A History of Minnesota
(v. I)

William Watts Folwell

William Watts Folwell These pages:A History of Minnesota

Volume 1:
first part (here)
second part

Volume 2:
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index pages:

A History of Minnesota
Volume I

First published 1921
Revised edition Copyright © 1956 by the Minnesota Historical Society

II. French Occupations

Father Hennepin went back to France in 1682 and obtained leave to print his narrative in book form. [...] It is generally agreed that this original narrative, which was not well translated into English until 1880, is, in the main, truthful. It is certainly a well-told story, and nothing is omitted which can redound to the credit of the writer. He makes no allusion to Du Luth’s visit to the Sioux the foregoing summer. Du Luth, in a memoir submitted to the French minister for the colonies, after relating his meeting with Hennepin, adds some unimportant observations and lightly disposes of the matter by saying that he put the reverend father and the other two Frenchmen in his canoes and brought them to Michilimackinac. Whoever looks for candor and generosity in the writings of the early explorers, clerical and lay, will be disappointed. Their writings may be said to contain truth.



[...] one hundred and fifty pages of additions. These are so inconsistent with the original narrative and so evidently absurd in themselves as to cause one leading American historian to pronounce them impudent falsehoods and Hennepin an impostor. If he did authorize the publication of the Utrecht edition, he well deserves the compliment.
IV. Minnesota West Acquired — Native Tribes The Frenchman had attached himself but slightly to the soil; he was looking out for the Indian trade, for mines, for buffalo wool, and for pearls. The Englishman cleared the forest and opened farms. His towns and villages depended on and were tributary to a fundamental agriculture. Let it be that the two peoples were equals in talent and patriotism; still the diversity of institutions which they brought with them must have led them into diverse careers. The paternal hand of his king was ever over the French colonist. Every settlement was a little French parish governed from above. The English settler, left to work out his own career, consulted with his neighbors, and organized the town meeting, careless of what might be going on at Whitehall. The confederated townships set a pattern for a union of colonies, which at length ripened into a national bond, stronger than the centralized power of the French could ever have become.



The gun — mazawakan (magic metal) as the Sioux called it — changed the Indian from a hunter providing for the needs of his family to a “pot hunter” slaughtering for the skins the trader was waiting to buy. This occasioned a rapid and continuous decrease in game animals; and this increasing scarcity had the effect of rendering migratory people who in previous ages had been sedentary. The intrusion of tribes in search of new hunting grounds changed the character of war. Occasional forays to win the eagle plume gave place to bloody encounters between men defending their country and invaders seeking to escape starvation.




VII. Early Indian Missions The missionary was a puzzle to the Indian. He could understand the trader, whose business was to make gain; the military man, whose function was warfare; the agent and his assistants, who were paid for their services; but the missionary, who labored, asking nothing in return, he could not understand; and he suspected him accordingly. He was ready at any time to credit the insinuations of traders and whisky-sellers that the missionary was secretly rewarded. Practicing among themselves an almost absolute communism, the Indians distrusted the man who preached to them the duty of love to all and yet persisted in keeping their dwellings and furniture, their domestic animals, and the produce of their gardens for their own use.



The treaty of 1837 with the Mdewakanton contained, as part of the consideration for the land ceded to the United States, an ambiguous item granting an annual sum, which might amount to five thousand dollars, “to be applied in such manner as the President may direct.” The understanding was that this money should constitute “an education fund,” but the treaty did not so state in terms. In spite of executive directions, through influence now impossible to trace, this money was left for long to accumulate in the treasury. Those who hoped for a different destination of the money for years darkly hinted to the Indians that the missionaries were getting it, or were going to get it.
IX. The Territory Organized

When Wisconsin was admitted as a state on May 29, 1848, a new situation was presented. A large part of St. Croix County had been excluded from the new state and had been left, apparently, a no-man’s land without law or government, and its people, without corporate existence. It was thought that no sanction remained for the determination of rights, the punishment of crimes, the solemnization of marriages, the devolution of estates, and the collection of debts. This idea was somewhat industriously bruited. The demand for a territorial government, up to this time confined to a few public men having personal interests, now became general, and the proposition was talked about in all the settlements.



In that day of personal journalism, the day of Bennett, Greeley, and Weed, Goodhue poured out vials of wrath on political opponents and on men whose influence he believed mischievous. His ancestry and training had been Puritan; he stood for order and virtue, a foe to all kinds of iniquity.



