Old Fort Snelling - 1819-1858
by Marcus L. Hansen
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From a painting by Captain Seth Eastman, reproduced in Mrs. Eastman's Dahcotah; or, Life and Legends of the Sioux around Fort Snelling







The establishment in 1917 of a camp at Fort Snelling for the training of officers for the army has aroused curiosity in the history of Old Fort Snelling. Again as in the days of the pioneer settlement of the Northwest the Fort at the junction of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers has become an object of more than ordinary interest.

Old Fort Snelling was established in 1819 within the Missouri Territory on ground which later became a part of the Territory of Iowa. Not until 1849 was it included within Minnesota boundaries. Linked with the early annals of Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and the Northwest, the history of Old Fort Snelling is the common heritage of many commonwealths in the Upper Mississippi Valley.

The period covered in this volume begins with the establishment of the Fort in 1819 and ends with the temporary abandonment of the site as a military post in 1858.




The position which the military post holds in western history is sometimes misunderstood. So often has a consideration of it been left to the novelist's pen that romantic glamour has obscured the permanent contribution made by many a lonely post to the development of the surrounding region. The western fort was more than a block-house or a picket. Being the home of a handful of soldiers did not give it its real importance: it was an institution and should be studied as such. Old Fort Snelling is a type of the many remote military stations which were scattered throughout the West upon the upper waters of the rivers or at intermediate places on the interminable stretches of the westward trails.

This study of the history and influence of Old Fort Snelling was first undertaken at the suggestion of Dr. Louis Pelzer of the State University of Iowa, and was carried on under his supervision. The results of the investigation were accepted as a thesis in the Graduate College of the State University of Iowa in June, 1917. Upon the suggestion of Dr. Benj. F. Shambaugh, Superintendent of The State Historical Society of Iowa, the plan of the work was changed, its scope enlarged, many new sources of information were consulted, and the entire manuscript rewritten.

Connected with so many of the aspects of western history, Old Fort Snelling is pictured in accounts both numerous and varied. The reports of government officials, the relations of travellers and explorers, and the reminiscences of fur traders, pioneer settlers, and missionaries show the Fort as each author, looking at it from the angle of his particular interest, saw it. These published accounts are found in the Annual Reports of the Secretary of War, in the Annual Reports of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and in the works of travellers and pioneers. Many of the most important sources are the briefer accounts printed in the Minnesota Historical Collections. The author's dependence upon these sources of information is evident upon every page of this volume.

But not alone from these sources, which are readily accessible, is this account of the Old Fort drawn. A half-burned diary, the account books of the post sutler, letter books filled with correspondence dealing with matters which are often trivial, and statistical returns of men and equipment are sources which from their nature may never be printed. But in them reposes much of the material upon which this book is based. The examination of all the documents which offered any prospect of throwing light upon the subject was made possible for the author as Research Assistant in The State Historical Society of Iowa. And in this connection I wish to express my appreciation for the many courtesies which I have received from those in whose custody these sources are kept. To Dr. Solon J. Buck, Superintendent of the Minnesota Historical Society and the members of the library staff of that Society I am indebted for many kindnesses. Dr. M. M. Quaife, Superintendent of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, placed at my disposal thousands of sheets of transcripts made from the records of the Indian Department at Washington and kept in the library of the Historical Society at Madison. At the Historical Department of Iowa at Des Moines, and in the library of the Kansas State Historical Society at Topeka opportunity was granted to examine valuable manuscripts. General H. P. McCain, Adjutant-General of the United States, had a search made of the records on file in the archives of the War Department at Washington, and such papers as dealt with Fort Snelling were consulted by the author.

My fellow workers on the staff of The State Historical Society of Iowa have often aided me with suggestions and criticisms. To the Superintendent of the Society, Dr. Benj. F. Shambaugh, I wish to express my appreciation not only for the advice, encouragement, and inspiration which he freely gave, but also for the willingness with which he made possible the investigation of every clue to sources of information by correspondence or by personal visit. Moreover, the manuscript has been carefully edited by him. The task of seeing the work through the press has been performed by Associate Editor Dr. Dan E. Clark, who also carefully read the manuscript and compiled the index. Miss Helen Otto assisted in the verification of the manuscript.




Editor's Introduction v

Author's Preface vii

I. A Century and a Half of Foreign Rule 1

II. The Evolution of Fort Snelling 18

III. Forty Years of Frontier Duty 31

IV. Lords of the North 54

V. A Soldier's World 73

VI. Glimpses of Garrison Life 84

VII. The Fort and Indian Life 103

VIII. The Sioux-Chippewa Feuds 119

IX. The Fur Trade 135

X. Soldiers of the Cross 146

XI. The Fashionable Tour 159

XII. The Chippewa Treaty of 1837 176

XIII. Citizens and Soldiers 187

Notes and References 205

Index 251



On an autumn day in 1766 Captain Jonathan Carver stood upon the bluff which rises at the junction of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers and viewed the wonderful landscape of prairie and wooded valleys that lay before him. As a captain in the colonial troops of Connecticut he had served his king faithfully in the late war with France; and now in the days of peace which followed the glorious victory he sought to continue his usefulness by exploring the vast regions which had been added to the domains of Great Britain and Spain. Three years of travel in the wilderness taught him that those wild lands would not always be the haunt of savage animals and wandering tribes.

"To what power or authority this new world will become dependent, after it has arisen from its present uncultivated state, time alone can discover", he later wrote. "But as the seat of Empire, from time immemorial has been gradually progressive towards the West, there is no doubt but that at some future period, mighty kingdoms will emerge from these wildernesses, and stately palaces and solemn temples, with gilded spires reaching the skies, supplant the Indian huts, whose only decorations are the barbarous trophies of their vanquished enemies."[1]

Not until the twenty-fourth day of August, 1819, when less than a hundred soldiers of the Fifth United States Infantry disembarked opposite the towering height where a few years later rose the white walls of Fort Snelling, did the nation which was to rule assert its power. The event was, indeed, epochal. It not only marked a change in the sovereignty over the vast region, but it also made possible the development of those factors which were to bring about the great transformation.

It was for the "upper country" that this fort was built—a country stretching from the Great Lakes across the wooded headwaters of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers to the plains of the Missouri. The history of this region is marked by several distinct periods: the coming of the French traders, the supremacy of the English companies, the establishment of military posts of the United States, and the building of American communities.

Although at the opening of the second decade of the nineteenth century the American troops quartered on the west banks of the Mississippi River were on soil that, in name, had been American for sixteen years, and although they looked over the river to land that had since 1783 belonged to their country, yet they had in fact taken possession of a foreign land. English, French, and Spanish flags had at various times waved over certain parts of it. Foreign influence, during a century and a half, had become widespread and deeply rooted.

When in 1634 Jean Nicollet visited the Wisconsin country the French advance into the upper Northwest had begun.[2] From 1658 to 1660 Radisson and Groseilliers wandered among the tribes and brought the first canoe loads of furs to Canada from the far West. Then along with the missionaries, Hennepin and Marquette, came the coureurs des bois, Nicholas Perrot and Daniel Greyloson Duluth. It is unnecessary to recite in detail the exploits of these Frenchmen and their successors.[3] For a century the songs of unknown boatmen rose from the waters of the western rivers; unknown traders smoked in the lodges of Sioux and Chippewas; and hardy wanderers whose feats of discovery are unrecorded, leaving behind the Missouri River, saw from afar the wonders of the "Shining Mountains".[4] But if no record of them remains, their influence was lasting. Living with the natives, supplying their needs by barter, and marrying the Indian girls, the French gained a remarkable power over the northwestern tribes, which caused them to consider whoever came from Canada their friend, even after the English government had supplanted the French in power.

West of the lakes the transition from the French to the English rule created no disturbances, such as Pontiac's conspiracy which so completely disrupted the trade in the East.[5] Continuing the French policy and also their posts and voyageurs, the Scottish merchants of Montreal, organized in 1784 as the North West Company, pushed westward from Green Bay and southward from Lake Winnipeg. This advance was continued until the opening years of the next century. Although on nominally Spanish territory, the tribes on the upper Missouri were won from the Spanish traders at St. Louis by such severe cutting in prices that the latter could not compete. The posts of the North West Company on the Red River of the North became the resort for many of the western tribes.[6]

The diverting of the trade of these natives, who would naturally have come down the Missouri where American traders could meet them and be benefited, was noticed by President Jefferson, who, on January 18, 1803, wrote to Congress: "It is, however, understood, that the country on that river is inhabited by numerous tribes, who furnish great supplies of furs and peltry to the trade of another nation, carried on in a high latitude, through an infinite number of portages and lakes, shut up by ice through a long season." In this same message was included a recommendation that a small expedition be sent up to confer with the tribes with respect to the admission of American traders.[7]

But the purchase of Louisiana altered matters. It was not only a matter of trade, but one of sovereignty. A double movement was initiated: one to ascend the Mississippi under Zebulon M. Pike, and the other the Missouri under Captain Meriwether Lewis and Lieutenant William Clark. The reports of these two expeditions indicate how firm a grip the English traders had upon the Indians of the upper Northwest.

