12:54 AM / Sunday September 24, 2023

8 Aug 2012

St. Paul, Minnesota:Last of the East, first of the West! (Part One)

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August 8, 2012 Category: Travel Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: Gibb’s Farm Sod Houes.


By Renée S. Gordon

“Humans did not weave the web of life,
we are merely a strand in it.
Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves.
Therefore, kinship among all of creation is vital to
harmonious living.”

—Anishinaabe Worldview


St. Paul is a rich multicultural so destination filled with attractions, heritage and history that it can be experienced in a variety of ways. It is small enough to be considered one of America’s most livable cities but large enough to offer visitors first-class accommodations and dining opportunities. The city is divided into 17 distinct districts, each with its own tales to tell.


Jonathan Carver, who was seeking a northwest passage to the Pacific Ocean, made one of the earliest documented mentions of the St. Paul area in 1766. The Dakota Indians inhabited the region at the time and Carver visited the village of Kaposia and the nearby burial mounds at what is now Indian Mounds Regional Park.


The six remaining prehistoric mounds, the area once housed more than 30, are located atop Dayton’s Bluff with the earliest of them dating from 2,000 years ago. On-site archeological digs have revealed a number of artifacts including the only “death mask” found at a mound site. Duane Goodwin’s sculpture, “The Sacred Dish,” is also there and walking trail guides you around the park.


Other activities atop Dayton’s Bluff are getting a panoramic view of the city and investigating the Mounds Park Airway Beacon. The 1929 beacon is one the few remaining of hundreds that guided mail planes on their route. It has been returned to its original colors and flashes every 5-seconds.


In 1805 Lt. Zebulon Pike purchased the land that would become St. Paul from the Dakotas for trade goods and alcohol. Colonel Josiah Snelling established Fort Anthony in 1819 on a bluff overlooking the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers on land that was sacred to the natives. The fort’s name was changed upon completion in 1825 to Snelling and it became known as the Gibraltar of the West because it was the last outpost and beyond it the land was uncharted. Its main purpose was to protect the US interests in the fur trade by enforcing treaties with the Dakota and Ojibwa that allowed the US Government to obtain more than 21-million acres of land in the territory.


French settlers brought the first black slaves into the Northwest Territory. When the British took over the area in 1763 importation of blacks accelerated and there is documentation of James Ramsey selling 30 Jamaicans to colonists in that year. Slavery existed in Fort Snelling from its founding and there were as many as 33 enslaved living in the fort at various times, though slavery was outlawed in the Northwest Territory by Article Six of the NW Ordinance, as property of men who worked there.


His slave Dred Scott accompanied Snelling’s physician, Dr. John Emerson, and wed Harriet Robinson, the slave of the fort’s federal Indian agent, Major Lawrence Taliaferro, in 1837. When Emerson’s four-year tour was up in 1840 he returned to Missouri, a slave state, taking the Scotts with him. After the doctor’s death, Scott sued for his freedom in 1846 based on the fact that he had lived in free territory for a long period of time and was thereby entitled to his freedom based on the concept “once free always free.”


The case was heard 11-years later by the Supreme Court. Only two of the nine justices ruled in his favor. Chief Justice Taney, representing the majority, ruled that no slave or their descendants were, or could be, citizens. The Court ruled that they “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the Negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.


He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it.” They further stated that Congress could not halt slavery in any new territories and deemed the 1820 Missouri Compromise unconstitutional. This landmark case, defining blacks as mere property, was pivotal for every person of African descent in the country, was a significant issue in the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates and is cited as one of the main events that led to the Civil War.


Historic Fort Snelling interprets the history of the fort, and the region, with a walking tour to 15 sites with costumed guides who recreate an 1820s day in the fort. What makes this tour exceptional is the successful attempt to weave together the stories of all of the cultures involved. Visitors to the schoolhouse can participate in a class and in the hospital learn all about 19th-century frontier medicine. A reconstruction of Dred Scott’s Quarters gives you a glimpse at the life of the enslaved as a guide relates the story. The US Colored Troops 25th Infantry was stationed here from 1882-88. At that time 80 percent of the soldiers stationed at the fort were black.


An interpretive center within the fort walls recounts the little-known story surrounding the Dakota Wars that led to the largest mass hanging in US history. In response to broken treaties in 1862 Native Americans attacked settlers at St. Peter’s, Minnesota. The conflict ended in Mankato, Minnesota and303 Sioux men were scheduled for death by hanging before Abraham Lincoln commuted the sentences of all but 38 of the men.


They were executed simultaneously on December 26, 1862 after singing the Sioux death song. The uprising was used as an excuse to relocate the remaining Native Americans to Crow Creek Reservation in the Dakota Territory. The war did not really end until 1890 with the massacre at Wounded Knee. In 1960, Fort Snelling was designated a National Historic Landmark.


The founding of St. Paul can be traced to a French Canadian, Pierre Parrant, a whiskey trader who started a settlement near the fort that bore his nickname, Pig’s Eye. Father Lucian Galtier named the settlement’s chapel in honor of Saint Paul in 1841 and the town followed the lead. The city was laid out six-years later and in 1849 it was incorporated. St. Paul became the capital in 1854.


