Location - Development - Opportunities
F. C. Miller, Ph. D.
BEGINNINGS OF ST. PAUL
The first party of painted savages who raised
a few huts upon the Thames did not dream of the
London they were creating.
— James Martineau
In 1838 the civil inhabitants of Fort Snelling were ordered off the reservation. Among them was Pierre Parrant, a French Canadian, who went down stream and took a holding in what is now St. Paul. He was, accordingly, the first white settler of the city.
His first claim near Fountain Cave, not far from the Omaha shops, was mortgaged for ninety dollars. He was unable to meet the mortgage and lost the property. Another claim was taken near the foot of Robert Street. He sold it for ten dollars. It is now worth millions.
Though Parrant had a reputation for boldness and courage, he was, according to all accounts, by no means a man of fine appearance. The early pioneers, just like school boys, were never backward in giving their companions nicknames which frequently were accurate estimates of character. Very often some physical defect was cleverly used to inflict on a person a name that stuck to him till death. So it came to pass that Parrant, who had a defective eye, was called Pig's Eye. Though that name was descriptive of the first settler, it was not an appropriate name for the infant settlement, bordered by the stately Mississippi and the gloriously wooded slopes and crowns of crags, battlements, and bluffs of the St. Paul Gorge. Despite this contradiction of name and fact, the present capital city of the State of Minnesota started its career with the crude frontier name Pig's Eye.
For two or three years St. Paul suffered from this infliction, though the little settlement showed vigorous sign(of life. In 1841, Father Gaultier succeeded in building a small log-house chapel near Bench Street, in the vicinity of Third Street and Jackson Street and dedicated it to St. Paul, the apostle of nations. The worthy priest, resenting the coarse name of Pig's Eye for the village in which his church was located, proposed as a substitute the name of St. Paul. His suggestion was welcomed and the infant city received the name of St. Paul, though the name of Pig's Eye continued to be used by some of the rougher frontiersmen for some time. Before the name of St. Paul became permanent, the place was also frequently called St. Paul's Landing. The original Indian name was Innijiska, sometimes spelled Imnijaska, meaning White Rock.
Benjamin and Pierre Gervais were the next settlers to arrive, July, 1838. It was Benjamin who bought Parrant's second claim for ten dollars. He afterwards sold or donated this land and took up a claim on the lake that now bears his name.
Edward Phelan, Joseph Hays, and William Evans arrived soon afterwards. In 1839 many persons arrived and settled in what is now St. Paul.
When A. L. Larpenteur arrived at the levee in St. Paul iv 1843 with a stock of groceries, he, or rather his supplies, were greeted with welcoming shouts by the whole population of St. Paul, which consisted at that time of about twelve white persons and two or three hundred Indians. In addition to a number of Indian lodges, there were only three or four log houses in the future capital city of Minnesota.
An early writer of the history of St. Paul says that in 1843 St. Paul "was a mixture of forests, hills, running brooks, ravines, bog-mires, lakes, mosquitoes, snakes, and Indians." The road on Third Street from Jackson Street to Wabasha Street was almost impassable on account of the thick underbrush and dense forest. North of Fourth Street, travel was almost out of the question on account of swamps and bogs. Near the old Capitol was a splendid waterfall, the waters of which found their way by many twists and turns to a lake on Eighth Street near Robert Street, in which the Indians and hardy white pioneers caught many fish. The waters of this lake found their way to the river by way of a gulch near Robert Street.
Up to 1846 there had not been much river traffic to and from St. Paul, but in that year the traffic increased to such an extent that St. Paul became one of the "points" (regular stopping places) of the river with much more frequent service. The river traffic grew steadily till about 1858, and, though the Civil War affected it seriously, it continued till about 1862, in which year the first railroad in the state was built between St. Paul and St. Anthony (East Minneapolis). After railroads entered the state, the river traffic languished.
Up to 1849 the only way to get in or out of Minnesota (which then had about 1,000 inhabitants) was by way of the Mississippi, its branches, and Lake Superior. There were no stage lines or railroads; in fact, there were no roads that could be called roads. The river trip from St. Paul to St. Louis took from 25 to 30 days. The fuel used on the steamers was wood, which was frequently chopped down by the passengers of the boat, if they were in a hurry to reach their destination.
The land conveyances were exceedingly primitive. To travel by wagon was impossible on account of the total lack of passable roads. A good horseman, however, could manage to make his way on the open prairie, some of the main Indian trails, and, in low water, on river bottoms. For freight, the only efficient land vehicle was the Red River cart.
