Early History Events
From: Minnesota in three Centuries 1655-1908
Editors: Licius F. Hubbard, James H. Baker,
William P. Murray and Warren Upham
The Publishing Society of Minnesotam 1908


IN 1822 and again in 1823 the Sacs and Foxes from Iowa raided the Wahpakoota Sioux, in southwestern Minnesota. At the locality called Sinta-hota (or Gray Tail) between the heads of the Cannon and the Blue Earth Rivers, there was a hot fight on each occasion, the raiders were repulsed. In the battle of the latter year the fight was mainly between the Sisseton Sioux and the Foxes, the latter having their chief Keokuk for leader, and it was in this conflict where Red Chief Soldier, was killed. In the latter part of July, 1831, a band of 40 Sacs from Iowa, attacked some Sissetons on the old battle ground at Gray Tail and killed several of them. Thereafter the Sissetons had their villages nearer the Minnesota River.


In 1822 Lake Minnetonka was first practically discovered and examined by the whites, Joseph R. Brown, then a soldier of the Fort Snelling garrison, in company with Joseph Snelling, the Colonel's son and one or two others followed the Minnehaha creek in all its meanderings, from the fails to the big lake. The trip occupied three days. These were the first white men to visit and report upon the now noted water, although it attracted but little attention in early days.


Of conditions at Fort Snelling in the early summer of 1823 Count Beltrami writes:

There are no buildings around the Fort except three or four log houses on the banks of the river (Minnesota) in which some subaltern agents of the Southwest Fur Company live among the frogs. There is no other landing to be had than in the Fort * * * The land around the fort is cultivated by the soldiers, whom the colonel thus keeps out of idleness, which is dangerous to all classes of men, but particularly to this. Each officer, each company, each employe, has a garden, and might have a farm if there were hands to cultivate it. * * * The colonel has rendered the view of the prairies and forests around. the fort much more agreeable by the introduction of cattle. The country becomes insipid and heartless in time without these animated objects. He has brought oxen, cows, and horses. There are no sheep, owing probably to the too great severity of winters. * * * There is not a single Indian who has a cow, an ox, or a sheep, and very few have horses; this renders it a matter of indifference to them to burn the grass every year, nor do they care if everything else is burned too.

When in July 1820, Governor Cass visited the fort the garrison had ninety acres in cultivation. The soil was very fertile. Green peas had been ready for the table June 15; green corn a month later, and wheat was ready for the sickle August 1.

The visit of General Winfield Scott to Fort Snelling, in 1824, was a notable incident. At that time he was on a tour of inspection of the government forts throughout the Northwest. He had served with great distinction in the War of 1812, a British bullet was in his body and he carried it unto his grave. He spent a week at the fort as the guest of Colonel and Mrs. Snelling and other friends. With them he visited St. Anthony Falls and made some fishing excursions to the lakes in the vicinity, where the water was so clear "that fish could be seen playing about the hook." Mrs. Snelling named one of the. lakes Scott Lake, in the General's honor.

During the winter months in the decade from 1820 to 1830 communication between Fort Snelling and, the civilized world was very infrequent. When mail was received it was brought by special messengers from Prairie du Chien, January 26, 1826, Lieutenant Basley and Russell returned, from furlough and, brought the first mail received by the garrison in five months.

There was an occasional duel between officers at the Fort in early days. One occurred in the winter of 1826, another the following summer, and in 1828 there was an “affair” which well nigh proved fatal to one of the parties. In 1835 Lieutenant James McClure fought and seriously wounded a brother officer who had spoken disrepeetfully o the Lieutenant’s Indian sweetheart. The wounds of the duellists were accounted for as accidental hurts received while on a hunting party.


In the smnmer of 1825 there was an epidemic of bilious fever and bloody flux among the Indians. Returning from the Prairie du Chien treaty in three Mackinaw boats, there was much distress among the Sioux delegates. Below Lake Pepin, a Sisseton chief died. At Little Crow’s village, near Dayton’s Bluff, St. Paul, the sickness among the red men had increased to such an extent that a boat load of them was left, and help sent from the Fort. The remainder of the party, in sad plight, reached. the St. Peter’s August 30. Agent Taliaferro appointed Mr. Laidlaw to conduct the Yanktons, Wahpatons, Wah-pay-kootas, and Sissetons to their homes, but twelve of them died on the way. Among the Chippewas who died at this time, at the mouth of Sauk River was the wife of Hole-in-the-Day, the first chieftain of the name. She was the mother of Hole-in-the-Day of recent memory.

In February and March 1826 snow fell in the Minnesota country to the depth of two and three feet on a level. Fierce blizzards followed and there was great suffering among the Indians. On one occasion thirty lodges of Sissetons and other Upper Sioux, in all seventy people, were overtaken by a snow storm and blizzard on the prairie between the Pomme de Terre and the Chippewa River, probably in what is now Swift County. The storm lasted three days and the Indians were completely "snowed in." Provisions grew scarce and scarcer, and a fresh supply could not be obtained.

At last some of the stronger men with a few pairs of snowshoes, started through the deep snow and in a howling storm for the trading post at Lake Traverse, eighty miles away. They reached the post oniy half alive. The traders at once sent four of their Canadian employes and the Indians with provisions and other relief. The travel was so hard that more than a week was passed in making the journey, eighty miles.

