Author: Coffin, Charles Carleton, 1823-1896
Minnesota — Description and travel
Red River of the North
The Seat of Empire
WHITE BEAR LAKE.
SEAT OF EMPIRE.
CHARLES CARLETON COFFIN,
“I now believe that the ultimate last seat of government on this great continent will be found somewhere within a circle or radius not very far from the spot on which I stand, at the head of navigation on the Mississippi River.”
W. H. Seward, Speech at St. Paul, 1860.
FIELDS, OSGOOD, & CO.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1870, by
CHARLES CARLETON COFFIN,
in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
University Press: Welch, Bigelow, & Co.,
JOHN GREGORY SMITH,
GOVERNOR OF VERMONT DURING THE REBELLION,
WHOM I FIRST SAW TENDERLY CARING FOR THE SICK AND
WOUNDED IN THE HOSPITALS OF FREDERICKSBURG, AND
THROUGH WHOSE ENERGY AND PERSEVERANCE
ONE OF THE GREATEST ENTERPRISES OF
THE PRESENT CENTURY HAS BEEN
IS AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED.
FROM CHICAGO TO MINNEAPOLIS.
|Cutting loose from Care.—Map of the Northwest.—Leaving Chicago.—Fourth of July.—At La Crosse.—Dance on a Steamboat.—Up the Mississippi.—The Boundaries of Minnesota.—Winona.—St. Paul.—Minneapolis.—The Father of Waters in Harness||1|
ST. CLOUD AND BEYOND.
|St. Cloud.—Our Party.—First Night in Camp.—A Midnight Thunder-Storm.—Sunday in Camp.—Up the Sauk Valley.—White Bear Lake.—Catching a Turtle.—Lightning Lake.—Second Sabbath in Camp.—The River Systems of the Northwest—Elevations across the Continent.—The Future||25|
THE RED RIVER COUNTRY.
|Down the Valley of the Red River.—Breckenridge.—Fort Abercrombie.—Climate.—Winters at Winnipeg.—Burlington.—The Emigrant.—Father Genin.—Mackenzie.—Harman.—Sir John Richardson.—Captain Palliser.—Father De Smet.—Winters||51|
THE EMPIRE OF THE NORTHWEST.
|Winnipeggers.—Ride over the Prairie.—Dakota City.—Georgetown.—Hudson Bay Company Teams.—Parting with our Friends.—The 43d Parallel.—Dakota.—Wyoming.—Montana.—Idaho.—Oregon.—Washington.—British Columbia.—Distances.—Fisheries of the Pacific.—Mr. Seward’s Speech||77|
|Bottineau.—The Leaf Hills.—A Ride over the Plain.—The Park Region.—Settlers.—How they kept the Fourth of July.—Chippewa Indians.—Rush Lake.—A Serenade on the Prairie.—German Pioneers.—Otter-Tail Lake||109|
ROUND THE CAMP-FIRE.
|Noon Lunch.—Toasting Pork.—A Montana Dutchman.—Emigrant Trains.—Camping at Night—Wheat of Minnesota.—The State in 1849.—A Word to Young Men.—Boys once more.—Our Last Camp-Fire||123|
IN THE FOREST.
|Down-Easters.—The Eden of Lumbermen.—Country East of the Mississippi.—The Climate of the Forest Region.—White Bear Lake.—Travellers from Duluth.—A Maine Farmer in Minnesota.—Chengwatona.—Pitching of the Mud-Wagon.— Grindstone.—Kettle River.—Superior||137|
|Duluth.—Minnesota Point.—The Projected Breakwater.—Comparison with the Suez Canal.—The Town.—Period of Navigation.—The Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad.— Transportation.—Elevators.—St. Louis River.—Minnesota Slate Quarry.—An Indian Chief and his Followers.—Railroad Lands.—Manufacturing Industry.—Terms of the Railroad Company||164|
THE MINING REGION.