The expedition of Lewis and Clark ascended the Missouri and passed over the mountains to the Columbia River which was followed to the coast. The first winter, from late in October, 1804, to early in April, 1805, was spent in a fort which was constructed in the village of the Mandans, near the location of the present city of Mandan in North Dakota. Here was abundant opportunity to investigate the fur trade. Nor had they long to wait. On the 27th of November, seven British traders arrived from the North West Company's post on the Assiniboine River to barter with the river tribes. The next day, in council with the Mandan chiefs, the Americans warned the Indians not to receive medals or flags from the foreigners if they wished to be friends with the "Great American Father". A day later this warning was communicated to the traders themselves who promised to refrain from any such acts.[8] How well they kept their promises later events showed. The Lewis and Clark expedition was only a passing pageant; for by the time of the War of 1812, the only American traders who ventured to do business on the upper waters were practically driven off by the foreign companies.[9]

The report of Zebulon M. Pike indicates that conditions were much worse on the upper Mississippi. Leaving St. Louis on August 9, 1805, he returned to that place on April 30, 1806. About two months were spent at a fort erected near the site of Little Falls, where he left a few men and pushed on with the rest of the company to Leech Lake. Conversation with the fur traders and councils with the Indians revealed the extent of the commerce of the North West Company. He heard of permanent trading posts on the south side of Lake Superior and at the headwaters of the St. Croix River; and he saw at Lower Red Cedar Lake, Sandy Lake, and Leech Lake the rude stockades and log buildings which were called forts.[10] These three posts were included in the "Department of Fond du Lac" and were the centers from which in the year 1805, trade with the Indians was carried on by one hundred and nine men.[11] By means of the rivers and portages of the wilderness the furs were brought to Canada without passing a custom house, and thus the United States was defrauded of duties which, it was estimated, would amount to $26,000 annually.[12]

Pike objected to many of the evident signs of British sovereignty: the British flag flying above the headquarters of the department of Fond du Lac was shot down;[13] many of the Indians were induced to give up their British medals and flags;[14] and Hugh M'Gillis, agent of the company for the district, in response to Pike's letter of complaint, promised in the future to refrain from displaying the British flag, presenting medals, or talking politics to the Indians.[15] But his promises were no more seriously given than those of his brethren on the Missouri.

Little of permanent value would have been accomplished if the acts of the explorer on September 23, 1805, had been omitted. The instructions issued to Pike on July 30, 1805, stated: "You will be pleased to obtain permission from the Indians who claim the ground, for the erection of military posts and trading-houses at the mouth of the river St. Pierre [the Minnesota River], the falls of St. Anthony, and every other critical point which may fall under your observation; these permissions to be granted in formal conferences, regularly recorded, and the ground marked off."[16]

When Pike reached the mouth of the Minnesota River, the natural features of the locality convinced him of the advantages which would arise from a fort located at that point. From the high bluff lying between the Minnesota and the Mississippi rivers the course of both streams would be under the sweep of the guns. Sheer walls of stone rising from the Mississippi could prevent invasion; and the fur trading business could be regulated, as all boats entering or leaving the Indian country must use one or the other of the two rivers.

A "bower" was constructed of sails, and on September 23rd Pike spoke to the Sioux Indians there assembled concerning the transfer of Louisiana, the futility of their wars with the Chippewas, and the evils of rum. He asked them to cede to the United States lands for military posts, and dwelt on the value of these posts to the Indians. To this the chiefs assented, receiving in return presents valued at $200 and sixty gallons of liquor. The terms of the treaty provided that the Sioux should cede to the United States tracts "for the purpose of establishment of military posts," at the mouth of the Minnesota and at the mouth of the St. Croix. A money consideration was also mentioned, but a blank was left which was later filled in by the Senate with $2000.[17]

The government, busy with distressing foreign affairs, neglected to make a permanent occupation of the explored region. A struggle between the American and British governments was arising over events far remote from the northern lakes and woods. But the Canadian authorities saw the necessity of having Indian allies for the approaching struggle. As early as 1807 reports from the West indicated hostile feelings on the part of the Indians toward the Americans, and an official at Mackinac wrote on August 30, 1807, that this condition "is principally to be attributed to the influence of foreigners trading in the country."[18] Captain A. Gray, who was sent to inquire into the aid which the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company could furnish, reported to Sir George Prevost, commander of the British forces in Canada, on January 12, 1812: "By means of these Companies, we might let loose the Indians upon them throughout the whole extent of their Western frontier, as they have a most commanding influence over them." In a memorandum of plans for the defence of Canada, General Brock noted that "the Co-operation of the Indians will be attended with great expence in presents provisions &c."[19]

To this alliance the Indians gave willing ears. Their interests lay with the British rather than with the Americans. The economic stability of Canada rested upon the fur trade, which in turn could survive only if the free life of the hunt and the chase, which the Indians loved so well, was left them. But with the Americans were associated the making of treaties and the ceding of land. The Indians preferred to see upon their rivers the canoe of the trader rather than the flatboat of the pioneer.[20]

The coming of hostilities was received joyfully by all the inhabitants of the Northwest. To the Indian it meant an opportunity to avenge past wrongs; the Canadian hoped to make secure his present condition; and the American settler saw a chance to drive out both enemies—Indians and foreign traders alike. The news of the declaration of war reached the great rendezvous of the North West Company at Fort William on the northern shore of Lake Superior on the sixteenth of July, 1812, and the next day one of the traders left for the interior to rouse the natives. The agent of the company at this post wrote enthusiastically: "I have not the least doubt but our force, will in ten days hence, amount to at least five thousand effective men."[21]

But already a sufficient number of Indians had come to the aid of the English to render service. On the very next day the English flag replaced the American above the fort at Mackinac. No sooner had the news of the beginning of hostilities become known at the neighboring British post at St. Joseph's than immediate preparations were made. The Indians were marshalled for the attack, and a vessel belonging to the North West Company was requisitioned. The morning of July 17th revealed the American fort surrounded by Indians and commanded by a cannon which had been dragged upon a height of land. Seeing the futility of resistance the garrison surrendered and marched out before noon. Of the total attacking force of 1021 there were Indians to the number of 715, of whom the British leader wrote, "although these people's minds were much heated, yet as soon as they heard the Capitulation was signed they all returned to their Canoes, and not one drop either of Man's or Animal's Blood was Spilt, till I gave an Order for a certain number of Bullocks to be purchased for them".[22] The ease with which the capture was made had the effect of bringing to the English standards all the Indians of the Northwest, except a part of the Miamis and Delawares, in spite of the fact that they had earlier made promises of neutrality.[23]

Although the capture of the fort at Mackinac was accomplished without any Indian atrocities, the success of that day was to precipitate a massacre, long to rankle in the minds of the pioneers of the West. Immediately upon hearing of the capture of the fort, General Hull wrote to Captain Heald in command at Fort Dearborn ordering the evacuation of that post. On the morning of August 15th, as the small garrison of fifty-five regulars and twelve militia were leaving the fort with their women and children, they were fallen upon by a force of five hundred Indians. Twenty-six regulars, all the militiamen, two women, and twelve children were murdered on the spot. An unknown number of wounded prisoners were that evening victims at what the Indians termed a "general frolic".[24]

In the meantime Robert Dickson, who for many years had been a Prairie du Chien fur trader, was continuing his activities as recruiter of Indians for British service. This was the same Dickson who had in 1802 received an American commission as a justice of the peace,[25] and had later entertained Pike and his men "with a supper and a dram", impressing the American explorer as a man of "open, frank manners."[26] Now, in January, 1813, he was appointed by Great Britain "agent for the Indians of the several Nations to the Westward of Lake Huron".[27]

By June 23, 1813, he had already sent eight hundred Indians to Detroit and had collected six hundred at Mackinac.[28] The summer of 1813 was spent in operations about Detroit, but in the winter he was again active in the West.[29] Great alarm was felt at St. Louis when rumors came telling of the great force he was collecting.[30] Accordingly, late in the spring of 1814, Governor William Clark of Missouri Territory proceeded up the Mississippi and at Prairie du Chien built a stockade named Fort Shelby. It was garrisoned by about sixty men.[31] News of this movement soon came to Mackinac, and prompted the British commandant to prepare a counter-expedition. On the seventeenth of July the force composed of five hundred and fifty men, of whom four hundred were Indians, arrived outside the post. Immediately a summons to surrender was sent. The American commander at first refused, but two days later agreed to capitulate providing the Indians would be kept in check. The surrender took place on July 20th, and the captor christened the stockade Fort McKay in honor of himself.[32]

Thus, the Indians about the Mississippi had been present at the surrender of two posts and had participated in a massacre. British arms had been successful, and the close of the war found British prestige very high.

The Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814, closed the war; and Article IX of that treaty provided that the United States should make peace with the Indian tribes and restore to them the "possessions, rights and privileges" which they had enjoyed before hostilities.[33] President Madison accordingly appointed William Clark, Ninian Edwards, and Auguste Chouteau as commissioners to enter into treaties of peace with the warring tribes of the upper Mississippi and the upper Missouri. Only with extreme difficulty was word of the negotiations sent to the tribes. The hostility of the Indians living about the mouth of the Rock River made it necessary that the messenger proceed to Prairie du Chien by way of the Missouri River, and then across country.[34]

Although treaties were concluded with those who did come to the council, none were eager to negotiate. The Chippewas, Menominees, and Winnebagoes even refused to send delegations; and the Sacs of Rock River not only refused to attend, but also showed their contempt by continually harassing the frontier settlements during the time of the negotiations.[35] This opposition, the commissioners reported, was due to the presence of an unusual number of British traders among the Indians. The report closed with the opinion that "the exertion of the military power of the Government will be necessary to secure the peace and safety of this country."[36]

For some years it had been customary for the British authorities to send presents to the Indians on the Mississippi, and Robert Dickson had promised the natives that the practice would be continued. But with the coming of peace this custom was not allowed by the Americans. Accordingly, in June, 1815, word was sent to the river tribes, that all who came to the British headquarters at Drummond Island in Lake Huron, would be supplied. By June 19th of the next year four hundred Indians had arrived at the post—mainly Sioux. To sympathetic ears they reported that they feared that the Americans were planning their extinction, and a confederation was being formed to resist the building of American forts on the Indian lands. As late as 1825, of the four thousand Indians in the habit of visiting Drummond Island, three thousand came from the region west and southwest of Lake Huron—that is from American territory.[37] These motley processions which trailed through the American woods, stopping to beg at the American posts, were not slow in being reported. It did not take a vivid imagination to see that the renewal of border warfare was inevitable.[38]

This danger was increased by the rapid development of the West following the war. Just as over the mountain trails and down the rivers, Kentucky and Tennessee had been settled before the war, now the States of the Old Northwest received their pioneers. Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, who made his first trip down the Ohio at this time (1818), remarked: "I mingled in this crowd, and, while listening to the anticipations indulged in, it seemed to me that the war had not, in reality, been fought for 'free trade and sailors' rights' where it had commenced, but to gain a knowledge of the world beyond the Alleghanies.... To judge by the tone of general conversation, they meant, in their generation, to plow the Mississippi Valley from its head to its foot."[39]

The flatboats on the rivers, the crowded ferries, and the caravans crossing the prairies were familiar scenes. In The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which appeared in 1819, Washington Irving puts this fondest dream into the mind of his hero, Ichabod: "Nay, his busy fancy already realized his hopes, and presented to him the blooming Katrina with a whole family of children, mounted on the top of a wagon loaded with household trumpery, with pots and kettles dangling beneath; and he beheld himself bestriding a pacing mare, with a colt at her heels, setting out for Kentucky, Tennessee, or the Lord knows where." When he wrote this the author was not using his imagination: it was a picture he saw daily.[40]

The extent of this westward movement is indicated by the provisions made for the political organization of these growing settlements. Indiana achieved statehood in 1816 and Illinois in 1818. Across the river in Missouri the population had grown from 20,000 in 1810 to 66,000 in 1820,[41] and the weighty questions concerning her admission were being discussed in Washington.

With an expanding frontier brought into contact with hostile Indians, trouble was bound to result. Various plans were proposed to deal with the problem. It was reported that General Jackson would take charge of active military operations against the Indians of the upper Mississippi.[42] One agent suggested that "three or four months' full feeding on meat and bread, even without ardent spirit, will bring on disease, and, in six or eight months, great mortality.... I believe more Indians might be killed with the expense of $100,000 in this way, than $1,000,000 expended in the support of armies to go against them."[43]

Fortunately, wiser counsels than either of these prevailed to control the Indians: the control of the fur trade was necessary. It was felt, and rightly, that much of the trouble in the West was due to the power of the British traders. Accordingly, by an act of Congress of April 29, 1816, it was provided that "licenses to trade with the Indians within the territorial limits of the United States shall not be granted to any but citizens of the United States, unless by the express direction of the President of the United States, and upon such terms and conditions as the public interest may, in his opinion, require." To carry this act into effect the president was authorized to call upon the military force.[44]

This legislation was most opportune, since by the commercial convention of October 20, 1818, the northern boundary was definitely agreed upon as the forty-ninth parallel westward from the Lake of the Woods to the Rocky Mountains.[45] Ever since the negotiators of the Treaty of Paris of 1783 had inserted a geographical impossibility by declaring that the boundary should extend due west from the Lake of the Woods to the Mississippi, there had existed a vagueness as to where the actual line should be drawn.[46] In 1806 the British traders thought it would be run from the lake to the source of the river;[47] and as late as 1818 Benjamin O'Fallon wrote from Prairie du Chien that Robert Dickson "is directed to build a fort on the highest land between Lac du Travers and Red river, which he supposes will be the established line between the two countries."[48] But with the boundary now defined, the area where the trade laws were to be enforced was evident.

The method of Indian trade by foreigners was to be supplanted by an extension of the United States trading house system. This was a group of trading houses, conducted by the government, where the Indians could exchange their furs for goods at cost price and thus avoid both the deceit and whiskey of the private merchant, although they were often willing to submit to the one for the sake of the other.[49] As early as 1805 Pike had promised the Indians, in council assembled, that the government intended to build a trading house at the mouth of the Minnesota River.[50] The commissioners at Portage des Sioux, in 1815, had been instructed to inform the tribes that "it is intended to establish strong posts very high up the Mississippi, and from the Mississippi to Lake Michigan, and to open trading-houses at those posts, or other suitable places for their accommodation."[51] In 1818 T. L. McKenny, Superintendent of Indian Trade, recommended the building of seven additional trading houses, one of which was to be located on the "River St. Peters, at or about its junction with the Mississippi."[52]

Thus, through the Indian department steps were being taken to inaugurate a new regime in the upper Northwest. But Indian agents and trading houses needed the protection and administrative arm of the military department in order to be effective. The forward movement of the military frontier during the years succeeding the war is significant as marking a trend towards the Americanization of a great region.



When the War of 1812 broke out in the Northwest, the Americans had only two advanced posts—Mackinac and Fort Dearborn. Of these, one was captured during the hostilities, and the other was evacuated. An attempt was made to build a post at Prairie du Chien, but it quickly passed into English hands and remained in their possession until the news of peace had reached that frontier station. But after the Treaty of Ghent was signed the line of the military frontier was quickly advanced in order to safeguard the Indian agents, the trading houses, and the advancing settlements.

Fort Dearborn was re-occupied on July 4, 1815. Mackinac was transferred to American hands on July 18, 1815. In the fall of the same year Colonel R. C. Nichols of the Eighth United States Infantry attempted to ascend the Mississippi to Rock Island, but was compelled to pass the winter in the vicinity of the mouth of the Des Moines River. On May 10, 1816, however, he reached Rock Island, where the construction of Fort Armstrong was undertaken. June 21st of the same year saw the re-occupation of the site of Fort McKay at Prairie du Chien; and Fort Crawford soon protected this important point at the junction of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers. One other point, vital in all western transportation was at the head of Green Bay at the mouth of the Fox River. Colonel John Miller of the Third Infantry arrived at this place on August 7, 1816, and soon began the erection of Fort Howard.[53]

But the government was not content with these movements. In a report dated December 22, 1817, the Secretary of War, J. C. Calhoun, wrote to the House of Representatives that "a board of the most skilful officers in our service has been constituted to examine the whole line of our frontier, and to determine on the position and extent of works that may be necessary to the defence of the country."[54] Plans had already been made. During the summer of 1817 Major Stephen H. Long, a topographical engineer in the United States Army, had made a journey to the Falls of St. Anthony in a six-oared skiff and had approved the position at the mouth of the Minnesota River as a location for a fort.[55] Other plans were soon announced. In the spring of 1818 The Washington City Gazette stated that a fort would be built on the Missouri River at the mouth of the Yellowstone River;[56] and a second report of the Secretary of War on December 11, 1818, indicated that the site at the mouth of the Minnesota would soon be occupied.[57]

On the tenth of February, 1819, the War Department ordered the Fifth Infantry to concentrate at Detroit, after which it would be transported across Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, up the Fox River, and down the Wisconsin River to Prairie du Chien, where a part would garrison Fort Crawford, a part would proceed to Fort Armstrong, and the remainder would ascend the Mississippi and near the Falls of St. Anthony erect a post which would be the headquarters of the regiment.[58] This movement was closely associated with that on the Missouri River called the Yellowstone Expedition. Both movements were part of one system—a comprehensive attempt to possess the northwestern frontier. The thoroughness of the plan is shown by the program outlined for the troops for the year 1820: three forts were to be built on the Missouri River; the navigation of that river was to be improved; roads were to be opened between the two diverging lines of posts (those on the Missouri and those on the Mississippi); and the Fox and Wisconsin rivers were to be connected by a canal. Thus the transportation of supplies would be facilitated, and in case of hostilities the forts could cooeperate in the military operations.[59]

The western part of this general movement was a failure. Indeed, the only result was the construction of a post at the point then known as Council Bluff (now Fort Calhoun, Nebraska), which after an existence of eight years was abandoned. Congress, disgusted with the management of the undertaking, refused to vote the funds necessary for the complete fulfillment of the project.[60] Accordingly, no permanent military post existed upon the upper Missouri until 1855, when the United States government purchased from the American Fur Company their station called Fort Pierre and transformed it into a military establishment.[61] The failure of the Yellowstone Expedition made more difficult the work of Fort Snelling. The range of its influence extended to the Missouri, and for forty years it was of more importance than even its originators had planned.

