July, 2019 – St. Peter, Minnesota

Although it is already the second week in July, we are finally making it into Minnesota where we will spend most of the next two months.  I was really looking forward to getting back into the northwoods with its white pine, sugar maple, spruce, aspen, and birch, however, this will have to wait another couple of weeks.  The southwestern part of Minnesota is a lot like Iowa in that it used to be prairie and now is mostly farmland.  The trip itself was easy as about half of it was along I-35 before turning west to Mankato and then north to St. Peter.  The last part of the trip was a surprise as we descended into the Minnesota River Valley in Manakto and traveled north along the river.  The Minnesota River was still in a minor flood stage and since the campground was close to the highway we were concerned there may be flooding issues.  Since Peaceful Valley Campgrounds is actually a mile from the river and up the first floodplain tier, this was not a problem.  We found the campgrounds with no problem and got checked in.  Peaceful Valley Campground is a small commercial park mostly filled with seasonal campers.  However, they have about a dozen sites for transient campers in the back of the park around a picnic shelter.  The sites are essentially in a grassy field, which could be a problem with heavy rains.  In fact, this had been the case for the previous camper in our site as there were some ruts in the site and they had torn up the entrance into the site.  The owners had put some straw down to help with the problem, but it was still pretty soft.  Since there was plenty of room in front of the truck, it only took a couple of shots to get the RV lined up and into the site.  The only problem was being in a valley.  The TV reception really only worked after dark and the phone reception was very weak.  However, the RV park more than made up for this deficiency with having the best WiFi service I have ever seen in a commercial park.  A rich dairy farmer up the road paid to have fiber optic run up the road and the owners of the campground invested into it as well.  Even with a problem with a damaged repeater we had the best service and it only got better over the weekend when they got a new repeater installed.  We actually streamed some news programs during the week and Skyped with William, Kristen, and Liam.   I wish we could take the wifi with us!!

Campsite

The forecast for Tuesday was for rain late in the afternoon, so we got an early start to check out the Traverse des Sioux State Historic Site in St. Peter, which was just a few miles away.  However, when we got there the museum was closed due to some local event so we were not able to find out much about the site.  There were some interpretive signs alone a short trail that led down to the Minnesota River.  As the name implies this location was near a long used ford of the river used by the Dakota Indians, also known as Sioux.   Since the river has changed over the years, the exact location is unknown, however, they have found evidence of the trading post that was suppose to be at this location.  We also learned this was the location where the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux was signed in 1851.  According to the treaty the Dakota Indians sold their claim to millions of acres in the Minnesota Territory that now includes Minnesota, northern Iowa, and eastern South Dakota.  This was in exchange for an annual annuity, food, and medicine.  The Dakota were restricted to a twenty-mile strip of land along the Minnesota River, which was not large enough to support their population.  In fact, Congress failed to authorize this land as an Indian Reservation when they ratified the treaty, so the Dakota Indians were eventually forced to move west.  Due to corruption in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and being cheated by the Indian Agents, the Dakota Indians received very little of the money and food was withheld since they could not pay for it!  For many years they tried to work with the Indian Agents to redress these wrongs, but by 1860 they were starving.  Finally, they had had enough and in August of 1862 fighting broke out which became known as the US-Dakota War.  After reading about this on the signs, we proceeded down the trail towards the Minnesota River.   However, as I pointed out before, the river was flooded so the trail soon turned to mud and mosquitoes, so we turned around.  Especially since the museum was closed for the day, it was still before lunch.  One of the signs gave a number of locations of conflict during the Dakota War, so we decided to head west to explore Fort Ridgely State Park.

