Early Territory History


                                           EARLY TERRITORY HISTORY


The third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, bought nearly half of a continent from Napoleon in1803 in what was known as the Louisiana Purchase.  The territory of Minnesota came into the possession of the United States as part of that purchase. Prior to the first settlers the territory was occupied by Native Americans of both the Souix (Dakota) and the Chippewa (Ojibwa) tribes. In May 1803 the Lewis and Clark expedition set out from St. Louis and 18 months later reached the shores of the western seas (Pacific Ocean).


Fort Snelling was established in 1819 (first called Fort St. Anthony) at the junction of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers.  The name of the fort was changed later in honor of Colonel Josiah Snelling the Commandant from 1820 to 1827.  On December 23rd 1846 a bill was introduced in the United States Congress providing for the organization of the

Territory of Minnesota.  The bill was referred to the committee on Territories of Minnesota of which Stephen A Douglas was chairman.  He was in favor of passage but with a name change.  The names proposed were, Chippewa, Itasca, Jackson and Washington.  The matter ended with the retention of the original name of “Minnesota”.

This was the name of the largest river in the territory.  Minnesota is and Indian word generally meaning “Sky Tinted Water”. The real meaning is said to be “Cloudy Water”.

The bill finally passed in March 1849.


The population of the Minnesota Territory according to a 1849 census was a total of 5000, Males 3253 and Females 1747.  The Winnebago tribe originally forced from Wisconsin to Iowa came to Minnesota in about 1850.  The “Big Woods” had been given temporarily to the Winnebago’s to be a buffer between the Chippewa and the Souix. Many of them settled in Wright County. In 1855 the Winnebago’s began to move to a reservation on the Blue River and in a short time all had left.


In 1855 a Committee was formed to organize a new County.  They were to go to St. Paul

and present the matter to the Territorial Legislature.  There were no roads on the west side of the river at that time.  They went to Big Lake in Sherburne County and took the Burbank stage to St. Paul.  On board Mr. W G McCory suggested the name of Steward for the new County.  This was to honor William A Steward from the Whig Party.

(Steward later as Secretary of State for Presidents Lincoln and Johnson he negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia, a deal then called Steward’s Folly}.  The other two members of the Committee, Mr Creighton and Mr. McManus both Democrats objected.

Mr. McCory proposed the name of a Democrat from New York State “Silas Wright”.

The others were willing and the name of Wright was chosen.


 Minnesota’s waterways greatly enhanced the once thriving fur trade. This was part of a vast theatre of trading operation west of the Great Lakes.  Minnesota’s waters flow into three systems. To the North the Red River and its tributaries flow to the Hudson Bay.

To the East the Great Lakes which gives an entrance to the St. Lawrence System. The many branched Mississippi starting at Lake Itasca flows south to the ocean at

New Orleans.   Early Explorers, fur traders, voyagers and Missionaries knew and used these waterways as travel routes.  Supplies were brought in and furs were shipped out in

canoes, boats, barges and eventually steam boats.  Water linked the Minnesota Territory,      prior to roads and rails, to the nation and world.  After the early settlers arrived the water linked local communities. In Wright County for example the Mississippi at Monticello and Dayton linked to the early cities.  The Crow River with its North and South Forks linked Delano, Rockford, Hanover and St; Michael via Dayton to the early cities.  Supplies, goods and mail from the Cities were shipped to Dayton then transferred to

boats on the Crow River.


The first settlers of Rockford and Frankfort Townships arrived in 1855-1856.  A few noted were Thomas Steele who settled in section 28 near the lake that bears his name.

J.E. Beebe from Vermont took a claim on section 29 on the south shore of the the lake that was named after him.  It is recorded that Beebe moved to his claim in December 1855.  In September 1857 he cut his foot and bled to death. James Dixon settled in section 32 on the Northeast shores of Lake Charlotte.  James Sheridan took a claim on the

Southeast side of Lake Charlotte section 5 and David Cook on the South side of the lake.

They moved to their claims in the spring of 1856.


The early settlers obtained the land through the pre-emption act.  They were required to make certain improvements. They had to live on the claim for a period of time and pay $1.25 per acre in cash or Soldier’s script.  The Homestead Act of 1862 replaced the

pre-emption act.  Under the Homestead Act the Government would issue a patent for

1/8 or ¼ section of land after it was under cultivation. The settlers had to reside on the land for a certain period of time.  The railroads were granted alternate sections of land along where they anticipated building a line.  Town sites could also be platted and sold.

Some of the early settlers purchased their land from the railroad companies. (ie.James Sheridan Section 5 Rockford Twp. on the SE side of Lake Charlotte).                   


Minnesota was admitted as a state on May 11, 1858.  The enabling act set aside two sections of land Nos. 16 & 36 in each Township as school land. The act also provided for 72 sections of land to be set aside for the University of Minnesota.  The proceeds from of any of the land not used school facilities were to constitute a permanent fund.  The interest from this fund was to be used for the operation of the schools.


 The County School problems and the plight of the early settlers were best summed up by School Superintendent, T A Perrine of Rockford.  In 1869 he wrote: “It is quite possible that the schools in this county will not compare favorably with those of other Counties. The reason is the adverse conditions with which they are surrounded.  The population is almost entirely rural.  Twelve years ago the County was almost a pathless wilderness.  During this time subsequent land grants to unbuilt railroads shutout more than one third of our territory from settlement and taxation.  Twice the people were driven from their homes by savages.

 Twice swarms of grasshoppers have eaten everything green.  What with floods, drought, financial convulsions, innumerable trials of pestiferous insects and a Wright War, the people of this county have undergone trials and hardships scarcely known since the days of the pilgrims.”   (We think we have problems today in 2009.)   


The St. Paul-Minneapolis & Manitoba Railroad Company laid tracks as far as Delano

 in 1868 and extended to Cokato the next year.  The Osseo Branch of the St. Paul, Milwaukee and Minneapolis Railroad constructed a bridge over the river in Section 9 of Frankfort Township in 1881 and graded the road to St; Michael Station (later named Albertville)  The rail ties and rails were not completed until 1885 when a depot was built.