The area which was to become St. Louis Park was owned by the Indian at least one hundred times as long as the white man claimed it. This was the edge of the Land of Dakota, land the Dakota Indian held in trust from his creator, farther to the north other tribes, notably the Chippewa or Ojibway, claimed the land, and farther east other tribes made their homes.
As the Dakota brave traveled northward to fight his perennial enemy, the Chippewa, or to hunt or fish to get food for his family, he no doubt looked about him and surveyed the countryside. His description, if he could or would have recorded it, would have revealed that the St. Louis Park area was a land of rolling hills interspersed with marshes and one rather large creek. In these marshes he probably harvested, the wild rice by paddling his dugout canoe between the bunches, bending the heeds into the boat end striking the head, threshing out the grain into the bottom of the boat. Or perhaps he sought the muskrat in the marshes, either over the ice of winter, or in the summer. Rabbits and other small game lived in the woods but large game was sparse if one is to compare the area with that owned by his brother Dakotans who lived closer to the prairies where the bison grazed. Likewise the deer coursed the woods, which also aided him in piecing out his scanty diet. The nearby lakes and streams provided fish, caught in any way possible and at any time with no regard to licenses and wardens.
The land claimed by this imaginary observer was covered with some trees, though the southern limits of the pine forest were fifty miles north and a denser forest was farther west. Among the trees found in the area were oak, some of which had attained the size of three feet in diameter, hickory, walnut, and a sugar tree by which was probably meant the maple. Furthermore, there were white birches. American box and various kinds of evergreens. The shrubs which covered the ground were the prickly ash, palm and cherry shrubs, gooseberry, black and red raspberry, chokecherry and grape. The herbs which the brave saw and whose names were later recorded by white explorers were parsley, rue, spikenard, roses, and morning glories plus the various grasses most of which still grow in the area. She domestic apple, plum, elms and many other trees one sees there today are imports by white settlers. ,
The life of this Dakota Indian was relatively sedentary. He lived in wigwams, dirt covered houses, rather than in the portable, skin-covered tepees of his prairie brother. The furnishings of his house were reminiscent of the stone age; stone arrow heads, bone and shell work, wood and some pottery. Though there is but slight evidence of Indian villages in St. Louis Park, it is well known that a village existed near Lake Calhoun. His diet was of fish, local game, berries and nuts. His people dressed in the skins of small animals, for he was unable to kill great, numbers of the big game, buffalo, etc. which roamed the plains to the west. Of course, he may have traded articles for buffalo robes from the west. His mode of transportation was largely by foot because earlier, about 1750 the horse, an European Import, had not reached the upper-mid-west. On water the brave traveled by dug-out canoe–not the birch canoe so traditionally associated with the redman in romantic literature. His dead were “buried” by wrapping the body and exposing it to the sun on an elevated platform after which it was buried in the ground. Presiding over the rites was the medicine man who knew the undeviating way to the great beyond. Likewise, the medicine man was the village doctor who drove evil spirits out of malignant bodies – the germ theory of disease being a white discovery of the last two centuries. His total government consisted of the tribal type – a chief for war, and another for hunting. War was not the vicious killing type that white men practiced but rather a sort of a game, in which a relatively few warriors were killed though a number lost their scalps, according to ethnologists. Causes of war were more often personal, like wife stealing and personal insults, and land was less valuable than modern nations consider it. The life of the original inhabitant of this area is learned only from inference or by observations of fur traders or early missionaries such as the Pond brothers who settled near Lake Calhoun in the 1830s.
The white man makes his appearance on the scene after the voyages of Columbus when most of the great Mississippi Valley was claimed by the French. Three reasons impelled the French to explore the west. First, the French hoped to find a waterway to the great lake on the west, the Pacific Ocean. Secondly, the French were interested in spreading he Gospel among the heathen of America and last, they realized that the fur trade was valuable.
Under the aegis of these motives we read of Samuel de Champlain of Quebec who pushed his explorations into Lake Superior. Jean Nicolet traveled among the lakes and rivers of the west seeking the road to Cathay, Other Frenchmen were interested in the fur trade among whom one must mention Pierre Radisson and his brother-in-law Sieur des Groseilliers who traveled in Wisconsin and probably got to Kanabec County in Minnesota. Radisson’s account is perhaps the earliest account of what the natives looked like and had further importance in intriguing Europeans into entering the fur trade. The third group which visited the Minnesota country was the missionaries – black robed Jesuits like Father Claude Allouez who had established a mission on Lake Superior in 1665.
