State of Minnesota

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1840's THROUGH 1850's

- The Spirit Lake Massacre
- Constitutional Convention
- Attempt to Move Capital
- Grasshoppers
- Census


In 1842 the country north of Iowa and west of the Mississippi as far north as the Little Rapids, on the Minnesota river, was occupied by the M'-de-wa-kon-ton and Wak-pe-ku-ta bands of Sioux. The Wak-pe-ku-ta band was at war with the Sacs and Foxes, and was under the leadership of two principal chiefs named Wam-di-sapa, the Black Eagle, and Ta-sa-gi. Wam-di-sapa and his band were a lawless, predatory set, whose depredations prolonged the war with the Sacs and Foxes, and finally separated him and his band from the Wak-pe-ku-tas. They moved west towards the Missouri and occupied the valley of the Vermillion river, and so thorough was the separation that the band was not regarded as part of the Wak-pe-ku-ta when the latter, together with the M'-de-wa-kon-tons made their treaty with the government at Mendota in 1851.

By 1857 all that remained of Wan-di-sapa's straggling band was about ten or fifteen lodges under the chieftainship of Ink-pa-du-ta, or "Scarlet Point," or "Red End." They had planted near Spirit Lake, which lies partly in Dickinson county, Iowa, and partly in Jackson county, Minnesota, prior to 1857, and ranged the country from there to the Missouri, and were considered a bad lot of vagabonds.

Between 1855 and 1857 a small settlement had sprung up about forty miles south of Spirit Lake, on the In-yan-yan-ke or Rock river.

In the spring of 1856 Hon. William Freeborn, of Red Wing (after whom the county of Freeborn, in this State, is called), had projected a settlement at Spirit Lake which, by the next spring, contained six or seven houses, with as many families.

About the same time another settlement was started some ten or fifteen miles north of Spirit Lake, on the headwaters of the Des Moines, and a town laid out which was called Springfield. In the spring of 1857 there were two stores and several families at this place.

These settlements were on the extreme frontier and very much isolated. There was nothing to the west of them until you reached the Rocky mountains, and the nearest settlements on the north and northeast were on the Minnesota and Watonwan rivers, while to the south lay the small settlement on the Rock river, about forty miles distant. All these settlements, although on ceded lands, were actually in the heart of the Indian country, and absolutely unprotected and defenseless.

In 1857 I was United States Indian agent for the Sioux of the Mississippi, but had lived on the frontier long enough before to have acquired a general knowledge of Ink-pa-du-ta's reputation and his whereabouts. I was stationed on the Redwood and Yellow Medicine rivers, near where they empty into the Minnesota, and about eighty miles from Spirit Lake.

Early in March, 1857, Ink-pa-du-ta's band were hunting in the neighborhood of the settlement on the Rock river, and one of them was bitten by a dog belonging to a white man. The Indian killed the dog. The owner of the dog assaulted the Indian and beat him severely. The white men then went in a body to the camp of the Indians and disarmed them. The arms were either returned to them or they obtained others, I have never ascertained which. They were probably given back to them on condition that they should leave, as they at once came north to Spirit Lake, where they must have arrived about the 6th or 7th of March. They proceeded at once to massacre the settlers, and killed all the men they found there, together with some women, and carried into captivity four women, three of whom were married and one single. Their names were Mrs. Noble, Mrs. Marble, Mrs. Thatcher and Miss Gardner. They came north to the Springfield settlement, where they killed all the people they found. The total number killed at both places was forty-two.

I was the first person to receive notice of this affair. On the 9th of March a Mr. Morris Markham, who had been absent from the Spirit Lake settlement for some time, returned, and found all the people dead or missing. Seeing signs of Indians, he took it for granted that they had perpetrated the outrage. He at once went to Springfield and reported what he had seen. Some of the people fled, but others remained and lost their lives in consequence. It has always been my opinion that, being in the habit of trading with these Indians occasionally, they did not believe they stood in any danger; and what is equally probable, they may not have believed the report. Every one who has lived in an Indian country knows how frequently startling rumors are in circulation, and how often they prove unfounded.

