Chapter 5
BUSINESS BEGINS
Pages 591-596

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


The first white man to resume trade in these parts after the old forts were abandoned,, was Augustin Rocque, grandfather of the family by that name in Wabashaw. His first post was built about 1800, where Reed's Landing now stands. Lieut. Pike makes no mention of him in his account of his explorations, and it is probable that Rocque had left the post before Pike passed up the river, as it appears that for some reason he abandoned this post and returned to Prairie du Chien. Mr. Rocque was a French Canadian, coming to these wilds when a very young man. He married a Dahkotah woman, by whom he had a large family, his son Augustin being the father of the family now at this place. About the year 1830 Augustin, who followed the business of his father as Indian trader, moved back to this point on the "half-breed" land and erected a dwelling and trading-post on the site of old Fort Perrot. Being connected by marriage with the Sioux and Fox Indians, he traded through different parts of Minnesota and Iowa, one of his outposts being on the site of the present town of Cedar Rapids. Mr. Rocque's influence among the tribes with whom he traded was almost unbounded, and several outbreaks at different times were quelled by his sagacity and influence. So great was the respect of the Indians for him, they looked upon him almost as a father, and hence his influence. The portrait of Mr. Rocque hangs in the capitol at Washington, together with several of the Sioux chiefs. At the time of his return to this point, the present site of Wabashaw was covered with underbrush and trees. His place, when steamboats ran, was called Rocque's Landing. At that time Wapashaw (Red Leaf) was living with his band where Winona now stands, the prairie being called Wapashw prairie ~ by the old voyageurs, "La Prairie Oseilles" ~ that is, "Flag-root Prairie." The city of Winona was named for Wapashaw's sister Weenonah.

The first steamboat upon these waters was the Virginia, which ascended the Mississippi as far as Fort Snelling in 1823. Fort Snelling was first named Fort St. Anthony, but in 1824, at the suggestion of Gen. Scott, it was changed to Fort Snelling. As Col. Leavenworth and troops, en route for Fort St. Anthony in 1819 stopped at Prairie du Chien, a child was born to Lieut. N. Clark, whose first baptismal name was Charlotte, after its mother, and the second was Ouisconsin, given it by the officers in view of the fact that she was born at the junction of that stream with the Mississippi. In course of time Miss Clark married a graduate of West Point, who afterward became Ge. H. P. Van Cleve, U.S.A., and this very worthy couple still reside in Minneapolis, Mrs. Van Cleve being the oldest resident of Minnesota. In 1820 Mrs. Col. Snelling gave birth to a daughter, which was the first white child born in Minnesota.

Before the advent of steamboats upon these rivers commerce and navigation had been carried on by means of keel-boats and canoes, and for a long time after it was found that steamboats could ascend the upper Mississippi, commerce being unequal to the support of steamboat navigation, the keel and canoe were used as before. The British and American fur companies always used the canoe for shallow waters and rapids, and the keel-boats for transportation, until the volume of business warranted their supersedure by the steamer. The keel was built much like an ordinary barge, but shallower, and provided with running-boards on each side, their carrying capacity varying from seven to twenty tons. The largest were usually manned by fourteen men, six on a side with poles for propelling the boat, and a cook, with sometimes a trader or agent on board. These men were Canadian-French half-breeds, called voyageurs, under the supervision of some active trader or agent.

The earliest manuscript written in Minnesota is written by Col. Snelling, dated August 4, 1820, and reads as follows:

In justice to Lawrence Taliaferro, Esq., Indian agent at this post,* we, the undersigned, officers of the Fifth Regiment here stationed, have presented him this paper as a token not only of our individual respect and esteem, but as an entire approval of his conduct and deportment as a public agent in this quarter. Given at St. Peter, this 4th day of August, 1820.

T. Snelling, Col. 5th Inf.
N. Clark, Lieut.
S. Burbank, Br. Major
Jos. Hare, Lieut.
David Perry, Capt.
Ed. Purcell, Surgeon
D. Gooding, Br. Capt.
P. R. Green, Lt, and Adjt.
J. Plympton, Lieut.
W. G. Camp, Lt. And Q.M.
R. A. McCabe, Lieut.
H. Wilkins, Lieut.