The Fifth Infantry, to which the difficult task of establishing a fort at the junction of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers was assigned was stationed at various places. Lieutenant Colonel Henry Leavenworth, who was the commanding officer of the regiment, had been located at Prairie du Chien as Superintendent of Indian Affairs.[62] Lieutenant Nathan Clark was living at Hartford, Connecticut.[63] But by May 14th the main part of the regiment was ready to leave Detroit. Schooners brought them through Lake Huron, the Straits of Mackinac, and across Lake Michigan to Fort Howard on Green Bay. Captain Whistler of the Third United States Infantry, then stationed at this post, had prepared bateaux for the use of the troops, and on June 7th the ascent of the Fox River was commenced.[64] The Winnebago chief "Four Legs", whose village was at the outlet of Lake Winnebago, had the custom of exacting tribute from travellers using the Fox-Wisconsin route. When the troops of the Fifth Infantry came to the site, "Four Legs" sent the message, "The Lake is locked." Whereupon Colonel Leavenworth, showing the messenger his rifle, replied: "tell him, that this is the key, and I shall unlock it and go on." Upon receiving this belligerent reply, the chief allowed the troops to pass; and finally on June 30th the bateaux were moored near Fort Crawford and Prairie du Chien.[65]

At Fort Crawford there was a tedious wait. Provisions, ordnance, ammunition, and recruits were expected from St. Louis. On July 5th Major Thomas Forsyth arrived from St. Louis. He had been ordered by the War Department to bring two thousand dollars worth of goods to the Sioux Indians in payment for the reservation ceded by them to Pike.[66] Day after day passed. Finally, on July 17th a certain Mr. Shaw came with news that the recruits could be expected soon. On July 31st this curt entry is made in Forsyth's journal: "no boats, no recruits, no news, nor anything else from St. Louis." The next day Major Marston was sent with twenty-seven troops to garrison Fort Armstrong at Rock Island; and on August 2nd Forsyth recorded: "Thank God a boat loaded with ordnance and stores of different kinds arrived to-day, and said a provision boat would arrive to-morrow, but no news of the recruits."[67]

Colonel Leavenworth at once made preparations to ascend the river. The two large boats that had brought up supplies were engaged, and at eight o'clock on the morning of Sunday, August 8th, the flotilla set out—the two large boats, fourteen bateaux, the boat of Major Forsyth, and the barge of Colonel Leavenworth. In the party were ninety-eight soldiers and twenty boatmen. There were others also whose presence in that wild region would not be expected: Mrs. Gooding, the wife of one of the captains; Mrs. Nathan Clark, the wife of the commissary; and little Charlotte Ouisconsin Clark, who had been born scarcely an hour after the regiment reached Fort Crawford. The knowledge that they were upon the last stage of their journey caused a feeling of cheerfulness among the soldiers, and the first day they proceeded a distance of eighteen miles.[68]

For sixteen days the boatmen poled their bateaux up the river. Once when there was a "Great appearance of wind" the sails were hoisted. At other times the heavily loaded boats were moved with difficulty through the shallow water. Occasionally fog and rain impeded their progress. Bad water made half of the soldiers sick before the journey was ended; and to avoid the mosquitoes on the river, the men preferred to sleep on the banks, although every morning there was a heavy dew. On August 17th the lower end of Lake Pepin was reached and here a delay of several hours occurred while the men drew provisions from the supply boats, and washed their dirty linen.[69]

Major Forsyth stopped at the Indian villages to distribute presents and to announce to the natives the object of the coming of the troops, and the value they would derive from having a fort in their midst. On Sunday, August 22nd, he encamped a few miles ahead of the main body of the expedition, but by eight o'clock the next morning all the boats had come up. Impatient to reach the end of the journey, Major Forsyth again pushed forward and at four o'clock in the afternoon reached the mouth of the Minnesota River. On the morning of Tuesday, August 24, 1819, Colonel Leavenworth arrived in his barge ahead of the troops and spent almost the entire day in looking over the sites available for a camp. Finally, he decided upon a spot on the right bank of the Minnesota River, just above its mouth. There was no rest for the troops when their boats reached the chosen place. "They were immediately set to work in making roads up the bank of the river, cutting down trees, etc."[70]

If the soldiers had any spare time in their labors in which to become interested in their surroundings, there was novelty in everything about them. During the next few days all the nearby chiefs came to call upon their new neighbors: they left satisfied with the presents and the whiskey which they had received. On Saturday a party ascended to the Falls of St. Anthony; and on Sunday a visit was made to the Indian villages up the Minnesota River. It was on Monday that Major Forsyth began his return trip, and as the supplies in store were few and the long-expected recruits were needed for the erection of the camp buildings, Colonel Leavenworth set out with him for Prairie du Chien. On September 1st they met on Lake Pepin two boats and a bateau with one hundred and twenty soldiers on board. But Colonel Leavenworth continued to Prairie du Chien, where he remained some time to urge on any boats which might arrive. On September 5th the one hundred and twenty recruits landed at the new camp.[71]

Log cabins and a stockade were erected while the party still lived in the boats on the river. By November the temporary barracks were ready for occupation. Looking forward to a pleasant winter, the name "Cantonment New Hope" was applied to the embryo fort. The more scientific among the men examined the country round about, and saw in the hills visions of mines of precious metals. "Would not the employment of the troops in the manufacture of Copper and Iron be advantageous to the government?", wrote one of these energetic soldiers. But the succeeding months were not to give an opportunity for such occupations.[72]

Added to the natural monotony of a wilderness post, there was homesickness and suffering during the first winter. The quarters that had been built were inadequate for protection from the cold of that climate. "Once during that memorable six months", runs the account of one of the inhabitants of Cantonment New Hope, "the roof of our cabin blew off, and the walls seemed about to fall in. My father, sending my mother and brother to a place of safety, held up the chimney to prevent a total downfall; while the baby, who had been pushed under the bed in her cradle, lay there.... until the wind subsided, when, upon being drawn out from her hiding-place, she evinced great pleasure at the commotion, and seemed to take it all as something designed especially for her amusement." That baby lived to recall the incident almost seventy years later.[73]

Toward the close of the winter there came sickness, chiefly on account of a lack of proper provisions. Late in the fall Lieutenant Oliver had left Prairie du Chien with supplies in a keel boat. But the river froze and the boat was unable to progress farther than the vicinity of Hastings, Minnesota. Here it was necessary to keep a guard all winter to protect the food from the Indians and the wolves. The Indians refused to sell them game; no vegetables could be purchased; and the bread was "two inches in the barrels thick with mould".[74] With such food it is no wonder that scurvy, the dreaded disease of all frontier posts, broke out among the troops. Forty soldiers died before the progress of the disease was arrested by home-made remedies and groceries brought up by the sutler.[75]

This visitation of disease left a profound impression upon the survivors. Henry H. Sibley, who had often spoken with those who passed through the weary months of suffering and sickness, wrote that "scurvy broke out in a most malignant form, and raged so violently that, for a few days, garrison duty was suspended, there being barely well men enough in the command to attend to the sick, and to the interment of the dead. So sudden were the attacks, that soldiers in apparent good health when they went to bed, were found dead in the morning. One man who was relieved from his tour of sentinel duty, and stretched himself upon the bench of the guard room, four hours after, when he was called upon to resume his post, was discovered to be lifeless."[76]

Thinking that much of the sickness was caused by the unhealthful location, Colonel Leavenworth, on May 5, 1820, moved the soldiers to a place on the west bank of the Mississippi north of the Minnesota where there was a great spring of cold water. Here the troops were quartered in tents—naming their community "Camp Cold Water".[77] The immediate need was the erection of the permanent post. Colonel Leavenworth chose for the site a position three hundred yards west of the crest of the cliff. Some material was brought to this place, but no building was done. In August Colonel Leavenworth was superseded in command by Colonel Josiah Snelling, who located the position at the extreme point of land between the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers.[78] The work of erecting the buildings was done by the soldiers, it being customary at that time to pay the soldiers fifteen cents a day in addition to their regular pay for this extra work.[79]

Steps were taken during the summer of 1820 to obtain the necessary material. A saw mill was needed to make the lumber with which the interior of the buildings would be finished and the furniture constructed. As the water in Minnehaha Creek was very low that year, it was decided to erect the mill at the Falls of St. Anthony. Some men were sent up the Mississippi River to Rum River to examine the timber, and during the winter of 1820-1821 a party of soldiers was employed in cutting logs and dragging them to the river bank. With the coming of spring the logs were floated down to the Falls of St. Anthony, where they were sawed into lumber and then hauled to the fort by teams.[80]

The progress made on the building was slow. On the tenth of September, 1820, the cornerstone was laid.[81] More than a year later, on November 7, 1821, Colonel Snelling wrote to the Indian agent, Lawrence Taliaferro, that "nothing new has occurred since my return excepting that the other stone barrack is up & the rafters on."[82] The fort was partially occupied, probably in the fall of 1822, before all the surrounding wall had been completed.[83] But it is evident that most of the fort was finished by July, 1823, for at that time the troops erected the Indian Council House.[84]