The people of Springfield sent the news to me by two young men, who came on foot through the deep snow. The story was corroborated in a way that convinced me that it was true. They arrived on the 18th of March, completely worn out and snow-blind. I at once made a requisition on Colonel Alexander, commanding at Fort Ridgely, for troops. There wire at the fort five or six companies of the Tenth United States Infantry, and the Colonel promptly ordered Capt. Barnard E. Bee, of Company A, to proceed with his company to the scene of the trouble. The country between the fort and Spirit Lake was uninhabited, and the distance from eighty to one hundred miles. I furnished two experienced guides from among my Sioux half-breeds. They took a pony and a light traineau, put on their snowshoes, and were ready to go anywhere. Not so with the soldiers, however. They were equipped in about the same manner as they would have been in campaigning in Florida, their only transportation being heavy wheeled army wagons, drawn by six mules. It soon became apparent that the outfit could not move straight to the objective point, and it became necessary to follow a trail down the Minnesota to Mankato and up the Watonwan in the direction of the lake, which was reached after one of the most arduous marches ever made by troops, on which for many miles the soldiers had to march ahead of the mules to break a road for them. The Indians, as we expected, were gone. A short pursuit was made, but the guides pronounced the campfires of the Indians several days old, and it was abandoned. The dead were buried, and after a short stay the soldiers returned to the fort.

When this affair became known throughout the Territory it caused great consternation and apprehension, most of the settlers supposing it was the work of the Sioux nation. Many of the most exposed abandoned their homes temporarily. Their fears, however, were allayed by an explanation which I published in the newspapers.

I at once began to devise plans for the rescue of the white women. I knew that any hostile demonstration would result in their murder. While thinking the matter out an event occurred that opened the way to a solution. A party of my Indians had been hunting on the Big Sioux river, and having learned that Ink-pa du-ta was encamped at Lake Chan-pta-ya-tan-ka, and that he had some white women prisoners, two young brothers visited the camp and succeeded in purchasing Mrs. Marble, and brought her into the Yellow Medicine Agency and delivered her to the missionaries, who turned her over to me. I received her on the 21st of March, and learned that two of the other captives were still alive. Of course, my first object was to rescue the survivors, and to encourage the Indians to make the attempt I paid the brothers who had brought in Mrs. Marble five hundred dollars each. I could raise only five hundred dollars at the agency, and to make up the deficiency I resorted to a method, then novel, but which has since become quite general. I issued a bond, which, although done without authority, met with a better fate than many that have followed it - it was paid at maturity.

As it was the first bond ever issued in what is now Minnesota, the two Dakotas, Montana, and, I may add, the whole Northwest, it may he interesting to give it in full:

"I, Stephen R. Riggs, missionary among the Sioux Indians, and I, Charles E. Flandrau. United States Indian Agent for the Sioux, being satisfied that Mak-piya-ka-ho-ton and Si-ha-ho-ta, two Sioux Indians, have performed a valuable service to the Territory of Minnesota and humanity by rescuing from captivity Mrs. Margaret Ann Marble, and delivering her to the Sioux Agent, and being further satisfied that the rescue of the two remaining white women who are now in captivity among Ink-pa-du-ta's band of Indians depends very much on the liberality shown towards the said Indians who have rescued Mrs. Marble, and having full confidence in the humanity and liberality of the Territory of Minnesota, through its government and citizens, have this day paid to said two above named Indians the sum of five hundred dollars in money, and do hereby pledge to said two Indians that the further sum of five hundred dollars will be paid to them by the Territory of Minnesota, or its citizens, within three months from the date hereof.
"Dated May 22, 1857, at Pa-ju-ta-zi-zi, M. T.
"Stephen R. Riggs,
"Missionary, A. B. C. F. M.
"Chas. E. Flandrau,
"U. S. Indian Agent for Sioux."