After the French had found what was in the west they decided to take possession of it in the name of the King. Thus in June 14, 1671 a great pageant was held at Sault St. Marie, at which Indians, priests, traders and government representatives were present during which a proclamation was read claiming the whole of the west as the possession of Louis XIV, King of France. Therefore, one can say that the earliest white owners of the St. Louis Park area were the French – though no white man lived in the area at the time.
More detailed exploration was begun by the French soon thereafter. In 1675 Father Jacques Marquette and trader Louis Joliet left Mackinac to explore the great river of the west, the Mississippi. They floated down a tributary of the Mississippi until they reached the river and then followed it until they came to the Arkansas. On returning, their interest seemed to turn more to the west rather than to finding a riverway to Cathay. It was now known that the rivers flowed toward the Gulf of Mexico. Sieur du Luth, a French nobleman, began the exploration of the northern part of the great river. Father Louis Hennepin, Antoine Auguelle and Michael Accault accompanied du Lath on his expedition and the former wrote a book Description of Louisiana which was popular reading in the France of his day. It was Father Hennepin who discovered the Falls of St. Anthony of Padua.
Almost contemporaneous with the activities of the explorer was that of the traders and missionaries. Noting the French names will be sufficient to indicate that the French were trying to profit by the fur trade. Charles Le Sueur established a post where Mankato now stands. Later he ascended the Blue Earth River and built Fort L’Huillier. Sieur de la Perriere in 1727 was building Fort Beauharnois on Lake Pepin. Most of the trading posts were minor forts – or at least fortified because of the temper of the Sioux Indians. France had at least made a start on the settlement of the west though they were to hold it but for a short time.
European wars, however, made the holding of the American west difficult for the French. In 1763 France was forced to cede the area west of the Mississippi to Spain. The great debacle to French influence came in 1763 when at the end of the French and Indian War, which the French lost, she ceded all of her Great Lakes claims to the. English. Thus the defeat of the French Montcalm by the Britisher Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham above Quebec opened the way for English Influence in Minnesota – and can be said to have in some measure determined our language, nationality and religion.
Again in 1800 the title to the area changed when by the secret treaty of San Ildefonso the Spanish ceded the area west of the Mississippi to France. This October first treaty was made under pressure from Napoleon Bonaparte. The secrecy was dissipated on March 21, 1801 when the more formal Treaty of Madrid confirmed the earlier Treaty of San Ildefonso. [A very brief but complete account of the ownership and transference of European claims to the various parts of Minnesota can be found in a small pamphlet published by the Minnesota Historical Society in 1946 which is entitled Minnesota Under Four Flags. Illustrated with line maps, it shows the various owners, England, Spain, France and the United States, at different times.]
The area east of the Mississippi was acquired by the United States during the Revolutionary War, though certain boundaries were quite indefinite. After the Revolution the tide of Settlement was moving westward and some people were envisioning the day when more land would be needed for the expanding republic.
With the transfer of title from Spain to France by the Treaty of Madrid of 1801 Americans began to fear the power of their new owner, Napoleon. President Thomas Jefferson, after settling qualms of conscience about whether the Constitution permitted a president to buy territory, instructed our representatives Livingston and Monroe in Europe to begin negotiations to purchase the Louisiana area. After negotiations with Talleyrand, it was agreed that the area could be sold for eighty million francs, though the French were prepared to take less and the Americans were ready to pay more. The United States Senate ratified the treaty October 20, 1805 and shortly thereafter took possession. Napoleon thereby secured valuable monetary aid for his European wars and the United States was rid of a potentially troublesome neighbor and also secured expansion room which might be needed in the future.
Minnesota was at that time part of the District of Louisiana which next year became the Territory of Louisiana.
