An army detachment arrived in 1819 to establish what was originally called Fort Saint Anthony. The construction of this stone fort overlooking the Minnesota and Mississippi river lasted from 1820 until 1824, after which it was christened “Fort Snelling.”   The first steam paddle wheeler to arrive at the fort was the Virginia in 1823 which made the trip twice that year from St. Louis, Missouri.  River traffic slowly increased over the following years, bringing a small trickle of Irish and German immigrants [1].

      The roll of Fort Snelling was to keep the British out of Minnesota, and keep peace with the Native Americans.  Minnesota was technically closed to settlement but were still some people who lived near the fort.  One was a one eyed French fur trader named Pierre Parrant who arrived around 1832.  He began distilling liquor and selling it to the soldiers of the fort and some of the indigenous inhabitants.  The officers of the fort banned the one-eyed Frenchman from the fort property in 1838, so he moved his moonshine operations five miles downstream from the fort onto some land which had recently been made available for white settlement.  The area became known as "L'Oeil de Cochon" (French for "Pig's Eye") and settlers gathered around the Frenchman and his fire-water.

      The French Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic Wars raged across Europe from 1792 to 1815.  One of the happy consequences of this was that Napoleon Bonaparte was willing to sell the Louisiana Territory to a neutral America in 1803.

      Lewis and Clark travelled up the Missouri River and sought a path to the Pacific while Zebulon Pike explored the Mississippi River and sought sites for forts with which to defend the newly acquired territory.  By 1803 the English Northwest Company closed its operations at Grand Portage and moved to just north of the 49th parallel at Fort William (present day Thunderbay, Ontario).  In 1805 Zebulon Pike made a treaty with the Dakota Sioux for rights to inhabit two areas – one a nine square mile area just upstream from the joining of the St Croix and Mississippi (present day Hastings, Minnesota), and another nine square mile parcel on the bluffs overlooking the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. 

      In July 1838, three discharged soldiers from Fort Snelling filed claims for land near Pig’s Eye’s distillery.  Edward Phelan, John Hays and William Evans were all born in Ireland.   In 1839 John Hays was murdered.  Edward Phelan was accused but was not convicted due to a lack of evidence.  It was also in 1839 that Joseph R. Brown sent a letter to a friend and listed the return address as “Pig’s Eye.” The return mail was delivered addressed to Mr. Brown at “Pig’s Eye.”  The town might have retained that name if it was not for the efforts of a newly arrived French Catholic Priest Lucien Galtier.  The priest was horrified to discover that this town was centering around a distillery and bar of such ill repute, so in 1841 he renamed the town “St Paul”  and in 1844 Pierre Parrant, the one eyed moonshiner, rum runner and bartender moved on [2].

     By 1849, when the Minnesota Territory was created, there were less than five thousand whites in Minnesota and roughly four hundred of those lived in St. Paul.  By contrast, there were twenty five thousand Native Americans in Minnesota at that time.

      Fort Snelling was the center of activity in Minnesota between 1819 and 1849. This was before the melody to our current national anthem had been composed. The most patriotic tune at that time was "Yankee Doodle" which was originally an English ditty composed in the 1750's which disparaged of stupid colonists. The song was sung by British red coats to taunt the American colonists during the revolution, but the song got turned on its head in 1781. General Cornwallace and his British army were forced to surrender to George Washington following the siege at Yorktown. As the surrendering British soldiers were being marched out of their defenses a band on the American side played "Yankee Doodle" and the tune became an unofficial American patriotic anthem from that moment on.

by Walter Sigtermans

Forts and Spirits

Minnesota Fiddlers

       You can be sure that this tune was played in Fort Snelling.

here to get the sheet music to “Yankee Doodle”
here to hear an mp3 of “Yankee Doodle”

      “Old Rosin the Beau” was arguably the most popular tune in the United States during the mid-19th century.  It was first published in Philadelphia in 1838, but its origins are probably Irish or Scottish.  The lyrics had been altered over the years to suit different purposes.  The tune was used by Henry Clay's election campaign against President Polk in 1840 and later by Abraham Lincoln’s election campaign.  Both times the lyrics of “Old Rosin the Beau” were modified to suit their needs.  We have an mp3 and sheet music to this venerable old tune as well as two sets of lyrics.  The second set of lyrics might have been more appropriate for (Pig’s Eye) Pierre Parrant’s pub.

here to get the sheet music to “Old Rosin the Beau”
here to hear an mp3 of “Old Rosin the Beau”