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Chapter 1
Pages 561-570

From the book about Wabasha Co. Minnesota
Compiled by Dr. L. H. Bunnell
Published Chicago by H. H. Hill, Publishers, 1884
Republished Currently by Higginson Books

In addition, there is a short historical sketch from the Catholic Encyclopedia
concerning the first incursions into Minnesota.

MINNESOTA was settled by the French in 1680, and in 1763 they ceded the territory to Great Britain.

In 1766 it was explored by Capt. Jonathan Carger, of Connecticut, and in 1738, about one hundred years from the present time, it became a part of the United States and was included in the Northwestern Territory.

Minnesota contains the summit of the central tablelands of the North American continent, where, within a few miles of each other, are the sources of rivers which find their outlets in Hudson's Bay, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Gulf of Mexico; and it has more than fifteen hundred miles of navigable rivers, the sources of which are one thousand six hundred and eighty feet above the level of the sea.

Following their era, comes the Aboriginal period, or the period when the red race were in possession of this region, and probably all the American continent, when it was discovered in the eleventh century. The nation which occupied this spot and the region round about, from the period concerning which any tradition exists, was the Dahcotah, or Sioux, one of the most powerful of the Indian nations of North America.

In 1834 they consisted of seven distinct bands, known as the "M'day-wakentons," or People of the Lakes, whose summer residence was in villages, the lodges being built of elm bark laid upon a framework of poles.

The authority of the chiefs in olden times was very great, but from the date of the first treaties negotiated with government it began to decline, until finally the chief was merely considered to be the mouthpiece of the soldiers' lodge, the members of which constituted the only real power of the bands.

Old Wapashaw, long since dead, was the leading hereditary chief of the People of the Lakes, and in all intertribal affairs of importance his word was law, not only with his own particular band, but with all those belonging to the same division.

But it is not necessary to speak at length of the red race in this work, as their character, history and customs are too well known.

They seem doomed to disappear before the settlement of the white man, and there is something very sad in the way they have been dispossessed of their ancestral heritage by the palefaced intruder, however lightly they may be regarded by those who have mingled with them on the frontier.

The first settlement of this part of Minnesota is due entirely to the French. In the year 1654 two adventurous young men connected with the fur trade followed a party of Indians in their hunting excursions for two years, and were probably the first white men that ever penetrated the country of the Dahcotahs; and upon their return to Quebec they gave such rapturous accounts of the lands they had seen and the nations they had become acquainted with, that both trader and ecclesiastic burned with desire to "go up and possess the land" (Moses to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 1:8).

The discoverers of the Northwest were the very opposite of those who settled on the shores of Massachusetts bay and Connecticut river. The latter were men of calm, even temperament and stern faith; the former were men of excitable temperament, stimulated by their nation and their creed to explore new lands. The latter, looking up to heaven, acknowledged no superior but the ever-blessed Redeemer, and looked for no other conquest than that of their own evil desires, content to till the land around their immediate settlements, to study the divine word, and to train up their children in the admonition of the Lord. The former were taught that the converting the heathen to the religion of Rome, and to conquest in behalf of the sovereign of France were particularly meritorious. Hence the colonists of Acadia, accompanied by their priests and bound by no social ties, were ever ready to desert their families and homes to seek for lands where wealth might be obtained for their employers, or the glory of their church.

Either accompanying the missionary, devoted to a life of poverty, or in his immediate rear, came the trader, devoted to a life of gain, so that a chapel was hardly surmounted by a cross before a trading-house stood by its side. It was not until 1683 that a trading-post was established on this side of the Mississippi river.

Nicholas Perrot, a native of Canada, who had been familiar from childhood with the dialect and customs of the Northwestern savage, together with all the excitement of border life, in company with twenty other bold, brave spirits, in that year visited the various nations, and with great enterprise opened trade with them.

