St. Anthony And Minnehaha – Historic Landmarks

LIKE the Garden of Eden, the State is encircled by rivers and lakes. There is ” water, water everywhere “; and in view of this characteristic, Nicollet called the country Undine. To naiads and all water spirits it would be a perfect paradise. The surface of the country is dotted with lakes, and in some regions it is impossible to travel five miles without meeting a beautiful expanse of water. Many of these lakes are linked together by small and clear rivulets, while others are isolated. Their configuration is varied and picturesque; some are large, with precipitous shores, and contain wooded islands; others are approached by gentle grassy slopes. Their bottoms are paved with agates, carnelians, and other beautiful quartz pebbles. Owens, in his Geological Report, says: ” Their beds are generally pebbly, or covered with small boulders, which peep out along the shore, and frequently show a rocky line around the entire circumference. Very few of them have mud bottoms. The water is generally sweet and clear, and north of the water-shed is as cool and refreshing during the heats of summer as the water of springs or wells. All the lakes abound with various species of fish, of a quality and flavour greatly superior to those of the streams of the Middle or Western States.”

The country also contains a number of ha-ha, as the Dakotahs call all waterfalls. As the State of New York shares with Great Britain the sublimest cataract, so Minnesota has a joint ownership in a picturesque fall. It is about a mile and a half above the mouth of Pigeon River. The perpendicular descent is sixty feet, after which the river chafes its way for many yards. About one mile below the west end of Grand Portage, the old depot of the Northwest Company, are the great cascades of Pigeon River. ” The scenery at the cascades presents the singular combination of wild grandeur and picturesque beauty, with an aspect the most dreary and desolate imaginable. In the distance of four hundred yards, the river falls one hundred and forty-four feet. The fall is in a series of cascades through a narrow gorge, with perpendicular walls, varying from forty to one hundred and twenty feet, on both sides of the river.” The streams in the northeast county of Minnesota nearly all come into Lake Superior with a leap. Half a mile from the lake, the Kawimbash hurries through perpendicular walls of stone, seventy-five feet in height, and at last pitches down a height of eighteen or twenty feet.

On Kettle River, a tributary of the St. Croix, there are also interesting rapids and falls. The falls of St. Croix, thirty miles above Stillwater, elicit the admiration of the traveller. Between lofty walls of trap rock, the river rushes, ” at first with great velocity, forming a succession of whirl-pools, until it makes a sudden bend, then glides along placidly, reflecting in its deep waters the dark image of the columnar masses, as they rise towering above each other to the height of a hundred to a hundred and seventy feet.” On the Vermilion River, which is a western tributary of the Mississippi, opposite the St. Croix, there are picturesque falls, about a mile from Hastings.

A drive of less than fifteen minutes from Fort Snelling, in the direction of St. Anthony, brings the tourist to a waterfall that makes a lifetime impression.

“Stars in the silent night Might be enchained, Birds in their passing flight Be long detained, And by this scene entrancing, Angels might roam, Or make their home, Hearing, in waters dancing, ‘Mid spray and foam, Minnehaha ! ”

These, within a brief period, have obtained a world-wide reputation, from the fact that a ” certain one of our own poets ” has given the name of Minne-ha-ha to the wife of Hiawatha. Longfellow, in his vocabulary, says: ” Minneha-ha—Laughing-water; a waterfall or a stream running into the Mississippi, between Fort Snelling and the Falls of St. Anthony.” All waterfalls, in the Dahkotah tongue, are called Ha-ha, never Minne-ha-ha. The ” h ” has a strong guttural sound, and the word is applied because of the curling or laughing of the waters. The verb I-ha-ha primarily means, to curl; secondarily, to laugh, because of the curling motion of the mouth in laughter. The noise of Ha-ha is called by the Dahkotas I-ha-ha, because of its resemblance to laughter.

A small rivulet, the outlet of Lakes Harriet and Calhoun, gently gliding over the bluff into an amphitheatre, forms this graceful waterfall. It has but little of ” the cataract’s thunder.” Niagara symbolizes the sublime; St. Anthony the picturesque; Ha-ha the beautiful. The fall is about sixty feet, presenting a parabolic curve, which drops, without the least deviation, until it has reached its lower level, when the stream goes on its way rejoicing, curling along in laughing, childish glee at the graceful feat it has performed in bounding over the precipice.