I immediately called for volunteers to rescue the remaining two women, and soon had my choice. I selected Paul Ma-za-ku-ta-ma-ni, the president of the Hazelwood Republic, An-pe-tu-tok-cha, or John Otherday, and Che-tan-ma-za, or the Iron Hawk. I gave them a large outfit of horses, wagons, calicos, trinkets of all kinds, and a general assortment of things that tempt the savage. They started on the 23rd of May from the Yellow Medicine agency on their important and dangerous mission. I did not expect them to return before the middle of June, and immediately commenced preparations to punish the marauders. I went to the foil, and, together with Colonel Alexander, we laid a plan to attack Ink-pa-du-ta's camp with the entire garrison and utterly annihilate them, which we would undoubtedly have accomplished had not an unexpected event frustrated our plans. Of course, we could not move on the Indians until my expedition had returned with the captives, as that would have been certain death to them. And just about the time we were anxiously expecting them a couple of steamboats arrived at the fort with peremptory orders for the whole garrison to embark for Utah to join Gen. Albert Sydney Johnston's expedition against the Mormons, and that was the last I saw of the Tenth for ten years.

My expedition found that Mrs. Thatcher and Mrs. Noble had been killed, but succeeded in bringing in Miss Gardner, who was forwarded to me at St. Paul, and by me formally delivered to Governor Medary June 23, 1857. She was afterwards married, and is now a widow, Mrs. Abbie Gardner Sharpe, and resides in the house from which she was abducted by the savages forty-two years ago. I paid the Indians who rescued her four hundred dollars each for their services. The Territory made an appropriation on the 15th of May, 1857, of $40,000 to rescue the captives, but as there were no telegraphs or other speedy means of communication the work was all done before the news of the appropriation reached the border. My outlay, however, was all refunded from this appropriation. I afterwards succeeded, with a squad of soldiers and citizens, in killing one of Ink-pa-du-ta's sons, who had taken an active part in the massacre, and that ended the first serious Indian trouble that Minnesota was afflicted with.


By the end of the year 1856 the Territory of Minnesota had attained such growth and wealth that the question of becoming a State within the Union began to attract attention. It was urged by the government at Washington that we were amply capable of taking care of ourselves, and sufficiently wealthy to pay our expenses, and statehood was pressed upon us from that quarter. There was another potent influence at work at home. We had several prominent gentlemen who were convinced that their services were needed in the Senate of the United States, and that their presence there would strengthen and adorn that body, and as no positive opposition was developed the Congress of the United States, on the 26th of February, 1857, passed an act authorizing the Territory to form a State government. It prescribed the same boundaries for the State that we now have, although there had been a large number of people who had advocated an east and west division of the Territory, on a line a little north of the forty-fifth parallel of north latitude. It provided for a convention to frame the Constitution of the new State, winch was to be composed of two delegates for each member of the Territorial Legislature, to be elected in the representative districts on the first Monday in June, 1857. The convention was to be held at the capital of the Territory on the second Monday of July following. It submitted to the Convention five propositions to be answered, which, if accepted, were to become obligatory on the United States and the State of Minnesota. They were in substance as follows:

First - Whether sections sixteen and thirty-six in each township should be granted to the State for the use of schools.

Second - Whether seventy two sections of land should be set aside for the use and support of a State university.

Third - Whether ten sections should be granted to the State in aid of public buildings.

Fourth - Whether all salt springs in the State, not exceeding twelve, with six sections of land to each, should be granted to the State.

Fifth - Whether five per centum of the net proceeds of the sales of all the public lands lying within the State which should be sold after its admission should lie paid to the State for the purpose of roads and internal improvements.

All the five propositions, if accepted, were to be on the condition, to be expressed in the Constitution or an irrevocable ordinance, that the State should never interfere with the primary disposal of the soil within the State by the United States, or with any regulations Congress should make for securing title to said lands in bona fide purchasers thereof, and that no tax should be imposed on lands belonging to the United States, and that non-resident proprietors should never be taxed higher than residents.

These propositions were all accepted, ratified and confirmed by Section III. of Article II. of the Constitution.

