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- Minnesota and Dacotah - 20/37 -


ST. PAUL, October, 1856.

I WAS up by the gray dawn of the morning of yesterday, and after an early but excellent breakfast, crossed the river from St. Cloud, in order to meet the stage at Sauk Rapids. As we came up on the main road, the sight of a freshly made rut, of stage-wheel size, caused rather a disquieting apprehension that the stage had passed. But my nerves were soon quieted by the assurance from an early hunter, who was near by shooting prairie chickens while they were yet on the roost, that the stage had not yet come. So we kept on to the spacious store where the post office is kept; where I waited and waited for the stage to come which was to bring me to St. Paul. It did not arrive till eight o'clock. I thought if every one who had a part to perform in starting off the stage from Watab (for it had started out from there that morning), was obliged to make the entire journey of 80 miles to St. Paul in the stage, they would prefer to get up a little earlier rather than have the last part of the trip extended into "the dead waist and middle of the night." I remarked to the driver, who is a very clever young man, that the stage which left St. Paul started as early as five o'clock, and I could not see why it was not as necessary to start as early in going down, inasmuch as the earlier we started the less of the night darkness we had to travel in. He perfectly agreed with me, and attributed his inability to start earlier to the dilatory arrangements at the hotel. When jogging along at about eleven at night between St. Anthony and the city, I could not help begrudging every minute of fair daylight which had been wasted. The theory of Judge Story, that it don't make much difference when a man gets up in the morning, provided he is wide awake after he is up, will do very well, perhaps, except when one is to start on a journey in the stage.

I took a seat by the driver's side, the weather being clear and mild, and had an unobstructed and delightful view of every object, and there seemed to be none but pleasant objects in range of the great highway. Though there is, between every village, population enough to remind one constantly that he is in a settled country, the broad extent yet unoccupied proclaims that there is still room enough. Below Sauk Rapids a good deal of the land on the road side is in the hands of speculators. This, it is understood, is on the east side of the Mississippi. On the west side there are more settlements. But yet there are many farms, with tidy white cottages; and in some places are to be seen well-arranged flower-gardens. The most attractive scenery to me, however, was the ample corn-fields, which, set in a groundwork of interminable virgin soil, are pictures which best reflect the true destiny and usefulness of an agricultural region. We met numerous teams heavily laden with furniture or provisions, destined for the different settlements above. The teams are principally drawn by two horses; and, as the road is extremely level and smooth, are capable of taking on as much freight as under other circumstances could be drawn by four horses. Mules do not appear to be appreciated up this way so much as in Missouri or Kentucky. Nor was it unusual to meet light carriages with a gentleman and lady, who, from the luggage, &c., aboard, appeared to have been on somewhat of an extensive shopping expedition. And I might as well say here, if I havn't yet said it, that the Minnesotians are supplied with uncommonly good horses. I do not remember to have seen a mean horse in the territory. I suppose, as considerable pains are taken in raising stock, poor horses are not raised at all; and it will not pay to import poor ones. A company of surveyors whom we met excited a curiosity which I was not able to solve. It looked odd enough to see a dozen men walking by the side or behind a small one-horse cart; the latter containing some sort of baggage which was covered over, as it appeared, with camping fixtures. It was more questionable whether the team belonged to the men than that the men were connected with the team. The men were mostly young and very intelligent-looking, dressed with woollen shirts as if for out door service, and I almost guessed they were surveyors; yet still thought they were a party of newcomers who had concluded to club together to make their preemption claim. But surveyors they were.

The town of Humboldt is the county seat for Sherburne county. It lies between the Mississippi and Snake rivers. The part of the town which I saw was a very small part. Mr. Brown's residence, which is delightfully situated on the shore of a lake, is at once the court house and the post office, besides being the general emporium and magnate of Humboldt business and society. Furthermore, it is the place where the stage changes horses and where passengers on the down trip stop to dine. It was here we stopped to dine; and as the place had been a good deal applauded for its table-d'hote, a standard element of which was said to be baked fish, right out of the big lake, I at least had formed very luxurious expectations. Mr. Brown was away. We had met his lively countenance on his way up to a democratic caucus. Perhaps that accounted for our not having baked fish, for fish we certainly did not have. The dinner was substantial, however, and yielded to appetites which had been sharpened by a half day's inhalation of serene October air. We had all become infused with a spirit of despatch; and were all ready to start, and did start, in half an hour from the time we arrived at the house.

We had not proceeded far after dinner before meeting the Monticello stage, which runs between the thriving village of that name-- on the west bank of the Mississippi-- and St. Paul. It carries a daily mail. There were several passengers aboard.