*St. Peter was afterward called Mendota
Taken from Neill's "History of Minnesota."


The first white man who built on the present site of Wabasha was Oliver Cratte, who came here from Fort Snelling in 1838. (Cratte's Landing was the original name of the site of the present city of Wabasha.) About the same time came Joseph Buisson, who, for some time, carried the mails on foot from Fort Snelling to Prairie du Chien, a distance of two hundred and four miles, accomplishing the round trip in fourteen days. Mr. Cratte was sent to this place by the government and located as blacksmith for the Wapashaw band. He was born in Liverpool, England in 1801. He was early left an orphan, and he and his sister came to Canada when he was a mere boy. He learned the blacksmith's trade at Montreal, and after completing it he came west as far as Mackinaw, where he remained about a year. He then went to Prairie du Chien in company with some traders, and was there employed by the United States government. In 1828 he was sent to Fort Snelling, where he remained until he came to Wabasha in 1838. Mr. Cratte has been married three times. His first wife was a daughter of Alexander Graham, by whom he had five children, and his present wife is a daughter of Scott Campbell, who acted as interpreter for the chiefs and braves who visited Washington in 1837 for the purpose of ceding their lands east of the Mississippi to the United States. Mr. Cratte is still living and is the oldest living white man of his time. He is entirely blind, yet his memory is good, and it is like reading history to hear him recount the scenes of this long and varied experience. The old man is poor, which renders his blindness still more pitiable. He has, in his day, been far beyond want; but loaning gold and, in his own honesty of purpose and heart, trusting the word of those who came to him in need, taking no proper security, he has thus, in his old age, become reduced to poverty and sorrow. Coming here in the fall of 1838, he built a shop of logs on the levee, chinking it with mud and sand, and occupying it that winter for shop and dwelling. In the spring following he added a "lean-to" and sent for his family, they having remained at Fort Snelling during the winter. This dwelling was the first ever built by white man at this place. Mr. Joseph Buisson built a small house the same season and brought his family here also, which house was the second one erected on the site of Wabasha.

Mr. Cratte's eldest son, David Cratte, who resides in Wabasha, has been a man of great activity and swiftness of foot, figuring largely in the early annals of the place. In 1854 he was sent by H. S. Allen's agent at this place with dispatches to Chippewa Falls, where Mr. Allen resided. Young Cratte carried them on foot, and upon his return, just after leaving Eau Claire, he noticed a party of Chippewas lurking around in ambush for a party of Sioux, who were on their way to St. Paul. The Chippewas, knowing the surroundings far better than the Sioux, waited for and surrounded them, capturing and killing every one of them. Cratte, learning what was going on, and fearing for his own life, took to his heels and ran all the way to Wabasha, arriving at nine o'clock in the evening, a distance of fifty miles in nine hours.

The enmity existing between the Ojibways (Chippewas) and Dahkotahs (Sioux), owing to their frequent encroachments upon each other's hunting-grounds, was very bitter, and was the cause of constant feuds among them.

Mr. J. Buisson was a trader of some ability, remaining at this place until his death, in 1857. He had quite a family of sons and daughters, most of them still residents of Wabasha.

On the island just opposite the present city of Wabasha stood a trading-post in 1849, erected by one Robar. Mr. La Bathe, a French trader, built and, in 1841, occupied the log house on the levee, just below the residence of W. T. Duganne, as a trading-post. In 1844 he sold this post to Alexis Bailly, who occupied it for store and dwelling for many years. A part of said house is still standing, and in good repair, being occupied as a dwelling. (Since the above was written the building has been consumed by fire, April 23, and thus destroying the last landmark of the old traders.) Mr. Bailly added to the building, living in it until after his second marriage, in 1857, when he built the substantial residence which, since his death, has been known as "Riverside" to all travelers.

In 1841 another post was built upon the same island, about midway between Wabasha and Read's Landing, by a Mr. Nelson, which point is familiarly known as Nelson's Landing. These posts were built expressly for trade with the Chippewas.