The election for delegates took place as provided for, and on the day set for the convention to meet nearly all of them had assembled at the capital. Great anxiety was manifested by both the Democrats and the Republicans to capture the organization of the convention. Neither party had a majority of all the members present, but there were a number of contested seats on both sides, of which both contestant and contestee were present, and these duplicates being counted, were sufficient to give each party an apparent majority. It was obvious that a determined fight for the organization was imminent. The convention was to meet in the House of Representatives, and to gain an advantage the Republicans took possession of the hall the night before the opening-day, so as to be the first on hand in the morning. The Democrats, on learning of this move, held a caucus to decide upon a plan of action. Precedents and authorities were looked up, and two fundamental points decided upon. It was discovered that the Secretary of the Territory was the proper party to call the convention to order, and as Mr. Charles L. Chase was the Secretary, and also a Democratic delegate, he was chosen to make the call. It was further found that when no hour was designated for the meeting of a parliamentary body that noon of the day appointed was the time. Being armed with these points, the Democrats decided to wait until noon and then march into the hall in a body with Delegate Chase at their head, and as soon as he reached the chair he was to spring into it and call the convention to order. General Gorman was immediately to move an adjournment until the next day at twelve o'clock M., which motion was to be put by the chair, the Democrats feeling sure that the Republicans, being taken by surprise, would vote no, while the Democrats would all vote aye, and thus commit more than a majority of the whole to the organization under Mr. Chase On reaching the chair Mr. Chase immediately sprang into it and called the convention to order. General Gorman moved the adjournment, which was put by the chair. All the Democrats loudly voted in the affirmative and the Republicans in the negative. The motion was declared carried, and the Democrats solemnly marched out of the hall.

The above is the Democratic version of the event. The Republicans, however, claim that John W. North reached the chair first and called the convention to order, and that as the Republicans had a majority of the members present, the organization made under his call was the only regular one. Nothing can be determined as to which is the true story from the records kept of the two bodies, because they are each made up to show strict regularity, and as it is utterly immaterial in any substantial point of view I will not venture any opinion, although I was one of the actors in the drama, or farce, as the reader may see fit to regard it.

The Republicans remained in the hall and formed a Constitution to suit themselves, sitting until August 29, just forty-seven days. The Democrats, on the next day after their adjournment, at twelve o'clock M., went in a body to the door of the House of Representatives, where they were met by Secretary and Delegate Chase, who said to them: "Gentlemen, the hall to which the delegates adjourned yesterday is now occupied by a meeting of citizens of the Territory, who refuse to give possession to the Constitutional Convention."

General Gorman then said: "I move the convention adjourn to the council chamber." The motion was carried, and the delegates accordingly repaired to the council chamber in the west wing of the capitol, where Mr. Chase called the convention to order. Each branch of the convention elected its officers. The Republicans chose St. A. D. Balcombe for their president and the Democrats selected Hon. Henry H. Sibley. Both bodies worked diligently on a Constitution, and each succeeded in making one so much like the other that, after sober reflection, it was decided that the State could be admitted under either, and if both were sent to Congress that body would reject them for irregularity. So, towards the end of the long session a compromise was arrived at by the formation of a joint committee from each convention, who were to evolve a Constitution out of the two for submission to the people; the result of which, after many sessions and some fisticuffs, was the instrument under which the Stale was finally admitted.

A very curious complication resulted from two provisions in the Constitution. In section five of the schedule it was provided that "All Territorial officers, civil and military, now holding their offices under the authority of the United States or of the Territory of Minnesota, shall continue to hold and exercise their respective offices until they shall be superseded by the authority of the State," and section six provided that "The first session of the Legislature of the State of Minnesota shall commence on the first Wednesday of December next, etc."

These provisions were made under the supposition that the Slate would be admitted as soon as the Constitution would be laid before Congress, which it was presumed would be long before the date fixed for the holding of the first Stale Legislature, but such did not turn out to be the case. The election was held as provided for on the 13th day of October, 1857, for the adoption or rejection of the Constitution, and for the election of all the State officers, members of Congress and of the Legislature. The Constitution was adopted by a vote of 36,240 for and 700 against, and the whole Democratic State ticket was also chosen. And to be sure not to lose full representation in Congress, three members of the House of Representatives were also chosen, who were all Democrats.

The Constitution was duly presented to Congress, and admission for the State demanded. Much to the disappointment of our people, all kinds and characters of objections were raised to our admission; one of which I remember was, that as the term of office of the State Senators was fixed at two years, and as there was nothing said about the term of the members of the House, they were elected for life, and consequently the government created was not Republican. Alexander Stevens, of Georgia, seriously combatted this position in a learned constitutional argument, in which he proved that a State had absolute control of the subject, and could fix the term of all its officers for life if it so preferred, and that Congress had no right to interfere. Many other equally frivolous points were made against our admission, which were debated until the 11th day of May, 1858, when the Federal doors were opened and Minnesota became a State. The act admitting the State cut down the Congressional representation to two. The three gentlemen who had been elected to these positions were compelled to determine who would remain and who should surrender. History has not recorded how the decision was made, whether by cutting cards, tossing a coin, or in some other way, but the result was that George L. Becker was counted out and W. W. Phelps and James M. Cavanaugh took the prizes.