In the meantime other events had been occurring. On July 31, 1820, Governor Cass of Michigan Territory, who had been on an exploring expedition to the upper Mississippi, passed down the river and remained with the troops until the morning of August 2nd. A council was held with the Indians, during which a peace was made between the Sioux and the Chippewas. That the garrison had been busy at duties other than erecting buildings is evident from the fact that Governor Cass found ninety acres planted with corn and potatoes and wheat. From the garden green peas had been obtained as early as June 15th, and green corn on July 20th.[85]

In accordance with the plans outlined for the year 1820 it was proposed to open a road between Council Bluff and the new post on the upper Mississippi. To survey the route Captain Stephen Watts Kearny led a party which consisted of four other officers, fifteen soldiers, four servants, an Indian guide and his wife and papoose, eight mules, and seven horses. The route led from Council Bluff across what is now the northern and northwestern part of the State of Iowa to Lake Pepin, and then along the Mississippi to the new post. From July 25th to July 29th they remained with Leavenworth's men, visiting the Falls of St. Anthony, examining the country, and on July 26th going with Lieutenant Green and Miss Gooding to the east side of the Mississippi. Here Lieutenant Green and Miss Gooding were married by Colonel Leavenworth, who as Indian agent for the "Northwest Territory" could perform his duties on the east bank of the river, but not on the west, which was in the Missouri Territory.[86]

The fact that the Falls of St. Anthony constituted the most noticeable landmark of the vicinity led to the application of its name to the military works. The first official inspection of Fort St. Anthony occurred some time between May 13, 1824, and June 13, 1824. General Winfield Scott, as the inspector, was received with all the honor and entertainment that the frontier post could provide. He left favorably impressed with the work that had been done.

"I wish to suggest to the general-in-chief," wrote General Scott in his report, "and through him to the War Department, the propriety of calling this work Fort Snelling, as a just compliment to the meritorious officer under whom it has been erected. The present name is foreign to all our associations, and is, besides, geographically incorrect, as the work stands at the junction of the Mississippi and Saint Peter's rivers, eight miles below the great falls of the Mississippi, called after Saint Anthony. Some few years since the Secretary of War directed that the work at the Council Bluffs should be called Fort Atkinson in compliment to the valuable services of General Atkinson on the upper Missouri. The above proposition is made on the same principle."

A general order on January 7, 1825, directed that the suggested change should be made. Thereupon Fort Snelling began its career as the guardian of the Northwest.[87]



It was not the intention of the War Department that the influence of the frontier military post should be limited by the range of the guns mounted upon its walls. The post was to be the center of the Indian life for those tribes that dwelt in the vicinity. At the same time expeditions, the base of which was to be at the fort, were to carry the authority of the government out upon the wild Indian lands, and the frontier settlements were to look to the soldiers for protection.[88]

How, in its origin, Fort Snelling became part of a comprehensive system for the protection of the frontier, has been detailed. The events of the forty years that followed indicate very clearly the wisdom of the men who chose the site. Every phase of frontier duty was performed by the troops stationed at the mouth of the Minnesota River; and although these tasks often took them hundreds of miles from the post, and although they often cooeperated with men from other forts, yet these expeditions may well be considered as part of the history of Fort Snelling. They were a test of the training received on the parade ground, and the successful accomplishment of many a difficult duty shows that the post was fulfilling the objects of those who built it.

Prior to 1848 the governmental organization in the jurisdiction of which Fort Snelling was located was very weak. When first erected in 1819 the fort was in the Territory of Missouri (1812-1821). Then followed a number of years in which it was in unorganized territory (1821-1834). The Territory of Michigan (1834-1836), the Territory of Wisconsin (1836-1838), and the Territory of Iowa (1838-1846) successively had jurisdiction over it; while in 1849 it fell within the newly-organized Territory of Minnesota. Lying far from the seats of government, in a region of wandering traders and red men, the fort became the exponent of the government—the only symbol of governmental restriction in a region almost entirely without law.

During the first years of its existence while the buildings were being erected and the fort was making its place in the Indian life and the fur trade of the surrounding region, the frontier was comparatively quiet. The first outbreak occurred in Illinois and Wisconsin, where the Winnebagoes were constantly coming into contact with the lead miners about Galena. During the summer of 1826 rumors came to Fort Snelling of the hostility of this tribe, and Colonel Snelling thought it prudent to reenforce the garrison of Fort Crawford at Prairie du Chien. Three companies of the Fifth Infantry were sent away from Fort Snelling on the afternoon of August 18th under the command of Captain Wilcox.[89] Although no actual conflict occurred, the continued uneasiness felt because of the presence of the Winnebagoes led the authorities to remove all the troops from Fort Crawford to the upper post in the fall of that year.[90]

The lack of soldiers among them intensified the unruly spirit in the Winnebagoes. In June of the next year two keel boats, the "General Ashley" and the "O. H. Perry", which were carrying supplies to Fort Snelling noticed an unfriendly feeling among the Sioux at Wabasha's village. Fifty warriors with their faces painted black and with black streaks on their blankets visited the "O. H. Perry", but refused to shake hands. Apprehensive of danger on the return journey, Colonel Snelling furnished the crews with guns and cartridges before the descent was commenced.[91]

There soon arrived at Fort Snelling a letter from John Marsh, the sub-agent at Prairie du Chien. It stated that rumors were current that Prairie du Chien was to be attacked and that the Sioux and Winnebagoes threatened to kill Taliaferro "and any American that they can find at a distance from the Fort". The letter closed with the request that steps be taken for the defense of Prairie du Chien.[92] No doubt preparations were commenced immediately; but they were hastened by news which soon came up the river. On June 26th the Winnebago chief, Red Bird, with three of his men had attacked a farm house near Prairie du Chien and obtained the scalp of a child. Returning to their village, they had seen the keel boats coming down the river. With their fighting blood up they attacked the "O. H. Perry", and in a battle which lasted several hours they killed two of the crew and lost seven of their own warriors. The report of this attack, together with the murder near Prairie du Chien, spread consternation among the white men.[93]

Without delay Colonel Snelling with four companies started down the river.[94] A few days after reaching Prairie du Chien, he was reenforced by troops brought up from St. Louis by Colonel Atkinson. It was thought necessary that Fort Snelling should be maintained during the critical period, and as it was short of provisions, Colonel Snelling was ordered back to his post with a supply of flour, and directed to procure boats which could be used in the pursuit of the Winnebagoes up the Wisconsin River. On the 16th of August Colonel Snelling arrived at his post, and on the following day Major Fowle started downstream with four other companies of the Fifth Infantry in two keel boats and nine mackinac boats, arriving at Fort Crawford on August 21st. The Indians, overawed by the rapidity of these military movements and the size of the force sent against them, immediately became peaceable. As a precaution, however, Major Fowle was kept at Fort Crawford, and the post was provisioned for a year.[95]

During the next twenty years the force maintained at Fort Snelling was small, and the garrison was occupied in routine tasks, the regulation of Indian affairs, and the fur trade. At the time of the Black Hawk War there was quiet about Fort Snelling, and Major Taliaferro offered his services and those of the Sioux warriors in the campaign against the Sacs and Foxes. But the government did not think it advisable to formally accept the proffered help, although a number of the Sioux did take part in pursuing the remnants of Sacs who succeeded in crossing the river.[96]

In June, 1848, the company of infantry stationed at Fort Snelling received an urgent call to come to Wabasha's Prairie—near Winona, Minnesota. The Winnebago Indians were being transferred from their former home in the Turkey Valley region in Iowa to a new reservation obtained for them from the Chippewas. But when the Prairie was reached, the Winnebagoes visited with Wabasha and he sold it to them for a home. When Captain Seth Eastman arrived from Fort Snelling he was put in charge of the military forces which had been hastily brought together to force the Winnebagoes to continue their march. There were volunteers from Crawford County, Wisconsin, dragoons from Fort Atkinson, Iowa, and the infantry from Fort Snelling, besides sixty armed teamsters.

