The boundaries between the claims on the river and those in the rear were irregular and " a great deal mixed." To illustrate their relation to each other: The original claims on the river began at a certain stake or starting point on the bank of the river, thence running south half a mile to a corner stake; thence west half a mile to a corner stake; thence north to the bank of the river to a corner stake; thence east along the bank of the river to the place of beginning.
As the line of the river bank is about 21° south of east, it is readily seen that the west line was much the longest, and that the boundaries described included more that 160 acres of land. The claim adjoining on the west, if defined in the same manner, will not extend as far south on its east line as the western boundary of the first described.
The irregularity of these boundaries on the south produced corresponding irregularities in the claims in the rear, which were sources of claim difficulties and contentions. In a matter arising from this peculiarity of claim boundaries Henry D. Huff narrowly escaped the loss of his life in the spring of 1854.
Mr. Huff was then the proprietor of claim No. 5, the Hamilton claim. The land in the rear of the east eighty acres was held by George H. Sanborn. The land south of the west eighty was occupied by Elijah Silsbee. With the consent of Mr. Sanborn, but in opposition to Mr. Silsbee's claim rights, Mr. Huff attempted to change the original line of his claim on the south, and make it parallel with the river, or with the line of the streets. To accomplish this, he proposed to mark his boundary by a furrow extending from the southwest corner of the Johnson claim, No. 4, to the southwest corner of his own claim, No. 5. He sent his team with a plow mark the line, and take possession by breaking and cultivation.
Mr. Silsbee had previously marked his boundaries by a single furrow with a plow. When the team of Mr. Huff approached this furrow, Silsbee stopped them, and, threatening the driver with his gun, drove him off. He then stood guard to prevent any forth attempts to trespass on his rights. The tract of land in dispute was but three or four acres. It was not so much the amount or value involved as it was what be supposed to be disregard of the rights of others that aroused the angry passions of Silsbee. It was not alone the protection of property, but an impulsive resistance of what he considered arbitrary oppression.
Learning the state of affairs from the teamster, Mr. Huff went back on the prairie toward where Silsbee had stationed himself. As he approached the furrow which marked the original claim line Silsbee ordered him to halt, and bringing his gun to his shoulder called to him not to cross the furrow, that he would shoot him if he attempted
Fearless, and paying no attention to the order to halt, Mr. Huff continued to advance, and crossed the furrow. Approaching in a confident manner he said, "You do not intend to shoot me, do you?" Silsbee replied, "I do," and taking deliberate aim fired upon him.
The gun was a double-barrel fowling-piece, owned by M. Wheeler Sargeant, which Silsbee had borrowed. Both barrels were heavily loaded with fine shot and small gravel stones. The contents of one barrel were lodged in Mr. Huffs left side and arm. Fortunately, he had a large pocket-book filled with closely-folded papers in the breast-pocket of his inner coat, and both coats buttoned close. Nearly the whole charge lodged in the pocket-book. A part of the missiles were burrowed in the muscles of his chest and left arm.
Mr. Huff was knocked down and disabled by the shock and injuries received. He was taken home, and was under the care of a surgeon for several weeks. No serious results followed the injuries. He readily recovered.
Silsbee was immediately arrested, and after an examination before a justice of the peace he was bound over for trial at the next term of the United States court, and released on bail. On account of some informality no court was held that year. The following year the case was continued over on account of serious sickness of Silsbee. In the meantime Mr. Huff purchased the Silsbee claim and the matter was permitted to pass without legal action in court.
With the proceeds of the sale of his claim Mr. Silsbee, with Charles S. Hamilton as partner, opened a store on the corner of Center and Front streets, where a warehouse now stands, and for awhile he was considered to be a respectable citizen, but for many years previous to his death, which occurred about ten or twelve years ago, he was an outcast in community.
It is said by an old settler that when the town plot was first made by John Ball the present levee was laid off into blocks, numbered from 1 to 6, and divided into lots, but that the plan was changed by the special directions of Capt. Smith and a public levee substituted. The high water of that season overflowed the bank as far as the south side of Front street, making the water-lots of less immediate value in the estimation of the proprietors. The landing was one of the important items of the claim with Capt. Smith, and he was desirous of making it available to its greatest extent.
It is to Capt. Smith that the city of Winona is indebted for the commodious levee it now holds. It was the pride of its citizens before it was deformed and crippled by railroad tracks and other modern improvements, and suffered to wear and waste away from neglect of attention by those whose duty it is to protect and care for it.