President Thomas Jefferson, perhaps like many Americans, wondered what he had bought. No doubt the French traders knew rather well but it is doubtful whether the information was recorded in French archives and was available to the new buyers. But in addition to this, Jefferson wished more information about the little known country that faced the Pacific Ocean. To explore the Missouri area two young officers were chosen, Lewis and Clark, who ascended the Missouri and descended the Columbia and returned in the years 1804-6. To explore the upper Mississippi a young twenty-nine old officer was chosen, Zebulon H. Pike. Pike left St. Louis on August 9, 1805 with a contingent of twenty solders, one sergeant, two corporals and seventeen privates. His supplies consisted of four month’s provisions carried in a seventy foot keelboat. His instructions were to explore to the course of the Mississippi River, to get all the information he could about the Indians, to make peace between the Sioux and the Chippewa and to select sites for prospective forts. Meanwhile he was to offend no tribe and to try to win all to American friendship. At Prairie du Chlen he exchanged his boat for two small ones and proceeded northward. On September 21, 1805 the company was camped at the mouth of the Minnesota River. While he was parleying with the Sioux trying to secure their friendship and inviting them to become patrons of American merchants besides trying to get a peace treaty between the Sioux and Chippewa, a number of his men ascended the Mississippi to the Falls of St. Anthony of Padua. Such fabulous stories did his men tell him that he decided to view the Falls himself the next day. Soon thereafter, though it was September and beginning to freeze, Pike and his party proceeded northward after portaging around the Falls. Pike’s diary tells the story – they pushed forward until they made camp near what became the town of Little Falls. Stopping at a northwest Company fur-trading post at Sandy Lake he noticed that a British company conducted the business. He secured the removal of the British flag despite the hospitality of the traders. Pushing forward he reached Cass Lake which he thought was the source of the Mississippi. This being the end of his main journey he returned to his Little Falls camp and thence on to St. Louis. The results of the expedition were disheartening. He got great amounts of information but the British traders continued activities, the Sioux and Chippewa still fought and Pike had discovered the wrong source of the river. Where the French had explored earlier the British now traded and the Americans claimed the land. But the preliminaries to American settlement were made, and despite the propensity of the Indians to continue trading with the British, and the Indian’s allegiance to the British in the War of 1812, it would be but a matter of time before there would be American occupation of the area.
The harbinger of American occupation was the treaty Pike had signed with the Sioux on September 23, 1805. Among the more famous chiefs who parleyed with Pike were Stands Suddenly, Little Crow III, Walking Buffalo and Shakopee. Only Little Crow III and Stands Suddenly signed the treaty which provided that the tribe would get $12,000 for ceding nine square miles at the mouth of the St. Croix River and an area nine miles wide on both sides of the Mississippi between the Falls and the Mouth of the Minnesota River. The United States Senate approved the treaty April 16, 1808, but added $2,000 to the price. It had cost Pike two hundred dollars worth of goods and sixty gallons of whisky to get Indian marks on the treaty.
Though the Sioux signed a treaty of allegiance to the United States government in 1816 which proclaimed their friendship it is doubtful whether they understood contractual relations. The only forts on the frontier were at Green Bay, (Wisconsin), Fort Crawford at Prairie du Chien and Fort Armstrong at Rock Island. John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War, was considering other defense positions in the great west. One to be on the St. Croix and the last at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. Pike, it will be remembered, had laid the basis for new forts on the Mississippi with his 1805 treaty.
In 1817 the federal government made its first moves to extend the defended frontier into Minnesota. In that year the War Department sent Major Stephen H. Long northward on the Mississippi to select the site for a fort. Leaving Prairie du Chien on July 9, 1817 with fifteen men and two interpreters he reached the Falls of St. Anthony of Padua eight days later. On the same day he selected the site of a fort which was to become Fort Snelling. After spending some time looking over the land, and recording some of his impressions, he returned to St. Louis on August 15, 1817.
Two years later, in 1819, Colonel Henry Leavenworth was sent to begin construction of the fort. Leaving Prairie du Chien with the Fifth Regiment consisting of ninety-eight men and officers he arrived at the camp across the river
from what was to be Fort Snelling on August 24,1819. Within a month one hundred and twenty more recruits were added to his contingent at the camp denominated New Hope. Crossing the river they fell to and within two years the new fort was complete, and was named Fort St. Anthony. In the meantime, however, Colonel Leavenworth was replaced by Colonel Josiah Snelling. During the construction of the fort, Lawrence Talliaferro of Fredericksburg, Virginia was sent to the area as an Indian agents It was Talliaferro who brought with him the negro slave who was to be the subject of the Dred Scott Decision thirty years later, a Supreme Court decision which was to offend the northern abolitionists and help in the formation of the Republican Party.