One little incident in our afternoon travel I will mention, as it appeared to afford more pleasure to the rest of the passengers than it did to me. Where the stage was to stop for fifteen or twenty minutes, either to change mail or horses, I had invariably walked on a mile, if I could get as far, for the sake of variety and exercise. So when we came to the pretty village of Anoka (at the mouth of Rum River), where the mail was to be changed, I started on foot and alone. But unfortunately and unconsciously I took the wrong road. I had walked a mile I think-- for twenty minutes at least had expired since I started-- and being in the outskirts of the town, in the midst of farms and gardens, turned up to a garden-fence, on the other side of which a gentleman of professional-- I rather thought clerical appearance-- was feeding a cow on pumpkins. I had not seen pumpkins so abundant since my earliest youth, when I used to do a similar thing. I rather thought too that the gentleman whom I accosted was a Yankee, and after talking a few minutes with him, so much did he exceed me in asking questions, that I felt sure he was one. How thankful I ought to be that he was one! for otherwise it is probable he would not have ascertained where, and for what purpose, I was walking. He informed me I was on the wrong road; that the stage took a road further west, which was out of sight; and that I had better go on a little further and then cross the open prairie. Then for the first time did I notice that the road I had taken was but a street, not half so much worn as the main road. I followed his friendly advice, and feeling some despair I hastened on at a swift run, and as I advanced towards where I thought the right road ought to be, though I could neither see it nor the stage, "called so loud that all the hollow deep of"-- the prairies might have resounded. At last, when quite out of breath and hoarse with loud vociferation, I descried the stage rolling on at a rapid rate. Then I renewed my calls, and brought it up standing. After clambering over a few fences, sweating and florid, I got to the stage and resumed my seat, amidst the pleasant merriment of the passengers. The driver was kind enough to say that he began to suspect I had taken the wrong road, and was about to turn round and come after me-- that he certainly would not have left me behind, &c. I was happy, nevertheless, that my mistake did not retard the stage. But I do not intend to abandon the practice of walking on before the stage whenever it stops to change horses.

Just in the edge of twilight, and when we were a little way this side of Coon Creek, where we had changed horses again, we came in sight of a large fire. It was too much in one spot to be a prairie fire; and as we drove on the sad apprehension that it was a stack of hay was confirmed. The flames rose up in wide sheets, and cast a steady glare upon the landscape. It was a gorgeous yet a dismal sight. It always seems worse to see grain destroyed by fire than ordinary merchandise. Several stacks were burning. We saw that the usual precaution against prairie fires had been taken. These consist in ploughing several furrows around the stack, or by burning the grass around it to prevent the flames from reaching it. It was therefore suspected that some rascal had applied the torch to the hay; though for humanity's sake we hoped it was not so. The terrible prairie fires, which every autumn waste the western plains, are frequently started through the gross carelessness of people who camp out, and leave their fires burning.

Some of us took supper at St. Anthony. I cannot say much of the hotel de facto. The table was not as good as I found on the way at other places above. There is a hotel now being built there out of stone, which I am confident will exceed anything in the territory, if we except the Fuller House. It is possible we all felt invigorated and improved by the supper, for we rode the rest of the way in a very crowded stage without suffering any exhibition of ill temper to speak of, and got into St. Paul at last, when it was not far from eleven; and after seventy-five miles of staging, the luxurious accommodations of the Fuller House seemed more inviting than ever.

LETTER XVI.

PROGRESS.

Rapid growth of the North-West-- Projected railroads-- Territorial system of the United States-- Inquiry into the cause of Western progress-- Influence of just laws and institutions-- Lord Bacon's remark.

ST. PAUL, October, 1856.

THE progress which has characterized the settlement of the territory of Minnesota, presents to the notice of the student of history and political economy some important facts. The growth of a frontier community, so orderly, so rapid, and having so much of the conservative element in it, has rarely been instanced in the annals of the world. In less time than it takes the government to build a custom house we see an unsettled territory grown to the size of a respectable state, in wealth, in population, in power. A territory, too, which ten years ago seemed to be an incredible distance from the civilized portions of the country; and which was thought by most people to be in a latitude that would defeat the energy and the toil of man. Today it could bring into the field a larger army than Washington took command of at the beginning of our revolution!

In 1849, the year of its organization, the population of the territory was 4780; now it is estimated to be nearly 200,000. In 1852 there were 42 post offices in the territory, now there are 253. The number of acres of public land sold during the fiscal year ending 30th June, 1852, was 15,258. For the year ending 30th June, 1856, the number of acres sold was 1,002,130.

When we contemplate the headlong progress of Western growth in its innumerable evidences of energy, we admit the truth of what the Roman poet said-- nil mortalibus ardum est-- that there is nothing too difficult for man. In the narrative of his exploration to the Mississippi in 1820, along with General Cass, Mr. Schoolcraft tells us how Chicago then appeared. "We found," says he, "four or five families living here." Four or five families was the extent of the population of Chicago in 1820! In 1836 it had 4853 inhabitants. In 1855 its population was 85,000. The history of many western towns that have


Minnesota and Dacotah - 20/37

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