Lesson 5 – James M. Goodhue and the Minnesota Pioneer

Lesson 5 – James M. Goodhue and the Minnesota Pioneer

Originally from New Hampshire, James M. Goodhue was a lawyer and editor of the Grant County Herald in Lancaster, Wisconsin.  Upon establishment of Minnesota as a territory, Goodhue immediately sold his newspaper and moved to St. Paul along with his wife, children, printing press, and two assistants.  Goodhue then founded the Minnesota Pioneer, Minnesota’s first newspaper.

Goodhue had a broad and liberal view of public improvements which he shared openly in his newspaper.  He was proud of the city of St. Paul and had a strong desire for its success and welfare.  Much of what he wrote was designed to attract new settlers to the territory, often lauding Minnesota for its natural beauty, abundant resources, fertile soil and healthy climate.  For his efforts in promoting the territory, in 1853 the Territorial Legislature named Goodhue County in his honor.

A sketch of James M. Goodhue at Traverse des Sioux by Frank Blackwell Mayer
A sketch of James M. Goodhue at Traverse des Sioux by Frank Blackwell Mayer

As editor of the Pioneer, Goodhue traveled to Traverse des Sioux in 1851, in order to report on the important treaty negotiations with the Dakota people.  Goodhue’s observations were printed weekly in the Minnesota Pioneer and were quite thorough, often printing verbatim accounts of speeches made during the negotiations.  Goodhue, however, did not always enjoy his time in camp during the treaty negotiations.  Writing on July 13, 1851, he noted, “I hope the people down the river will not entertain the opinion that we are enjoying a life of extreme luxury and enjoyment; for it would be truly annoying to combat buffalo gnats and mosquitoes here amongst the [Indians] for a month sleeping out of doors and feeding upon rough beef and pilot bread, without even the poor satisfaction of being envied.”

Excerpt from Ceding Contempt

“These buffalo gnats and mosquitoes are the most terrible annoyance,” declared Ashton as we sat down to our evening meal.  “Must we swat at them all day?”

“I have found it nigh impossible to sit and rest for a moment,” I commented.  “To do so would be to invite their swarming, uninterrupted attack.”

“I just hope the people downriver will not entertain the opinion that we are enjoying a life of extreme luxury and enjoyment,” added James Goodhue with a hint of derision.  Mr. Goodhue was in a much livelier mood than he had been when I had met him before.

“Can you imagine,” laughed Ashton, “if your friends and colleagues considered this some holiday?”

The men, still growing in number as they gathered at the table, now laughed heartily.

“Oh to be envied,” said Mr. Goodhue sarcastically, “while sleeping out of doors amongst the savages while eating this pilot bread,” he said, poking at his less than appetizing food.  “Why, it is harder than the horn of thunder.”

The men laughed in unison once more.

“Mr. Goodhue, Mr. Goodhue,” repeated Ashton as he tried to control his bemusement.  “Mr. Goodhue, watch.”

Ashton now had the attention of the entire table as he slowly picked up a biscuit with his fork, then immediately it fell to the table with a slam.

The men waited with anticipation for our jester to explain his gag.

“Oh, what pain,” exclaimed Ashton as he held his wrist in false agony.  “I have sprained my wrist severely just trying to raise his biscuit to my mouth.”

The men broke out in an uproar of laughter.

“We shall have to take one of them down with us and have its specific gravity compared with that of platinum,” shouted Mr. Goodhue over the laughter.  His comment added to the amusement as the men convulsed with uncontrollable glee.  Even I found myself clutching my sides to keep them from splitting.

“I do not think I can look at another beef tongue or sip down another bowl of watery soup,” continued Mr. Goodhue as the laughter slowly began to die down.

“A capital amusement,” said Ashton.  “It feels good to laugh over our present discomforts.”

Read a full biography of James M. Goodhue

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Virginia Mae Hope, James M. Goodhue (1810-1852), http://www.minnesotahistorycenter.org/sites/minnesotahistorycenter.org/files/JamesMadisonGoodhueFullBio.pdf

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

Thomas Hughes, Old Traverse des Sioux, (St. Peter, MN:  Herald Publishing Company, 1929).

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