After the construction of the fort, the men turned their energies to ancillary industries. In 1621 a sawmill was built at the falls and two years later a flour mill was built. One Nathan Clark, commissary of the fort, began to raise garden truck and wheat during the summer of 1820, which is perhaps the first farming to have taken place in this vicinity. Taliaferro attempted to induce the nearby Indians to pursue fanning and the Indian encampment of relatively permanent houses located near Lake Calhoun was renamed Eatonville, and agricultural methods were introduced.
It was during the time of Colonel Snelling that his son William J. Snelling and Joseph R. Brown made their exploratory trip up Minnehaha Creek. Both were but seventeen year old boys and it is probably due to their youth that the erroneous description of the course of the creek was made on the map of 1823. Here is probably the first white men to leave a record of having passed through the area which was to become St. Louis Park.
In 1827, four years after the name Snelling had been attached to the fort, Colonel Josiah Snelling was transferred to St. Louis, to the great relief of his men who considered him somewhat of a martinet. One of his subordinate officers, Lieutenant Camp, had secured his commandants approval and had farmed successfully a small tract on the reserve. Philander Prescott, an Indian, was farming near Lake Calhoun.
These experiments in agriculture proved to the soldiers that farming was practicable in this area. When in 1826 a Swiss colony of farmers were ejected from certain lands in the Hudson Bay Company area they asked permission of the Commandant of Fort Snelling to settle on military reserve lands. This group was given a ten year permit to settle but because of legal difficulties were driven off in 1836 after which most of them went to Wisconsin, though others stayed in St. Paul.
Although the motives leading these first settlers into the area were largely economic or military, the next group represented the missions. In 1834 S.W. and Gideon H. Pond of Connecticut settled on the east side of Lake Calhoun among some twenty Indian tepees. built their own log cabin, and began the work of Christianizing the Dakotas. In the next year the Reverend J. D. Stevens built a home on the west shore of Lake Harriet which was outside the reserve. These three men made no claims to ownership of the land but merely worked as missionaries. In as much as they ware engaged in altruistic work they were permitted to continue residence though the laws of the United States forbade settling in Indian territory.
Thus the two representatives of white civilization in Minnesota were the missionary and the military. The latter was the only representative of government though technically Minnesota area was under the civil jurisdiction of some organized territory. In 1812 Minnesota was part of the District of Louisiana which was made a territory the following year. In 1812 this part of Minnesota was part of the Territory of Missouri but when Missouri was made a state in 1821 the remaining area was unorganized until 1834 when it became Crawford County in the Territory of Michigan. Two years later the Minnesota area was made part of the County of St. Croix in the Territory of Wisconsin but in 1858 the area was adjoined to Iowa Territory. Needless to say that civil government was but an amorphous shadow in Minnesota because virtually all the white residents were military personnel or missionaries. The military government felt somewhat more of a responsibility to the War Department than it did, to the governor of the territory wherever he might be located.
While the United States government had title to the area it did not have possession of it, and possession is supposed to be nine points of law. The possessors of the land were the Indians who had alienated but very small military tracts in this vast west. With the idea of inducing the Indians to drop their claims and possession of the land the federal government Instructed Governor Henry Dodge to negotiate with the Chippewa and the Sioux to cede a certain area which later became the counties of Anoka, Benton, Chisago, Isanti, Kanabec, Mille Laos, Ramsey, Sherburne, Washington and part of Morrison, Aitkin, Crow Wing and Pine. The treaty was signed July 29, 1837. The Sioux, however, were not completely satisfied with the arrangement and in the same year some twenty chiefs were taken to Washington by Lawrence Talliaferro where they made a treaty with Joel R. Poinsett, Secretary of War, in which they ceded all land east of the Mississippi River and certain Islands in the river. Thus the area east of the Mississippi was opened to white settlement. It is not surprising that the area now comprised by Ramsey County and that part of Hennepin County east of the river was first settled. Here the first settlers huddled in the shadow of the protection of| the soldiers. Here was the head of navigation of the river, and here was the place at which the river could be crossed most easily, Nicollet Island.
