One Curiosity Leads to Another…
…or at least that’s the way it is for me. When the Goodhue County Historical Society, in conjunction with the Hiawatha Valley Genealogy Society, began offering a Goodhue County Territorial Pioneer certificate to people who proved their ancestry back to pre-statehood, I was curious to know if I could do that.
Research was begun on the Dicke branch of my family, tracing local farmer Mark Dicke back to his ancestor, Friedrich Wilhelm Dicke. Every stone I turned over seemed to reveal another stone. Questions kept popping up.
Tracing the family since 1855 proved simple since Friedrich Dicke was a founding father of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Hay Creek and a Goodhue County farmer; followed by each successive generation, down to Mark, that has been active at Immanuel and engaged in farming in the county.
The questions were not so easy.
The Friedrich Dicke’s arrived in Goodhue County by boat, according to his son A.H. “Henry” who accompanied him in May of 1855.
That’s where the questions began. It was difficult to look at Red Wing in 2023 and envision Red Wing in 1855. What was Red Wing like back then? What did the Dicke’s and those who arrived back then see? Who did they meet as they came ashore? 1855!
There were, of course, native peoples, explorers, missionaries, trappers and traders, and others in the area at various times prior to this. The 1850’s brought a steady stream of settlers to the area, the majority of them arriving after statehood. In 1855 the area was sparsely populated.
According to the 1878 History of Goodhue County, the county was organized, under and act of the legislature, on March 5, 1853.
Hamline University (the institution, not the building) was started here in 1854, the same year Israel Garrard arrived in what is now Old Frontenac.
After the Dickes arrived in 1855, they spent the first couple of years living “in town,” likely sharing a space with the two other families who traveled upriver with them from St. Louis. Henry wrote that there were Indians living nearby at that time who, on occasion, would stop in at their residence. “Residence” here being a rather loose term. He referred to their first residence as a shack that was so small that the stove had to be outside. Before winter, they were in the second residence, “an almost crude log house.”
Jared Sexton came to Red Wing in June of 1855. He had many interesting reminiscences of pioneer days, and declares that at the time he came here there were but three buildings on Main street; a hotel known as the Red Wing House, of which Jacob Bennett was proprietor, and two stores, conducted respectively by J. C. Weatherby and H. L. Bevins The first two years Mr. Sexton was here, he was agent for the Galena steamboat line. In the spring of 1857 he made his first business venture, opening a meat market. His first beeves were brought from his old home in Waukesha county, Wisconsin, there being at that time but few cattle in Goodhue county.
The census that was taken in 1855 has been lost. The next census was taken was in 1857, in preparation for statehood.
This is a good place to mention that there is more than sufficient room for error in historical records and in the details of the information here taken from those records. That being said, it appears that the 1857 census taker noted 3839 people in 697 dwellings in the county. There is a published population figure of 1250 Red Wing residents by 1860. Common occupations were merchant, mason, farmer, carpenter and laborer. People were also engaged as saloon keepers, physicians, ministers, hotel keepers, painters, printers, wagon makers and shoemakers. Less commonly listed were occupations of teamster, engineer, saddler, lime burner, livery, miller, butcher, machinist, teacher, blacksmith, sawyer, tailor and (20-year-old Richard Bevans) an actor!
Within Red Wing, the people born in Sweden, Germany, Canada, Ireland and other foreign countries were mingled with the many who had migrated from other states, primarily established eastern states. This would have given young Henry the opportunity to listen to English. As a bright youngster, he likely absorbed it well. His family (he and his parents) had come up from St. Louis with the Tubbesings and another family. Mrs. Tubbesing had died in St. Louis leaving a husband and four children to settle in Red Wing. The Tubbesing boys were a little older than Henry and the group undoubtedly had many boyhood adventures in Red Wing with empty lots, hills to climb, dirt streets/paths, the Jordan creek, buildings going up and new people arriving.
Among those early arriving settlers were:
James Lawther, who came to Red Wing as a young man. His octagon house,build on Third Street in 1857, provided work for Friedrich Dicke.
D.C. Hill, planing, mill, sash, door and pump manufacturer and noted builder in Red Wing. He built, among other things, the beautiful first courthouse (which Friedrich Dicke also worked on) and did the basic carpentry work on Christ Episcopal Church, the Keystone building, the St. James Hotel and Vasa Lutheran Church. Earlier he had immigrated to this city on May 15, 1855.
George Wilkinson, who became the contractor for the Hamline University building, arrived in Red Wing the same week as the Dicke’s in 1855.
Charles Betcher, from Prussia, eventually ran a successful hardware business and large lumber business in Red Wing. He had expanded his Winona hardware store with a branch in Red Wing in 1855 and moved to this town in 1856.
William Sexton, later an engineer at the Red Wing mill, came to Red Wing in August of 1854.
The renowned William Colvill who had been born in New York also came to Red Wing in 1854. He was an attorney, the Clerk of Court who signed the land transaction for the first forty acres that Friedrich Dicke later bought for $500 in Flower Valley.
There were several doctors and pastors here early on, including Rev. Samuel Chandler, Rev Joseph Hancock, Dr. A.B. Hawley, Rev. Eric Norelius, Rev Chauncy Hobart and Dr. Wm. W. Sweeney.
Dr. Sweney (spelled both ways) arrived in 1852 at ‘Red Wing on the Mississippi River, then an Indian town, with an Indian farmer, John Bush, and an Indian missionary, Rev. Joseph Hancock.’
Welch Township is named after Abraham Edward Welch who died from wounds received during the Civil War. His father, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Minnesota Territory, moved to Red Wing in 1858.
