Spring Went Sproing in 1965, Part 2

Take a couple seconds to study the photograph in the header. What do you think it shows, besides a depot and railroad tracks?

This is downtown Mankato’s view of the Minnesota River. You don’t see the river, you say. No you do not, thanks to 1965.

If you drive the roads near the Minnesota River between Minneapolis and Mankato, you will come to signs sitting higher than your car that tell you how high the water was in the 1965 flood. It was a corker. It devastated Mankato and North Mankato, or so I am told or read. I did not move here until 1997. The result of that flood was an ingenious system to prevent any additional floods using a three-mile long seawall on both sides.  

Seawalls 2

The water has reached the seawall only twice since I have lived here. It has prevented much damage, but in the process it has hidden the river from the two towns. You can get to the river in two parks at the ends of the seawalls, but even there the river is not a significant presence. Decorah, Iowa in a similar way ignores its river. Here we ignore it so successfully that even when it does reach flood stage, we just drive over the three bridges without much of a thought, not that we get much of a view.

This is the the Minnesota River, the first significant tributary of the Mississippi, the site of Glacial River Warren, which was once a monstrous flood.

Seawalls 4

The Army Corps of Engineers did provide a gap in the seawall into which they can insert a water-tight piece. On the inside of the seawall is a bicycle and walking trail. I used to it ride to work, but I only seldom met anyone on it.

Seawalls3

The railroad tracks along the outside of Mankato seawall says that the two towns never have much respected the riverfront. Oh, how we all wish we could go back to the pioneers and say, “Don’t settle right by the rivers; move up to higher ground. It WILL flood.” I would like to say many things to the pioneers, but first thanks, and then ask many questions about their experience. 

What would you ask or say to the pioneers of Minnesota?

44 thoughts on “Spring Went Sproing in 1965, Part 2”

  1. Somebody help me out. Did those floods occur the same year as the Fridley tornado? Seems like they must have. Goodness, I was a very small child in perilous times.

    Still chewing on the question. It was a nasty shock to discover at the fair one year that my people got here too late to be considered true pioneers. They were just immigrants.

    We have ideas in many cases why the men came here from Germany, but the unmarried women, most of whom arrived with nothing in their pockets? Would love to here both why they left and how they managed to get to Minnesota on their own.

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  2. I’d like to tell them not to introduce common buckthorn. Some invasive non-native species came here by accident, some were brought deliberately. Common buckthorn was a conscious decision.

    Dandelions are another often-cited example of a plant that was deliberately sowed. Although many people think of them as a scourge, they don’t bother me all that much. Buckthorn is a bigger problem.

    It would have been nice if, during the homesteading period of our history, some thought had been given to leaving corridors of unbroken prairie and unlogged forests. But then, that sort of opens the question of whether it was defensible to wrest the land away from the native inhabitants in the first place. That’s a whole ‘nother question.

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  3. A friend of my dad’s was born in a sod hut his father built near Slayton, MN. Frank was the son of Irish immigrants and was a real rabble rouser and carouser. During the 20’s his exasperated father told Frank “You could have bought the best land in Murray county for all the money you are wasting on women and alcohol”. Frank repotedly replied, “I wouldn’t give up any of the women and alcohol for the best land in Murray county.”

    My dad’s family came to Illinois in 1859 and then to Iowa in the early 1860’s. Does that make them pioneers? I would tell them to write down more stories.

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    1. The first of my family entered the Midwest by walking into east-central Iowa just in time to see five sons fight in the Civil War. When you understand how difficult life was in those years, it is remarkable that they wrote anything at all. They did write letters, and a few kept diaries. To get a sense of things, study what the Monday laundry ritual was like for early settlers. There were very few laundromats in Iowa in the 1850s!

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      1. Not much time to participate today, but gotta post this–My mother found this in a church cookbook.

        Grandma’s Washing Receipt

        1. bild a fire in the back yoard to heet kettle of rain water.

        2. set tubs so smoke won’t blo in eyes if wind is pert.

        3. shave one hole cake soap in bilin water.

        4. sort things, make three piles: 1 pile white, 1 pile collord, 1 pile work britches and rags.

        5. stur flour in cold water to sooth then thin down with bilin water.

        6. rub dirty spots on board, scrub hard. Then bile. Rub cullord but don’t bile—just rench and starch.

        7. take white things out of kettle with broom stick handle then rench, blew and starch.

        8. spred tee towels on grass.

        9. hang old rags on fence.

        10. pore rench water in flower bed.

        11. scrub portch with hot soapy water.

        12. turn tubs upside down.

        13. go put on cleen dress—smooth hair with side combs—brew cup of tee—set and rest and rock a spell and count blessins.

        This is an authentic washday ‘receipt” in its original spelling as it was written out for a bride in 1900. Donna Barlass, Church Cookbook, Lenark Illinois

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    2. If Iowa designates the way Minnesota does, then no. Iowa became a state in 1846.

      In Minnesota your non-native ancestors had to have been here before statehood (IIRC-I looked into this several years ago-I do kmow it neatly cuts off the majority of Germans arriving in the Minnesota Valley).

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  4. Like mig, my grandmothers were immigrants rather than pioneers, and I have a thousand questions now that I didn’t know to ask them when they were alive. Mostly – did you find here what you were hoping to find?

    To the actual pioneers I would ask pretty much the same, was it worth it? Was the life you came to good enough to replace what you left?

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  5. My mother’s two lines of ancestors were Iowa pioneers in west central Iowa. A family tree has been written, but a family tree tells no stories.

