Art. VI. — Minnesota: The Growth and Progress of the Northwest.
The Territory of Minnesota, as organized by an act of Congress of March 3d, 1849, and now embracing all that vast tract lying between the Mississippi and the Sioux rivers, since ceded by the Dakota or Sioux Indians to the United States, comprises a vast area of about 166,000 square miles, or 106,000,000 acres, extending from the Mississippi and St. Croix, on the east, to the Missouri, on the west, and from the British line, latitude 49°, on the north, to the Iowa line, on the south, embracing more than seven degrees of latitude, or running a distance, north and south, of over five hundred miles, composed principally of high, rolling prairie of sandy loam, interspersed with numerous groves and belts of woodland, well watered by numerous lakes and rivers, some of them navigable.
Though of recent settlement, it long ago attracted those adventurous spirits — the trapper and the trader — those peculiar geniuses, recognizing no law, untutored, save in their own peculiar craft, as the dusky Indian who so long reigned supreme over this vast region, yet who have done more towards developing and peopling our Western wilderness than any other class. Here, by turns mingling with the Ojibway, Dakota, or Sissiton, sharing the smoke of their wigwams, and joining their council-fires, they pursue their avocations on the hunting grounds of their red brethren, to return to civilization to tell strange and wondrous tales of the blooming prairies, the crystalline lakes, and open woodlands, stretching far away to the northwest across the great Father of Waters.
As early as 1680, Hennepin, a zealous Jesuit missionary of the cross, penetrated these wilds, followed by such, voyageurs as La Hontan and Le Suer; and still later, somewhere within the present century, Nicollet, Schoolcraft, and Keating explored this region. But it was not till the spring of 1849 that the influx of white population may be said to have commenced, which, till the present time, has been upward, onward, and never ceasing. Within that time its population, then composed entirely of the employers and attaches of the fur trade, which was then the paramount, if not the sole, business interest of the country, has reached two hundred thousand or more — representing the bone and sinew, the energy, the intelligence, and the industry of the whole Union.
Nor is it to be wondered at that at this moment this vigorous offshoot of our broad domain continues to attract the eager, speculative eye of our people. Possessing a climate the most exhilarating, and peculiarly adapted to the nature of the soil; free from the enervating malaria arising from the decomposed mold of the bottoms of southern Illinois and the West in general; made up of high, rolling table lands, mostly prairie, of whose fertility and productiveness there remains no longer a doubt; watered by numerous lakes and streams, affording in their course water-power capable of easy improvement for all manufacturing purposes; a direct steam communication with the markets of the South and East; superior lands open for settlement at government prices; a home market for produce, and at higher prices than can be realized at any other point in the West, to subsist the various Indian tribes, and to supply the forts and government forces in the interior, as well as the thousands engaged in the pineries and lumber business of the upper country; with these advantages, and many more, beyond the scope of this short chapter to mention, it is no matter of surprise that Minnesota should have outstripped all her sisterhood in
51her short race, and that her prodigious strides towards power and position, as a member of this great confederacy, should stand before us without a parallel.