By the time we got to Fort Ridgely State Park it was raining, much earlier then they had forecasted.  So we ate lunch in the truck at the site of the fort hoping the rain would quit.  After over an hour of a steady rain it finally started to let up and we decided to brave the conditions and walk around the remains of the fort.  They have rebuilt one of the stone barracks in the fort to be used as a musuem, but of course it was closed during the week.  This still left a walk around the ruins with a number of interpretive signs.  Fort Ridgely was the westernmost fort in Minnesota situated on a ridge above the Minnesota River.  The fort was located close to the Lower Sioux Agency where the fighting began on August 18, 1862, when the Indians were once again refused the food that had been withheld from them.  They were starving and felt that had little to lose by taking the food by force.  The Indians greatly outnumbered the 62 white men at the Agency and within a few hours 20 had been killed and 10 captured.  A few escaped, however, and word was gotten to Fort Ridgely.  As you can probably guess from the date, the fort was manned by Minnesota Volunteers as the regular army was away fighting in the Civil War.  In fact, the main purpose of the fort was to recruit and muster additional regiments for the Civil War.  In fact, at that time there were about 150 new volunteers in the fort to augment the 65 regulars, however they were poorly armed and completely untrained.  Captain Marsh led a detachment of 46 soldiers to check out the reports at Lower Sioux Agency.  Along the way they were repeatedly attacked by small groups of Indians and by late afternoon he had 11 men left.  Trying to return to the Fort, Captain Marsh drowned in the river due to a cramp, which left the Quartermaster, Lt. Sheehan, in charge.  On August 20, a force of 400 Indians attacked the fort.   Their main objective was to set fire to the fort, a strategy that had worked well during their raids, however, the stone buildings of the fort resisted their efforts.  After being driven back the Indians retreated back into the ravines to regroup.  The next day a thunderstorm delayed any further action and the men in the fort had an opportunity to shore up their defenses.  In particular, positioning and protecting the 6 cannons at the vulnerable locations.  On August 22, the Indians again attacked, this time with 800 Indians.  The first attack was repulsed and the battle devolved into a series of minor skirmishes throughout the day.  In the evening the Indians once again attacked the north side of the fort and Lt Sheehan ordered the buildings on that side to be set on fire to keep the Indians from using the cover of the buildings.  The Indians gave up their attack and melted back into the ravines.  The siege of the fort was broken the next day when reinforcements under Colonel Sibley arrived with 1400 trained recruits.  The Dakota war only lasted until September when a large force of Indians were defeated and captured at Wood Lake.  Of the 400 captured, 303 were quickly found guilty of murder and sentenced to be hung.  However, President Lincoln reduced the executions to 38 Indians who were hanged in December.  This was the largest mass execution in US history.  Today, very little remains of the fort as it was scavenged for building materials soon after it was closed in 1867.  Archeological excavations have uncovered the foundations of the buildings which have been left open to visit.  Along with the interpretive signs about each building you get a good feeling for the layout of the fort.  Once again without the museum being open, it did not take long to explore the site in the rain and we were soon on our way back to the campground.

The weather on Wednesday was once again for rain off and on all day, so we headed north near Minneapolis to the Mystic Lake Casino for some slots.  We had a nice time at the casino, managing not to lose much money, although neither of us came out ahead for the day.  We ate lunch at a close by Carvers and headed back to the campground for the afternoon under clear skies.

