Looking Around ~ Winona County, Minnesota

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Winona County, Minnesota


Pages 291-298
From the book
"History of Wabasha County"
Published in 1884
Concerning Wabasha and Winona Counties in Minnesota

This chapter was transcribed by Greg Lafavor
and proofed by Kitty Lafavor

Early in the season prominent individuals from St. Paul visited the colony and made considerable effort to induce the member of the association to abandon Rolling Stone and locate themselves on the Minnesota river above St. Paul. It was said that Gov. Ramsey himself visited the colony for that purpose. Mr. Haddock was opposed to any movement of this kind, and his influence was such that no propositions for a change of locality were for a moment entertained.

Mr. Haddock and the members of the association were under the impression that Minnesota City was on a navigable portion of the Mississippi, although the officers of the steamboats refused to go up through Straight slough and established a landing place for the colony. They early took into consideration the advantage that would arise from making Minnesota City the terminus of a wagon-road into the interior, between the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. A committee was appointed to explore the interior of the territory and "find the most feasible route for a wagon-road from Minnesota City to the Great Bend of a the St. Peters river at the mouth of the Blue Earth," with instructions to note the quality of the land, water and timber observed on the route over which they might pass. The committee were each allowed a dollar a day to defray their expenses while on the survey.

The committee consisted of Robert Pike, jr., Isaac M. Noracong and William Stevens. They left the colony on the 26th of June and reached Traverse des Sioux on the 3d of July, where Mr. Pike was compelled to lay up from disability to travel. Mr. Noracong and Mr. Stevens completed the survey to the mouth of the Blue Earth river. Mr. Noracong stopped for a few days at Mankato to consult with the proprietors of the new town then but just starting at that place, and returned by another route across the country, accompanied by D. A. Robertson, one of the proprietors of Mankato. Mr. Pike and Mr. Stevens took passage on the Black Hawk down the Minnesota river to St. Paul, and from there to Wabasha prairie, and thence by land to Minnesota City.

Mr. Pike drew up a report of the expedition, which was indorsed by Mr. Stevens, and presented it to the association as the report of the committee. It was formally accepted. Neither this report made by Mr. Pike nor a copy of it can now be found. It is said to have been a fair description of the country over which they passed, and recommended the route by way of Faribault to Traverse des Sioux as practicable for either a wagon-road or for a railroad at a comparatively moderate expense.

On his return, Mr. Noracong presented his report recommending a more southern route to Mankato. He found that the report made by Mr. Pike had been adopted, the matter disposed of and the committee discharged. The report of Mr. Noracong was listened to, but no action was taken by the association. The report in the handwriting of Mr. Noracong, has been preserved by the Hon. O. M. Lord. The following. was copied from it:

Started June 26, 1852, and went to Mr. Sweet's claim on Rolling Stone prairie, a distance of about twelve miles; course south of west.

June 27, 7 A.M. From Sweet's took a south course one and a-half miles, and then a west course across a fine prairie to a grove of burr-oak timber, where we found a fine spring of water discharging itself in a sink; this place was claimed by Mr. Hollyer. From thence took a west course and at noon came to a spring brook, and thence, after going a short distance came to a branch of the White Water running to the north. Continued traveling over burr-oak openings until 3 P.M., when we came to the head branch of the White Water, a fine brook sixteen feet in width and an average depth of two inches, rock bottom, good cool water to drink; saw some trout. Went on three miles and crossed a tributary of the same. Here is a prairie eight miles wide east and west, and extending north and south as far as the eye can see. This prairie is in the valley of the White Water; the rise of land on either side is about thirty feet. We rose on the upland and continued west on burr-oak openings. The upland here is not as good as that back of the valley we crossed, being more gravelly. Traveled on through openings sometimes thickly set with hazel and tall grass. At sundown came to a small ravine, where we found good running water, bearing to the northeast and well timbered with maple, ironwood, basswood, white and burr oak, and some willows.