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    1. But a family tree is dead useful when searching the microfilms of old newspapers in the Historical Society, especially if it has dates.

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  6. If I could speak to pioneer Europeans, I would plead with them to be gentler and less condescending to indigenous cultures. I would try to explain the disastrous consequences of introducing European diseases to people who lack antibodies to fight them. I would talk about the curse of alcohol, which is a far deadlier curse to “Indian” folks even than it has been to Europeans. I would attempt to disabuse Europeans of the conviction that their values and their God is infinitely superior to the spiritualism of the humans already living in Minnesota before they arrived.

    And, of course, I would fail. As a younger man, I thought history was flexible, meaning that people had the power to make far better choices than they actually did. I now see the impact of European migration on the original citizens of Minnesota as tragic but inevitable. As nice as it would be to say “they could have done it better,” that just isn’t true. Given who and what each party was, it was essentially inevitable that one culture would utterly crush the other (and congratulate itself on being decent and fair for the way it dealt with them).

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  7. I appreciate the many hardships endured by the pioneers in Minnesota. What I would have asked them to do is to consider setting aside larger areas of native forests and prairies instead of moving forward with cutting down the forests and plowing up the prairies on such a massive scale. I think Linda and I are in agreement about asking for less cutting and plowing

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  8. I’ve mentioned before a wonderful book that records the memories of Minnesota’s earliest settlers. Old Rail Fence Corners was a project by the MN DAR in 1914, a year of inflamed patriotism because of WW I. Many of the collected stories tell of life in MN in the 1820s to 1840s. The book is now published by the MN Historical Society and is sold by several outlets, including Amazon.

    When we wonder if the hardships of pioneer life were a poor reward for the terrible difficulties of migration, we often are ignoring how bad things were in Europe that so many young folks felt motivated to roll the dice on the fateful gamble of migration.

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      1. I was going to mention that as well.
        Thank you Steve for bringing this up in the first place back when.
        Great stories of the times. Fun to let my imagination run there.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I have to say I have no illusions about how things probably were back in Germany. And even had they wanted to, once the ancestors were here, there was no going back, as that would cost money they surely did not have.

      The textbook answer of “they came here for a better life” has never satisfied me any more than the answer to my persistent questions about my maternal grandfather’s cause of death- “oh, he was sick for a long time”. They don’t put that on a death certificate in the late 40s.

      Something pushed or pulled those women. I have actual reasons for the men, nothing for the women (many of whom are vague characters in such narrative as I have it).

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      1. The men, according to what I’ve read, usually came for two reasons. They faced a grim economy in Europe (like a Swedish kid whose five older brothers stood to inherit the family farm before he could) or to avoid another European war.

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    1. I look forward to reading Pioneer Girl, the original ms by LI Wilder. It was rejected for publication. Not romantic enough. That led her to do the story all over in a rose-colored glasses way, the “Little Home on the Prairie” books.

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      1. Literally “Rose” colored. Laira’s daughter Rose insisted on many edits of the grittier bits of her mother’s writing, maintainng that while those things might be true, they wwere not children’s literature.

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        1. I don’t think that was coming from Rose. I had Pioneer Girl out from the library for a few weeks. Had to return it due to high demand. But according to the footnotes, which contain many excerpts from Laura’s and Rose’s correspondence, it seemed to me it was primarily Laura that self-edited a lot of the bleaker material from her life story, once she had started to rewrite it for a juvenile audience.

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  9. The question I would ask is what is the true meaning of life
    I suspect that one may hold up even though times have changed so much and be the same answer that we would get today it would be interesting to hear the variations in path to get there from pioneer days to today however and maybe shine some light on the whys that things are important and what the true meaning of life is

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    1. I believe if you troubled one of my ancestresses with the question of the meaning of life, she would put you to work at something productive so you could figure it out for yourself 🙂

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  10. It would be interesting to ask why they stopped here is it because it was familiar and similar to where they came from or because they heard that the Dakotas were long and flat and boring or that the mountains were too tough to pass over or that they ran out of money and they stop here because this is all the further they could go
    Louise erdrich book on the butcher singers club was very interesting about exactly these issues

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  11. i have always wondered how they navigated through the flat plains – how did you know that Unmarked Body of Water was the one you were looking for (e.g., this was the correct river to ford here to get to Fill in the Blank Territory)? If we believe some of the accounts, there were wagon trails to follow in some places – but if you were the first across a stretch of prairie or through a woods, how on earth did you figure out that you were going where you wanted to go? Generally north or generally west, sure – but if you were in search of family who had already settled here, once you made it to the continent how ever did you find your way to Ole’s Farmstead in Wisconsin Territory Somewhere Near Selmer’s and Just South of The Small Ford in the Creek?

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  12. i grew up the son of a north dakota hunter and we would go out to meet the other guys in the slough and the goose blinds and the directions on where to meet them was always like a cryptic puzzle. north to the tree. down the dirt road to the kerchief and on to the cup/ and you would drive down the road and it was real apparent that the tree was an obvious reference and you wouldnt know what the kerchief meant until you got there and saw it tied to a barbed wire fence then on to the cup perched upside down on top of a branch directing you down one fork or the other where the road comes to a y. then you go down there until you see the road leading to the slough with the station wagon sitting there with the tail gate open and the sacks form the decoys tossed in the way back seat next to the beef jerky jar. they have a funny way of telling you how to get there once you are there. it couldnt be anywhere else.

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