W.W. DeKay came to this city in 1854 and ‘filled various offices in this city with a faithfulness and industry seldom equaled; was for several years city marshal; also health officer; and served as postmaster for the term of four years.’
James W. Day, proprietor of Red Wing ferry emigrated to this city May,1855.
J.C. Pierce, later a banker, came to Red Wing in October of 1855 and was engaged in real estate operations.
John Day was born in Carlisle, Pa. 1819. In 1852 he settled in Red Wing. In his first 33 years, he had perhaps moved around more than some, but not necessarily atypical of pioneers. He had moved to Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, then back to Virginia, Iowa, two counties in Illinois and three counties in Wisconsin prior to coming to Red Wing.
W.E. Hawkins, a dealer in paints and oils came to town on May 20, 1855.
German John Kappel, manufacturer of wagons, came to this city on July 7, 1855.
F. W. Hoyt emigrated to Roscoe township in 1856 and went on to become a prominent figure in the county, a lawyer and a founder of the Goodhue County Savings Bank.
Deputy Sheriff H.F. Armstrong came to this county in October of 1855.
Swante Willard, who later became the county auditor, had settled in Vasa township in 1853.
Lucius Hubbard arrived in Red Wing in 1857 with his printing press and started in the newspaper business before entering the Civil War. He later became governor of Minnesota.
In the autumn of 1856, TB Sheldon came to Red Wing. From our perspective, we see him as a man of wealth and power. The 1909 History of Goodhue County, worth the read, sheds light on his life prior to his arrival in Red Wing.
S B Foot arrived in September of 1855.
In July of 1855, Dan S Merritt, a printer from New York, issued the first number of the Red Wing Sentinel here.
If you’ve been keeping track, and if the recorded history is correct, that’s a lot of steamboat landings in Red Wing!
David Hancock, brother of Joseph, arrived in Red Wing in 1854.
BB Herbert arrived in Red Wing on April 17, 1856 and settled in Belle Creek township. He, too, has an interesting biography. Eventually he founded the National Editorial Association in this country.
Stephan Hart, the singing surveyor of Goodhue County, settled here in 1854.
Julia B. Nelson, noted educator, active in W.C.T.U. and woman’s suffrage was the first woman to hold a first grade certificate in Goodhue County. She had come to the county in the spring of 1856.
Minnesota did not become a STATE until 1858.
The question is often asked, ‘why did people come here?’ There are undoubtedly a number of reasons…to avoid diseases in crowded cities…land was available…to be near relatives…some saw advertisements in their native land promoting settlement in newly opened territory…to avoid serving in wars…for adventure…some were sent as government agents…for business opportunities…the landscape reminded people of their homeland… They were an adventuresome lot.
Most of these people had lived in many places before; yet many stayed in Red Wing until they took up residence in Oakwood. Henry is known to have lived in Germany, New Orleans and St. Louis in his first four years of life and spent the next 79 years in Goodhue County.
Transportation is one of those subjects that is easily viewed from the 21st century. We see riverboats and pleasure craft on the water regularly and can easily envision the boats arriving in the 1850’s.
However, the river was not always as it is today. In pictures, the shoreline appears quite different than it is today. In 1866 the government directed a project of a continuous channel between St. Anthony Falls and the Rock Island Rapids insuring the passage of boats drawing four feet of water. This mark was based on the 1864 river level, the benchmark that is still used today for the 9-foot channel. Prior to deepening the channel, boat captains often ran into snags, sandbars, submerged trees and other hazards in the river. Anyone who has traveled to Winona has noticed the sloughs, islands and backwaters that still exist after the establishment and marking of the main channel. The early riverboat captains had to navigate those waters prior to such improvements.
This might also answer how Pa Ingalls got his family from the Little House in the Big Woods across the Mississippi to places farther west. The Mississippi was far different then than it is today.
Prior to being supplemented by trains, water travel was by far the most popular means of long distance transportation in this area of the country.
Some methods of travel fall into the category of “necessity is the mother of invention.”
From the 1878 History of Goodhue County:
‘In the summer of 1852, John Bush, the Indian farmer, accompanied by his wife and Mr. and Mrs. Hancock, concluded to make a visit to the head of Lake Pepin, to ” call ” on Mr. George W. Bullard and family. The distance was six miles by land. There was no available wheeled vehicle — no carriage, or wagon, or horses that could be used, so a large canoe was brought into requisition. A yoke of cattle were hitched to the canoe by a log-chain, and the visitors started. The wild grass was tall and thick, and the canoe glided along where the ground was level like a sleigh over a good snow-path. But the ground was not always level. It was level only occasionally, and the oxen, not used to that kind of a vehicle, stepped rather quickly over the rough places, occa- sioning frequent turn overs and tip-outs. It is the opinion of Mr. Hancock that they turned over as much as fifty times in going and returning. They landed in all sorts of positions — on their sides, backs, faces, singly, in heaps, and on top of each other — presenting the most ludicrous appearances as they sought to right themselves. “No bodily harm was experienced, however,” says Mr. Hancock, ” but the amount of fun and hearty laughter we enjoyed that day exceeded anything of the kind I ever knew, before or since. It was enough to make a stoic laugh or cure a dyspeptic. I have never failed to laugh when the circumstance is called to mind, and I don’t know but what it will be one of the last things I think of as my bark of life is shoved away from the shore of time.” ‘
These are some of our brave ancestors who traveled from various places to Goodhue County and left the blessing of a rich history for us.
–by Becky Voth Kirtz