In those days, brains and culture were found in shanties. The leaders of progress did not shrink from association with the rude forces of savages and mother nature.
St. Cloud was the advance post of that march of civilization by which the Northern Pacific railroad has since sought to reach the Sascatchewan, a territory yet to be made into five wheat-growing States as large as Illinois. All the Hudson Bay goods from Europe passed our doors, in wagons or on sleds, under the care of the Burbanks, the great mail carriers and express men of Minnesota, and once they brought a young lady who had come by express from Glasgow, Scotland, and been placed under the charge of their agent at New York, and whom they handed over to the officer she had come to marry on the shores of Hudson Bay. But their teams usually came east with little freight, as the furs sent to Europe came down in carts, not one of which had so much iron as a nail in them, and which came in long, creaking trains, drawn by oxen or Indian ponies.
In each train there was generally one gorgeous equipage—a cart painted blue, with a canvas cover, drawn by one large white ox in raw-hide harness. In this coach of state rode the lady of the train—who was generally a half-breed—on her way to do her shopping in St. Paul. Once the lady was a full-blooded Indian, and had her baby with her, neatly dressed and strapped to a board. A bandage across the forehead held the head in place, and every portion of the body was as secure as board and bandages could make them, except the arms from the elbow down, but no danger of the little fellow sucking his thumb. His lady mamma did not have to hold him, for he was stood up in a corner like a cane or umbrella, and seemed quite comfortable as well as content. She had traveled seven weeks, had come seventeen hundred miles to purchase some dresses and trinkets, and would no doubt be a profitable customer to St. Paul merchants, for the lady of the train was a person of wealth and authority, always the wife of the commander-in-chief, and her sentence of death might have been fatal to any man in it.
In these trains were always found Indians filling positions as useful laborers, for the English government never gave premiums for idleness and vagabondism among Indians, by feeding and clothing them without effort on their own part. Their dexterity in turning griddle cakes, by shaking the pan and giving it a jerk which sent the cake up into the air and brought it down square into the pan other side up, would have made Biddy’s head whirl to see. The “Gov. Ramsey” was the first steamboat which ran above the falls of St. Anthony, and in the spring of ’59 she was steamed and hawsered up the Sauk Rapids, and ran two hundred miles, until the falls of Pokegamy offered insurmountable barriers to further progress. It was thought impossible to get her down again, there was no business for her, and she lay useless until, the next winter, Anson Northup took out her machinery and drew it across on sleds to the Red River of the North, where it was built into the first steamboat which ever ran on that river.