It was always thought at home that the long delay in our admission was not from any disinclination to let us in, but because the House was quite evenly divided politically between the Democrats and the Republicans, and there being a contested seat from Ohio, between Mr. Valandingham and Mr. Lew Campbell, it was feared by the Republicans that if Minnesota came in with three Democratic members it might turn the scale in favor of Valandingham.

This delay created a very perplexing condition of things. The State Legislature elected under the Constitution met on the first Wednesday of December before the Constitution was recognized by Congress, and while the Territorial government was in full force. It passed a book full of laws, all of which were State laws approved by a Territorial Governor. Perhaps in some countries it would have been difficult to harmonize such irregularities, but our courts were quite up to the emergency and straightened them all out the first time the question was raised, and the laws so passed have served their purpose up to the present time.

The first Governor of the State was Henry H. Sibley, a Democrat. He served his term of two years, and the State has never elected a Democrat to that office since, unless the choice of Honorable John Lind in 1898 may be so classified.


At the eighth session of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory, which convened on January 7, 1857, a bill was introduced, the purpose of which was the removal of the seat of government from Saint Paul to Saint Peter, a small village which had recently come into existence on the Minnesota river about one hundred miles above its mouth. There could be no reason for such action except interested speculation, as the capitol was already built in Saint Paul, and it was much more accessible and in every way more convenient than it would be at St. Peter, but the movement had sufficient personal and political force behind it to insure its success, and an act was passed making such removal. But it was destined to meet with unexpected obstacles before it became a law. When it passed the House it was sent to the council, where it only received one majority, eight voting for and seven against it. It was on the 27th of February sent to the enrolling committee for final enrollment. It happened that Councillor Joseph Rolette, from Pembina, was chairman of this committee, and a great friend of Saint Paul. Mr. Rolette decided he would veto the bill in a way not known to parliamentary law, so he put it in his pocket and disappeared. On the 28th, not being in his seat, and the bill being missing, a councillor offered a resolution that a copy of it be obtained from Mr. Wales, the second in order on the committee. A call of the council was then ordered, and Mr. Rolette not being in his seat, the sergeant-at-arms was sent out to bring him in, but not being able to find him, he so reported. A motion was then made to dispense with the call, but by the rules it required a two-third vote of fifteen members, and in the absence of Mr. Rolette only fourteen were present. It takes as many to make two-thirds of fourteen as it does to make two-thirds of fifteen, and the bill had only nine friends. During the pendency of a call no business could be transacted, and a serious dilemma confronted the capital removers, but nothing daunted, Mr. Balcombe made a long argument to prove that nine was two-thirds of fourteen. Mr. Brisbin, who was president of the council and a graduate of Yale, pronounced the motion lost, saying to the mover, who was also a graduate of Yale: "Mr. Balcombe, we never figured that way at Yale." This situation produced a deadlock and no business could be transacted. The session terminated on the fifth day of March by its own limitation. The sergeant-at-arms made daily reports concerning the whereabouts of the absentee, sometimes locating him on a dog-train, rapidly moving towards Pembina, sometimes giving a rumor of his assassination, but never producing him. Matters remained in this condition until the end of the term, and the bill was lost. It was disclosed afterwards that Rolette had carefully deposited the bill in the vault of Truman M. Smith's bank and had passed the time in the upper story of the Fuller House, where his friends made him very comfortable. Some ineffectual efforts have been made since to remove the capital to Minneapolis and elsewhere, but the treaty, made by the pioneers in 1849, locating it at St. Paul, is still in force.


One of the provisions of the enabling act was, that in the event of the Constitutional Convention deciding in favor of the immediate admission of the proposed State into the Union, a census should be taken with a view of ascertaining the number of representatives in Congress to which the State would be entitled. This was accordingly done in September, 1857, and the population was found to be 150,037.