However, there was no great demand for more land for white settlement in the 1830s and 40s in Minnesota. There was a sufficiency in the land acquired which lay east of the Mississippi. But there was a move for land–more land for the Indian. Farther east the Winnebagoes had been dispossessed of their land in Wisconsin and the government felt that they should be relocated somewhere west of the Mississippi. Under governmental direction Governor James Duane Doty of Wisconsin negotiated a treaty with the Dakota in the Minnesota area so as to provide homes for the Winnebagoes. This first treaty between the United States government and the Sisseton, Wahpeton and Wakpekuta bands was signed at Traverse de Sioux on July 31, 1841. Eleven days later a similar treaty was signed with the Medawakantons at Mendota. These treaties provided for annuities for Indians, Indians to become settled, land was to be held in severally with one hundred acres per family, that the Indian would become citizens at the end of two years, and that the tribes establish a constitutional government with a governor appointed by the general government, and finally, that trader claims would be paid out of the annuities. Though the Indians signed the treaty which gave homes for Winnebagoes, but not whites, the treaty failed of ratification in the Senate of the United States. The Mississippi was still considered the great barrier between the whites and the Indian.
Most of the settlers who came to the area had to take land east of the river which lay opposite the trade route on the Mississippi tributary. Their names can be found in the standard histories of St. Paul. A few, however, drifted toward the Falls, as did Colonel John Stevens who brought out a colony of ten settlers. Others were driven off the military reserve. Though the pressure for land was not great, there were many who looked across the river beyond the military reserve and hoped that they would soon be able to make homes there. It seemed obvious to many that this would be the point at which the Indian barrier would be breached.
There were many reasons why the Indians were willing to cede their land in the two treaties of 1851. For one thing, the Indian had secured firearms and, with the increased efficiency of his arms had reduced the animal population on which they subsisted. Furthermore, white hunters were invading the Indian country and fur traders were paying premium prices for furs which resulted in somewhat of a game slaughter. The Dakotas saw that the day would come when they would either have to sell their land because of the failure of the game crop or else they would have to change their mode of living to agriculture. The former seemed the more suitable solution. In addition to these reasons the Sioux knew that the whites were avaricious for more land–especially fertile land.
Negotiations began when Luke Lea, Indian Commissioner, made a trip to the west, and in conjunction with Governor Alexander Ramsey made a treaty with the Sisseton and Wahpeton Traverse de Sioux on July 23, 1851. Six days later at
Mendota a similar treaty was concluded with the Medawakanton and Wakpekute tribes. The upper bands of the Dakota were to get an annuity of $1,665,000 payable over fifty years for which payments were to begin July 1, 1852. The lower bands were to get $1,410,000 payable under similar conditions. The federal government was to get approximately twenty four million acres lying in three states. The area was delimited roughly by a line running up the Mississippi River to the mouth of the Watab River north of what is now St. Cloud. Then a line proceeded westward to the mouth of the Buffalo River north of Moorhead. Southward it followed a line connecting the Red River, Lake Traverse, Lake Tampeska and the Sioux River until it reached a point south of what is now Sioux Falls where it turned eastward, and touched the Mississippi River again. The nineteen million acres ceded in Minnesota made up about forty counties while another three million were located in Iowa, and one and three quarters acres were in what is now South Dakota. Some reservations were allowed the Indians along the Minnesota River, however, the Senate amended the treaty to make the reservations only temporary. President Millard Fillmore proclaimed the treaty February 24, 1853. [These treaties were abrogated by the federal government after the 1862 uprising.] Within this great domain ceded by the Indians was a small area of a few thousand acres lying southwest of the Falls of St. Anthony which was to become Louis Park. The federal government now had a clear title to the land, it was in possession of it, there were some settlers interested in it but it needed surveying before it could be transferred from public ownership to private hands–the desocialization process.