As a proof of this, we give below a comparative statement of the amount of taxable property in a few of the older counties for 1852, as compared with the Auditor's report for 1856: —
|Counties.||Taxable property.||Tax.||Counties.||Taxable property.||Tax.|
|Ramsey||$6,030,365||$6030 36||Nicollett||$439,391||$439 39|
|Hennepin||3,459,312||3,459 31||Morrison||402,006||402 00|
|Winona||1,946,262||1,946 26||Wabashaw||172,166||172 16|
|Washington||1,938,648||1,938 64||Dodge||168,772||168 77|
|Dakota||1,907,632||1,907 63||Carver||161,154||161 15|
|Houston||1,057,220||1,057 22||Le Seuer||160,204||160 20|
|Fillmore||963,000||963 00||Blue Earth||141,377||141 37|
|Olmsted||867,588||867 58||Wright||127,714||127 71|
|Chisago||728,956||728 95||Benton||110,665||110 66|
|Scott||697,613||697 61||Stearns||91,800||91 80|
|Goodhue||630,227||630 22||Sibley||68,731||68 73|
|Mover||457,533||457 53||Total||23,341,701||23,341 70|
Nine years ago the rude cabins of a few half-breeds marked the spot where now stands the great northwestern emporium St. Paul, with its tall spires and elegant buildings; its commodious warehouses and busy levees; its fleet of barges and steamboats. Enthroned a queen, she sits upon the terraces of that elevated plateau, and is destined, commercially speaking, to give laws to much of that immense region around her. She is the grand center of distribution for all the upper country, as well as by the Minnesota River for the rich valley to the southwest, drained by that important tributary; and must so remain, till the interior and southwestern tier of counties shall have been tapped by a railroad, opening a communication with the Mississippi at a point lower down, as is contemplated. The completion of the projected line of railroad, uniting the Lake Superior country with the Mississippi at St. Paul, with no other interest than that of being the great entrepot for that section, acknowledged by all the richest mining region in the world, in future employing thousands, as she must ever remain the principal depot for the supply of the immense agricultural district to the north and west, must ever give to St. Paul an important position as a place of transphipment.
There are also many other important towns springing into existence on every hand — indeed, there is scarcely a town site on the Mississippi, from the boundary line of Iowa to the Sauk Rapids, more than one hundred miles above St. Paul, but what is prospectively a city in the eyes of its hopeful inhabitants; and away off in the interior, following the line of the Minnesota River, which penetrates the very heart of the country, known as the rich Valley of the Minnesota, comprising the choicest lands for all Agricultural purposes — on the wide-spread lawns and elevated plateaus fringing the river's bank, every available site is occupied, and teeming
52with life and busy industry. Steamboats from St. Paul come swarming with emigrants; steam mills have been put up; and good and substantial buildings, some of them claiming a share of elegance vieing with any to be found in the inland towns of our old homes in the East, have been erected. Many of these towns already boast some hundreds of inhabitants, and the real life, bustling activity, and energy of character everywhere displayed, are sure guaranties of the future destiny that awaits them. The land grants given Minnesota by the last session of Congress for railroad purposes, will doubtless soon give this fair section a more direct outlet to the Mississippi, when its future products will find a ready sale in the grain markets of the East.
In further proof of what we have said in this short chapter concerning Minnesota, as more to the point and with as broad a margin of truth as anything we can say, we give below an extract from the remarks of J. Wesley Bond, touching emigration and the character of this growing country: —
"Emigration to the West has heretofore been nauseously associated with the idea of low latitudes, the miasmas of flat lands, and consequent disease, and heart-sickening disappointment. It has, too, been associated with backwoods institutions, lynch-law, the bowie-knife, uncertain means of education, and a gospel ministry on horseback. Minnesota presents another picture, and is truly a phenomenon in the eyes of the migrating world. It occupies a high latitude, has a quickly drained surface, and is the inviting home of intelligence, enterprise, good laws, schools, and churches. * * * * The high-toned character of the population, so different from that usually found upon the frontier — their obedience to law — the zeal manifested in the cause of education — the disposition universally shown to make every sacrifice to place the prosperity of the future State upon a sure basis — the aversion felt to all schemes which may in anywise entail embarrassment or debt — and the general anxiety to maintain its character unblemished, afford a sure guaranty of the moral principles by which the people will always be guided, and upon which their government will be conducted. * * * * The immigration to Minnesota is composed of men who come with the well-founded assurance that in a land where nature has lavished her choicest gifts — where sickness has no dwelling place — where the dread cholera has claimed no victims — their toil will be amply rewarded, while their persons and property are fully protected by the broad shield of the law. The sun shines not upon a fairer region — one more desirable as a home for the merchant and the mechanic, the farmer and the laborer, or where their industry will be more surely requited, than Minnesota."