When the relief party reached the scene of distress the conditions were found to be terrible. There were many dead bodies lying about unburied and the wretched survivors were feeding upon them. Three or four skeletons were found with the bones picked clean. One young mother, naturally bright, intelligent, and handsome, had eaten her dead children and a portion of her dead father's arms. Her privation had caused her to become insane, nor did she ever recover her reason, although she lived several years afterward. Her name was Ta-shena-ota-win; in English, "the woman with many blankets." In 1829 she was brought down to Fort Snelling. In September of that year she, on one occasion, approached Captain W. R. Jouett, of the First Infantry, and laying her hands playfully on his shoulders asked him, smilingly: "Do you know what is the best part of a man to eat ?" In great astonishment the Captain at once replied, "No !" She rejoined: "I will tell you the arms. Then she begged the officer for a piece of his servant girl to eat, saying that she was "so nice and fat." A few days afterward she threw herself from the bluff above Fort Snelling into the Mississippi. Her body was found just above the mouth of the Minnesota and decently buried by Agent Taliaferro.

The spring of 1826 was very inclement and backward. March 20, there fell a deep snow which drifted in heaps from six to fifteen feet. On the 5th of April there was another violent snow storm, during which there were lightening and thunder. April 10 the thermometer went down to four degrees above zero and the ice 'was still thick in the Mississippi. On the 14th, only four days latter, there was a heavy rain, and the next day the ice in the St. Peter's broke up although the Mississippi ice remained firm until the 21st, when it began to move and carried away Jean B. Faribault's house on Pike's Island. For several days the rivers were twenty feet above high-water mark and all of the houses on the low lands were washed away. But May 2, Captain Lawrence came to the St. Peter's with the steamboat Lawrence, and everybody was happy. Numerous excursions were made on the boat to the falls and elsewhere, and there was a ball in her cabin every night.

The year 1829 was known as the "dry year." For ten months the average monthly precipitation of rain and snow was one inch. The crops and vegetation about Fort Snelling, were well nigh entire failures. During several weeks of the summer the navigation of the Mississippi was almost impossible. July 27, Lieutenant Reynolds arrived at the fort with a keelboat of supplies; but half of the cargo had been left at Pine Bend before the boat could pass the sand bar at that point, and the trip from St. Louis had occupied sixty days. The arrival was most opportune, for the garrison was eating its last barrel of flour.

During the drouthy summer, Hazen P. Mooers, a trader from Lake Traverse, came down to Fort Snelling, in boats on the Minnesota with 126 packs of furs, valued at $12,000.


In 1826 negro slavery was practically general throughout the United States. At Fort Snelling there were quite a number of slaves of both sexes. Major Taliaferro, had inherited several black bondmen and bondw omen and he hired them to the officers of the garrison. In March his negro boy, William, who was employed by Colonel Snelling, attempted to shoot a hawk but accidentally wounded a white boy named Henry McCullum, the wound being well nigh fatal.

In May, Captain Plympton, of the Fifth Infantry, wished to purchase the Major's negro woman Eliza, but the Major refused to sell her, saying it was his intention to ultimately free all his slaves. He seems, however, to have changed his mind, for he sold one of his men to Captain Gale, and one of his girls, named Harriet, to Dr. John Emerson, the surgeon of the fort. Harriet was married here by Agent Taliaferro, to Dred Scott, then the humble slave of Dr. Emerson, but who subsequently became a historic p.ersonage. The Bred Scott case became a "cause celebra" and the decision of the United States Supreme Court thereon constitute a most prominent and influential event in American history.

Major Taliaferro brought Harriet to Fort Snelling in 1835 and the following year sold her to Dr. Emerson, who married her to his man Dred. In 1838, when Dr. Emerson was transferred to Jefferson Barracks, he took Bred and Harriet to St. Louis. They had two children, one of which was born on the steamboat Gipsy. After the death of Dr. Emerson, Dred Scott, in 1852, brought suit in the Missouri State Circuit court against the doctor's widow, Irene, for his freedom, contending that having lived in free territory at Rock Island and Fort Snelling for four years he had become a free man. The lower court sustained his contention, but the Supreme Court of Missouri, one Judge dissenting, reversed the judgment. Mrs. Emerson then sold him to John F. A. Sandford a citizen of New York. In 1853 Dred again sued for his freedom, this time in the United States Circuit court for Missouri reversing his former contention. The case was decided against him and appealed to the United States Supreme Court, a majority of which body, in March, 1857, affirmed the decision. Chief Justice Taney, who wrote the decision, held that a slave was not a citizen and. had no standing in a United States Court to sue by himself. As an American citizen could not be made a slave, a slave could not be an American citizen. The Chief Justice also held that the temporary residence of a slave with his master on free soil did not entitle the slave to freedom and incidentally that Congress could not prohibit slavery in the territories. But soon after the decision Dred Scott obtained his freedom. By inheritance he and his family had passed to the family of a Massachusetts member of Congress. In May, 1857, they were emancipated by their then owner, Mr. Taylor Blow. They had been conveyed to him by a Mr. Chaffee for that purpose.

When Dr. Wiliamson established his mission station at Kaposia, near St. Paul, he bought for the use of the mission a negro slave man named James Thompson, from an officer at the Fort.

The only resident of Minnesota who was a slave owner was Alexis Bailly, a prominent mixed blood trader, who in about 1840 bought a negro man from Major Garland, of the Fort Snelling garrison. The negro died a year or so later.

At first the Sioux did not draw the color line against the negroes. They called them black Frenchmen, ("Wasechon Sapa") laughed at their wooly heads and made merry over them generally.

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