Early Settlement, Pioneers, Winona County, Minnesota

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Winona County, Minnesota


Pages 131-136
From the book
"History of Wabasha County"
Published in 1884
Concerning Wabasha and Winona Counties in Minnesota

These pages were transcribed by Steve Thornton

The local history of this county, as an organization, hardly extends beyond the personal recollections of its present generation. Many of its earliest settlers are yet residents of this locality. Less than a third of a century ago the country lying west of the Mississippi in the State of Minnesota was the almost exclusive domain of bands of savages ~ the possessions of the aborigines, occupied by the same race and by the same nation of people who held it when the western continent was first discovered.

Its early settlement by the pioneer successors of this savage race was begun somewhat after the same general plan, although on a very much smaller scale, of that adopted by the Europeans in their first occupancy of North America. They made claims and held them by their right of discovery. This part of the country was first discovered and held in possession by the French.

To maintain a proper connection with the past, a brief synopsis of historical events relative to this section of the country, prior to the time this county was created, has been compiled as an introductory chapter to this record of events and incidents of more modern times.

After the discovery of the western continent, the maritime nations of Europe sent out expeditions to make explorations. The parts of the continent first visited in these voyages were taken possession of in the name of the government represented. When these explorations were extended inland the localities were claimed by the same powers. It was in this manner that the whole Mississippi valley became at one time a part of the foreign possessions of France, acquired by their rights of discovery and held by their power as a nation.

In 1534 Jacques Cartier, a French navigator, discovered the Gulf of St. Lawrence and sailed up the St. Lawrence river, supposing from its size and depth that he had found the western passage to the Indian ocean, for which he was seeking. He claimed the newly discovered country in the name of the sovereign of France. As an emblem of his first discovery, and as a symbol of possession, he erected a large wooden cross on a conspicuous elevation of land. This was the first claim mark of France in this part of North America.

The French afterward extended their explorations west to the great lakes, assuming possession in their progress. It was not until 1654 that they reached the region of Lake Superior. the real explorers of this part of the country were the fur traders. They advanced with their traffic as far west as Green Bay in 1659.

In these expeditions, from the time the cross was erected by Cartier, these adventurous explorers were usually accompanied by zealous representatives of different orders in the Roman Catholic church, apparently to maintain religious advantages coequal with the civil and military authority claimed over the extended possessions.

Father Joseph Marquette accompanied Louis Jolliet with five French or Canadian voyageurs up the Fox river from Green Bay. Crossing the portage to the Wisconsin river they descended it to its mouth and discovered the Mississippi river on June 17, 1673.

To Father Marquette has been given the honor of having been the first to discover the upper Mississippi. The river had, however, been visited by Europeans prior to this date. In 1541 the lower Mississippi was crossed by Hernando de Soto, a Spanish adventurer, in his exploration of that part of the country.

In 1679 Father Louis Hennepin accompanied Robert La Salle on his expedition along the shores of Lake Michigan to Illinois, where he spent the winter. In the following spring, 1680, he was intrusted by La Salle to make explorations. With two French voyageurs he went down the Illinois river to its mouth, and then ascended the Mississippi. On his voyage up this river he was made prisoner by a war party of Dakota Indians and taken into the Mille Lac region, on the headwaters of the Mississippi. He was here found by DuLuth, who was exploring the country of the Dakotas by way of Lake Superior. Father Hennepin visited the Falls of St. Anthony, to which he gave its present name. He was the first to explore the Mississippi above the mouth of the Wisconsin, and the first white man that ever visited the vicinity of this county.

In 1682 La Salle descended the Illinois to its junction with the Mississippi, down which he continued until he entered the Gulf of Mexico. He took possession of the country through which he passed in the name of France, and gave it the name of Louisiana.

In the spring of 1683 Capt. Nicholas Perrot, a Canadian, with twenty men, established a fort or trading-post in what is now the State of Minnesota, below and near the mouth of Lake Pepin. This was the first location occupied by a white man on the west side of the Mississippi. It was soon abandoned by Perrot to carry on his traffic elsewhere. In 1688 he returned with forty men, and again took possession of his trading-post below Lake Pepin.

In 1689 Capt. Nicholas Perrot, in the name of the king of France, by formal proclamation took possession of all of the country on the headwaters of the Mississippi. Not long afterward the whole country from the Alleghenies to the Pacific ocean was claimed by the French and called the territory of Louisiana.

This territory remained in possession of France until 1760, when the country west of the Mississippi was ceded to Spain, and in 1763 all of the country east of the Mississippi claimed by the French was formally ceded to Great Britain.

In 1800 the country west of the Mississippi known as Louisiana was retro ceded to France, and in 1803 the United States acquired possession of it by purchase from the French government.

By act of congress in 1804 Louisiana was divided; the southern part was called the territory of Orleans, the northern portion the district of Louisiana.

In 1812 Orleans was admitted into the Union under the title of State of Louisiana, and the district of Louisiana given the name of Territory of Missouri.

