State of Minnesota

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Early Settlement

Early Settlement

 Source- Five years in Minnesota: sketches of life in a western state - 1880 - TE - Sub. by FoFG

Some twenty years ago a dashing young captain of cavalry, proceeding southward on a government mission, stopped with his little troop of soldiers at Fairmont, then the only inhabited spot in the beautiful lake district of Southern Minnesota. But two settlers, both of whom are still true to their early love, were then living in this fair but lonely wilderness. Their rude log cabins nestled in the grand primeval woods which encircle the two picturesque lakes lying to the south of the present village, and which, in memory of those old pioneers of Martin County's early civilization, are still known as Budd's and Hall's Lakes. The rough and hospitable welcome of the frontier was generously given to the strangers, and the memory of a portly demijohn offered by those early settlers of the Far West to the weary and thirsty travelers still lives as a "thing of beauty" in the memory of at least one of the party.

As they mounted their horses at daybreak, and said farewell to their hosts, naught met their view, as they stood on the green knoll which is now the centre of the flourishing county seat, but one vast prairie, sweeping as far as the eye could reach, broken to the north only by the dense woods which encircle Lake Buffalo, overtopped by the "lone cedar," whose giant limbs towered aloft above his fellows on a bold promontory stretching out into the water, a landmark and a beacon for many a mile around, and memorable as the spot where the last Indian camp was held. To the south the green ocean stretched away to the horizon, with nothing visible on its broad bosom but the distant woods of East Chain, like some great ship pursuing its lonely way to a far-off port.

Twenty years have gone by, a period which, in older countries, sweeps placidly over the face of hamlet or of village, and leaves hardly a trace behind. But here, in the Far West, it seems as if some magician's wand had done in a moment, by a touch of enchantment, what it demands centuries of the slow and laboring steps of ordinary progress to effect. These lonely regions, then an untracked wilderness, where the buffalo still ranged and the red man hunted in the woods, have changed beneath the fertilizing wave of immigration into rich farming communities, where the prosperous homestead meets the eye on every hand;

In the Western States there are numerous colonies to be met with, and of varied nationalities —German and Swedish "settlements" as they are called—and they are some of the most thriving communities, receiving continually fresh accessions from the old mother countries. In central Minnesota, Dr. Ireland, the admirable coadjutor bishop of St. Paul, has made a most successful experiment with Irish Catholic colonization. Large tracts of land are being settled up by his efforts ; and it is worthy of remark that at whatever disadvantage Irishmen may sometimes appear at home, in the "West" they are some of the most industrious and thriving of farmers. Most of these settlers came into the country with very limited means, some almost penniless, and it speaks volumes for Minnesota that at the end of a few years they are to be found with farms of their own, neat houses and barns, and a fair amount of stock—free, independent men, instead of the mere hinds and serfs they were at home. Of course such an end has only been attained by dint of hard work, thrift, and sobriety. Land may be bought both in this country, or on the spot, from any of the railway companies of Minnesota, with certainty of fair dealing.

Source: Progressive men of Minnesota. Biographical sketches and portraits of the leaders in business, politics and the professions; together with an historical and descriptive sketch of the state. Ed. by Marion D. Shutter, D.D., and J.S. McLain, M.A. (Shutter, Marion Daniel, 1853-ed.) CREATED/PUBLISHED Minneapolis, The Minneapolis Journal (1897) pages 18-20; submitted by Diana Heser Morse

That part of Minnesota lying west of the Mississippi came successively under the jurisdiction of Louisiana Province in 1803, Louisiana territory in 1805, Missouri territory in 1812, Michigan territory in 1834, Wisconsin territory in 1836 and Iowa territory in 1838. The part east of thee Mississippi secured, as already mentioned, by the treaty of Paris, belonged to the Northwest territory in 1787, Indiana territory in 1800, Illinois territory in 1809, Michigan territory in 1834, and Wisconsin territory in 1836.