There is a tradition that the aged Mesnard started to carry the religion of Rome to the far west, and, after residing several months on the southern shore of Lake Superior, he started on a journey, accompanied by one person only, for the bay of Che-goi-me-gon (Sheboygan?), and becoming separated from his companion, he was lost in the forest. Tradition has it that he was killed by the Dahkotahs, and that his cassock and prayerbook were kept as amulets by them for many years. This, however, did not deter others from making the same venture, and Claude Allouez, also a Jesuit, visited the shores of Lake Superior in 1665. At that early day there were rumors of a large mass of copper on the northern shore, but he did not succeed in finding it. He pushed on his explorations until he reached the island of La Pointe, the ancient residence of the Ojibways, and he has been regarded as the first white man who trod the soil of Minnesota. While he was preaching to the Ojibways on Lake Superior he heard accounts of Jean Nicollet, who in 1639 had advanced on a mission to the Winnebagos so far that he discovered the Ouisconsin (Wisconsin) river, and, floating down it, he heard from the Indians of a "great water," and also accounts of a powerful nation, called by the tribe Naudowessioux, meaning "enemies" in the Ojibway, and the mighty stream was called the "Mese Seepi" (Mississippi), signifying "great river."

De Soto discovered the Mississippi in 1541, but the discovery was well-nigh forgotten until over a century had passed, when it was again discovered from the north by Joliet.

The Sioux, or rather the Dahkotahs ~ the term Sioux being a nickname given them by the early voyageurs for the sake of convenience ~ are the aborigines of this part of Minnesota, and Perrot being commissioned by De La Barre, then commander of Canada, "Commandant of all the West," pushed on his enterprise, until coming to or near the mouth of the Ouisconsin (Wisconsin) river he established a post which was known as Fort S. Nicholas. He was also commissioned to establish alliances with the Ioways and Dahkotahs on the west side of the Mississippi river. Proceeding up the fiver from Fort St. Nicholas in fulfillment of his commission, he landed near the site of the present city of Wabasha, and erected a rude log fort, it being the first European structure in all this vast region, and a generation before New Orleans was founded two thousand miles lower down the great river.

This primitive establishment within the limits of the state, upon some of the old maps is appropriately marked as Fort Perrot, so called from its founder. During the winter of 1683-4 Perrot and his party proceeded up the river to visit tribes above the lake, and were met by a large delegation coming down on the ice to meet him. Upon meeting his party they returned, and escorted the Frenchmen to their villages. Perrot opened trade and negotiations with them, and seemed to accomplish all things required according to his instruction, yet it appears that for some reason he abandoned the port for several years, returning to it in 1868. With a party of forty men he returned and resumed trade with the Dahkotahs, and in 1689 formally claimed the country for France. The first official document pertaining to Minnesota was given by Perrott, and is worthy of preservation. I insert it in this work for that purpose. It reads:

"Nicholas Perrot, Commandant for the King at the post of the Nadouessioux, commissioned by the Marquis Governor and Lieut. Governor of all New France, to manage the interests of commerce among all the Indian tribes and people of the Bay des Preants, Nadouessioux, Mascoutines, and other western nations of the Upper Mississippi, and to take possession in the King's name of all the places where he has heretofore been, and whither he will go. We, this day, one thousand six hundred and eighty-nine, do in the presence of the Rev. Father Marest, of the Society of Jesus, Missionary among the Nadouessioux; of Monsieur de Boueguillot, commanding the French in the neighborhood of the Ouisconche on the Mississippi; Augustine Legardeur, esquire; Sieur de Caumant; and of Messieurs de Seur, Herbert, Lemire and Blein! Declare to all whom it may concern that being come from the Bay des Preants and to the Lake of the Ouiskonches, and to the river Mississippi, we did transport to the country of the Nadouissioux on the border of the river St. Croix, and at the mouth of the river St. Pierre, on the bank of which were the Mantanwans, and farther up the interior to the northeast of the Mississippi as far as the Menchokatoux, with whom dwell the majority of the Songesketous and the Nadouessioux, who are to the northeast of the Mississippi, to take possession for, and in the name of the king, of the countries and river inhabited by the said tribes, and of which they are the proprietors.

The present act done in our presence, signed with our hand and subscribed."

Then are given the names of those already mentioned. This record was drawn up at Green Bay, Wisconsin.

During the year that Perrot returned to Minnesota, Frontenac, who was then governor of Canada, issued an edict that all Frenchmen in the upper Mississippi country should return to Mackinaw, and Perrot, with others, was obliged to leave his post and return.

From these accounts we learn that the first french establishment in Minnesota was on the shore of Lake Pepin, and just at the foot of the same, quite near to the present city of Wabasha. This lake, called by Hennepin "The Lake of Tears," was afterward named "Pepin," after the Dauphin of France and son of Louis XIV.