The first visitation of grasshoppers came in 1857, and did considerable damage to the crops in Stearns and other counties. Relief was asked from St. Paul for the suffering poor, and notwithstanding the people of the capital city were in the depths of poverty, from the financial panic produced by over-speculation, they responded liberally. The grasshoppers of this year did not deposit their eggs, but disappeared after eating up everything that came within their reach. The State was not troubled with them again until the year 1873, when they came in large flights and settled down in the western part of the State. They did much damage to the crops and deposited their eggs in the soil, where they hatched out in the spring and greatly increased their number. They made sad havoc with the crops of 1874 and occupied a larger part of the State than in the previous year. They again deposited their eggs and appeared in the spring of 1S75 in increased numbers. This was continued in 1876, when the situation became so alarming that Governor John S. Pillsbury issued a proclamation addressed to the States and Territories which had suffered most from the insects, to meet him by delegates at Omaha to concert measures for united protection. A convention was held and Governor Pillsbury was made its president. The subject was thoroughly discussed and a memorial to Congress was prepared and adopted, asking for scientific investigation of the subject and a suggestion of preventative measures.

Many appeals for relief came from the afflicted regions and much aid was extended. Governor Pillsbury was a big-hearted, sympathetic man, and fearing the sufferers might not be well cared for he traveled among them personally, incognito, and dispensed large sums from his private funds.

In 1877 the Governor, in his message to the Legislature, treated the subject exhaustively, and appropriations were made to relieve the settlers in the devastated regions. In the early spring of 1877 the religious bodies and people of the State asked the Governor to issue a proclamation appointing a day of fasting and prayer, asking Divine protection, and exhorting the people to greater humility and a new consecration in the service of a merciful Father. The Governor, being of Puritan origin, and a faithful believer of Divine agencies in this world's affairs, issued an eloquent appeal to the people to observe a day named as one of fasting and prayer for deliverance from the grasshoppers. The suggestion was quite generally acted upon, but the proclamation naturally excited much criticism and some ridicule. However, curious at it may seem, the grasshoppers, even before the day appointed for prayer arrived, began to disappear and in a short time not one remained to show they had ever been in the State. They left in a body; no one seemed to know exactly when they went, and no one knew anything about where they went, as they were never heard of again on any part of the Continent. The only news we ever had from them came from ships crossing the Atlantic westward bound, which reported having passed through large areas of floating insects. They must have met a western gale when well up in the air and have been blown out into the sea and destroyed. The people of Minnesota did not expend much time or trouble to find out what had become of them.

The crop of 1877 was abundant, and particularly so in the region which had been most seriously blighted by the pests.

Before the final proclamation of Governor Pillsbury every source of ingenuity had been exhausted in devising plans for the destruction of the grasshoppers. Ditches were dug around the fields of grain and ropes drawn over the grain to drive the hoppers into them, with the purpose of covering them with earth. Instruments called "hopperdozers" were invented, which had receptacles filled with hot tar, and were driven over the ground to catch them as flies are caught with tanglefoot paper, and many millions of them were destroyed in this way, but it was about as effectual as fighting a Northwestern blizzard with a lady's fan, and they were all abandoned as useless and powerless to cope with the scourge. Nothing proved effectual but the Governor's proclamation, and all the old settlers called it "Pillsbury's Best," which was the name of the celebrated brand of flour made at the Governor's mills.

Professor N. H. Winchell, the State geologist, in his geological and natural history report, presents a map which, by red lines, shows the encroachments of the grasshoppers for the years l873-74-75-76. To gain an idea of the extent of the country covered by them up to 1877 draw a line on a State map from the Bed River of the North about six miles north of Moorhead in Clay county, in a southeasterly direction through Becker, Wadena, Todd and Morrison counties, crossing the Mississippi river near the northern line of Benton county, continuing down the east side of the Mississippi through Benton. Sherburne and Anoka counties, there re-crossing the Mississippi and proceeding south on the west side of the river to the south line of the State in Mower county. All the country lying south and west of this line was for several years devastated by the grasshoppers to the extent that no crops could be raised. It became for a time a question whether the people or the insects would conquer the State.

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