In his message of 1851 Governor Ramsey makes a noteworthy recommendation — that of a compulsory arbitration law to lessen litigation and to bring unavoidable controversies to a speedy determination. He proposes that either party might rule the other to hearing before a board of arbitrators which should have all the functions of a court. The award of this board should have the effect of a judgment, to be followed, when necessary, by execution. A right of appeal to the district court should be allowed within a limited time. There were lawyers enough in that legislature to ignore a proposition which promised so little profit to their profession.



A sufficient explanation of this publication may lie in the circumstance that Joseph R. Brown was territorial printer. There is a tradition, needing confirmation, that this enterprising person had a way of preparing elaborate bills which his friends introduced and which were ordered printed at one dollar per thousand ems, no further action being desired or expected. Bills to charter plank road companies appear at this period with suspicious frequency, but never a plank road was built in the territory.
As there was a government appropriation for territorial roads, there was no lack of propositions for its rapid expenditure. No small fraction of the money lodged in the pockets of commissioners, surveyors, and contractors.
X. The “Suland” Acquired Mention has already been made of the habitual sale of goods to Indians upon credit, to be paid for by the furs and skins brought in at the close of the hunting season. There were inevitable losses on these credits, some through dishonesty, more through ill fortune and accident, some through death. Although these losses were pleaded in justification of high prices to the Indians, still they stood on the traders’ books and accumulated and swelled into prodigious unpaid debts. While these were originally obligations of individual Indians, it was not difficult to persuade the red man with his communistic ideas and customs to regard them as tribal obligations. There were ways of convincing Indian chiefs making treaties for their tribes that such debts should be paid out of moneys coming from the United States to the tribes. The sums thus allowed and paid in liquidation of the debts of traders were, as stated by a commissioner of Indian affairs, “an addition to the consideration which would otherwise content the Indians,” by which the treasury of the United States had been heavily taxed. [...] But the practice of liquidating Indian “credits” had become traditional, and whenever an Indian treaty was appointed the traders swarmed to the gathering place with their claims, big and little. More important than the claims themselves or the amount of them was the long existence of an unwritten law that unless some proportion of claims was allowed and provided for there would be no treaty.

As each chief signed the treaty and stepped aside he was “pulled by the blanket” and directed to a place a few feet distant where on the head of a barrel or on a piece of board on the barrel lay another document to be signed. Joseph R. Brown held the pen and all the chiefs signed but two. This document, which later became notorious under the name of the “traders’ paper,” stripped of formal verbiage, contained: (1) an acknowledgment by the chiefs, signing as the authorized representatives of their bands, of sums of money justly due to their traders and half-breeds; (s) a request “hereby, in open council” that the sums below specified should be paid to the persons designated; (3) a solemn pledge by themselves and their nation to make such payment. The paper had not been read nor explained to the Indians in open council at any time, but it was later contended by and in behalf of the traders and the half-breeds that the arrangement was fully understood by the chiefs and braves, that it was consented to by them, and that they were not deceived. [...] Nathaniel McLean, the Sioux agent, writing a year later, said that he saw nothing of the traders’ paper until the Indians were called over to the side table to sign it. He requested the person having it in charge to have it read and explained but his request was refused because “it would make a disturbance” and the Indians understood it anyway. It was the agent’s opinion that had the paper been read and explained at that time the Indians would not have signed it.

XI. Chippewa and Other Indian Affairs It was believed that the Sioux of Minnesota would be pleased to have the Winnebago for neighbors and would surrender a portion of territory for their occupation. This expectation proved to be unfounded.
XII. Territorial Railroad Miscarriage Because the act had been presented to him but one hour and five minutes before the time of final adjournment of the House, he had not been able to eamine the details. Unable, therefore, to formulate his objections, he decided not to withhold his signature but to “leave the responsibility upon those who passed the bill.” How the governor of the territory, aware of the pendency of a measure of such importance, which was the subject of general remark and conversation about the Capitol and the city, could have been kept for a fortnight in such deep ignorance of its provisions, is a question worthy of the attention of some curious investigator. His name was on the list of incorporators.

Note (Hal’s):
This was territorial Governor Willis A. Gorman.

— end note

text checked (see note) Mar 2008

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