The fort was built upon the ground now occupied by the residence of Judge Van Dyke. It was identified by Capt. F. W. Seely, of Lake City, as agreeing with statistics from the "United States Army and Navy Magazine," which he holds in his possession. Capt. Seely has very kindly furnished me with these investigations which I here subjoin. He says: "My first knowledge of it was acquired twenty-seven years ago, when pheasant hunting in the chaparral near the present site of the Van Dyke residence. While coursing through the dense growth of young oaks, I stumbled upon a ridge some eighteen inches in height, running in a straight line and parallel to the crest of the slope over looking the river. My curiosity being excited, I followed it for some ten rods, until the dense growth of young timber obliged me to abandon the investigation. Of one thing, however, I was satisfied, namely, that the ridge was the work of men's hands, and, as I then believed, of the Indians. The work, commencing at the crest of the slope before mentioned, and ten rods south of the van Dyke residence, bent westward for about eight rods, when it makes an obtuse angle and runs parallel to the crest and directly through the location of the house, for a distance of ten rods or more. (Some of the work within the yard inclosing the house has since become obliterated by the grading of the premises, but at the time I first discovered it, was distinctly traceable through its whole length.) In 1864 I became possessed of a copy of the ‘Army and Navy Magazine' ~ April number ~ which contained a complete history, amplified from French sources, of the early occupation of this country by adventurous Frenchmen from Canada, and included a precise history of old Fort Perrot, established in 1683 ‘near the modern village of Wabashaw.' My thoughts reverted at once to the old fortification which I had discovered, and I am convinced that it would prove to be the remains of the old fort.

"Some few years since, in company with Mr. Walton, editor of Wabasha ‘Herald' (without having in the meantime been near the ground since my first exploration, and having since that time added to my knowledge of military engineering by ten years' service in the United States army, as an officer of artillery), I visited the locality, which I found without any difficulty or delay, and found a portion of the old work (outside of Mr. Van Dyke's enclosure) as perfect as when I first saw it, twenty-five years before. Applying my knowledge of engineering to the location, I was then more than ever convinced of the correctness of my conclusions.

"Let any person with the least knowledge of defensive works stand on the veranda of the Van dyke mansion, and look over the surroundings, and he must be convinced that it is the natural location for such a work as Fort Perrot, and the only one between that point and the lake. Westward from the fort was a gently sloping prairie, at that time probably clear of chaparral, which is of later growth, and which did not afford any cover or lurking-place for attacking parties. Every foot of the ground within range, covered by the small arms in the loopholes of the palisades, the flanks of the inclosure similarly covered and protected, and facing the river, where the bateaux were moored, an abrupt slope to the water, easily guarded and defended.

"The first separated from the semi-hostile village of Wabashaw by the broad arm of water, the modern ‘slough,' which prevented a too intimate contact with the savages. The ground occupied by the work, much higher than the surrounding country, naturally commanded every approach, even the Indian village itself. Here a few words as to the construction of the early frontier forts may not be inappropriate: First, the bank was outlined, then a ditch was excavated, the earth therefrom thrown up on the inside, forming a parapet, in which were planted palisades (split trunks of trees), set close together and loopholed for small arms. Inside the wall thus formed were banquettes ~ shelf-like places, whereon the defenders could stand while discharging their small arms through the loopholes,. Inside the inclosure were quarters, store and trading-house, and sometimes a chapel, all constructed of logs. Such works, when located in good commanding positions, afforded ample protection against marauding savages of those early days. In course of time, after being abandoned, the timbers of the old fort would rot away, but the excavations, if unmolested, would endure for generations. And so today, two hundred years since the construction of old Fort Perrot, portions of the works can be distinctly traced."

One of the most picturesque scenes in North America is the approach to Lake Pepin. For miles, as the steamboat ascends the Mississippi, it glides through an extended vista, crowned in the distance by an amphitheater of hills which define the basin of the lake; and in summer the islands in the river are covered with luxuriant vegetation, while tall cedar-trees, standing like sentinels along the bluffs, make an impression upon the mind of the traveler which a lifetime cannot eras. Again these steep walls of stone, with their fanciful outline of castles and ruined battlements, recede, and beyond are lovely prairies sufficiently elevated to be secure from all inundation, and these must have been entrancing spots to the ancient voyageur after a long and wearisome paddle in his frail canoe. From the magazine to which Capt. Seely alludes we learn that "just below Lake Pepin, on the west shore, is one of those beautiful plateaus, " which so captivated Nicholas Perrot that he "landed" there in the year 1683 and "erected a rude log fort." Now it is evident that Capt. Seely cannot be mistaken in his conclusions in regard to the situation of this fort, from the fact that the plateau spoken of is the only one from the grand encampment to Point du Sable, and it being just a t the foot of Lake Pepin, and nearly opposite the mouth of the Chippewa river, was just the place for an edifice of that kind. There is no other point of land sufficiently large to erect a fortification this side the lake either; consequently our conclusions cannot be erroneous. The "slough" to which Capt. Seely alludes, at the time the fort was built, undoubtedly formed the main channel of the Zumbro river, which , from various causes, has been turned in its course, and now empties its waters in the Mississippi three miles lower down.