The Red River carts were so named because a good stretch of the trail, between the Canadian Northwest and St. Paul, was in the Red River Valley. It is said that these carts were first made about 1800 and are still used to-day for the transportation of furs in the extreme northwestern sections of Canada that are distant from modern means of transportation. During the infancy of St. Paul the arrival of 150 to 200 Red River carts loaded with furs and drawn by oxen or ponies was one of the red-letter days for old and young. The excitement to-day incident to the coming of a big circus fades into insignificance compared to the excitement caused by the arrival of the Red River carts in the struggling jumping-off place called St. Paul in the forties and fifties of the nineteenth century. When the carts arrived in the latter part of August or early in September, the population of St. Paul, men, women, and children, neglected and abandoned all work in their eagerness to see several hundred (sometimes close to a thousand) carts line up on Th1rd Street in charge of their fantastically clothed half-breed drivers, who, with their savage whoops and shouts, almost awoke the dead in the primitive churchyard a short distance away.
The carts were entirely made of wood and leather without a nail or scrap of iron. The two wheels simply consisted of well-seasoned wood that had been bent into the required circular shape. Between the wheels and resting upon the axle was a large wooden box into which a load of almost a thousand pounds of fur could easily be packed. The oxen or ponies were attached to the carts by wide belts of buffalo or deer hide. As the wooden axles and wheels were never lubricated, the noise made by the moving carts could be heard for some distance. The boys and girls of St. Paul had sharp ears for the creaking and squeaking of these queer vehicles. No threat or punishment could prevent them from making a bee line to the source of the hideous noise.
The northern terminus of the Red River carts was Pembina or Winnipeg. The distance traveled by them per day was from twelve to fifteen miles. The route usually taken was up the Red River to Big Stone Lake and then along the Minnesota River by way of Traverse des Sioux (St. Peter) to St. Paul. Sometimes a detour was made by way of Otter Tail and Sauk Rapids.
The drivers of the carts lived largely on pemmican, which consisted of dried, chopped-up buffalo-meat mixed with buffalo-fat. The mixture was then pounded and pressed into bags made of buffalo hide. Occasionally, however, when the oxen or ponies were resting and game was easy to obtain, a change of fresh meat was eagerly sought.
The cargo brought by these carts to St. Paul consisted chiefly of various furs and buffalo robes. The outgoing cargo from St. Paul was largely tea, tobacco, alcohol, and hunters' supplies. The importance to St. Paul of the Red River cart traffic may be judged from the fact that merchants adjusted their credits in such a way that they were not expected to pay their bills till a certain date after the arrival of the Red River carts. Even personal accounts were, as a rule, not pressed until the squeaking and creaking Red River carts were on their home-bound trail to the Northwestern wilds of Minnesota and Canada.
The Minnesota Democrat of July 13, 1851, said: "The great Red River caravan will be here on Thursday or Friday. It consists of 102 carts laden with buffalo skins, moccasins, leggings, coats, ornaments, curiosities, and pemmican."
The business made possible by such a caravan was an important asset to St. Paul. It reflects one phase of the city's beginnings very vividly.
The first school in St. Paul was not a public school but a Protestant Mission School. A missionary at Kaposia (South St. Paul) alarmed at the utter lack of educational and religious facilities for the growing generation wrote to the Governor of Vermont for help in procuring a Christian teacher for the young in the frontier village of St. Paul. And as the nearest bookstore was fully 300 miles away from St. Paul, the missionary requested also that she bring school books along from the cultured Green Mountain State. In accordance with this request, the governor sent Miss Harriet Bishop to St. Paul. She is said to have been a typical New Englander, positive, determined, and non-compromising. At the same time she was a devoted worker in her chosen field. Many are the hardships that she cheerfully bore for the sake of the religion and education of her pupils. No blinding blizzard could keep her from her beloved school. Nor could a skulking savage, in full war paint, frighten her from the trail to the school house. The work she did in the desolate river town in the Wild West can hardly be overestimated. It was no doubt back-breaking and discouraging work to teach reading, writing, arithmetic, and the fundamentals of the Protestant religion to the half-savage children. Still this was comparatively easy toil compared with the desperate work Miss Bishop was compelled to do in making her pupils clean, wholesome, and courteous civilized human beings. She knew nothing of discouragement and had no idea of failure. Her influence for good in this wild outpost of advancing civilization was very great. She was the first torch-bearer of the culture of the East, the first transmitter of the wisdom of the ages on the banks of the upper Mississippi. If we consider the results she attained, we are filled with wonder when we examine the scanty means at her disposal and her more than primitive school environment.
