Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Just as Maine Prairie celebrated its sesquicentennial two years ago, now it is time for the state as a whole to look back at its beginnings. It was May 11, 1858, that President Buchanan signed legislation from Congress to bring Minnesota into the Union as the 32nd state. Nine years earlier, President James Polk had signed the enabling act, establishing the Minnesota Territory and setting this land on its track toward statehood. The Dakota (Sioux) and Ojibwe (Chippewa) Indian tribes had ceded their land covering much of the state under treaties with the U.S. government. Pioneers of European background numbered little more than 1,000, with almost all in settlements at St. Paul, St. Anthony, Stillwater and Mendota, as well as soldiers at Fort Snelling. There was little land in farming, with most settlers involved in the fur-trade and other merchant trade. Growth was exceptional, spurred by improved transportation and growing federal support for homesteading. By the time residents voted for their first state governor, about 35,000 votes were cast, though the pre-statehood census of 1857 showed a population of 150,000. Of course, only white males could cast a ballot. By only about 240 votes, the Democrat Henry Sibley defeated the Republican Alexander Ramsey. Ramsey had been the first territorial governor and would return to power following Sibley. Post-statehood there was explosive growth, particularly when Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act in 1862, which gave any family the chance to claim 160 acres of undeveloped land outside the original 13 states. Soon, up to two dozen paddle wheelers might be docked in St. Paul, pouring out settlers into this new state. During those birthing days there are many interesting tidbits and exciting personal stories; let's consider a few: Prior to statehood, at least some parts of our current state had been a part of numerous territories as the formation of new states moved westward. We were part of Territory Northwest (Territory North West of the River Ohio), and these other territories: Michigan, Louisiana (renamed Missouri), Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa. The Minnesota territory itself included the land that would become North and South Dakota - from the Mississippi to the Missouri. One of the possible names considered for the new state was "Itasca." Among the "almosts" debated for Minnesota was the shape of the new state. Some pushed for a long, flat state (more like Tennessee), leaving the remainder of the area to eventually become another state. Proponents believed the future was in agriculture, and they wanted to claim all of the plains from the Mississippi to the Missouri. But other state leaders had their ties to the fur and lumber trades, and supported a north-south orientation for the new state, keeping at bay the competing English fur trade efforts. Minnesota's capitol is, of course, St. Paul. But the Mississippi River location was in hot competition with St. Peter on the Minnesota River. And, had the town not changed it's name a couple times, the capitol might stand at Pig's Eye, so named after a "notorious, though popular, retired fur trapper whose talents had turned to moonshining, Pierre 'Pig's Eye' Parrant." Parrant and his rough and roudy settlement had twice been pushed to a more seemly distance from Fort Snelling's more genteel community, finally claiming the shores at what is now downtown St. Paul. The political parties of Minnesota were at such odds during the Constitutional Convention that two conventions met, one for each party. Only with the help of Sen. Steven Douglas (adversary of Lincoln both for the senate and then for the presidency), who arrived by steamboat and provided "shuttle diplomacy" between the parties, did the participants agree on the elements of our constitution. But even then, the tempers ran so hot that the members of each party refused to sign on the same document that carried the other party's signatures. So Minnesota actually has two constitutional documents, differing in almost 300 (very minor) ways as scribes worked overnight to create two documents for the parties to sign. The early settlers were only about 75 years from the American Revolution and the birth of our nation, while they are twice that time span from us today. They were people of faith and vision, independent and optimistic. They sought out every opportunity to improve their lives in this new state. Their efforts, both as individuals and as a government, were not without missteps and even actions we might now decry, particularly with the luxury of 150 years of hindsight. Yet they are our history. May we remember, understand, and celebrate their achievements, but also learn from the missteps taken. May we be as enthused to build communities to match our highest ideals. And may we be willing to sacrifice, as they did, to build on our dreams. On May 17 of this year, Supreme Court Justice Lorie Gildea, along with myself and Kathy, reincarnated early figures in Minnesota history during sesquicentennial celebrations at the State Capitol. Gildea portrayed Martha Angle Dorsett, first woman to be admitted to the practice of law in Minnesota. Originally turned down in her application because the law stated that
only males could be admitted, Dorsett turned her energies to getting the law changed. With success, she was admitted in 1878. I and Kathy portrayed Charles and Isabella Landrau. At statehood, the 29-year-old Landrau was one of the first three Supreme Court justices. He had practiced law near St. Peter, functioned as an Indian agent, and served on the Constitution Convention. While a justice of the highest court, on the outbreak of hostilities in the
Dakota War in 1862, he immediately enlisted and led 200 volunteers up the Minnesota to help defend the town of New Ulm that was attacked by Dakota warriors. He was a field commander at the battle of Wood Lake, the last significant battle of the war. ********** As we celebrate Minnesota's 150th statehood anniversary, we again are thankful to feature this week's history column by our society's resident-author Duane Stanley. We look forward to something you may want to submit for this column, also. ********** Honoring family, friends and veterans: Saturday, May 24, our historians enjoyed meeting and greeting visitors at Maine Prairie Cemetery. If you stopped, it was very speical for us to see you there and be of help locating family names and gravesites of interest to you. Another successful opportunity to get better acquainted with us and the unforgettable, historic Kimball area. Saluting volunteers: Faithful volunteers Randy Laabs, Duane, Kathy and Amber Stanley, Lloyd and Carol Newman, Audrey White, Anita Hoefer, Anita Vossen and Jan Strand made it all happen. Everything from homemade cookies to greeting you. Next time you get a chance, be sure to thank them. ********** Coming events: June 24 you won't want to miss as we feature Dr. Bendix's special life here; June 28 our historians host a booth at Fairhaven's Old Settlers Festival; save the day July 19 to join our fully-escorted, fully-narrated group tour through the area's complete and famous Minnesota open air Pioneer Park Museum (all we need to know is that you're coming with us to have the right size bus from Kimball); and Aug. 8-9 weekend is Kimball Days special celebration.
Stay tuned for more details ... ********** Volunteer indexing resumes Monday, Sept. 8. ********** Want to advance historic preservation? Want to multiply your charitable gifts? Thanks to your earlier generosity, and matching grants, Phases 1, 2 and 3 of the City Hall Restoration, completion of the exterior of this historic gem is right on schedule in 2008. NOW, the restoration moves indoors: Phase 4 donations are under way to begin the interior in 2009. Kimball's only structure to be listed on the
National Register of Historic
Places is being preserved. Pleae make your gift or pledge now for Phase 4. Remember, whatever the size of your gift, it will be doubled with the state historical preservation matching dollars. Join this history-in-the-making. Leave your mark on city hall! ********** It's not too late for membership or other donations, information, stories for this column or the collections. Kimball Historical Society can be reached at Box 100, Kimball, Minn. 55353, or (320) 398-5743, (320) 398-5250 or toll-free (800) 252-2521. ********** "You'll never know what it cost my generation to preserve the freedom of future