In 1685 it became necessary for Perrot to visit the Miamis to engage them as allies against the English and Iroquois of New York, and it was for that reason undoubtedly that the fort was abandoned. It appears that the Foxes, Kickapoos, Maskoutens and other tribes, had formed a plan to surround and surprise the fort during Perrot's absence, and then use the munitions of war against their enemies the Sioux. A friendly Indian informed Perrot of this and he returned with all possible speed. On the very day of his arrival, three spies had preceded him and obtained admission under the pretext of selling beaver-skins, and they had left, reporting that Perrot was absent and the fort was only guarded by six Frenchmen. The next day two other spies came; but Perrot, in view of his danger, devised an ingenious stratagem. In front of the doors of the buildings, on the open square within the enclosure, he ordered all the guns to be loaded and stacked, and then the Frenchmen were made to change their dress after certain intervals and stand near the guns; thus he conveyed the impression that he had many more men than the spies had seen.

After this display the spies were permitted to depart, on condition that they would send from their camp a chief from each tribe represented. Six responded to the demand, and as they entered the gates their bows and arrows were taken away. Looking at the loaded guns, the chiefs asked "if he was afraid of his children." Perrot replied "that he did not trouble himself about them, and that he was a man who knew how to kill." "It seems, " they continued, "that you are displeased." "I am not," answered Perrot, "although I have good reason to be. The Good Spirit has warned me of your evil designs. You wish to steal my things, murder me, and then go to war with the Nadouaissioux. He told me to be on my guard and that he would help me if you gave any insult." Astonished at his knowledge of their perfidy they confessed the whole plot and sued for pardon. That night they slept within the fort, and the next morning their friends began to approach with their war-whoop. Perrot, with the fifteen men under his command, instantly seized the chiefs and declared they would kill them if they did not make the Indians retire. Accordingly one of the chiefs climbed on top of the gate and cried out, "Do not advance, young men, or you will be dead men. The Spirit has told Metamineus (the name which they gave Perrot) our designs. The Indians quickly fell back after this announcement and the chiefs were allowed to leave the fort. The fort was afterward abandoned until 1688, when he again reached Fort Perrot. In 1690 Perrot visited Montreal, and after a brief stay again returned to the west, establishing posts at various times as occasion required.

From these accounts it is evident that Fort Perrot was the first one erected west of the Mississippi, and that we cannot be mistaken in regard to the position of the fort. In 1695 a second post was built by Le Sueur on one of the islands near the mouth of the St. Croix, and a few miles below the modern town of Hastings. This fort was erected as a barrier to hostile tribes, and the Indians were so strongly impressed by the power of France that the fort became a center of commerce for the western parts; but in 1696 the authorities at Quebec decided to abandon all their posts west of Mackinaw, and the French were withdrawn from Wisconsin and Minnesota. Le Sueur, however, nothing daunted by this edict, applied to the king and obtained permission to return to Minnesota in search of mines which he believed would prove rich and productive; but upon his return to America the ship in which he sailed was captured and carried to an English port. After his release he again proceeded to France, and in 1698 he obtained a new license to take fifty men to the supposed mines. He arrived at a post not far from Mobile, on the Gulf of Mexico, in December, 1699, and the next summer with a felucca, two canoes and nineteen men he ascended the Mississippi. On September 14 he sailed through Lake Pepin, and on the 19th entered the river St. Pierre, now called Minnesota. Ascending that stream he reached the mouth of the Blue Earth, and there, near the present site of the modern town of St. Peter, established the third post of the French. This post was completed on October 14, 1700, and called Fort L'Huiller, after the farmer-general in Paris, who had aided the project.

