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[Illustration: Book Cover]


From a painting by Captain Seth Eastman, reproduced in Mrs. Eastman's
_Dahcotah; or, Life and Legends of the Sioux around Fort Snelling_

[Illustration: OLD FORT SNELLING]




[Illustration: Publisher's Logo.]




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

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

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

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

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

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

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Online LibraryMarcus Lee HansenOld Fort Snelling, 1819-1858 → online text (page 1 of 19)