Lesson 4 – A Brief History of St. Paul

Lesson 4 – A Brief History of St. Paul

In 1837 the Dakota people signed a treaty ceding their lands on the east side of the Mississippi River.  Before this treaty was even ratified, individual traders, mostly whiskey sellers, began staking claims along the east side of the Mississippi River near Fort Snelling and Mendota.  One such claim was made by a Canadian Voyageur named Pierre Parrant who was fortunate enough to stake a claim at the present site of the city of St. Paul.

A sketch of St. Paul in 1851
MNHS Collections

Within a few years Parrant lost his claim, but the settlement around him adopted his nickname, Pig’s Eye, which was based on his peculiar facial appearance.  The region became further settled when, in May of 1840, all squatters living near Fort Snelling were forced to move beyond the boundaries of the Fort Snelling military reserve.  Many of them took up residence along the river where Parrant’s original claim had stood.  Then, in October 1841, Reverend Lucian Galtier who had been stationed at Mendota, built a rude log chapel in the growing settlement along the river which he dedicated to the apostle Saint Paul.  The church stood at a landing and so the place went from being called Pig’s Eye to St. Paul’s Landing and then finally St. Paul.

In 1845, St. Paul was a small settlement of about thirty families.  But the population slowly grew until, in 1849, Minnesota became a territory and St. Paul its capital.  From this point on the population of the city grew rapidly and took on all the characteristics of a modern, capital city.

Upon arriving to St. Paul in 1851, traveler Frank Blackwell Mayer described the city as follows:  “St. Paul’s is situated on a bluff probably about fifty feet above the surface of the river, commanding a fine view of the surrounding country and catching the breezes which sweep down the course of the river and over the adjacent hills.  The plain which surmounts the bluff is of ample extent for the erection of the proposed city.  Two years ago it was little more than a mere trading post for the Indians – but already it assumes the appearance of a bustling New England village and well attests the presence of an energetic and free-soil population.  It is singular to meet so few old residenters for no one seems to have passed more than one winter here.”

Excerpt from Ceding Contempt

The period prior to 1849 may be called the arcadian days of Minnesota.  The population grew slightly each year, but things remained simple, quiet, and primitive.  The people of the region were content with the even tenor of their ways and remained unconcerned with the exciting events that stirred other communities.  They were isolated and seemed to prefer it that way.  But things changed drastically in 1849 when Minnesota became a territory and St. Paul its capital.  As if in an instant, immigrants began pouring in.  Boat after boat landed, bringing with them crowds of people, so much so that it became a serious question of where they would lodge and on what they would subsist.  Building began at a feverish pace.  Immigrants were instructed to bring with them tents because there were not enough builders to keep up with demand.  Everywhere were piles of lumber and building materials left in admirable confusion.  It was said that in just three weeks over seventy buildings had been erected.[1]  Anyone who was absent, upon returning might thing he had taken a Rip Van Winkle like slumber.  But among this confusion and unprecedented growth, the territory was organized and the future was set.  While seated upon beds or trunks in a little room at the St. Paul House, the Territorial Officers drew up the “First of June Proclamation” and Minnesota was officially organized.

Read about how St. Paul got the name Pig’s Eye (page 85)

See this blog post on YouTube. 


Bertha L. Heilbron, With Pen and Pencil on the Frontier in 1851:  The Diary and Sketches of Frank Blackwell Mayer, (St. Paul:  Minnesota Historical Society, 1986).

William Watts Folwell, A History of Minnesota, Vol. 1, (St. Paul:  Minnesota Historical Society, 1922).

J. Fletcher Williams, A History of the City of St. Paul and of the County of Ramsey, Minnesota, (St. Paul:  Minnesota Historical Society, 1876).

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