St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

West Sterling 1850s St Croix River Valley North of St. Croix Falls

    In the late 1960s, Mrs. Wirt Mineau of Eureka wrote a letter to Rosemarie Vezina Braatz, then a columnist for the Standard Press, that included some early West Sterling history which we excerpt this week  Hope Mineau’s grandfather had come from California with Gold mined from the 1848 gold rush there and decided to settle on the Minnesota side of the St Croix at Nevers and Sunrise.
   West Sterling 150 Years ago by Hope Mineau 
    West Sterling was not always a “desert land” as the pioneers told this story.  As long ago as when my grandfather Carmen P. Garlick came to Minn Territory it was an asset to this part of the upper St Croix Valley.  Dr. Garlick came to Taylors Falls and invested the gold he had mined in an old Spanish Settlement, adjacent to Sutters Fork bearing the name of Amador (now Placerville) in Govt land at $1.25 per acre north of Taylors Falls in Chisago Co.  In 1853 her brought Grandmother and 2 daughters and 2 sons including my father Louis then 1 year old, and lived that winter at Uncle John Daubney’s farm at Daubney Rapids (later Nevers Dam) while he built a sawmill at the mouth of the Sunrise River.  This was operated by water from a wing dam.

     Shortly after locating his family at the Minn side of what later would be Nevers Dam, Dr. Garlick with two others surveyed and named the township “Amador” for the Spanish settlement where he and 12 other men had mined gold.

       The pioneers from the east who settled here were men of vision.  They surveyed a railroad route across Amador and on across the St Croix River where there was an Indian settlement named Sebatana (place of softly babbling waters).  Dr. Garlick made maps and had them lithographed.  I found one in V Canadays’ father’s possession in 1934 and I believe that the Minn Historical Society now has it. 

       Mrs. Rudy Johnson of Almelund told me that when she did office work in Taylors Falls school, about the time it was moved to the new building she saw a map of the proposed railroad with townsites named Washington and Lincoln. 

     When the Garlicks came to Minn Territory they found Smith Elison with his partners, Mr. and Mrs. Floyd Bates settled on Goose Creek Meadows near Sunrise. As a part of Mr. Elison’s many activities, he bought beef cattle to supply the U. S. Army at Fort Snelling in Civil War time and also for them during the so called Indian Wars west of the Miss. river.  Then later supplies for the railroad construction crews.   The beef were bought and sold on hoof and driven to the locations when needed and butchered there.

     At that time West Sterling was covered with a grass, the Elison’s said, much like the buffalo grass they found when in later years they farmed in the plains west of here.  Also there were acres of vetch.   All this made excellent pasture for cattle as did the oaks.  The oaks found on that part of Sterling were the same species as those on our farm 1 ½ miles east of Big Spring in St Croix River where the Chippewa Indians made camp fall and spring when they tribes of the Valley met for ceremonial dances on the Nevers flats two miles up river .  Some say acorns poison stock.  It may be some do, but from 20 years of experience in those hills in our Eureka home, I can only say if cattle have access to salt and water they will survive and fatten as do deer and produces a finer flavored beef than corn fed cattle.
   The early pioneers in West Sterling made use of the native feed and cattle were driven across at the ford in the fall or on the ice later to be driven to Fort Snelling.

   When the beef trade decreased the undergrowth increased; fires became more numerous and the top soil was destroyed, never to be restored as that grass never comes back.  An expensive lesson learned on the Plain States when they plowed up buffalo grass and got sand storms in pay.
     Since this cattle pasturing was done by New Englanders living on the west bank there was much land available for others, especially Scandinavians who made homes on the east side.  Some thirty years ago I was talking to one of the Anderson brothers (namely John, Charles Peter and Adolph) who migrated from Sweden about 1869 and settled near that old church at Trade River-Cowan Creek, West Sterling area.  Charles Anderson resided in St Croix Falls late in life when his son Andrew had a store here.  In our conversation with him and son and wife, the subject of that church came up and he told me “we all built that church.”  Everyone regardless of nationality brought materials and built a community church it appears.  He said later on people drifted away to other towns and churches but we stayed.  I asked him “Why did you stay?”  “Because it reminded us of our homelands back in Sweden—the evergreen and such”  
    Hope Mineau’s account tells us of Sebatana, an Indian settlement on the Wisconsin side of the river near Nevers Dam.  In Rosemarie Braatz’s wonderful booklet on Nevers Dam written in 1965 (which is out of print but now on the web at the MN DNR website at  ) there is this reference.    

      Mrs. Ernest Armstrong of Trade River, writes: "In 1850 there was an Indian settlement at the mouth of Wolf Creek by the St. Croix River. (This was called Sebatana, meaning "Place of flowing clear water".) Near the site which later became Nevers Dam the Indians had chosen a place as a ceremonial ground where they came spring and fall to pray and give thanks.  There were two Indian camps, one near the west bank of the river -- later this site was called Frawley's Trout pond, the other to the east, called the Big Pond. Years later in the woods and fields were found many arrow heads from these Indians."

2011 Autumn photo West Sterling
showing prairie remnants Section 26
     In an earlier Sterling history column I mentioned a story from my Grandpa Eugene Hanson,  who  lived near Nevers Dam on the River Road (Duane Larson’s place now).   Joe Lagoo, part Indian, walked along the ridge above the house to a point overlooking the river and told Grandpa that it was a burial ground for Indians.  The site is at the road to the south that goes east up the hill.  Last week we mentioned that Joseph Renshaw Brown ran a trading post for Indians near this site.  The story of the Spirit Rock along the River road may also tie into Sebatana.  It would be interesting to hear more stories of the local Indian settlements!

    More good reading on the Internet:  “TIME AND THE RIVER A History of the Saint Croix”  A Historic Resource Study of the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway  Eileen M. McMahon Theodore J. Karamanski  2002 . This is a very complete history of the St Croix River with lots of illustrations!