Territory after territory, state after state, was organized out of this immense domain. Finally, in 1848, Wisconsin, with boundaries not so inclusive as those of Wisconsin territory, was admitted as a state. The act was passed on the 29th of May. The following July, a meeting was held at St. Paul which "proposed the calling of a convention to consider the steps proper to be taken by those citizens of the old Wisconsin territory beyond the boundaries of the new state of Wisconsin." The first public meeting for this purpose was held August 5th, at Stillwater, and Franklin Steele and Henry H. Sibley were the only ones who attended from the west side of the Mississippi. At this time a call was issued for a general convention to meet at the same place on the 26th of the same month. Sixty-two delegates were present and Henry H. Sibley was appointed to proceed to Washington and urge the immediate passage of a bill for the organization of Minnesota territory." In the meantime, Mr. Sibley was elected to the House of Representatives, and finally succeeded in having a bill passed for the organization of the territory of Minnesota, with the present boundaries, and St. Paul as the capital. On March 3, the bill was signed by the president. Mr. Sibley will always be remembered for this service. He had to battle hard in the House. The measure was opposed on various pretexts, and hampered with embarrassing amendments. An effort was made to append the Wilmot Proviso. "By great exertions on the part of myself and my friends," says Mr. Sibley, "the House was at length persuaded to recede from its amendment." The news was brought to St. Paul by the first packet-boat of the season, which ploughed its way through the icy river in early April. There was great rejoicing in the new capital. A few days later, James M. Goodhue appeared with his printing press and established the "Pioneer," the first newspaper in the territory.

Alexander Ramsey, of Harrisburg, Pa., was appointed governor by the president. He arrived before the close of April, and June 1 issued his firs proclamation, declaring the new government duly organized and directing all citizens to hold themselves obedient to its laws. Three judicial districts were formed: The first was the old county of St. Croix; the second, the northeast section, or La Pointe county, north of the Minnesota and the right line drawn westward from its headwaters to the Missouri; the third, comprised the remaining region to the south and westward of the former stream. Stillwater, St. Anthony Falls, and Mendota, were the places in which the respective courts were held. In July, the governor proclaimed the division of the territory into seven council districts, and issued an order for the first election of members of the council, representatives of the house, and a delegate to congress. The congressional election resulted in the choice of Henry H. Sibley. At this time the population of the territory was only 4,680; but the eyes of multitudes from all parts of the country were beginning to turn towards the Star of the North.

The first legislature convened September 3, 1849. The sessions were held in the Central House, which served the double purpose of capitol and hotel. "On the first floor of the main building," says Neil, "was the secretary's office and representative chamber, and in the second story was the library and council chamber. As the flag was run up the staff in front of the house, a number of Indians sat on a rocky bluff in the vicinity and gazed at what to them was a novel and perhaps saddening scene." The new territory is now fully organized and all the machinery of government is in motion.

Under the administration of Governor Ramsey, immense progress was made. The first legislature created the following counties: Itasca, Wabasha, Dakotah, Wahnatah, Mankato, Pembina, Washington, Ramsey, and Benton. Before the close of 1849, the citizens of St. Paul were considering the establishment of the first public school in the territory. Treaties were made with the Indians in 1850 and 1851, by which they relinquished their titles to large areas of the territory to make way for the advancing tide of immigration. The summer of 1850 witnessed the beginning of navigation of the Minnesota river. Meanwhile the capital city was growing. About this time, Fredericka Bremer, the Swedish novelist, wrote: "The town is one of the youngest of the great West, scarcely eighteen months old, and yet it has, in a short time, increased to a population of two thousand persons, and in a very few years it will certainly be possessed of twenty-two thousand. As yet, however, the town is but in its infancy, and people manage with such dwellings as they can get. The drawing-room at Governor Ramsey's house is also his office, and Indians and work people, ladies and gentlemen, are alike admitted. The city is thronged with Indians. The men, for the most part, go about grandly ornamented, with naked hatchets, the shafts of which serve them as pipes."