The weather on Thursday was perfect, even though the upper 80s is warmer then we like and the humidity reminded us of Alabama.  Over Kal’s objection, we headed back into Minneapolis to the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.  This area spans 72 miles along the Mississippi River with none of it owned by the National Park Service.  Instead, it is a conglomerate of state, county, city, and private ownerships.  Obviously we would not be able to see all of it in one day, so we chose one of the two National Park Visitor Centers.  One of them is in downtown Minneapolis and the other in downtown St Paul, which is why Kal did not want to go.  We braved downtown Minneapolis to the St. Anthony Falls Visitor Center.  This very small visitor center is located at the upper locks on the Mississippi at St Anthony Falls which at about 20 feet drop forms the only natural falls on the Mississippi.  It also ended the commercial traffic on the river until locks were installed in 1948 and 1963.  In 2014, the upper locks were permanently closed due to lack of traffic since by this time it was obvious river traffic could not support it.  While the falls was the end of commercial traffic on the river, they were the reason Minneapolis became first the midwest leader in sawmills and then the world leader in flour production.  By 1871, the west bank had 23 businesses including flour mills, woolen mills, iron works, cotton mills, papermills, and other industries dependent on water power.  Along both banks were 34 flour mills using water to power the mills and railroads for transport.  Today these mills are all shut down and the historic district is well worth visiting.  However, we spent our time along the waterfront, first taking the tour of the upper lock conducted by the NPS where we learned the history and got some great pictures of the falls as they have been engineered today by the Corps of Engineers.  After the interesting tour we asked our guide for other things to do and he suggested checking out the Mill Ruins Park right there at the foot of the Stone Arch Bridge, which itself is pretty spectacular.  This large stone bridge was a railroad bridge that spanned the Mississippi River and today is a pedestrian walkway.  The Mill Ruins Park at the foot of the bridge is a small city park where you can see the outflow for some of the old mills on the west bank of the river.  To supply water to all the mills a canal was dug above the river with mills located on both sides of the canal and a railroad above the canal.  The water would run through the mills and then exit back into the Mississippi below the falls.  Some of these exit tunnels have been excavated and are now open to take a look into.  There are also some trestles of the railroads that ran along the backside of the mills above the river itself.  I assume there were also railroads behind the mills on the other side of the canal as well.  Once we finished exploring the park, we headed towards St. Paul in search of another popular location in the Recreation Area that was recommended by our guide, Minnehaha Park.  We found the park without a problem, however, finding a parking space anywhere in the park at noon time was impossible.  It was certainly one of the more popular areas we have visited with pedestrian and bicycles everywhere on a beautiful summer day.  We were also interested in visiting Fort Snelling State Park which controlled the west bank of the Mississippi River until it was opened up to settlers in the 1870s, however, it was closed due to flooding.  Wanting to get out of the traffic and congestion of Minneapolis-St. Paul we agreed to just call it a day and headed back to the campground for the afternoon.

Friday was going to be another sunny humid day so we headed out to the attraction that Kal wanted to visit on Thursday, Jeffers Petroglyphs State Historic Site.  The Jeffers Petroglyphs is an extensive outcropping of Sioux quartzite along the top of Red Rock Ridge.  The exposed surface is about 150 by 650 feet and is covered with ancient petroglyphs pecked out in the stone.  The earliest petroglyphs are estimated to be 7000 to 9000 years old that include atlatl and crude animal figures.  Other petroglyphs of thunderbirds, dragonflies, turtles, and shamans likely date back 3000 to 4000 years.  Finally, there are petroglyphs related to common symbols of the Mississippian culture of 1000 years ago.  There are over 4,000 American Indian symbols preserved in the rocks.  While not required, I would strongly recommend going with a tour guide.  They not only know where the more interesting symbols are on the rock face, but will wet them down with a spraybottle to make them easier to see.  You will also learn the Indian legends behind the symbols.  We started out with a Native American guide on a private tour that knew a lot of about the legends although she had just started working as a guide.  She was a delight, until we were chased off the ridgetop by an approaching thunderstorm.  We went back to the Visitor Center and ate lunch in their picnic area waiting for the storm to pass.  We never did get any rain, but the clouds and wind cooled it off considerably.  Instead of immediately joining the next tour we took the half mile walk through the restored prairie where we saw a lot of pretty prairie grass flowers and the remains of a bison rub which had been worn smooth by bison using the rocks to help remove their winter coat.  The end of the trail was back at the petroglyphs where we were able to join the tour and see the rest of the presentation.  Unfortunately, it was a different tour guide, but she still knew the legends behind the symbols she highlighted.  While the park is a bit remote, I would strongly recommend visiting.

After a busy week, we spent Saturday and Sunday in the campground doing laundry, cleaning the RV, and working on this blog.

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