The history of the early days of our western homes has been so obliterated by the march of improvement in a quarter of a century, and traces of first beginnings so lost that a comparison of the present times with those of the past is hardly possible, and young people of the present day emigrating from their luxurious eastern homes should bear in patience the slight ills to which they may be subjected, being, as they are, so small in comparison with the trials, privations and hardships of the early settlers. It is, no doubt, difficult for them to realize how very primitive were all these beginnings, and history itself cannot portray them as they really were. Again, the settler on any of our western prairies, and the axman who enters upon the primeval forest, must often be the subject of strange reflections as he follows his plough, throwing the rich alluvial soil that through all the ages has remained undisturbed, or hews down the lofty pine that for thousands of years has flourished and grown unnoticed and uncared for, and the majestic oak in all its strength; he must wonder how it should occur that he, of all the people that have lived, and still live on the earth, should be the first to appropriate to his own comfort these blessings so long held in nature's vast storehouse; and wonder, too, why his race should require all the resources of earth, the productions of forests, mines, rivers, lakes, oceans, and seas, ~ of the soil planted, cultured and garnered; the flocks and herds feeding and gamboling in undisturbed freedom upon a thousand hills, for his subsistence and convenience, while other races have remained from generation to generation in all the untamed wildness of the deer and elk upon which they subsist. What of the race that but yesterday was here? Have these rivers, plains and forests, now so peaceful, always been so calm and still? Or have they been the scene of sanguinary savage conflict? We speculate in vain upon the long-ago dwellers upon the banks of these lovely streams. Then savage yells may have been the only sound that ever waked the stillness of these hills; or a race long since gone may have builded and worshiped, and cultivated all the amenities of civilized life, and the records of their virtues and deeds have become obliterated by time's relentless fingers.

Until 1849 the territory now comprising Minnesota was included in six counties, namely, Ramsey, Washington, Benton, Dakota, Wabasha, Pembinaw; total population in 1849 being four thousand nine hundred and forty. The first white man who built within the precincts of the county was Augustin Rocque; upon his return to his post, at or near the site of old Fort Perrot in 1830, and when steamboats began to navigate these waters, his place was called Rocque's Landing. Gov. Sibley makes mention of this place in his memoranda of first coming to Minnesota, and says: "Some idea can be formed of the great changes which have occurred since 1834 when I state that when I performed the journey from Prairie du Chien to St. Peters, now Mendota, in the autumn of that year, a distance of nearly three hundred miles, there was but one house between these points, and that was a log cabin, occupied by a trader named Rocque, situated below Lake Pepin, near the present town of Wabasha." Mr. Cratte, as has been stated, was the first white man who built upon the present site.

The city of Wabasha was not named until 1843, when it was called Wabashaw, after the old chief. The ceremony of christening was performed in the following manner: A hole was dug in the ground on the levee, and a bottle containing a paper giving an account of the event was placed in the hole; then a post was set up over it with a board nailed thereon, upon which was printed or written the name "Wabashaw" in large letters. A bottle of whisky was broken to celebrate the christening, and everyone became jubilant. In 1853, ten years later, the old sign-post was still standing. It is difficult now to locate just the place where the post stood; but Mr. Cratte informs us that it was on the levee between Alleghany and Pembroke streets. Mr. Francis Talbot saw it when he landed here in 1853 from the steamer Nominee. At the time of this christening, Wabasha was nothing more than a trading-post and stopping-place for traders and voyageurs. It had been a stopping-place for the American traders for a long time as they passed up and down the river, trafficking with the different bands of Indians on both sides of the river and around the lakes, their headquarters being at Prairie du Chien, so that "the Prairie" seemed like home to them, particularly so to the pioneer Frenchman. After the town was organized Mr. Bailly was appointed justice of the peace by the governor, and was thereby made the first civil officer of the county. Before that time the manner of living had been quite patriarchal in its way, and no better illustration can be given of it that to quote Mr. Rocque's advice to his sons, which gives his opinion of the law. It says: "Mes fils, ce faut que vous engardez bien a ce moment parceque la loi c'est venue en ville. La loi c'est le diable, et Monsieur Bailly il est la loi." Interpreted: "My sons, it is necessary that you be very careful now, because the law has come to town. The law is the devil, and Mr. Bailly is the law."