|The land of the Twin Cities is dramatically
stunning in its scenery. The area is studded with lakes and high
river bluffs. As the glaciers that once covered the area pulled
back at the end of the last ice age, they dragged out the soft
areas and left huge geological landmarks. In certain places, the
evidence is still visible. Of course, the most obvious examples
are the many lakes, more than 25 in the seven-county metro area.
Twin Cities Early On
The two cities that comprise the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and
St. Paul, had quite different beginnings. The downtowns are
located just 13 miles apart, each situated on the banks of the
Mighty Mississippi. This river played a large part in the
history of each city.
The Twin Cities area lies at the confluence of two rivers, the
Mississippi, which begins in northern Minnesota, and the
Minnesota River, which flows south of the metro area. The first
modern people to live here were the Dakota, and their story is a
large part of the region. The area was a special place for these
Native Americans, and the ceremonies of old are still enacted
for special occasions. The waters of Lake Minnetonka, St.
Anthony Falls, Minnehaha Creek and Minnehaha Falls (that empties
into the Mississippi) and the bluffs over the Mississippi are
just some of the particular spots that they hold sacred. You can
still visit burial mounds overlooking the river at Mounds Park
in St. Paul.
Perhaps the first white man to discover the enchantment of the
area was Father Louis Hennepin, a French missionary. In 1680, he
came upon St. Anthony Falls, the only falls on the entire length
of the Mississippi River. The county of Hennepin, which
comprises Minneapolis and then some, is named after him. You
will also find Hennepin Avenue, a major downtown artery, and
many other local spots named after this early explorer.
The United States Army decided to build a fort at the confluence of
the two rivers in 1819, because they had to keep an eye on the Dakota,
and also because the rivers provided one of the best means of transportation.
Early on, many French trappers were working the North woods, and they
sought to bring their furs to trade. After the Louisiana Purchase,
the area was under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army, so Fort Snelling
opened as a garrison to protect the area, which was fast filling up
with settlers, and to facilitate the trade with the trappers and the
In 1820, soldiers at Fort Snelling constructed a sawmill and
flour mill at the site of St. Anthony Falls. By the 1840s, there
were two distinct villages in the area of the falls, St. Anthony
on the East bank of the river, and the village of Minneapolis on
the West bank. In 1867, Minneapolis formed a city charter, and
in 1872, the two villages were combined to form one city,
connected by a suspension bridge. Pillsbury, General Mills, and
Cargill all started in Minneapolis, harnessing the power of the
river to mill the grain from the area into flour. The grain was
plentiful because the area had attracted a lot of immigrant
farmers, many Germans and Scandinavians who were reminded of
their rugged homeland.
St. Paul was almost chartered as Pigs Eye, after an early
settler who prospered in the area. Pierre 'Pigs Eye? Parrant was
a retired trapper from Manitoba who came down to live near Fort
Snelling, the only vestige of civilization on the northern
frontier. The Indian Agent at the Fort didn't want this man and
his bunch of squatters in the shadow of the Fort, so the group
moved first to an area known as Fountain Cave, then to the north
side of the river, which is now the area of downtown St. Paul.
Pigs Eye was a moonshiner, a colorful figure who supplied
whiskey to the Native Americans and also the soldiers at the
Fort. As such, he was pretty popular, and the area around his
little squatters camp became known as Pigs Eye. He was the first
businessman in the area, however dubious his business was. Pigs
Eye was known to live here from 1832 to 1843, when he left to go
back to Sault St. Marie.
Father Lucien Galtier is credited with saving the city from the
fate of being named Pigs Eye. He was a missionary who promoted
the name St. Paul, after his favorite patron saint. In 1841, the
name was officially changed to St. Paul. In 1849 Minnesota was
named a territory, and St. Paul was designated the capitol. It
was incorporated as a city in 1854, when the official city seal
The Twin Cities were separated by just a few miles of river, but
St. Paul was the furthest point north on the Mississippi that
big river cargo boats could navigate. This is one reason that
the two cities stayed distinct. Today, there are three locks
that enable travel upriver to Minneapolis, but the trip is still
time-consuming for such a short distance.
The Famous Sioux uprising of 1862 (the Dakota were known by the French
as Sioux, which was not a very complimentary name) sealed the fate
of the Dakota. When the U.S. Army failed to provide foodstuff to the
Native Americans, as they were bound to do by the treaty which granted
the land to the Army, the Dakota went on a vindictive spree. The Chief,
Little Crow, was unable to stop his hungry warriors from taking what
they wanted from the settlers, killing many of the settlers in the
process. Colonel Henry T. Sibley, commander of the Fort and later
the first governor of Minnesota, rounded up 2,000 Dakota and put them
on trial. They were sentenced to death. Most of the sentences were
commuted by President Lincoln, but in December of 1862, 38 Dakota
were hanged in Hastings, Minnesota at a public gallows. The Dakota
were now spread far and wide and had lost their community and cohesiveness.
Today, there are only about 2,000 left in the tribe, which owns Mystic
Lake Casino. The remaining members enjoy prosperity and security from
their gaming industry.
The area enjoyed peace and growing prosperity for the white
settlers in the years to follow. They plowed up the prairie and
tamed the grasses that had grown up to six feet tall. The towns
of Minneapolis and St. Paul continued to thrive, and in their
growth, came ever closer to one another. The vision of James J.
Hill, who built the Great Northern railroad from the Twin Cities
to Winnipeg in Canada, as well as the Stone Arch Bridge in
Minneapolis and his great mansion in St. Paul, helped move the
area ahead of the times.
The 1920s showed St. Paul a different story. The Roaring Twenties
was the era of gangsters, and many of them from Chicago fled northward
to escape the law. The lawmakers in St. Paul decided they could stay
here but only if they did not break any further laws. Well, apparently
clemency lost its allure after some time, because the gangsters became
active in the area and corruption of public officials followed. The
old federal courthouse, now called The Landmark Center, was home to
several of the gangster types for short periods of time.
Hubert H. Humphrey, for whom the Metrodome is named, rose to
political prominence as he fought the corruption that had
started with the gangsters. He was first Minneapolis City
Attorney, then mayor of Minneapolis, then a Senator, and finally
was Vice President under President Johnson. Another Minnesotan
rose to the second highest office in the land, Walter Mondale
under President Jimmy Carter.
Of course, the most famous politician in Minnesota today is the
current governor, Governor Jesse Ventura. Again, Minnesota was
put on the map as an innovative forward-thinking political
climate when Jesse Ventura beat out two main party candidates
(sons of our two former Vice Presidents, by the way) to win on
the Reform Party ticket. He thus became the highest-ranking
Reform Party member in the country. The former professional
wrestler entered the race after a large surplus was announced in
the states budget, and he vowed to give the money back to the
people. He made good on that promise, and another surplus is
L. A. Smith