History museums generally provide an incisive overview into the history of a city or region and the Minnesota History Center is no exception. The MHC houses the Minnesota Historical Society Library and Archives and hosts an ongoing series of concerts, lectures and permanent and changing exhibitions. Around every corner you “literally” step into history because much of the center is interactive and a troupe of actors is part of the programming to bring the stories to life.


Currently three outstanding exhibits are on display, “If These Walls Could Talk,” “The US-Dakota War of 1862,” and “Minnesota’s Greatest Generation.” A highlight of the exhibits is a 7.5-minute ride along with a WWII combat crew inside a Douglas C-47. Visitors are seated inside the plane and through the windows you watch the war unfold below. Once you reach the combat zone the plane is strafed, you see the bullet holes appear and listen as the men parachute out. The experience is based on a real mission in which nearly all the men died and gets its name from a comment of one of the participants, “This Must Be Hell.”


Jane DeBow’s family encountered hard times in New York and so young Jane was taken in by a family on their way to perform missionary work in the Fort Snelling area in the early 1830s. Jane immersed herself in the Dakota culture and was given a name meaning “little bird that is caught” to reflect her status in both the family and among the tribe. As a young adult she moved to Illinois where in 1849 she wed Herman Gibbs and convinced him to purchase 160-acres in Minnesota. Jane’s legacy is the Gibbs Museum of Pioneer and Dakotah Life.


The Gibbs Museum Tour begins with a four-panel exterior mural, by Seth Eastman, depicting the stages of her life. The complex features a restored MN prairie, a pioneer crop garden and a Dakota garden. A replica sod house is built on the foundations of the 10 x 12-ft. one-room house the Gibbs lived in for the first five years. Their 1854 farmhouse is also on the site.


The farm sat on a rice trail used by the Dakota to travel seasonally to gather wild rice. As visitors follow the trail they encounter a fully outfitted tipi and bark lodge as well as a horse connected to a travois packed with native household goods. Other structures on-site are a 1910 barn and 1880s schoolhouse. This is an outstanding way to experience Minnesota’s stories.


The Cathedral of St. Paul was constructed from 1906-1915 as the fourth at this location. The Classical French Renaissance structure is 307-ft. long and 216-ft. wide with a height of 307.5-ft. to the top of the cross. The Cathedral is magnificent inside and out and tours are free. Prior to entering note the sculpture of Christ and the Apostles on the façade. From the top of Cathedral Hill you get a view of the city and Summit Avenue, the longest stretch of preserved Victorian homes in the country.


Cass Gilbert designed the Minnesota State Capitol using Rome’s Saint Peter’s Basilica as his model. It boasts the second largest unsupported marble dome in the world.


Swedish and Nordic culture are on view in the American Swedish Institute, once the 1929 Turnblad Mansion built to resemble a castle complete with gargoyles and turrets. The 33-room mansion has 11porcelain “kakelugnar,” stoves and some of the most magnificently hand-carved woodwork I have ever seen. The wealthy founder of a Swedish language newspaper established the ASI to promote and preserve Swedish culture. The Institute hosts exhibits and holds craft classes and other cultural programs.


Railroad baron, James J. Hill, built the 36,000 sq. ft., 42-room, mansion in 1891 that remains a focal point of Summit Avenue. Once the largest private home in the state, it was replete with all the then modern amenities including indoor plumbing, a security system, electric lighting and central heating. The mansion features a 100-ft. long, two-story, art gallery, 22 fireplaces, a 1,066 pipe organ, hidden silver vault, formal dining room with leather wallpaper and original furnishings. Tours are scheduled regularly.


St. Paul’s signature dish is the Juicy Lucy and the iconic place to eat this delicious medium well burger stuffed with molten cheese and other goodies and soak up the ambiance is Casper & Runyon’s Nook. Barbara Streisand ate there and it has been featured on television’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”


This part of our tour demands historic accommodations and the Covington Inn exceeds your expectations on every level. It is one of a small number of floating B&Bs in the nation and on of only three anchored on the Mississippi River. The 1946 towboat was converted in 1995 and the rooms are delightful and include balconies and fireplaces. Breakfast is wonderful and the view of the city is spectacular.


In part two we continue through the city and we’ll follow in the footsteps of the likes of John Dillinger. You’ll love it. More information is available online.


I wish you smooth travels!




Edmonton, Canada is renowned for its outstanding festivals. The Edmonton Folk Music Festival takes place August 9th – 12th and is widely recognized as one of the best folk festivals in the world and from August 16th – 26th the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival wows theatergoers with the North America’s largest and longest-running fringe festival in the hemisphere.


August 31st thru Monday, September 3rd Independence, Missouri will be hosting the 40th annual Santa-Cali-Gon Days® Festival. Entertainers, vendors, carnivals and craft shows help celebrate the juncture of the Santa Fe, California and Oregon Trails that opened the West in the 1800s.

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