Monday 28, 6:15 A.M. Started, and at 7:20 A.M., after about three miles' travel, came to a small stream of pure water running to the north through a splendid burr-oak opening, good timber and land of good soil. To the view north, this brook seems to run through a splendid prairie valley of great extent. We here saw a wolf catching mice or frogs. At 8:10 A.M. the openings ran as far north as the eye can see. At 8:40 A.M. we came on an elevated prairie of first-rate quality; cannot see the extent to the southeast; six miles to the south there is timber; north the openings continue about ten miles. Soon after, we came to an elevated prairie where we could see a large valley to the south of us. This valley lies east and west. We continued west along the high lands of this valley, supposing it to be the head source of Root river; traveling bad; the face of the country being much broken and thickly set with oak underbrush and hazel The most of the ravines we crossed were dry, and we became very thirsty for water; after some trouble we found a spring. There are several high mounds or bluffs standing in the midst of the valleys that we crossed, surrounded by good grass lands; they make a very imposing appearance and look beautiful in the distance. We have crossed some red-top meadow lands that would cut from three to four tons of hay to the acre. At 4 P.M. came to a stream of water bearing northward, which I called at the first glance the Wassioshie; overhead, where I am writing, is floodwood and grass in a tree eighteen feet above the water in the river. The bed of this stream is about sixty feet wide, and an average depth of water of about five inches. The majority of the company being in favor of following the stream down (not being satisfied that it is the Wassioshie), we went down on the east side some three or four miles, forded the river and pitched our tent, while Stevens and Pike went north to an elevated bluff to reconnoiter; from their observations they were willing to proceed west and leave the river.

Tuesday, June 29. A very foggy morning. Through the heavy mist we could hear the distant roar of a cataract, to the northward. We went over the bluffs to the northwest, through the dew and hazel-brush, until we mounted an elevated place where we could see some distance. On the south there was a heavy and extensive grove of timber; also on the west ~ the greatest quantity we have yet seen. We here saw two deer feeding at a distance. From this point we diverged from our course to the north and east, in search of the cataract. We descended about two miles to the river, and found a heavy tributary coming in from the west, and at the immediate junction was the fall of water we had heard. The water here falls about eight or ten feet in thirty or forty. Here is quite a curiosity. The water at its highest pitch rises some sixteen feet above where it now is. Altogether, the scenery is romantic.

This stream proved to be the Wassioshie river. In these waters I saw the largest brook-trout that I have ever seen in the Western waters, and also some fine black bass. The bluffs are about two-thirds as high as they are in the rear of Wabasha prairie. We here saw the tepees of the redmen for the first time but they were of ancient date. Returned to where we left our baggage two miles to the southwest; then took a west course, and traveled, over some rolling prairie and broken woodland, about six miles, when we came to a tributary of the north branch of the Wassioshie running north. This is also a fine stream of water sufficient to do a large business. Forded the stream and pitched tent. We left this place on our regular west course; traveling bad, the lands being thickly set with different kinds of brush and tall grass found on prairies. Came into what we called second-growth timber, very thickly set with underbrush of the yellow oak, hazel, plum, crab-apple, whitethorn, blackberry, briers, etc. Not being of a disposition to bolt the course, we penetrated into them and continued on for some time; but, finding such bad traveling, we made a halt and mounted a tree to reconnoiter. Nothing was to be seen south and west but the same that we had been in for two or three hours. On the north of the west branch of the Wassioshie saw a large prairie about two miles distant. We struck north for the prairie. In this valley is a fine stream of water sixty feet wide, with four to six inches depth. Camped for the night. Saw some large suckers and black bass.

Wednesday, June 30. Took our course northwest to a high mound and reconnoitered. Found that the stream we camped on came from the west of north, and that the south side was thickly set with second-growth timber. Having found, by experience the day before, that we had better keep clear of that kind of traveling, we continued on the north side. After following up this branch about ten miles we struck north about a mile and came on an elevated prairie, that we could not reach its eastern extent with the naked eye, and appeared to extend some distance north. On the west we could not see its limits; it was dotted with groves of burr-oak and popular. Starting west, we encountered some large tracts of hazel-brush, but continued to travel on until sundown. We here found ourselves on a dividing ridge without water or wood, and could not pitch our tent. In the west we could see timber in the distance, about eight miles off; in the south the timber opened so that we could see through, and discovered that there was a large prairie in that direction. We continued west through grass on the prairie often as high as the brim of my hat, and scarce any less than to my hips. The rain was falling and wind blowing strong from the northeast. Traveling on, by wind and compass, we came to a swamp, where we found some good swamp water. Taking a bucketful with us, we reached the timber, and penetrated an awful thicket, to get out of the wind. When we had pitched our tent and made a fire the watch said 11 o'clock, in a rainy night. We then had our suppers to cook, for we had eaten nothing from the time we took our breakfast except dry bread and raw pork.

