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Destination Guide

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.

Fort Snelling
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 Native Americans.

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.

Pigs Eye
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 was created.

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.

Sioux Uprising
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 predicted.

L. A. Smith