The second legislature, which met in 1851, made St. Paul the permanent capital, located the territorial prison at Stillwater, and established the University of Minnesota at St. Anthony Falls. The third legislature, in 1852, created the county of Hennepin. At this time settlements were made at Shakopee, Traverse des Sioux, Kasota and Mankato, in th Minnesota valley; and the largest one of all was made in the valley of the Rollingstone at Winona. So rapidly was the new territory filling with settlers, so great were the strides in material progress, that when Governor Ramsey in 1853 addressed the fourth legislative assembly, he said: "In concluding my last annual message permit me to observe that it is now a little over three years and six months since it was my happiness to first land upon the soil of Minnesota. Not far from where we now are a dozen frame houses not all complete, with some eight or ten log buildings, with bark roofs, constituted the capital of the new territory, over whose destiny I had been commissioned to preside. One county, a remnant from Wisconsin territorial organization, alone afforded the ordinary facilities for the execution of the laws; and in and around its seat of justice resided the bulk of our scattered population. Within this single county were embraced all the lands white men were privileged to till, while between them and the broad, rich hunting-grounds of untutored savages rolled the River of Rivers. * * * The few bark-roofed huts have been transformed into a city of thousands. In forty-one months, have condensed a whole century of achievements, calculated by the old world's calendar of progress--a government proclaimed in the wilderness, a judiciary organized, a legislature constituted, a comprehensive code of laws digested and adopted, our population quintupled, cities and towns springing up on every hand, and steam, with its revolving arms, in its season, daily fretting the bosom of the Mississippi, in bearing fresh crowds of men and merchandise within our borders. Nor is that least among the important achievements of this brief period, which had enabled us, by extinguishing the Indian title to forty million acres of land, to overleap the Father of Waters, and plant civilization on his western shore."
Franklin Pierce had now become president of the United States, and following strictly the principle that to the victors belong the spoils, he removed Governor Ramsey and appointed as his successor Willis A. Gorman, of Indiana, a Kentuckian by birth, who had served as an officer in the Mexican war. This year Henry M. Rice was elected to congress in place of Henry H. Sibley. The fifth legislature met in 1854, and Governor Gorman, in his first annual message, urged "speedy legislation in behalf of education, and the construction of railroads to meet the constantly increasing demands for transportation towards the eastern seaboards." The question of railroad construction soon became the all-absorbing topic of the hour. The bill, incorporating the Minnesota & Northwestern Railroad Company, was passed during the last moments of the legislative session. In their anxiety to foster commercial interests, the legislature had promised to grant this company "all lands which should thereafter be given Minnesota by the national government to aid in constructing railroads, as well as all those lands of that character then possessed by the territory." This action of the legislature was destined to prove a source of contention for many years. In this same year, 1854, the survey of the original town of Minneapolis was made.

In 1855 the wire suspension bridge across the Mississippi, between St. Anthony and Minneapolis, was completed--the first bridge that ever spanned the great river. The 29th of March, this same year, witnessed the formation of the republican party. The year 1857 was marked by some Indian atrocities in the southwestern part of the terrtory. The whole section was in terror. Soldiers from Fort Ridgely were sent to the scene of slaughter. They found and buried thirty dead bodies, but the murderers were never captured. The contempt which the Indian learned for the soldier and the power he represented, had its influence later in the terrible uprising of 1862.

Through all these years--years of creating counties, of building towns, of acquiring land for agricultural purposes, of founding schools and universities--the territory is steadily moving forward towards the state. On the 26th of February, 1857, the United States senate passed an act "enabling the people of Minnesota to form a state constitution previous to its admission into the Union. By this act the boundaries of the state were defined as at present, and it was granted lands for the support of schools and the erection of public buildings." By another act of the same session "alternate sections of land were granted for the construction of railroads within the state." Governor Gorman immediately called an extra session of the legislature; but before it convened, President Buchanan appointed Samuel Medary to take his place as governor. A constitutional convention agreed upon a constitution for the coming state, August 29; and October 13 it was ratified by almost unanimous vote of the citizens. On the 7th of April, 1858, the bill for the admission of Minnesota was carried, and on the 11th of May was signed by the president. Thus Minnesota entered the great sisterhood of states; and a new star was placed upon the national banner.

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