Goodhue County, Minnesota

 

 ~ Wacoota Township ~

Wacoota Township preserves the name of the chief whom the while men found in charge of the Indian band at Red Wing in the late forties and early fifties. His name, Wah-coo-tay, variously translated as Wancouta, Daconta and Waccota, means the ''Shooter" or "Leaf Shooter," literally the "Shooter of the Leaves of the Indigenous Pines."

The township of Wacoota consists of a few sections lying along the Mississippi River at the head of Lake Pepin. It has many hills and bluffs, but in the valleys are many fine farms. The first white settler, George W. Billiard, arrived about 1850, bringing Abner W. Post, who built for him the first house erected in the township. Bullard had a license from the United States government to trade with the Indians. This gave him some rights upon the Indian lands, which at that time were not opened to the whites; but although he did enjoy some Indian trade, the larger part of his customers were lumbermen from across the river. In May, 1852, even before the signing of the treaty, the influx of immigration started. In 1853 Bullard and Post erected a saw mill, the first west of the Mississippi River, it is believed. A village was platted, and for a time it looked as though Wacoota, commanding, as it does, the head of the lake, was to become a great and important city. Up to 1854 travelers were entertained at the home of Mr. Bullard. The increasing travel and the number of lumbermen who arrived caused a demand for a hotel, and during that year one was erected by J. B. Smith. This hotel was afterward removed to Mt. Pleasant, in Wabasha County, and did service as a residence for the Rev. Mr. Williams. In 1855 Daniel Saunders built another hotel, which in 1864 was removed to the township of Featherstone, where it was converted into a dwelling house for the Rev. Ezra Tucker. These two hotels in 1857 were found to be insufficient for the demand. The village became a headquarters for lumbermen, and at this point were rafted the logs from the pineries further north. So prosperous were the people at this point that they contested with Red Wing for the location of the county seat, and but for the cleverness of the Red Wing voters, might have got it. Bullard, wishing to get his full share of the money which was pouring into Wacoota, erected a third hotel in the village in 1857. This building was 40x60 feet and furnished in good style. After the tide had turned and the flood of business had gone to other places, Bullard sold this hotel to Messrs. Tibbetts & Hackett, of Lake City, who removed it to that place in the winter on the ice. With the advent of the Civil War more than one-half of the legal voters enlisted. After the war was over the glory of Wacoota had departed; and today it remains not the proud and populous county seat that had been fondly dreamed, but a quiet rural community, whose prosperous farmers do their trading in that city which Wacoota at one time hoped to rival.

Wacoota village is now a station on the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad. About three-quarters of a mile from the railroad station, after passing through a small grove, one arrives at Vivian Park, at the head of Lake Pepin. Here the waters of the great river expand into a wide and deep basin, which has all the attributes of a great lake, whose waters are still except when stirred by the wind. There, on the high ground overlooking the lake, have been built a number of cottages, where many families go to spend the hot summer months amid the refreshing scenery and bracing breezes.

The first birth in Wacoota was in the family of G. W. Bullard in 1852. The same child died in 1854, this being the first death in the township. The first marriage was that of Joseph F. Thompson and Melissa Pingrey, in 1855, James B. Smith, a justice of the peace, performing the ceremony. In the fall and winter of 1854 J. F. Pingrey taught a school in a hall over a store. Rev. J. W. Hancock and Matthew Sorin held services as early as 1853. The township was organized at the time of the general act in 1858.

Mrs. Julia B. Nelson, at a meeting of the old settlers of the Lake Pepin valley some years ago, related some of her early experiences, from which the following extract is taken: "Had I ever been scalped by a savage Sioux, or scared to death by harmless Chippewas; had I ever lived in a seven-by-nine log house on three grains of corn a day; had I ever practiced driving four-in-hand with an ox team; had I ever raised vegetables on territorial ground, or raised the chickens that crowed when Minnesota was admitted to the Union, it would not be inappropriate to call upon me in an old settlers' meeting, and I should be both proud and happy to respond. As the case stands, if I speak and confine myself wholly to the facts, I fear you will not be greatly entertained and will conclude that as an old settler I am a fraud and a failure. On a darkish night in June of 1857 the steamer Henry Clay landed at the town of Wacoota, and from that boat stepped my father, Edward Bullard, who had been down the river and brought back with him some horses, some cattle, and two awkward school girls, one of whom was myself. Although it was late at night, I saw a good many lights in the darkness and thought I had really come to a town. Passing to my new home I heard men swearing inside one of the three hotels in the place and thought I had come to a new country.

"I couldn't make a claim and develop the resources of the country, but I did what I could by attending the spelling schools and lyceums, which were in full blast. About two years after I began to 'teach the young idea how-to shoot.' and have followed that business much of the time since. (Note: Mrs. Nelson has now retired and lives in Red Wing, where she is still prominent in religious, temperance, equal rights and philanthropic work.-Ed.) Speaking of Sabbath keeping in the early days, 'when there was no sound of the church-going bell,' an aunt of mine who came to the state before I did, who had no neighbors, and whose husband had gone on a journey of several days, kept the Sabbath, as she supposed, and the next day put out her washing. Her husband, returning, notified her to her horror that she had been washing on Sunday. Great changes have been wrought before our eyes, great improvements have been made in our time, but what pleases me most of all, more than the thought of railroad facilities and wonderful immigration, more than telegraphic communication and spacious and beautiful public buildings, is the prosperity of those who came here to make homes, bringing with them only health and hope and honest hearts and willing hands. To see those who worked hard behind oxen riding with their own horses and carriages; to see those who lived in huts now occupying comfortable homes, enjoying themselves and educating their children, that is the best of all."

The sixteen men who enlisted in the Civil War from Wacoota were:

Morris Eldred
John Eldred
James Farenside
William Gordon
Lot C. Hilton
John Jordan
Nathaniel Jordan
Henry M. Reade
Henry S. Reed
Josiah Richardson
Ludwig Thiergart
Henry E. Van Dyke
John R. Winched
Charles Axel
William Toms
R. D. Rich

  Goodhue County |Minnesota AHGP 

Source: History of Goodhue County Minnesota, Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge, H. C. Cooper Jr, & Company, Chicago, 1909.

 

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