Miss Bishop describes her schoolroom in these words: "A little log hovel, covered with bark and chinked with mud, previously used as a blacksmith shop. Dimensions 10 x 12. On three sides of the interior of the humble cabin pegs were driven into the logs, upon which boards were laid for seats. A seat reserved for visitors was made by placing one end of a plank between cracks in the logs and the other end upon a chair. A cross-legged, rickety table in the center and a hen's nest in the corner completed the furniture."
In 1853, Dr. Edward D. Neill established the Baldwin School, situated at Fifth and Washington streets, and named in honor of Matthew Baldwin, founder of the Baldwin Locomotive Works, who contributed · to the erection and maintenance of the school. This school was intended for girls, but "lads" were admitted. The first year 43 girls and 26 boys attended. Anna M. Paul was principal, and Mary K. Brewster and Harriet A. Kellogg, assistants.
Two years later a department was organized for boys. This department developed finally into Macalester College, while the department for girls became Oak Hall, which is, therefore, the oldest exclusive girls' school in the city, except St. Joseph's Academy, which was founded in 1851.
Churches and schools usually develop side by side. In St. Paul the church was first. Under the direction of Rev. Lucian Gaultier a Catholic church was erected at Third and Jackson streets. Then came the first school in 1847.
In 1847 St. Paul was just a small frontier town. Says Miss Bishop: "It must be borne in mind that St. Paul was a small trading post, giving as yet no sign of its unprecedented growth. The council fires of the red men were but just extinguished on the east side (north side of the Mississippi) and were still brightly blazing on the opposite side of the river. Our village was almost daily thronged with Indians where they frequently encamped in larger numbers than the entire adult [white] male population of the Territory."
The first Protestant church (Presbyterian) was erected in 1849 on Washington street near Fourth, with Rev. Edward D. Neill as pastor. The Methodist Episcopal denomination occupied a neat brick edifice in December of that same year, and soon afterwards the Protestant Episcopal and Baptist denominations erected buildings.
It was not till 1849 that the town of St. Paul was divided into three districts and the first three public schools established. One of them was in the basement of a church, another in the lecture-room of a preacher, and the third was erected on a lot donated by W. H. Randall.
In the year 1849 St. Paul was incorporated as a town by Act of the Legislature. The same act created Ramsey County and made St. Paul the county seat. The corporate limits contained about ninety acres. Its present area is a little more than fifty-five square miles, or 35,482 acres. In other words, it is 391 times as large at present as when it was incorporated, and the present value of its real estate is approximately four hundred millions.
On March 4, 1854 St. Paul was incorporated as a city.
In 1856 the vicinity of St. Paul was devastated of crops by a swarm of Rocky Mountain locusts that darkened the sky and caused terror. Wagon loads of these insects were shoveled off the streets and dumped into the river.
Interesting First Facts of Saint Paul
|First settler||Pierre Parrant||1838|
|First wedding||James R. Clewett and Rose Perry|
|First white child born||Basil Gervais||1839|
|First Catholic church||At Third and Jackson Sts.||1841|
|First priest||Rev. Lucian Gaultier||1841|
|First postmaster||Henry Jackson||1846|
|First school teacher||Harriet Bishop||1847|
|First school house||At Third and St. Peter Sts.||1847|
|First physician and druggist||Dr. John J. Dewey||1847|
|First hotel||J. W. Bass||1847|
|First tax assessment||$85,000||1849|
|First Protestant church||On Washington St. near Fourth||1849|
|First Protestant pastor||Rev. Edward D. Neill||1849|
|First brick residence||Erected by Rev. Edward D. Neill||1849|
|First newspaper||Minnesota Pioneer||1849|
|First Editor||James M. Goodhue||1849|
|First 4th of July||Celebration||1849|
|First Methodist Church||Market St. opposite Rice Park||1849|
|First Thanksgiving Sermon||Edward D. Neill||1850|
|First courthouse and jail||At Wasbasha and Fourth Sts.||1851|
|First School for Girls||St. Joseph's Academy||1851|
|First School for Boys||Cretin||1851|
|First railroad||St. Paul and Pacific||1852|
|First mayor||David Olmstead||1854|
|First fire department||Pioneer Hook and Ladder Co.||1855|
|First superintendent of schools||Edward D. Neill||1856|
|First police headquarters||Adjacent to Rice Park||1857|
|First city directory||1,700 names||1857|
|First bridge across the Mississippi||At Wabasha Street||1858|
|First Telegraph Message||To Secretary W. H. Seward||1860|
Who was the first settler in St. Paul?
Who proposed the present name for the city?
What was the first railroad built to the city? When?
On what transportation had we depended before railroads came
Tell about the Red River traffic and carts.
What was the first school in St. Paul?
In what year was the city incorporated?