Across the river, however, lay part of the Military Re serve which was not opened to settlement, indeed, no land was legally open to settlement until it was surveyed. In 1852 Congress reduced the size of the reserve by establishing the north boundary as a line connecting Lake Amelia (Nokomis) to Minnehaha Creek. This freed the land north of the fort from military control and at least permitted the squatters to occupy it. Only a dozen dwellings could be found in the area and a few claim shanties. Most of these squatters had known what was happening and had crossed the river on the ice in winter during the year 1651-1852 and made claims by blazing the trees bounding their prospective farms.
The surveying of land owned by the United States was done by the Surveyor General’s office which gave contracts to deputies to lay out guide meridians (running north and south) and standard parallels (running east and west). After those base lines are laid out other deputies are paid for establishing township lines, and a third crew often laid out section and quarter section lines. A special problem existed in the Minnesota area in that it was connected to the Dubuque Surveying District. Usually a Surveyor General’s office was created for each territory, and although Minnesota was created a territory in 1849 it did not receive a Surveyor General until 1853 when J. F. Chandler was installed in the newly created office. Some of the survey work had been done here by the Dubuque office, for example, the Military Reserve, which was surveyed on the basis of a guide meridian established much further east and, in standard parallel from the state south of Minnesota. Warner Lewis, Surveyor General of the Dubuque office, wrote in his report in 1854, “The eight townships situated in Fort Snelling reserve west of the river have been received, examined, platted and copies forwarded.” [Senate Executive Document, Serial 746, 33rd Congress, 2nd Session, Vol. I, pt. 1, p. 193.] It further added that “to sum up what has been done in the Territory (Minnesota), I will add that the whole district of country west of the river, and east of the guide meridian no. 3 (or that line dividing ranges 24 and 25) with the exception of the reservation already mentioned, has been contracted for survey into townships, and a greater portion of it completed.” In the area outside the reserve a different set of base lines were used which accounts for the curious size of the sections on the eastern side of St. Louis Park.
The original town of Minneapolis was surveyed in 1854 by William R. Marshall but the plat was not recorded until after which the preemptors had to secure their titles. During the next year a veritable boom of real estate began and it is recorded that more than one hundred buildings were erected in Minneapolis. Emigration was running at flood tide and every boat coming up river brought hundreds of people. It is s not surprising that many of the claims made in the county were made illegally, i.e. on unsurveyed land. The pressure of the claimants caused the surveyors to hurry with their work.
The subdivision of the township of Minneapolis was done by several deputy surveyors. The four easternmost sections that became St. Louis Park were subdivided in 1853 by the same man who surveyed part of Minneapolis, Jesse. T. Jarrett, who sent his field notes and maps to the Dubuque office where they were received and approved by Surveyor General Warner Lewis on February 27, 1854. The remaining eleven sections or parts of sections were subdivided in 1954 by Hiram C. Fellows who sent his plats to the same office where they were approved May 16, 1855.
From the Surveyor General’s office the field notes were transcribed and maps are drawn showing each section and subdivision after which the maps were transferred to the United State Land Office which in the 1850’s was located at the corner of Washington and 7th Street [Bridge Square] in Minneapolis and operated by M.L. Olds who was the register of plats and R.P. Russell, the receiver (of monies). Claimants could buy land directly or through auction, or could secure land through the Preemption Act which provided that after one year of actual residence on the land it could be purchased from the government for a small cost per acre. The Homestead Act was not passed until 1862 and the Timber Culture (tree claim) Act until 1873, thus no land in Hennepin County was distributed through use of these laws.
Many people who wished to get land from the federal government were living on the land when the surveys were completed. To protect their claims against other claimants they had to register them with the Land Office before someone else made the claim and attempted to dislodge the squatters. Within one year most all the lands in Hennepin County were claimed by someone or other. It was said that 150,000 of the 170,000 acres in the county were occupied in the year 1855. In March of the same year the Military Reserve was further reduced and within two months all the land had a preliminary claim filed on it. Franklin Steel managed to buy Fort Snelling when it was abandoned in July 1858. Within a short period of about five years the government had managed to secure clear title to the land that was to make up St. Louis Park, had surveyed it, platted it, and distributed it to citizens of the United States. Communities do not grow without people, and it is people who make the various institutions like churches, schools, government. etc. It is to the people that we next turn our attention.
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