These military forces lay encamped, separated from the Indians by a slough. In the morning a deputation of Indians came to ask the meaning of the martial appearance of the whites when all they desired was a council. This suggestion of a council was quickly assented to, but the Indians approached with such a rush and with such blood-curdling yells that the cannon were loaded and the soldiers stood ready to fire. During the council the Winnebagoes refused to move until one small band gave in to the entreaties of the agent and were taken up to Fort Snelling. This was an opening wedge, for when the steamboat returned 1700 were ready to move. The total journey of three hundred and ten miles from the old to the new home occupied the time from June 8th to July 30th, 1848.[97]

By the next summer they were ready to return—anywhere, but especially to Wisconsin, their earliest home.[98] In July the whole tribe, stimulated by whiskey, started; but Governor Ramsey called on Colonel Loomis of Fort Snelling for aid, and a force under Captain Monroe proceeded to the north where their presence aided in quieting the disturbers. Again, on September 9th about a hundred had approached within sixteen miles of St. Paul, when Captain Page and forty men from Fort Snelling frightened them so much that they fled into the swamps and returned home quietly. Smaller parties were captured on the river and sent back under a military guard.[99] Not all the efforts, however, were successful. It was reported that one evening in November over a hundred red men floated down quietly under the very guns of Fort Snelling, and two weeks later the newspaper accounts tell of three hundred Winnebagoes in camp near the mouth of the Black River.[100] The need for a company of dragoons at Fort Snelling was imperative. The next summer it was obtained, and in 1851 this military force was described as being "an indispensable and invaluable auxiliary."[101] Not until 1855 was the Winnebago spirit of migration broken, and then only after a new reservation had been obtained for them at the mouth of the Blue Earth River.[102]

In his report of November 25, 1844, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs called attention to the fact that no longer was there any need of entertaining fears on account of the visits made by American Indians to the Canadian posts, as these pilgrimages were indulged in only by a few "worthless vagrants". But an evil of a different character was imminent. Twice a year hundreds of Red River half-breeds—bois brules—left their homes on the British side of the international boundary to hunt buffalo on the American plains which bordered on the Missouri River. Here they came into contact with Indians who naturally resented this intrusion upon their hunting grounds. During the summer of 1844 a half-breed had been killed by a party of Yankton Sioux, and the invaders had retaliated by killing eight Sioux of another band. This so inflamed the Indians that they went upon the war path and without stopping to reason about the matter, they attacked a party of whites whom they met on Otter Tail Lake.[103]

To hunt the buffalo freely, even on foreign soil, seemed to the bois brules to be their natural right. On the pemmican which they made from these buffaloes they depended for their winter's food. Five hundred and forty carts trailed out of Pembina on the summer hunt of 1820, and from year to year the number increased until in 1840 there were 1210 carts, accompanied by 1630 people. Nowhere else in the new world at least, was there such a hunting party. Thirteen hundred and seventy-five buffalo tongues were counted as the result of one day's hunt in 1840.[104] It was estimated that every year these Red River hunters killed twenty thousand buffaloes on American soil.[105]

In this there was a real grievance. Though small in itself the incident could easily develop into a war when there were other factors urging in the same direction.[106] The exact condition of affairs on the border was so confused that the United States made occasional military displays in order to impress the invaders and also to satisfy its own curiosity. The first of these expeditions occurred in 1845. Captain Edwin V. Sumner, then in command at Fort Atkinson, in the Iowa country, visited the Red River of the North during the summer of that year with Companies B and I of the First Regiment of Dragoons. But the difficulty was that while the invaders would promise to remain off American soil and would retire as soon as a military force appeared, yet no sooner would the troops depart than they would be back again on the hunting grounds.[107]

When complaints continued to come in the Adjutant General proposed to establish a post on the Red River. As a preliminary movement Brevet Major Samuel Woods, Captain of the Sixth Infantry located at Fort Snelling, was ordered to proceed with Company D of the dragoons to the border and make recommendations to the War Department in regard to a suitable site. On June 6, 1849, the start was made from Fort Snelling, and the weary march directed to the northwest over the swollen rivers and the marshy swamps with the mosquitoes a constant torment, until on August 1st the soldiers reached the collection of Indian lodges and the trading establishment that was known as Pembina. During the twenty-five days spent at this point observations were made of the topographical features of the land, the character of the Indians, and the pursuits of the half-breeds.

Major Woods urged the American Indians and half-breeds to prevent by force the invasions, promising that the United States would support them. But it would be useless, he reported, to build a fort at Pembina unless at least two hundred fifty men were stationed there. It would be better to concentrate a large force at Fort Snelling, from whence expeditions could be made into the Indian country in all directions as necessity might arise. The return to the fort occupied twenty-three and a half days, and on September 18th the total journey of almost a thousand miles was completed with the loss of only one horse and one mule.[108]

During the next few years conditions remained unchanged, and as the settlement of the Minnesota and Mississippi valleys was pushing the Indian tribes farther to the westward, more and bitter conflicts with the half-breeds would be liable to occur. In order to give a final warning to the foreign hunters and to select a site for a post which could serve the double purpose of protecting the frontier settlements from the Indians and the Indians from the foreigners, Lieutenant Colonel C. F. Smith of the Tenth Infantry was ordered on June 9, 1856, to tour the region with Companies B and F. As far as the Goose River, in the North Dakota country, the route followed from Fort Snelling was practically the same as that of Major Woods; but instead of proceeding by the usual route northward to Pembina, a detour was made to Lake Mini-Waken (Devil's Lake). On the return the less travelled and more difficult road on the east side of the Red River was followed.

On August 19th the trail of the annual hunting party was crossed; but the nine hundred men, women, and children who had made the trip had returned to their homes three weeks before, and kept away from the military party. Since no warning could be given to them in person, a notice written in both English and French was circulated in Pembina and in the British settlements to the north. But the natives obtained sweet revenge when Colonel Smith attempted to buy from the farmers in the vicinity of the principal trading post—Fort Garry—a sufficient supply of oats for his troops. The half-breeds declined to bring the grain, giving as their excuse that they did not desire to trespass on American soil when warned to keep off.[109]

Not only to the north did the troops from Fort Snelling make expeditions. The wide range of its influence is illustrated by the task which occupied the attention of its soldiers during the summer of 1850. On August 8, 1849, Governor Ansel Briggs of Iowa forwarded to the Secretary of War a petition, signed by over a hundred citizens of Iowa County, in which they complained of the presence of a great number of Indians who were destroying the timber, removing the section corners, and even demanding rent from some of the settlers—claiming that they owned the land on the Iowa River.[110]

To investigate conditions and to report upon what steps would be necessary to remove the cause of complaint, Brevet Major Samuel Woods, stationed at Fort Snelling, was ordered to proceed to the State of Iowa. On the twenty-fifth of September he left for Prairie du Chien, and arriving here set out for Fort Atkinson, thinking that probably the Winnebagoes were the Indians causing the trouble. But he discovered that many of them had just set out for the upper Mississippi, and those remaining behind were so few in number that they could cause little inconvenience to the frontier. From Fort Atkinson Major Woods passed southward through Fayette, Buchanan, Linn, and Johnson counties to Iowa City. At this time the region traversed was sparsely settled. For a hundred miles south of Fort Atkinson there were only two settlements—one, consisting of a few families, high upon the Volga River, and the other larger in numbers clustered about some mills on the Wapsipinicon River. About fifteen miles north of Marion the inhabitants became more numerous. Here were found Indians—Sacs and Foxes, Pottawattomies, and Winnebagoes—but they were not hostile and their presence caused no objection.

It was at Iowa City that Major Woods heard that the inhabitants on the Iowa, English, and Skunk Rivers had been making the loudest complaints. Accordingly he started up the Iowa River to the vicinity of Marengo. Here he learned that a few days before the settlers near the town, becoming tired of having Indians about them, armed themselves and by force broke up the Indian encampment. Only one lodge remained, that on the lands of a farmer who gave permission to three of the red men to live under his protection.

The total number of Indians, Major Woods reported, consisted of five or six hundred Sacs and Foxes, Pottawattomies, and Winnebagoes. Among these the Sacs and Foxes were the most numerous. They had by treaty sold their lands some years earlier and had been removed to the Missouri River; but they preferred their old home, and so had returned in straggling bands, sometimes going back to the Missouri to get their annuities. The Winnebagoes were those who had escaped when the tribe was being transferred to the new reservation north of Fort Snelling.

The complaints against these Indians were that they destroyed a great deal of timber, removed the surveyors' landmarks, killed the game, annoyed the settlers, and that when intoxicated they were an actual source of danger. Believing that these reasons were well founded, Major Woods advised that the Indians be removed as soon as possible. Conditions did not demand a winter campaign, but preparations should be made for the removal during the early summer.[111]

In the early part of April of the next year it was known that two companies of infantry from Fort Snelling, and one company of dragoons from Fort Gaines had been detailed for this task.[112] On the twelfth of May the "Highland Mary" left Fort Snelling, having on board the infantry and cavalry and part of the equipment, while in tow was a barge full of horses and mules.[113] The soldiers were disembarked at Dubuque, whence they followed the trail to Iowa City, along which they "saw nothing except the ravages of California emigration." Proceeding to the vicinity of Marengo, a council was held with the Indians. But the latter marched into the council ten abreast carrying their war clubs and manifesting such a hostile disposition that it was impossible for Major Woods to accomplish anything.[114]

For a while it seemed that active military operations would be necessary. The Indians becoming convinced that this would be the result, and fearing that all the expenses of the campaign would be deducted from the annuities of the tribe, suggested to two men of the neighborhood—a Mr. Steen and a Mr. Greenly—that they would go back to their homes if these two men could be appointed their guides. When Mr. Steen and Mr. Greenly broached the subject to Major Woods he considered it thoughtfully, and finally an arrangement was made. For every Indian who left the Iowa River and was turned over to their agent west of the Missouri River, the government was to pay three dollars and fifty cents. Five hundred dollars was to be advanced to pay for the provisions of the party. Upon June 6th a second council was held with the Indians, during which Major Woods impressed upon Chief Poweshiek and his men the necessity of their returning and the advisability of their doing it peaceably.[115]

During the month of July the Indians started upon their journey. For several days they encamped near Fort Des Moines, and on July 16th seventy of the warriors, armed and painted, paraded on horseback through the streets of the town to the public square where for an hour they danced for the amusement of the two or three hundred interested spectators in the frontier town.[116]

These events made necessary a change in the plans of the troops. Company E of the Sixth Infantry remained at their camp on the Iowa River for some time, but upon the last day of July set out under the command of Major Woods for a site on the Des Moines River which had been chosen by the War Department as the location of a new military post. On August 23, 1850, the troops arrived at the designated place and began the erection of a fort which they named Fort Clarke in honor of Colonel Clarke the commanding officer of the Sixth Infantry. The name, however, was soon changed to Fort Dodge.