Blocks 1 and 6 on the river were reserved from the public levee and divided into lots as plotted. It is said that this was done by Mr. Huff before the plot was recorded. Block 1 contained but three lots belonging to Smith and Johnson; the other two, lots 1 and 2, belonged to the Stevens claim.
When the town site of Smith and Johnson was surveyed and plotted by John Ball, United States deputy surveyor, it was given the name of Montezuma, by E. H. Johnson. He was afterward extremely tenacious of the name, and strongly opposed the substitution of Winona. No record was made of the plot until the following year. Wabasha county had no county records. In 1853, when Fillmore county (which also included this county) was created and regularly organized, the plot was recorded.
Henry D. Huff bought an interest in this town site in 1853, and also had claim No. 5 surveyed and plotted as a part of the town. In a newspaper article, published several years ago, Mr. Huff said relative to this matter, "The town proper had been surveyed, plotted and named Montezuma by Smith and Johnson. With the consent of Capt. Smith I erased the name of Montezuma and inserted the name of Winona on the plot, and paid Mr. Stoll, of Minneowah, for recording the same as Winona. I found out afterward that the name Montezuma was retained on the record, and asked Mr. Stoll why he put in the name of Montezuma when it did not appear on the plot. He said Johnson wanted it Montezuma, so he recorded it Montezuma, adding a note that the proprietors had changed it to Winona."
During the early part of this season another town site was located in this county. The location selected was along the river just above what is now the village of Homer ~ the claim purchased of Peter Gorr by Timothy Burns. This town site did not include Bunnell's landing, but extended from Bunnell's claim up the river along the bluffs. It was on the "main land," two or three miles below "that bar in the river," Wabasha prairie.
A stock company was organized. There were eight shares valued at $200 each. The stockholders and proprietors were Timothy Burns, lieutenant-governor of Wisconsin, residing at La Crosse, Willard B. Bunnell, of Bunnell's landing, Isaac Van Etten, Charles W. Borup, Charles H. Oakes, Alexander Wilkin, Justus C. Ramsey and William L. Ames, of St. Paul.
This company was a strong and influential one, and with the exception of Bunnell they were all men of considerable capital. With them their investments here were wholly matter of speculation. It was supposed to be a "good thing," and strong efforts were made by them to build up a town that would successfully compete with Capt. Smith's claims for the business of the interior when the back country should become settled.
Soon after Smith and Johnson had their town site plotted the speculation began to be developed, and in July this rival town was surveyed and plotted by Isaac Thompson for the proprietors, and the name of Minneowah given to it. This name is of the Dakota language. It was selected by the proprietors of the new town, and not given to the locality by the Sioux. It is not now known whether the Indians had a name designative of this place or not. None was ever known by any of the settlers. The literal translation of the name Minneowah is "Falling Water."
In a description of the Falls of St. Anthony by the Rev. John A. Merrick, an Episcopal clergyman at St. Paul, published about the 1st of January, 1852, he says, "By the Dahcota or Sioux Indians they are called ‘Minne-ha-hah' or ‘Minne-ra-ra,' (Laughing Water,) and also ‘Minne-owah' (Falling Water) ~ general expressions supplied to all waterfalls."
The historical address of M. Wheeler Sargeant, from which extracts have been made, says, "The town contained 318 lots; consequently at that early day looked quite imposing on paper ~ still more so on the spot; for at least one half of it was 400 feet above the river and of nearly perpendicular access; * * * and for the next year it was by far the most pretentious place below St. Paul. * * * Except the unimportant items of locality, buildings and inhabitants, it had all the characteristics of a great city."
The plot was put into market at St. Paul and lots were bought and sold, without knowledge of their locality ~ whether on the table along the river or on the bluff above. Not much was done there by way of improvements until the following year.
In the spring of 1853 a large hotel was built by the proprietors ~ much the largest and best building on the west side of the river below St. Paul. For awhile Minneowah was truly a rival town, and strongly contested with Montezuma for public attention. Its advantages of location "on the main land," over that "sand-bar," liable to overflow any year, were loudly proclaimed, and its prospects were for awhile apparently promising.
The hotel was opened, and steamboats landed passengers who were prospecting for locations. Stores were built and goods brought on, ~ dwellings commenced, but dividends for the sale of lots were unknown; the expense column was much the heaviest. The original stockholders divided up their shares and generously allowed others to hold stock in Minneowah.
Among the new proprietors who became residents were Myron Toms, who, while living in St Paul, purchased a half-share. H. B. Stoll purchased a half-share from Mr. Van Etten. James F. Toms, Charles G. Waite and others became proprietors. Peter Burns held an interest as successor of his brother Timothy Burns, whose death occurred about this time. He was the only shareholder who claimed to have made anything from the transaction. He says that when the prospects of success were the most flattering he sold his interest to the other proprietors for $4,000, and went back to La Crosse.