Thursday, July 1. We made a start west. The water here evidently runs to the west and north. We found bad traveling through hazel-brush, swamp and wet meadows, with very high grass of bluejoint.

At 11 o'clock A.M. we came to a small stream of water running to the north and west, that proved to be a branch of the Cannon river. Continuing west through thickets thickly set with underbrush, consisting of prickly ash, blackberry briers, greenbriers, grapevines and nettles, we struck a small stream of water the bottoms of which were covered with heavy timber. Following this down, we came to a large stream, which proved to be the eastern branch of the Cannon river. On the west side was a large prairie. A majority of the company being in favor of following down this stream, we at once forded it, and after going about two miles struck an Indian trail, which we traveled on down to the valleys, where we found a Frenchman who could talk good English. From him we learned that we were forty miles from Traverse des Sioux, and from thence eighteen miles to the Blue Earth. We then set out on the Indian trail for Traverse des Sioux, the trail leading through a fine valley of bottom prairie, in which flows the north branch of the Cannon river. On the north of this branch the whole country is heavy timbered to its source; the east side of the south branch is also heavy timbered with elm, maple, black-walnut, butternut, ash, etc. Between these forks are extensive rolling prairies, frequently dotted with burr-oak groves.

Traveling until nearly sunset, we pitched our tent on the bank of a beautiful lake. There are three beautiful small lakes on this branch, with pretty generally bold gravelly shores and clear water. There were numerous dead fish lying on the beach, ~ suckers, mullet, bass, pant and pickerel. On the north of the lakes is heavy timber; some on the south.

Friday July 2. Took an early start expecting to get through today. We traveled over a very broken country; not so bad, however, as to be unfit for cultivation. The country over which we passed in the forenoon is better adapted for stock, there being extensive meadow lands on the shores of the lakes.

After dinner we came to the head of the lakes, where we were some troubled in finding the right trail; the trail diverging off in different directions and very dim at this place. Soon after we succeeded in getting on the right trail we found ourselves in a different country altogether; it was up hill and down, through a swamp, over a knoll, through the brush, into a swamp, and so on until 3 P.M., when we came to a lake on our left, or south side; following along this lake, winding our way through a swamp connected with it, then through an island of timber and another swamp, and so on until we camped for the night, on the bank of the lake, in an Indian tepee. The water of the lake was so full of particles of something, that we were obliged to strain it for drinking or cooking purposes.

The lake was on the south and a large watery marsh on the north, the outlet of which we forded a short distance from our camp. All the dry land, from the place when we struck the lake, is heavy timbered and of good soil. I think three-fourths of the face of the country here is taken up with lakes and swamps.

On the north side of this lake there were several swamps connecting with it, and there was a plain visible embankment of stone and earth thrown across them; the stone were granite boulders or hard head, of which there were an abundance of this section of country. These embankments could not be easily mistaken, for some parts of them were four or five feet high, where the rocks could be seen on both sides; they answered for a road to cross on. At one place where it appeared the outlet of the lake was, there were two streams of water flowing out of the lake into the marsh; here the boulders could be seen peering above the water in a direct line, from one point of high land to another, on the opposite side.

These stone have evidently been placed there by artificial means ~ of this there is no doubt, but by whom is not known and probably never will be. This lake is very likely the head fountain of the Vermillion river, that empties into the Mississippi, some distance above the Cannon. On the shores of this lake there were dead fish of different kinds, showing that these waters were stocked with fish. Saturday, July 3. Traveled over islands of timber, and through brush and morasses ~ the timber was of good quality ~ saw several small lakes and some sugar-houses. It was a rainy morning, and although it continued raining we kept on traveling, and came out of the timber into brush from two to eight feet high, overhanging the trail; the only way to follow a trail in such a case is to go where the feet go the easiest. We crossed several morasses and at last reached a bank, and down a hill we soon came out into the valley of the Minnesota opposite Traverse des Sioux. We followed the trail down a short distance and then struck for the buildings on the other side of the river. We soon found ourselves in a morass, or quagmire, which had the appearance as if there was sulphur or salt water in it; did not admire the place and did not taste the water. This continued from the bank nearly to the river.

At the river an Indian boy came to us with a canoe, but no paddles; we managed to cross safely, using small round sticks for paddles. We proceeded direct to the house of the Rev. Mr. Huggins, at the Mission, and took dinner at a house for the first time in seven days. Mr. Huggins and lady appeared to be very accommodating and refined people; they were good and kind to us, and will be remembered by me in time to come. This place has been long settled by civilized people.