The company of dragoons was occupied during August and September in making a tour of the western part of the State of Iowa, and it was not until October that the cavalry company and the other infantry company returned to their station at Fort Snelling.[117]

Occupation for the company of dragoons was furnished during the next summer when Governor Ramsey was sent to Pembina to draw up a treaty with the Pillager band of Chippewa Indians. On August 18, 1851, the party set out from Fort Snelling. Besides the Governor and a number of gentlemen who accompanied him, the party consisted of twenty-five dragoons, and eight French-Canadian and half-breed drivers who had charge of six baggage wagons and several light Red River carts. The march was very difficult and the dragoons were kept busy repairing the roads over the swamp lands and dragging with ropes the heavy wagons over the quickly made causeways. The treaty which was made after this difficult journey was not ratified by the Senate.[118]

The wonderful expansion of the Nation, which occurred in the latter half of the fifth decade of the century, turned all eyes toward the fertile valleys and the mountains of fabulous wealth on the Pacific Coast. Even before the acquisition of this territory some visionary minds had pictured it bound to the United States, if not by political ties, at least by bonds of steel.[119] The Oregon treaty of 1846 brought part of the coveted land under the jurisdiction of the United States, and the necessity of a railroad to the Pacific was soon realized. But sectional interests prevented agreement upon any certain route, and it was decided to survey the most promising and choose the one agreed upon by the engineers. Accordingly, the army appropriation bill of 1853 provided $150,000 for this purpose.[120]

Isaac I. Stevens, the newly appointed Governor of Washington Territory, led the party which examined the country between the parallels of forty-seven and forty-nine degrees north latitude—called the Northern Pacific Survey. He left Washington, D. C, on May 9, 1853, and reached St. Paul on May 27th. According to his instructions he was authorized to call upon one sergeant, two corporals, one musician, and sixteen privates of Company D First Dragoons, who were still stationed at Fort Snelling.[121] Captain Gardiner, who had preceded his leader up the river, had selected the escort and collected the party on May 24th in Camp Pierce—a temporary encampment located three miles northwest of the fort.[122] Early in June camp was broken and the start for the far West was made, at first, over the Red River Trail, and then across the prairies to Fort Union, where on August 1st they were joined by others who had been sent up the Missouri with supplies. Fort Benton was reached on September 1st There they remained until the twelfth of the month when Lieutenant Saxton, leading a similar party eastward from Vancouver, arrived. Thus a survey from the Mississippi to the Pacific had been completed.[123]

On the journey the entire party had been divided into small groups, who conducted surveys and explorations in various directions. To each of these groups were detailed a few of the dragoons, who were in all respects an integral part of the expedition and not merely a guard for protection. Accordingly, no special mention of their work was made in the report.[124]

After thirty years, the distinction of being the most northwestern post in the upper Mississippi region was lost by Fort Snelling. Other military stations were erected, and thereafter many of its former activities were conducted from these stations on the extreme frontier. Yet in everything contributed by these newer posts, the older had a part; accounts of them reveal their dependence on Fort Snelling, the parent post.

As early as 1844 the Secretary of War had reported that plans were being made to erect two new forts between Lake Superior and the River St. Peter's.[125] But nothing was done at this time. By a treaty of October 13, 1846, the Winnebagoes living on the "Neutral Ground" in the Turkey River Valley of the Iowa country agreed to exchange this reservation for one "north of St. Peter's and west of the Mississippi Rivers".[126] By treaties in the following August, the Chippewas ceded to the government a tract lying south of the Crow Wing River and west of the Mississippi River, and north and east of the so-called Sioux-Chippewa boundary line.[127] This was the area agreed on by the government as being suitable for the Winnebagoes. In view of the reputation of unruliness possessed by this tribe, and the fact that they were to be placed between the warring tribes—the Sioux and the Chippewas—the establishment of a post on the reservation was thought desirable.

The transfer of the tribe took place during the summer of 1848; and in the same fall Brigadier General George M. Brooke of St. Louis, accompanied by a squadron of dragoons, chose a point opposite the Nokay River as a desirable location.[128] This company and a company of the Sixth Infantry from Fort Snelling were employed in building the fort, and when cold weather prevented further operations, they were withdrawn to Fort Snelling, where the winter was passed.[129] In the spring the troops returned, and Fort Gaines—rechristened Fort Ripley—was occupied on the thirteenth of April, 1849.[130]

But this post alone was unable to keep the Winnebagoes in check. They celebrated the first fourth of July by attacking a frontier store and "causing one gentleman to escape en dishabille to the woods, where he danced to the tune of the mosquitoes during some three days and nights."[131] Again and again reports of riotous revels and rumors of impending outbreaks caused help to be sent from Fort Snelling to assist the troops higher up the river.[132] In the spring of 1857 the fort was abandoned, but Indian disturbances during the summer caused a detachment to be sent from the older post. These troops remained at that point until in the summer of 1858 they were transferred to the newly founded Fort Abercrombie.[133]

The treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota, concluded in 1851, concentrated the Sioux Indians on a long irregular reservation along the upper Minnesota River.[134] The Indians were not transferred until the summer of 1853, but in the fall of the previous year the need of a post among so many half civilized people, placed in a small territory, was obvious. Accordingly, Colonel Francis Lee, commandant at Fort Snelling, and Captain Dana of the quartermaster's department, escorted by a troop of dragoons, selected a suitable site on the north side of the Minnesota River, a dozen miles upstream from the town of New Ulm.

On February 24, 1853, seven privates of Company D of the First Dragoons, and two sergeants and thirteen privates of the Sixth Infantry were sent to the location to begin the erection of the fort. In April the dragoons were ordered to return to Fort Snelling and Companies C and K of the Sixth Infantry went up the river under the command of Captain James Monroe and became part of the permanent garrison of newly-founded Fort Ridgely. One other company came up from Fort Dodge—the post in Iowa which was abandoned with this withdrawal.[135]

Colonel C. F. Smith, who led the expedition from Fort Snelling to the Red River during the summer of 1856, was instructed to recommend a site for a post. His choice of Graham's Point on the Red River was accepted; and here, in the fall of 1857, Colonel John J. Abercrombie constructed the fort which was named in his honor. Colonel Smith, writing from Fort Snelling, gave among his reasons for the choice of Graham's Point "the additional advantage of greater facility for receiving stores from the depot here".[136]

With the building of these posts, Fort Snelling lost much of its importance. The garrison was small and the fort was almost nothing more than a depot for supplying the more advanced forts with food, clothing, and ammunition.[137] With the decline of its military position, the idea became prevalent that some day it would be abandoned entirely, and the land thrown open to settlement.

The neighboring cities of St. Paul, Minneapolis, and St. Anthony were in the throes of real estate speculation. There were some who saw in Fort Snelling a site more advantageous than any of these. "It is a position which has attracted also a good deal of attention on account of its superior beauty of location, its agricultural advantages, and its more notable advantages for a town site", said Mr. Morrill during a debate on the floor of the House of Representatives. "Whatever witnesses in this case may have differed upon as to other matters, they nearly all agree that, as a point for a town site, it possesses superior advantages over any other in that part of the country."[138]

Successful efforts were made to secure this site. On June 6, 1857, Mr. William King Heiskell, a commissioner appointed by the Secretary of War, sold to Mr. Franklin Steele, who was acting for himself and three others, the entire reservation for $90,000. The President approved the act on the second of July. Other parties who were interested in securing the site were not aware that the sale was to be made until everything had been accomplished.[139]

Immediately there arose the cry of graft: the Republicans saw in the transaction the corruption of the existing Democratic regime. A committee was appointed by the House of Representatives to investigate the matter, and the testimony which they took covers three hundred and seven pages. Some witnesses said that the post should have been retained for military purposes; others insisted that there was no such need. Some said that the site was admirable for a city; a few stated that it possessed no such advantages. Some said that it was necessary as a supply station for the upper posts; others insisted that these posts could be supplied more cheaply by a direct route.[140]

Bitter debates marked the consideration of the report. The objects, character, and ability of the witnesses were questioned. One member of the House said that "Fort Snelling is a very elegant appanage to very elegant gentlemen, who have a very elegant place for parade and show."[141] Another remarked that "the officers at Fort Snelling were opposed to the sale and it was natural that they should be. They had a beautiful place of residence, they had the most comfortable quarters, and a superabundance of stores for their subsistence. There they were living upon the fat of the land, without anything under God's heaven to do. Society was near at hand in a city populous, and furnishing all the luxuries of life. They of course did not want to surrender such quarters and such comforts for the hardships and trials of a frontier station."[142]

Finally, on June second the whole matter was laid on the table. On May 27, 1858, the troops had been withdrawn,[143] and on July 19, 1858, the quartermaster turned the buildings over to Mr. Steele. But with the opening of the Civil War Fort Snelling was used by the government as a training station, and after the war it was continued as a permanent post. Mr. Steele had been unable to pay the entire $90,000, and as he claimed rent at the rate of $2000 a month for the time it had been used by the government, the matter was again taken up. It was finally adjusted in an agreement whereby Mr. Steele retained the greater part of the land, and the government kept the buildings and 1521.20 acres surrounding the fort. Later some of the land was re-purchased from Mr. Steele.[144]

The history of Old Fort Snelling closes with the removal of the troops in 1858. The story of its use during the Civil War, of the part it played during the Sioux massacre of 1862, of its influence throughout the West during the years when the headquarters of the Department of Dakota were located within its walls, of the Officers' Training Camp established during the summer of 1917, lies outside the scope of this volume. The life of the new Fort Snelling revives the traditions of patriotism, loyalty, and sacrifice, which have centered about the post since that day in August, 1819, which witnessed its beginning.