Five miles above this embodiment of beauty are the more pretentious Falls of St. Anthony. This fall was not named by a Jesuit, as Willard says, in her History of the United States, but by Hennepin, a Franciscan of the Recollect Order.

He saw it while returning from Mille Lac, in the month of July, 1680, and named it after his patron Saint, Anthony of Padua.

In the last edition of his travels, the adventurous father says, ” The navigation is interrupted by a fall, which I called St. Anthony of Padua’s, in gratitude for the favours done me by the Almighty through the intercession of that great saint, whom we had chosen patron and protector of all our enter-prises. This fall is forty or fifty feet high, divided in the middle by a rocky island of pyramidal form.” As Hennepin was passing the falls, in company with a party of buffalo hunters, he perceived a Dahkotah up in an oak opposite the great fall, weeping bitterly, with a well-dressed beaver robe, whitened inside, and trimmed with porcupine quills, which he was offering as a sacrifice to the falls, which is in itself admirable and frightful. I heard him while shedding copious tears say, as he spoke to the great cateract: ” Thou who art a spirit, grant that our nation may pass here quietly without accident, may kill buffalo in abundance, conquer our enemies, and bring in slaves, some of whom we will put to death before thee; the Messenecqz (to this day the Dahkotahs call the Fox Indians by this name) have killed our kindred, grant that we may avenge them.”

The only other European, during the time of the French dominion, whose account of the falls is preserved, is Charleville. He told DuPratz, the author of a history of Louisiana, that, with two Canadians and two Indians, in a birch canoe laden with goods, he proceeded as far as the Falls of St. Anthony. This cataract he describes as caused by a flat rock, which forms the bed of the river, and causing a fall of eight or ten feet. It was not far from a century after Hennepin saw the ” curling waters,” that it was gazed upon by a British subject. Jonathan Carver, a native of Connecticut, and captain of a Provincial troop, was the Yankee who first looked on this valuable water-power, and began to make calculations for further settlement. His sketch of the falls in 1766 was the first ever taken, and was well engraved in London.

Carver, like Hennepin, speaks of a rocky island dividing the falls, and estimates its width about forty feet, and its length not much more, ” and about half way between this island and the eastern shore, is a rock, lying at the very edge of the fall, that appeared to be about five or six feet broad, and thirty or forty long.”

During the two generations that have elapsed since this description was penned, some changes have taken place in the appearance of the falls. The small island about forty feet broad, which is now some distance in front of the falls, was probably once in its midst. The geological character of the bed of the river is such, that an undermining process is constantly at work. The upper stratum is limestone, with many large crevices, and about fifteen feet in thickness. Beneath is the saccharoid sandstone, which is so soft that it cannot resist the wearing of the rapid waters. It is more than probable that in an age long passed, the falls were once in the vicinity of Fort Snelling. In the course of two years they have receded many feet. The numbers of pine logs that pitch over the falls have increased the recession. As the logs float down they are driven into the fissures, and serve as levers, other logs and the water communicating the power, to wrench the limestone slabs from their localities. In time the falls will recede until they become nothing more than rapids.

The fall of water on the west side of the dividing island is several rods above that on the east side, and the difference is occasioned by the greater volume of water on the former side, causing a more rapid recedence.

There are two islands of great beauty in the rapids above the falls. The first juts some feet beyond the falls, and contains about fifteen acres. It is now generally known as Hennepin Island, not, as some blunderer says in Harper’s Magazine for July, 1853, because the Jesuit father was placed there by the Indians, but in accordance with the following suggestion, in an address before the Historical Society of Minnesota, on January first, 1850:

As a town in the State of Illinois has already taken the name of Hennepin, which would have been so appropriate for the beautiful village of St. Anthony, we take leave of the discoverer of those picturesque falls, which will always render that town equally attractive to the eye of the poet and capitalist, by suggesting that the island which divides the laughing waters be called Hennepin.”