When forts are spoken of in connection with these explorations, the reader must not imagine them built with walls of masonry and buttresses and angles with ordnance protruding therefrom. In those days there was neither time nor facilities for such work, but picture to himself a rude log cabin surrounded by a few pickets of logs and sticks, which would seem but slight protection from the arrows of the savage.

Le Sueur spent the winter of 1700 in the Blue Earth valley, and in April following commenced work at the mines, which were about a mile above the fort. In less than a month he obtained thirty thousand pounds of the substance found, four thousand of which he sent home to the king of France. In February, 1702, Le Sueur returned to the post on the gulf of Mexico, and in the summer following sailed for France in company with the governor of Louisiana, who was a cousin of his by marriage. The next year the workmen he had left at Fort L'Huiller also came down to Mobile, being forced to retire by the hostility of Indians and lack of supplies. For twenty years the posts in Minnesota were abandoned by the Canadian government, and the only white men seen were soldiers who had deserted and vagabond voyageurs, who, in both taste and principles, were lower than the savages.

It was at length perceived that the eye of England was on the Northwest. A dispatch from Canada says: "It is more and more obvious that the English are endeavoring to interlope among all the Indian nations and attach them to themselves. They entertain the idea of becoming masters of North America, being persuaded that the European nation which becomes the possessor of that section will in course of time be also master of all America."

To thwart these schemes, which in time were accomplished, the French proposed to reopen trade and license traders for the Northwest. On June 7, 1726, peace was concluded by De Signery with the Sauks, Foxes and Winnebagoes, at Green Bay, and two Frenchmen were sent to dwell in the Sioux villages, and to promise that, if they would cease to fight the Ojibways, trade should once more be resumed, and a "black robe" come and teach them. In the following spring preparations were made to carry out these pledges, and both traders and ecclesiastic made arrangements to accompany the convoy. The Fox nation at that time were giving the French a deal of trouble, and in order to hem them in and prevent further difficulty it was decided to build another fort in the valley of the Upper Mississippi, which was the fourth and last post erected by the French.

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From the Catholic Encyclopedia

The earliest Catholic record of what became afterwards the Diocese of St. Paul is in the Rune Stone, discovered in 1898 near Kensington, Minnesota. A strange inscription on it tells us of a visit made in 1362 by thirty Norsemen to the above locality, where ten of them were slain by the natives, and the remainder addressed a salutation to the Blessed Virgin Mary and called upon her for protection. Although not all the Scandinavian scholars are agreed on the authenticity of this text, still the internal evidence seems to be all in its favour; and nothing has been found so far to contradict its contents. Minnesota is a classic land in the history of early Catholic voyageurs and missionaries. The first, as far as records go, were Groseilliers and Radisson, who spent some time on Prairie Island (1654-56) and in the neighbourhood of Knife lake, Kanabee County (1659-60). In 1679-80 Du Lhut visited the countries around Lake Mille Lacs, the western extremity of Lake Superior, and the Mississippi. It was during these journeys that he met the Recollect Father Louis Hennepin and his two companions Michel Accault and Antoine Auguelle, and rescued them from their captivity among the Sioux Indians. During an excursion down the Mississippi Hennepin beheld and named the Falls of St. Anthony in what is now Minneapolis. Nicolas Perrot, in 1683, established a small trading post, Fort Perrot, near the site of the present town of Wabasha, Minnesota; and in 1689 he proclaimed the sovereignty of the French king over the regions of the upper Mississippi. In his company was the Jesuit Father Joseph-Jean Marest, who spent considerable time among the Sioux about the years 1689 and 1702. A contemporary of Perrot, Le Sueur, established in 1695 a trading on Prairie Island, and in 1700 another, Fort L'Huillier, on the Blue Earth River, about three miles from its junction with the Minnesota. In 1727 a post, Fort Beauharnois, was established on the western shore of Lake Pepin, near the present town of Frontenac, Minnesota; the missionaries stationed there were the Jesuit Fathers Michel Guignas and Nicolas de Gonnor. Another, Fort St. Charles, was erected in 1732 on the southern shore of Northwest Angle Inlet, Lake of the Woods, by the explorer de Lavérendrye. The missionaries of the post were the Jesuit Fathers Messaiger and Aulneau, the latter of whom met a cruel death at the hands of savage Sioux. Religious ministrations were, of course, the chief object of the missionaries. Even the lay voyageurs did what they could towards the religious betterment of the natives. Groseilliers and Radisson instructed the older people in the elements of Christianity, and baptized a number of children whom they believed in danger of death.

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