|The Apostle Islands.—Bayfield.—The Harbor.—Breakfast with Captain Vaughn.—Ashland.—Big Trout.—Ontonagon.—Approach to Marquette.—The Harbor.—The Town.—Discovery of Iron Ore.—Mining Companies.—Varieties of Ore.—The Miners.—The Coming Years||169|
A FAMILIAR TALK.
|A Talk about the Northwest.—Mr. Blotter.—He wants a Farm.—Government Lands.—Homestead Law of Minnesota.—Exemption Laws.—The St. Paul and Pacific Railroad.—Liberal Terms of Payment.—Stock-Raising.—Robbing Mother Earth.—Native Grasses.—Fruit.—Small Grains.—Productions of the State, 1869.—Schools.—When to Emigrate.—Prospective Development.—The Tide of Emigration||186|
NORTHERN PACIFIC RAILROAD.
|How Communities grow.—Humboldt.—What I saw in 1846.—The Pacific Coast.—River-Systems.—Lewis and Clark.—Jeff Davis.—Charter of the Company.—The Projectors.—The Line.—From Lake Superior to the Mississippi.—To the Rocky Mountains.—Deer Lodge Pass.—The Western Slope.—Mr. Roberts’s Report.—Snow Blockades.—Elevations.—Power of Locomotives.—Bureau of Emigration.—Portable Houses.—Help to Emigrants.—The Future||207|
THE SEAT OF EMPIRE.
FROM CHICAGO TO MINNEAPOLIS.
Last summer I cut loose from all care, and enjoyed a few weeks of freedom and recreation with a party of gentlemen on the frontier between Lake Superior and the Missouri River. I was charmed by the beauty of the country, amazed at its resources, and favorably impressed by its probable future. Its attractions were set forth in a series of letters contributed to the Boston Journal.
People from every Eastern State, as well as from New York and the British Provinces, have called upon me since my return, for the purpose of “having a talk about the Northwest,” while others have applied by letter for additional or specific information, and others still have requested a republication of the letters. In response to these calls this small volume has been prepared, setting forth the physical features of the vast reach of country lying between the Lakes and the Pacific, not only in the United States, but in British America as well.
The most trustworthy accounts of persons who have lived there, as well as of engineers who have been sent out by the United States, British, and Canadian governments, have been collated, that those seeking a home in Minnesota or Dakota may know what sort of a country lies beyond, and what will be its probable future.
The map accompanying the volume has been prepared for the most part by the Bureau of the United States Topographical Engineers. It gives me pleasure to acknowledge my indebtedness to Major-General Humphreys, in charge of the Bureau, and to Colonel Woodruffe, in charge of the map department, for permission to use the same.
Through their courtesy I am enabled to place before the public the most complete map ever published of the country between the 36th and 55th parallel, extending across the continent, and showing not only the entire railway system of the Eastern and Middle States, but also the Union Pacific Railroad and the Northern Pacific, now under construction. The figures followed by the letter T have reference to the elevation of the locality above tide-water, thus enabling the reader to obtain at a glance a comprehensive idea of the topographical as well as the geographical features of the country.
“All aboard for the Northwest!”
So shouted the stalwart porter of the Sherman House, Chicago, on the morning of the 5th of July, 1869.
Giving heed to the call, we descended the steps of the hotel and entered an omnibus waiting at the door, that quickly whirled us to the depot of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad.
There were about a dozen gentlemen in the party, all bound for the Northwest, to explore a portion of the vast reach of country lying between Lake Superior and the great northern bend of the Missouri River.
It was a pleasant, sunny, joyful morning. The anniversary of the nation’s independence having fallen on the Sabbath, the celebration was observed on Monday, and the streets resounded with the explosion of fire-crackers. Americans, Germans, Norwegians, Irish, people of all nationalities, were celebrating the birthday of their adopted country. Not only in Chicago, but throughout the cosmopolitan State of Wisconsin, as we sped over its fertile prairies and through its towns and villages during the day, there was a repetition of the scene.
