Thursday, June 19, 2014

Minnesota in the Good Old Days

I’ve been paging through a book I picked up several years ago at a used book store. Titled Bring Warm Clothes, Letters and Photos from Minnesota’s Past, it was written by Peg Meier, a reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune. The book caught my eye because it chronicles life in the state where I grew up.

Bring Warm Clothes

Serious topics covered include the Dakota War of 1862 (also called the Sioux Uprising) in which more than 500 people died, and Minnesota’s role in the Civil War. But I’m not going to blog about them today. Instead, I’ll share snippets from diaries, letters and newspapers. Some words are misspelled or oddly capped. I hope a few excerpts make you laugh.

European exploration of the Minnesota area began in the last half of the 17th century and increased in the 18th century. Fur trapping and the search for a Northwest Passage were of prime interest. After the French-and-Indian War in the 1760s, the region came under English control.

English explorer Jonathan Carver, after whom a county in Minnesota is named, observed on June 4, 1767:

“Came to the great medows or plains. I found excellent good land and very pleasant country. . . This country is covered with grass which affords excellent pasturage for the buffeloe which here are very plenty.”

Scotsman John Macdonell wrote on Sept. 11, 1793:

“Supped upon a Bear killed by the hunters and while at supper a Snake came into the Tent and was not perceived till it got half its length across Mr. Neil Makay’s plate”

In 1803 Minnesota became U.S. territory under the terms of the Louisiana Purchase. Voyageurs and fur traders continued to ply their trade.

James E. Colhoun, a member of a U.S. expedition, wrote on July 18, 1823:

“Fortunately the nights are sufficiently cool to permit our sleeping with our boots on and our heads covered with the blanket. It is hardly an exaggeration of the traders that in the summer season on the St. Peter’s (the Minnesota River) the one whose office it is to strike fire will find it impossible to perform his duties unless protected from the mus-quitoes by some of his company. I find it necessary to keep a soldier constantly employed to brush away these troublesome insects while I am making Observations.”

Indeed, no exaggeration! I have a magnet purchased in Albert Lea, MN with a mean looking mosquito on it and this inscription: SEND MORE TOURISTS . . . THE LAST ONES WERE DELICIOUS!

Fort Snelling, originally Fort Saint Anthony, was built in the early 1820s on a bluff at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. I visited the old fort on a field trip while in elementary school, goggling at the panoramic paintings of pioneer days in the Round Tower. I’ll save the fort’s colorful history for another day.

Dr. Nathan S. Jarvis, an Army surgeon at Fort Snelling, wrote to his sister on Oct. 10, 1833:

“What think you of the thermometer being as low as 30 degrees below zero? Such is the case every winter in this climate. We keep a regular diary of the weather . . . Last winter the thermometer for every day during the month was nearly 10 degrees below zero. 2000 cords of wood are generally consumed during the winter at the post.”

Mrs. Ann North, lately come to St. Anthony village with her husband, wrote about their new two-room log cabin to her parents on Nov. 25, 1849:

“Everything as quiet as we choose to have it, for the river separates us from all other inhabitants. The carpenter did not leave here until last night. We came here, on Thursday, put down the carpet in one room,and unpacked some things. As the windows were not all in, we could not sleep here.” [She talks of many things yet to be done.] “But even with all the inconveniences, it is more pleasant than boarding anywhere.” She grew to love Minnesota!

Announcement in the Minnesota Weekly Democrat, June 28, 1854:

“Mr. Gottleib Seigal, a respectable German who has resided for some time in this city, was attacked with cholera yesterday and died during the night. We hear of no new cases in the city today. The German who was sick yesterday in the 3rd Ward, and for whose use a coffin had been prepared, is now convalescent, and has returned the coffin with many thanks to the board of health.”

Announcement in the St. Paul Daily Press, Feb.21,1864:

“Madam Rose Lovejoy and Madam E.M. Robinson were arraigned yesterday on charges of keeping bawdy houses. Each of them was accompanied by four boarders. The proprietors were fined $20 each, and the other(s) $5 each. We understand it is the intention of the authorities to repeat this dose once a month.”

Winking smile  On that droll note, I highly recommend Ms. Meier’s book and wish you good reading.

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  1. Fun post, Lyn. I love reading diary excerpts. Most of the time I believe I could've survived had I lived back in those times, but Minnesota? I don't think so.

  2. Thanks, Carra. I'm not sure I could have survived back then anywhere. Minnesota? Definitely not! It's hard enough now living in such a climate, even with whole-house heating, snow plows and snow blowers.

  3. I love primary sources to get the real scoop on history!

  4. It's a good thing I was born in the southwest--I don't like to be hot, but I do not want to freeze either. I think the idea of all those clothes, too, sounds just hideous. Imagine a woman just having to use the outhouse or indoor pot. Oh, my.
    I love those old sources we find now the then, too. I'll need to keep my eye out for such interesting books. Thanks!

  5. I visited my oldest sister who lived in Minnesota. When I left North Carolina, the air was balmy with the smells of spring. The azaleas were in bloom and leaves were budding on the oak trees. The first day I was in Minnesota, it was gray, cold and (gasp) snowing.
    I bet the mosquitoes are really pesky with all those lakes.
    I liked your historical factoids about your home state, some of which, I did not know.
    Supposedly, Big Foot likes Minnesota, too.
    All the best to you, Lyn.

  6. Thanks for visiting, Collette. I love primary sources too.

  7. Celia, you wouldn't like stuffing kiddos into bulky snowsuits, boots, caps, mittens and scarves so they can go outside to play in the snow. Then, a while later, have them come in dripping all over while you struggle to unbundle them. I went through that with two young'uns. Makes me tired just thinking about it.

  8. Bigfoot in Minnesota? Never heard that before, Sarah. Cool! Glad you enjoyed the bits of personal history.

  9. Wonderful post and excerpts, Lyn. I too just love old letters and diaries and newspapers. Takes me right there!

  10. Enjoyed the quotes, Lyn. I do hate the Texas heat in summer, but would hate extreme cold, too. Guess I'll stay where I am.

  11. Enjoyed the quotes, Lyn. I do hate the Texas heat in summer, but would hate extreme cold, too. Guess I'll stay where I am.


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