Monday, August 21, 2006

Old Settlers

Back in 1914, the Daughters of the American Revolution realized that Minnesota history was being lost as the original pioneers began to age and pass away. So, they sat down to interview these Old Settlers about their memories of first arriving and living in Minnesota. The result was a book entitled "Old RailFence Corners - The A. B. C's. Of Minnesota History." Many of these documents were then collected by the Library of Congress and can now be found online as part of their collection.

As luck would have it, they interviewed the woman (Mrs. Pratt nee Jane Atwood) who lived in the house just south of the Wass family - the very first owners of the property where my house is located. There is a cute story in her interview that talks about the Wass girls - These are the very same girls that later became some of the first doctors in Minneapolis. I like the fact that the two little girls that lived on my property were the best dressed in the neighborhood :-)

"Mrs. James Pratt--1850.
My father moved to Minnesota Territory in '50. We lived with my uncle, Mr. Tuttle, who had a mill for some time on this side. He was living in a small house belonging to the government, but my father and he added two more rooms so we could stay with them. In the spring my father took up and built a house down by the river not far from the Minnehaha Falls. He began to work on the Godfrey mill at Minnehaha. My mother was very timid. The sight of an Indian would nearly throw her into a fit. You can imagine that she was having fits most of the time for they were always around. Timber wolves, too, were always skulking around and following the men, but I never knew them to hurt anyone. Father said it used to make even him nervous to have them keep so near him. They would be right close up to him, as close as a dog would be. He always took a lively gait and kept it all the time. One night father was a little late and mother had seen more terrifying things than usual during the day, so she was just about ready to fly. She always hated whip-poor-wills for she said they were such lonesome feeling things. This night she stood peering out, listening intently. Then she, who had tried so hard to be brave, broke into wild lamentations, saying, she knew the wolves or Indians had killed father and she would never see him again. My grandmother tried to calm her, but she would not be comforted until father came, then he had a great time getting her settled down. She said the whip-poor-wills seemed to say as she looked out in the blackness of the night, "Oh, he's killed--Oh, he's killed." What these timid town bred women, used to all the comforts of civilization, suffered as pioneers, can never be fully understood. After that, whenever father was late, little as I was, and I was only four, I knew what mother was going through and would always sit close to her and pat her.

Our home only had a shake roof and during a rain it leaked in showers. My little sister was born just at this time during an awful storm. We thought it would kill mother, but it did seem to hurt her. The Indians used to come and demand meat. All we had was bacon. We gave them all we had but when they ate it all up demanded more. We were much frightened, but they did not hurt us. Father used to tap the maple trees, but we could not get any sap for the Indians drank it all. That winter we lived a week on nothing but potatoes.

Our nearest neighbor was Mrs. Wass. She had two little girls about our ages. They had come from Ohio. We used to loved to go there to play and often did so. Once when I was four, her little girls had green and white gingham dresses. I thought them the prettiest things I had ever seen and probably they were, for we had little. When mother undressed me that night, two little green and white scraps of cloth fell out of the front of my little low necked dress. Mother asked at once if Mrs. Wass gave them to me and I had to answer, "No." "Then," she said, "in the morning you will have to take them back and tell Mrs. Wass you took them." I just hated to and cried and cried. In the morning, the first thing, she took me by the hand and led me to the edge of their plowed field and made me go on alone. When I got there, Mrs. Wass came out to meet me. I said, "I've come to bring these." She took me up in her arms and said, "You dear child, you are welcome to them." But my mother would not let me have them. I never took anything again.

We had a Newfoundland dog by the name of Sancho, a most affectionate, faithful beast. A neighbor who had a lonely cabin borrowed him to stay with his wife while he was away. Someone shot him for a black bear. No person was ever lamented more.

In '54 my father built the first furniture factory at Minnetonka Mills. Our house was near it. The trail leading from Anoka to Shakopee went right by the house and it seemed that the Indians were always on it. There were no locks on the doors and if there were, it would only have made the Indians ugly to use them. Late one afternoon, we saw a big war party of Sioux coming. They had been in a scrimmage with the Chippewas and had their wounded with them and many gory scalps, too. We ran shrieking for the house but only our timid mother and grandmother were there. The Sioux camped just above the house, and at night had their war dance. I was only seven years old at the time, but I shall never forget the awful sight of those dripping scalps and those hollering, whooping fiends, as they danced. I think they must have been surprised in camp by the Chippewas for they had wounded squaws, too, with them. One old one was shot through the mouth. The men were hideously painted. One side of one's face would be yellow and the other green. It seemed no two were exactly alike. [Editor's note: you might want to read some of the other Old Rail Fence Corners intervews for a more diverse view of Indian/Pioneer interactions.]

One Sunday morning I was barefoot, playing in the yard. There were bushes around and I heard a queer noise like peas rattling in a box. I could not see what made it, so finally ran in and told father. He came out and lifted up a wide board over two stones. He jumped back and called to me to run in the house, then grabbed an ax and cut the head off a huge rattlesnake. It had ten rattles. We never saw its mate.

The first school taught in Minneapolis proper was taught by Clara Tuttle, a niece of Calvin Tuttle, in one of the rooms of the government log cabin where we were living in '51. The pupils were her cousins. Miss Tuttle returned to the east the next summer and died of consumption. My cousin Luella Tuttle, the next year used to go over to St. Anthony to school, on the logs, jumping from one to the other, rather than wait for the ferry.

In '58 we returned to Minneapolis to live. Old Dr. Ames was our doctor. He was one of the finest men that ever lived. I had terrible nose bleeds. His treatment was to whittle pine plugs and insert them in the nostrils. It always cured. No matter how poor a patient was, Dr. Ames always did his best. No child was ever afraid of him. He was very slow in his movements."

Ok, this concludes the history lessons.

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