Settlers from New England and the Middle States were having Sabbath-School, temperance, or civic celebrations; Irish societies were marching in procession, bearing green banners emblazoned with the shamrock, thistle, and harp of Erin; Germans were drinking lager beer, singing songs, and smoking their meerschaums. All work was laid aside, and all hands—farmers with their wives and daughters, young men with their sweethearts, children in crowds—were observing in their various ways the return of the holiday.
Our route was by way of La Crosse, which we reached late in the evening. We were to go up the Mississippi on a steamer that lay moored to the bank. Its cabin was aglow with lights. Entering it, we found a party of ladies and gentlemen formed for a quadrille. They were the officers of the boat and their friends from the town. A negro with a bass-viol, and two Germans with violins, were tuning their instruments and rosining their bows.
We were met upon the threshold by a rosy-cheeked damsel, who gleefully exclaimed,—
“O, yeau have arrived at the right moment! We are having a right good time, and we only want one more gentleman to make it go real good. Yeau’ll dance neaw, won’t ye? I want a partner. O, ye will neaw. I know ye will, and ye’ll call off the changes tew, won’t ye? Neaw dew.”
Not having a “light fantastic toe” on either foot, we were forced to say no to this lively La Crosse maiden; besides, we were tired and covered with dust, and in sad plight for the ball-room. A member of Congress was next appealed to, then a grave and dignified Doctor of Divinity.
A more ungallant party than ours never stood on a Western steamboat. Governor, judge, parson, members of Congress, all shook their heads and resisted the enthusiastic lady. In vain she urged them, and the poor girl, with downcast countenance, turned from the obdurate Yankees, and sailed in gloriously with a youth who fortunately entered the cabin at the moment.
It was a rare sight to see, for they danced with a will. They made the steamer shake from stem to stern. The glass lamps tinkled in their brass settings, and the doors of staterooms rattled on their hinges, especially when the largest gentleman of the party came to a shuffle.
He is the Daniel Lambert of the Mississippi,—immense and gigantic, and having great development round the equator.
Quadrille, cotillon, and waltz, and genuine western break-downs followed one after the other. There was plenty to eat and drink in the pantry. The first thing we heard in the evening was the tuning of the instruments; the last thing, as we dropped off to sleep, was the scraping of the violins and the shuffling of feet.
We are awake in the morning in season to take a look at the place before the boat casts off from its mooring for a trip to Winona.
A company of Norwegian emigrants that came with us on the train from Chicago are cooking their breakfast in and around the station. They sailed from Christiania for Quebec, and have been six weeks on the way. All ages are represented. It is a party made up of families. There are many light-haired maidens among them with deep blue eyes and blonde complexions; and robust young men with honest faces, who have bidden farewell forever to their old homes upon the fiords of Norway, and who henceforth are to be citizens of the United States.
They will find immediate employment on the railroads of Minnesota, in the construction of new lines. They are not hired by the day, but small sections are let out to individuals, who receive a specified sum for every square yard of earth thrown up.
There is no discussion of the eight-hour question among them. They work sixteen hours of their own accord, instead of haggling over eight. They have no time to engage in rows, nor do they find occasion. They have had a bare existence in their old home; life there was ever a struggle, the mere keeping together of soul and body, but here Hope leads them on. They are poor now, but a few years hence they will be well off in the world. They will have farms, nice houses, money in banks, government bonds, and railway stocks. They will obtain land at government price, will raise wheat, wool, or stock, and will soon find their land quadrupled in value. They will make excellent citizens. Their hearts are on the right side,—not physiologically, but morally, politically, and religiously speaking. They are ardent lovers of liberty; they cannot be trammelled by any shackles, political or ecclesiastical. They are frugal, industrious, and honest. Already there are several daily papers published in the Scandinavian language.