Our provisions having run out, we here got a new supply, Stevens and myself started for the Blue Earth (Mr. Pike having a boil on his ankle, which affected the nerve to the knee and upward). We fell in with two young men that were going to where a Mr. Babcock was building a saw-mill, and reached the place about sundown. It was on the east side of the Minnesota, five miles above Traverse des Sioux. We were kindly received and put up for the night with them. Here fell in with a company of men that came the overland route from Jackson, Iowa, with two wagons and sixteen yoke of cattle, some cows, one horse, breaking plows, etc. They were twenty-one days coming through.

Sunday, July 4. We shouldered our packs and wended our way for the Blue Earth. The trail led through a fine prairie descending toward the river; the high lands to the east are heavy timbered. We diverged from the trail to get a drink, and in the bed of the stream we found stone coal. A specimen I brought home and tested by the fire, and found that it burned well.

Arrived at the town of Mankato about noon. Finding that the boys of this place were dressing a large turtle, we held on and took dinner with them. After dinner, started for the Blue Earth, a distance of two miles above the town, and soon reached the long looked-for locality. Traveled up some distance and then returned to the junction and down the Minnesota to Mankato where we put up for the night. Having accomplished our purpose, we resolved to make a canoe on the following day, and return home by descending the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers.

Monday, July 5. Slept late; soon after getting up, news came that a steamboat was within hearing; soon after, the Black Hawk made her appearance. We at once resolved to return on the steamer. The Mankato company came on this boat. Learning where I was from and the business I was on, they wished me to stop a few days with them. I accordingly did so. Stevens left with the boat for home.

Mankato is pleasantly situated on the east side of the Minnesota, directly on the great bend of the river and two miles below the confluence of the Blue Earth, on an elevated rise of ground, sufficiently above high-water mark, but not so much so as to make it inconvenient of access at any place for some distance up and down the river. It is located on a prairie of good quality of soil, well watered and plenty of timber. It has been regularly laid out by a competent surveyor. This place, from the observations I could make, must eventually be the great western terminus of a railroad from Minnesota city on the Mississippi to the waters of the Minnesota river. Having traveled through the country on two different routes, mostly, I find no obstacles in the way of any kind a road from the former to the latter place. My impression is, that Mankato is decidedly the place for the termination of roads of any kind. The face of the country further north is so thickly set with lakes and swamps and marshes, that it will cost a vast amount of money to erect bridges and build roads. The route for a road from Mankato to the southeast waters of the Cannon river is mostly on a dividing ridge and principally on prairie of good soil, well adapted for farming purposes and the raising of stock.

From Mankato to the La Seur river, which empties into the Blue Earth about two miles from its junction with Minnesota, is about six miles. The land is good for a road is well timbered. After crossing the La Seur there is timber for about three-fourths of a mile, then it is prairie and opening to the southeast waters of the Cannon, where there is a prairie extending east out of reach of the naked eye.
signed: I. M. Novacong.

The country over which we have traveled in the direction of Minnesota City is well adapted for roads, and I have no doubt, from what I have seen, that a good wagon-road may be made at a small expense from Mankato to Minnesota City. I also believe that the Mankato company would unite with the Minnesota City company in making the roads, and make, as their proposition, the western fifty miles.
signed: D.A. Robertson.

Mr. Robertson was one of the "Mankato Company" ~ one of the original town proprietors and first settlers in Mankato. It was through his influence that Mr. Noracong remained at that place to discuss the feasibility of opening a road. Mr. Robertson accompanied Mr. Noracong on his return across the country, and appended the above proposition to the report of Mr. Noracong to the association.

This committee was sent out by the association to explore the country and ascertain the feasibility of opening a wagon-road from Minnesota City to the great bend of the Minnesota river, and not for the purpose of making a preliminary survey for a proposed railroad route to St. Peters, as has been sometimes represented in newspaper articles. The real object was to establish a highway into the back country from the colony; to secure the advantages of a main traveled route, when the country should be settled, and to make the terminus of the road at Minnesota City. The recommendation of the route for the purpose of a railroad was but an incidental part of the report.

The first mail route ever established across the country in the southern part of the territory was between, Minnesota City and Traverse des Sioux, over nearly the same route traveled by this committee. The contractor was O. M. Lord, of Minnesota City.

End of Chapter


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