In 1821 the Territory of Missouri was divided; from the southern portion the Territory of Arkansas was formed, and the State of Missouri created and admitted.

The country north of the State of Missouri was left without territorial organization. In 1834 it was placed under the jurisdiction of the Territory of Michigan, and in 1837 under the judicial authority of the Territory of Wisconsin.

In 1838 the Territory of Iowa was created. It embraced all of the country north of the State of Missouri between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers to the northern line.

The State of Iowa was constituted from the southern part of the this territory and admitted in 1846. The northern portion was left without territorial organization until, by act of congress, March 3, 1849, the Territory of Minnesota was created.

The largest portion of this territory, that lying west of the Mississippi, was the northeastern part of the "Louisiana Purchase." The portion lying on the east side of the river was a part of the territory of Wisconsin not included in the boundaries of the State of Wisconsin when admitted in 1848.

The territory of Minnesota, when organized, was without divisions, except two or three counties on the east side of the Mississippi, which had been created while they were a part of the Territory of Wisconsin.

By proclamation Governor Ramsey divided the territory into three judicial districts. The country west of the Mississippi and south of the Minnesota formed the third judicial district, to which Judge Cooper was assigned. The first court was held at Mendota in August, 1849.

Governor Ramsey, by proclamation, made the first apportionment of council districts. The settlements on the west bank of the Mississippi, south of the Crow village to the Iowa line, were included with a part of St. Croix county on the east side of the river and constituted the first council district. The settlements on the west side of the river were of half-breed Sioux.

The first territorial legislature held its session in St. Paul, the capital of the territory. It began on September 3 and adjourned on November 1, 1849. The members from the first council district were: James S. Norris, in the council; Joseph W. Furber and James Wells, in the house. David Olmsted, of Long Prairie, was president of the council; Joseph W. Furber, of Cottage Grove, speaker of the house.

James Wells was the first representative to the territorial legislature from the country along the west side of the Mississippi. He was an Indian trader living on the shores of Lake Pepin, twelve miles below Red Wing. Among his friends and associates he was generally known as "Bully Wells." He was elected by the half-breeds and a few traders and government employes [sic] at the election held on August 1. The total votes polled were thirty-three. At this election Hon. H. H. Sibley was elected delegate to congress without opposition. The first territorial legislature, at its session in 1849 (October 27), created several counties, two of which, Dakota and Wabasha on the west side of the Mississippi, included all of the territory south of the Minnesota river ~ Wabasha in the eastern part and Dakota lying west along the Minnesota.

In 1853 (March 5) the county of Wabasha was divided by an act of the territorial legislature and a part of the southern portion designated as Fillmore county. In 1854 (February 23) Fillmore county was divided, and from the portion along the river the counties of Houston and Winona were created ~ Houston next to the Iowa line and Winona between Houston and Wabasha counties. The boundaries given Winona county in the act by which it was created have since been maintained unchanged. These outlines of history genealogize this county from the days of the advent of the first white man to the present time, a period of little more than two hundred years.

In this abstract of jurisdiction an omission has been made ~ the proprietary of this part of the country before it was so formally taken possession of by Captain Perrot. At the time France assumed control it was held by tribes of savage Indians. Of them, prior to that period, but little is known with any degree of certainty. Having no written records their earliest traditions have long been forgotten, their more modern history only known by its connections with that of their successors, the white race.

Traditions, with mounds and relics antedating traditionary lore, afford speculative study for the antiquary, and present corroborative evidence to the historian that in the unknown periods of the past this section of country was inhabited, and that its population was probably of the Indian race. Their first occupancy is veiled in dark obscurity. Their rights of possession have, however, been continuously acknowledged and recognized from the time jurisdiction was claimed for France in 1689 until the treaty by which their lands west of the Mississippi, in what is now the State of Minnesota, were purchased and ceded to the United States, when their title was formally transferred to their successors.

The Dakota nation, which held this country, was probably one of the largest warlike nations of the aborigines of North America. When first visited by Europeans their territory extended from Lake Superior to the Rocky Mountains. This Indian nation was composed of numerous general divisions and subdivisions or bands, having a language common to all (only varied by dialects), with manners, customs, etc., differing but little in different localities. Although united as a confederacy for common defense or warlike purposes, each division held a separate interest in the localities they occupied.

The eastern division of the Dakota nation was the Mdaywakantonwan, or Spirit Lake villagers. It was this division that made prisoner of Father Hennepin in 1680. At that time they were in possession of the country on the east side of the Mississippi to Lake Superior. The country south of the lake was held by the Ojibways, who were the first to hold communication with the traders. They were the first supplied with fire-arms, which gave them such an advantage over the more warlike Sioux that they drove them back and took possession of their homes in the Mille Lac region. The Sioux were forced to the southward and westward, but successfully maintained their lands on the west side of the Mississippi, and a strip along the east side, from about a hundred and fifty miles above the Falls of St. Anthony to about one hundred and fifty miles below.

There were seven bands in this division. The villages of three of them were on the Mississippi, below the falls; the others were on the lower part of the Minnesota river.

End of Chapter


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