An addition to Minneowah was surveyed and plotted for Bunnell, Stoll and John Lavine. This addition was principally suburban lots of from five to ten acres each for residence property. It located above the original town, extending along the bluffs to the mouth of Pleasant valley. Mr. Lavine occupied this land and held it as a claim.
Among the early residents of Minneowah was the Hon. C. F. Buck, of the town of Winona, then a young lawyer just starting in business. Mr. Buck came here about the first of September, 1853 and remained until 1855, when he moved to Winona. Charles M. Lovel, of Fillmore county, was for awhile a merchant here and carried on considerable of a trade. There were many others who were temporary residents of that locality. A man by the name of Dougherty remained there for several years.
The town plot of Minneowah was never recorded. It was placed on file in the office of the register of deeds of Fillmore county, while Mr. Stoll was register and had his office at Minneowah. In 1855 Myron Toms, holding power of attorney from the proprietors, withdrew the plot from the files for the purpose of entering the land as a claim. The town site of Minneowah was then unknown on any record. It was said that this was done to oust some of the proprietors and holders of lots, but the location was jumped by some of the citizens residing there who filed their claims in the United States land office as actual settlers on the land. The matter was contested, but the resident settlers held their claims as homesteads.
Mr. (unnamed) Dougherty drew the hotel and a store with his share of the spoils. The stockholders and owners of lots lost all right and title to the locality. The commercial town "on the main land" vanished. Minneowah is now known only by tradition to the residents of the county.
Willard B. Bunnell, one of the original stockholders of Minneowah, the resident proprietor, was, in the beginning, the most zealous and active of the company in his efforts to build up this town, and gave most of his time and attention to the scheme, but later he learned he was but a tool in the hands of his more experienced and wealthy associates. The professional town-site speculators were "too much" for the little Indian trader. He became a silent partner in the concern for awhile, and then relinquished his share to the others.
No one intimately acquainted with Will Bunnell had reason to doubt the sincerity of his belief that Wabasha prairie had been entirely flooded, and was liable to be again submerged in extreme high water. This idea he imbibed from his belief at that time in many of the traditions and some of the superstitions of the Indians, although he was a man of intelligence and of some acquirements. Notwithstanding his active; restless temperament and impulsive manners, he was popular with his acquaintances. He was a genial, social companion, and a gentleman when frontier sociability was not carried to excess.
About the first of June, 1852, John Burns brought his family into the territory of Minnesota and settled in this county. He located himself in the mouth of the valley to which his name was afterward given, and which is now known as "Burns Valley." His family then consisted of his wife, three daughters ~ Mary, "Maggie," Elicia ~ and his son William. Elicia died not long after she came here.
Mr. Burns had, prior to this, been a resident of the State of Wisconsin, living near Mineral Point, where be had been engaged in farming and stock-raising. On his arrival here, he landed at Bunnell's landing, with all of his household goods, farming implements, and a large herd of cattle, horses, hogs, fowls, etc., to transport all of which Mr. Burns used to say he had to charter the Nominee for the trip. He moved direct from the landing to his claim, where, instead of the ordinary claim shanty, the family found a home ready to receive them. They never had any experience of shanty life in Minnesota.
The claim on which Mr. Burns settled was selected for him by his son, Timothy Burns, lieutenant-governor of Wisconsin. The claim was chosen early in the fall of 1851, soon after the treaty with the Sioux for the sale of their lands, on the west side of the Mississippi. During the winter, about the first of February, Mr. Burns came up the river on the ice, with the mail carrier, to see the location in the Indian country, which he had been notified had been selected for him as a stock farm and family homestead.
After stopping a few days at La Crosse to visit his sons, Timothy and Peter Burns, he carne up to look at the claim and found it to be a choice satisfactory to himself. He decided to secure it and bring his family on in the spring. Making his headquarters at Bunnell's, he took possession of the claim and proceeded to get out timber with which to build a frame house on it in the spring.
About the first of April he returned home, going down the river on the Nominee, then on her first trip. He left his claim in the care of his sons in La Crosse. The special charge of the claim was under the watchful eye of W. B. Bunnell, whose sister was the wife of Peter Burns. It was through the aid of Bunnell that the claim was first selected and held.
Early in the spring Timothy Burns had a house built on this claim for his father. It was at that time the best building in southern Minnesota. It was a commodious but rather old-fashioned farmhouse. The frame was of oak timber with posts and braces, covered with a shingled roof, the sides clapboarded and painted. It was into this house, just completed, that Mr. Burns moved his family about the first of June. Its pleasant location among the large old oaks on the bank of the stream gave it a cozy and homelike appearance.
