrongs they had committed, and they sought in flight to hide from his presence. The force at the garrison were animated by far different feelings, and the whole garrison joined in loud and hearty welcome, while the deep toned cannon from its brazen throat thundered forth a joyous greeting. The monotony of life was somewhat enlivened by the addition of several new officers, accompanied by their wives and sisters. This accession swelled the number of the female population to ten.

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