The steamer is ploughing the Mississippi against the current northward. Wisconsin is on our right, Minnesota on our left; and while we are moving on toward the region of country which we are to visit, we may while away the time by thinking over the general characteristics of the State of Minnesota, in which our explorations are to commence.
The southern boundary strikes the river twenty-two miles below La Crosse. If I were to go down there and turn my steps due west, I might walk two hundred and sixty-four miles along the Iowa line before reaching the southwestern corner of the State. The western side is the longest, and if I were to start from the southwestern corner and travel due north, I should have a journey of three hundred and sixty miles to accomplish before reaching the northern boundary,—the line between the United States and British America.
Starting from Pembina, at the northwest corner of the State, on the Red River of the North, and travelling due east eighty miles, I should reach the Lake of the Woods; sailing across it sixty miles, then entering the river leading to Rainy Lake, I might pass through the wonderful water-way of lakes and rivers reaching to Lake Superior,—a distance of about four hundred miles.
The eastern boundary formed by the Mississippi, St. Croix, and Lake Superior is more irregular. Its general outline, as we look at it upon the map, is that of a crescent, cutting into Minnesota, the horns turned eastward. The area within the boundaries thus described is estimated at 84,000 square miles, or 54,760,000 acres. It is a territory larger than Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut combined.
Here, upon the Mississippi, I gaze upon bluffs of gray limestone wrought into fantastic shape by the winds and storms of centuries and by the slow wearing of the river; but were I to climb them, and gain the general level of the country, I should behold rolling prairies dotted with lakes and ponds of pure water, and groves of oak and hickory. All of Minnesota east of the Mississippi is a timbered region. Here and there are openings; but, speaking in general terms, the entire country east of the river is a forest, which through the coming years will resound with the axe of the lumberman.
When we go up the Mississippi eighty miles above St. Paul to St. Cloud, we shall find the Sauk River coming in from the west; and there the Mississippi is no longer the boundary of the timbered lands, but the forest reaches across the stream westward to Otter-Tail River, a distance of more than one hundred miles. The Sauk River is its southern boundary.
All the region north of the Sauk, at the head-waters of the Mississippi and north of Lake Superior, is well supplied with timber. A belt of woods forty miles wide, starting from the Crow-Wing River, extends south nearly to the Iowa boundary. It is broken here and there by prairie openings and fertile meadows. The tract is known throughout the Northwest as the region of the “Big Woods.”
There are fringes of timber along the streams, so that the settler, wherever he may wish to make a home, will generally find material for building purposes within easy reach. In this respect Minnesota is one of the most favored States of the Union.
The formations of the bluffs now and then remind us of old castles upon the Rhine. They are, upon an average, three hundred and fifty feet above the summer level of the river. We are far from the Gulf of Mexico, yet the river at St. Paul is only six hundred and seventy-six feet above tide-water.
Northward of Minneapolis the bluffs disappear, and the surface of the river is but a few feet below the general level of the country, which is about one thousand feet above the sea.
It is one of the remarkable topographical features of the continent, that from St. Paul to the Peace River, which empties into the Athabasca, the elevation is about the same, though the distance is more than one thousand miles. Throughout this great extent of territory, especially in Minnesota, are innumerable lakes and ponds of pure fresh water, some of them having no visible outlet or inlet, with pebbly shores and beaches of white sand, bordered by groves and parks of oak, ash, and maple, lending an indescribable charm to the beauty of the landscape.
While we are making these observations the steamer is nearing Winona, a pleasant town, delightfully situated on a low prairie, elevated but a few feet above the river. The bluffs at this point recede, giving ample room for a town site with a ravine behind it.
Nature has done a great deal for the place,—scooping out the ravine as if the sole purpose had been to make the construction of a railroad an easy matter. The Winona and St. Peter’s Railway strikes out from the town over the prairie, winds through the ravine, and by easy grades gains the rolling country beyond. The road is nearly completed to the Minnesota River, one hundred and forty miles.