This house was occupied by Mr. Burns and his family for several years, until it took fire from some defect in the chimney and burned to the ground with the most of its contents. He then built another house on the site of the first, which it somewhat resembles in general external appearance, although its internal arrangements are of more modern style. This building is yet standing, and is used as the farm residence of the occupant of the land.
Mr. Burns opened up a farm on his claim, but gave his attention principally to stock-raising and the dairy. The early settlers were for many years greatly dependent on Mr. Burns for good, fresh butter, eggs and chickens, while Mr. Burns furnished them fresh beef from his herd. The claim and vicinity furnished an extensive range for his cattle, and afforded unlimited meadows of grass-land for their winter's supply of hay. His surplus of the farm always found ready sale on Wabasha prairie or with the immigrants that came into the county to settle.
When Mr. Bums first took possession of his claim he obtained permission of the Sioux to occupy the land, cut the timber and build a house on it. For this permit he gave the Indians two barrels of flour and a barrel of pork. This he paid under the impression and with the belief that he was purchasing their rights to the land. He always after maintained that he bought his claim from their chief Wabasha, and that no one had a better right to it than himself.
At the time he took possession there were two or three large Indian tepees standing in the vicinity of where his house was built. They were about 15 x 20, of the same style and structure as those found on Wabasha prairie and in the mouth of Gilmore valley. This locality was the special home of Wabasha and his family relatives when living in this vicinity. It was sometimes called Wabasha's garden by the old settlers.
Quite a number of Indian graves were on these grounds. Nearly in front of the farmhouse there were two or three graves of more modern burial lying side by side. These were said to be the last resting-place of some of Wabasha's relatives. The Sioux made a special request of Mr. Burns and his family that these graves would not be disturbed. This Mr. Burns promised, and the little mounds, covered with billets of wood, were never molested, although they were in his garden and not far from his house. For many years, they remained as they were left by the Indians, until the wood by which they were covered had rotted away entirely. A light frame or fence of poles put there by Mr. Burns always covered the locality during his lifetime.
For several years after Mr. Burns located here the Sioux who visited this part of the territory were accustomed to make it their camping-grounds. Although they were unwelcome visitors, and their arrival always dreaded by the female portion of the family, Mr. Burns was never annoyed by their presence, ~ they were never troublesome. To allay any demonstrations of timidity on the part of Mrs. Burns or her daughters, he would chidingly remark, "Sure ye have no cause for fear ~ didn't I buy the land from old Wabasha himself ~ and pay him his own price for it too ~ a barrel of pork and two barrels of flour? They will not harm ye ~ don't be bothering about the Indians, now."
Mr. Burns never lost anything by the Indians. His property was never disturbed, and in but one particular were they ever familiar or assumed possession of anything without permission. During the first season Mr. Burns had a field of corn and pumpkins on new breaking. The corn was a poor crop, but the pumpkins were plentiful. Thinking to make some contributions to them, Mrs. Burns gave the squaws permission to take all the pumpkins they desired. The squaws helped themselves liberally. Every season afterward the squaws made an annual visit and swarmed into Mr. Burns' cornfields. They carried off "Mrs. Burns' pumpkins," but left the corn for the blackbirds to forage on.
Mr. Burns was appointed a justice of the peace, by Gov. Ramsey, not long after he came here. He was the second justice of the peace appointed in Wabasha county; the first was T. K. Allen, of Minnesota City. He held the position until his successor was elected in the fall of 1853.
"The rich Irish brogue" plainly revealed the Milesian origin of Mr. Burns. His quaint expressions are pleasantly remembered by his friends and acquaintances. As a justice of the peace his court was a session of comic drollery that was heartily enjoyed by the settlers. His rulings and decisions were given from an intuitive and impulsive feeling of right and justice, rather than from his comprehension of the law governing the cases. His honesty of purpose was never questioned; as a citizen he had the respect of the early settlers.
Mr. Burns, his wife, and their daughter Elicia, died on their farm in the mouth of Burns valley, ~ on the claim where they settled in 1852. Mrs. Burns died in September, 1860, Mr. Burns in March, 1870. The homestead is yet in possession of one of the family. It is owned by Miss Maggie Burns, one of their daughters. Mary, the other daughter, is now known as Mrs. E. S. Smith, of the city of Winona. An interesting family of sons and daughters, young ladies and gentlemen, now call her "mother." "Bill" Burns has gone west.