An old settler, speaking of the expulsion of the squatters on the military reservation remarked: "At that time, and both before and since, the commanding officers of the fort were the lords of the north. They ruled supreme. The citizens in the neighborhood of the fort were liable at any time to be thrust into the guard-house. While the chief of the fort was the king, the subordinate officers were the princes, and persons have been deprived of their liberty and imprisoned by those tyrants for the most trivial wrong, or some imaginary offense."[145] This statement is doubtless rather extreme; but the fact remains that the fort was the only agency of government in the region, and so the commanding officer was indeed the supreme ruler in so far as he directed the policy and activities of the post.

Interest in Old Fort Snelling is not primarily in the logs and stones which made up its building, but in the men and women who lived within its walls. Many were the lives influenced by a residence in its barracks. Characters were formed by the stern rigors of frontier service. Far from busy cities, in the tiresome routine of army life, men were being trained who were to be leaders in the political and military life of the Nation. Others never rose to a higher position; but they command attention because in their faithful performance of daily duties, year after year, they were quietly helping to make the history of the Northwest. It is impossible to consider every man who might be classed among the "Lords of the North", but a review of the careers of a few of them indicates the type of men whose natural ability was supplemented by the self-confidence and the grim determination which are the products of frontier service.[146]

The memory of the man who led the troops to the mouth of the Minnesota River in 1819 is commemorated by a fort and a city in another State. The trials which he endured during that first winter at Cantonment New Hope were only harbingers of greater difficulties which were to bring to him the death of a frontier martyr. Although he had been educated for the lawyer's profession, Henry Leavenworth raised a company of volunteers in Delaware County, New York, in 1812, and was elected its captain. He served under General Winfield Scott and won honors for distinguished service at the Battle of Chippewa and at Niagara Falls. After the war he continued in the army, being appointed lieutenant colonel of the Fifth United States Infantry on February 10, 1818. After conducting the troops up the Mississippi River in 1819 and remaining through the winter, he was superseded by Colonel Snelling.

Expeditions and Indian duties occupied his attention during the next few years, and in May, 1827, he established "Cantonment Leavenworth" on the west bank of the Missouri River. On February 8, 1832, the name was changed to Fort Leavenworth. During a campaign against the Pawnee Indians, who were harassing the caravans of the Santa Fe traders, Colonel Leavenworth was taken sick with fever and died on July 21, 1834, in a hospital wagon at Cross Timbers in Indian Territory. The body was wrapped in spices and sent by way of St. Louis, New Orleans, and New York City, to Delhi, New York, where it remained until in 1902 it was reinterred in the national cemetery at Fort Leavenworth. A granite shaft some twelve feet high marks his resting-place.[147]

The monument to the man under whose direction the fort was built is the modern military establishment named Fort Snelling. The erection of this fort was the last achievement of a life which, though comparatively brief, had already accomplished much. Josiah Snelling was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1782. His first commission was as a first lieutenant in the Fourth Infantry and bears the date of May 3, 1808. In the Battle of Tippecanoe on November 7, 1811, he commanded one of the companies that were attacked in their camp in the early morning. An attempt was made by a company of dragoons to drive off the groups of Indians whose fire was the heaviest, but the officer who was leading was wounded and the attempt failed. "The Indians", reported General Harrison, "were, however, immediately and gallantly dislodged from their advantageous position by Captain Snelling, at the head of his company."[148] During the War of 1812 he served with Hull's army about Detroit, and when the fort was surrendered he was taken a prisoner and brought to Canada. But he was exchanged and ordered to Plattsburg, and later was sent to Fort Erie on the staff of General George Izard. At the close of the war he was retained as lieutenant colonel of the Sixth Infantry and was stationed at Plattsburg for four years.[149]

Bravery and impetuosity were two of Colonel Snelling's traits. During the campaign about Detroit he was married to Abigail Hunt by the chaplain of General Hull's army. The general and other officers were present. An account of the life of his wife states that "the ceremony had been performed but a few moments when the drum beat to arms; and Capt. Snelling instantly started up to go in search of his sword. All rushed to the door except Gen. Hull, who laying his hand on the young officer's shoulder as he was about leaving the house, said, 'Snelling, you need not go, I will excuse you.' 'By no means,' was the reply, 'I feel more like doing my duty now than ever.' 'Stay, it is a false alarm by my order,' said the General."[150] The ignoble surrender of Detroit by General Hull was deplored by many of the men under him. The story is told that while General Hull's aid was trying to place the white flag in position he called, "Snelling, come and help me fix this flag." Whereupon that officer replied, "No, sir; I will not soil my hands with that flag."[151]

On June 1, 1819, he was appointed colonel of the Fifth Infantry, and ordered to St. Louis, where the following winter was passed. In the summer he started up the Mississippi, but was detained at Prairie du Chien by a court-martial of which he was the president, and it was not until August that he reached the troops at Camp Cold Water. From that time until the fall of 1827 Colonel Snelling was in command of the post, when not absent on official business. Except when he had been drinking too much, he was a favorite with the troops, and as he had red hair and was somewhat bald, they nicknamed him the "prairie-hen".[152]

In the fall of 1827 the Fifth Infantry was withdrawn from the post and was succeeded by the First Infantry. The Snelling family located at St. Louis, while Colonel Snelling proceeded to Washington to settle some accounts. While here he was suddenly taken sick and died on August 20, 1828.[153]

The man whose name was applied to the post which has become so historic was a typical soldier of his day. Along with the bravery and zeal of the army, he possessed also its failings. "Of myself I have little to say", he wrote on one occasion. "I entered the army a subaltern, almost eighteen years ago. From obscurity I have passed through every grade to the command of a regiment. I owe nothing to executive patronage, for I have neither friend or relation connected with the government: I have obtained my rank in the ordinary course of promotion, and have retained it by doing my duty; and I really flatter myself that I still possess the confidence of the government, and the respect of those who serve with and under me."[154]

Daniel Webster, speaking in the Senate on July 9, 1850, remarked that it was not in Indian wars that heroes were celebrated, but it was there that they were formed.[155] The occasion of this speech was the death of the President, Zachary Taylor, who had served for many years upon the Indian frontier. As lieutenant colonel of the First Infantry, he came to Fort Snelling during the summer of 1828 and remained there for a year, when he established his headquarters at Fort Crawford. His achievements on the frontier and in the Mexican War, which finally brought him to the presidency are a familiar story, and the training which he received in Old Fort Snelling was only a part of that which gave him the name of "Rough and Ready". It is a remarkable fact that at Fort Snelling he was remembered less for his own actions than for those of his four pretty daughters whose presence spread commotion in the hearts of the homesick young officers.[156]

In 1837 the First Infantry was withdrawn and part of the Fifth Infantry returned to its former station. Among the familiar faces seen about the garrison again was that of a man whose eccentricities and personality are closely associated with the life of the fort.[157] In reporting the casualties of the battle of Molino del Rey, September 8, 1847, the general commanding the American forces applied an adjective to only one of the dead. The report reads, "the service mourns the high-souled Scott, brevet lieutenant colonel 5th infantry".[158] This was Martin Scott, one of the most human, most lovable, and most energetic men who ever reviewed troops on the parade ground of Old Fort Snelling. Only from July 15, 1837, until August 20, 1837, was he in command, but for many years he was a familiar figure around the barracks and in the surrounding country.

Hunting was his favorite pastime, and many a time the prairie rang with the yelping of the twenty or twenty-five dogs which he kept under the care of a special negro servant at the fort. His deadly aim was known to all. An army officer who insulted him was severely wounded in a duel; he often played the part of William Tell by shooting with his pistol through an apple placed upon the head of his negro; and if credence is to be given to the stories which are told, even the animals were aware that from him there was no escape. A coon sitting high on a tree was shot at by several hunters in succession, but still remained in its position. Captain Scott came along and took aim, whereupon the coon asked, "Who is that?" The reply was, "My name is Scott." "Scott? what Scott?" continued the coon. "Captain Martin Scott." "Are you Captain Martin Scott?" There was a pause before the voice in the tree-top continued, "Then hold on—don't shoot; I may as well come down."[159]

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