of the sad truths in the struggle of preserving Camp Coldwater is that much
misinformation has been distributed. The article below contains some
of these statements. Click here for more accurate information
Spring is not the largest, the last, or only spring in Minneapolis or
Hennepin County. It is one of several similar sites that continue all
along the Minnesota River from Minneapolis through Bloomington. Over the years many people have confused the
events that took place at the other springs to have happened at Coldwater Spring.
The article below is part of the Archive pages recording previous articles.
A HISTORY OF
- Largest limestone bedrock spring in the Twin Cities
- Flows at 144,000 gallons a day
- At least 10,000 years old, formed by glacier melt channeling through
Platteville limestone, possibly older than the most recent (Wisconsin)
- 47-degrees Fahrenheit year around, ice-free in winter & filled
- The springs form Coldwater Creek which tumbles down the Mississippi
River gorge into a wetland & a waterfall before emptying into the
- In the1880s a limestone well tower & pump house was built &
the reservoir holding pond expanded by Fort Snelling soldiers. Spring
water was piped to the fort until the 1940s.
- There has never been a hydrology study to determine the source(s)
of Coldwater Spring.
NATIVE AMERICAN HISTORY
- A 9,000-year old flint spear point was discovered in Mendota, near
the confluence of the Mississippi & Minnesota rivers. The 5-inch
projectile was used to hunt giant bison, about twice the size of today’s
buffalo, typically ambushed in a swampy area. These huge animals died
out after the ice age.
- Paleo-Indians also hunted woolly mammoth & mastodon (ancient elephants).
The big game hunters & gatherers lived a migratory lifestyle following
the food cycle. Flint for this spear point was mined out of limestone
along the Minnesota River near Mankato. The flint, found 70-miles from
its source, probably indicates the people’s harvest path or perhaps
- As ice retreated with drying winds, the prairie spread & deciduous
woods grew only in river valleys & around large lakes. For thousands
of years people lived without evidence of warfare.
- By 1500 BCE squash & wild rice were added to a varied diet of
greens & plants like prairie turnips, berries & buffalo, moose,
deer, small game & fish.
- 500 BCE first pottery appeared. Extensive trade, semi-permanent villages
& more harvested plant food. Corn introduced.
- 500 BCE-500 great mound building period. Evidence of large gatherings
but no evidence of collective warfare.
- 500-1650 small settlements scattered along Minnesota River & tributaries
with corn, beans, squash & buffalo. In the north with a lake/woodland
habitat, people lived in larger villages hunting & fishing, with
intensive wild rice cultivation & tobacco. Bow & arrow hunting
replaced atlatls (throwing sticks). Archaelogical studies indicate an
increasing, healthy population at peace with neighbors.
- 1650-1805 measles, small pox & population pressure from native
peoples pushed westward, precede the Europeans. The series of deadly
epidemics devastated the continuity of native societies.
- Trade goods & furs moved along water highways. The French also
brought whiskey & missionaries.
- Horses came to the northern Great Plains by the end of the 1600s.
"Spirit dogs" revolutionized plains society & encouraged
a flowering of Dakota culture, ironically just before the buffalo population
- September 23, 1805, Lt. Zebulon Pike signed a treaty with the "Sioux
Nation of Indians" for 9-miles of land on either side of the Mississippi
River from below the confluence with the Minnesota, north to the Falls
of St. Anthony. The United States of America was granted "full
sovereignty & power over said districts forever" for the "purpose
of the establishment of military posts" while the native people
retained the rights to "pass, repass, hunt or make other uses of
the said districts, as they have formerly done." In trade for the
land use, the assembled Dakota people got 60 barrels of whiskey &
$200. The treaty was never ratified & has not been tested in the
BIRTHPLACE OF MINNESOTA
- In the fall of 1819 soldiers built Fort New Hope on the backwaters
of the Minnesota River, below Mendota (Dakota word for "meeting
of waters"). Tainted meat & poor sanitary practices resulted
in 20-percent mortality.
- May 5, 1820, soldiers followed Indian trails up the west bank of the
Mississippi bluff to Coldwater Spring & took possession. "The
clear, cold spring water helped restore the men & their families,
who lived in tents & elm bark huts here during three summers while
they built the permanent stone fort nearby."
- Camp Coldwater was born.
- Limestone was quarried out of the bluffs right there & hauled
to fort construction at the point above the confluence of the Mississippi
& Minnesota rivers.
- The road to the lumber mill, Hiawatha, ran between the fort &
the Falls of St. Anthony. To the Anishinabe (Ojibwe) the falls was Ka-kah
bi-kah, "split rocks" named for the great hunks of limestone
that broke off when water dug out the soft sandstone beneath the harder
rock. Dakota people called it Minnehaha, "waterfall." What
we call Minnehaha today was "Little Falls."
- A pioneer settlement grew around Camp Coldwater to supply & service
the fort, including Swiss, French, Canadian, Irish, English, Native
& African-Americans. Pioneers built farms, trading posts, steamboat
landings, a hotel, blacksmith shops, stables & worked at the fort
as servants, baby-sitters, interpreters, missionaries & guides.
- In the late 1830s the military began to forcibly evict civilians away
from lands near the fort, ostensibly to preserve game & firewood.
Authorities lost control of the mix of natives, soldiers & settlers
living around the fort. Their solution was to dilute the concentration
of people & whiskey. It was a time of huge population transfers
within America & from Africa & Europe to America.
- Pioneer leader Abraham Perry built his homestead beside Coldwater
Falls, on a small stretch of prairie half way down the great
river bluff. In 1838 Perry, his wife & 6 children were driven out
of their home, taking only what they could carry, & put on a ferry
across the Mississippi. Soldiers ripped-off the roof of their log cabin,
smashed household goods & set all afire. Pieces of Marie Ann Perry’s
broken China pop out of the ground each spring after the thaw. She was
the community’s midwife.
- Pig’s Eye Parrant removed his notorious liquor business from Mendota,
safely downstream of the military reservation to become one of the founding
father’s of what people called Pig’s Eye, later St. Paul.
- After a series of battles between the Dakota & Anishinabe, Indian
people were also "expelled" from the Coldwater area.
- As game became more scarce government & missionaries increasingly
pressured Indian people to become farmers & Christians.
- 1836-40 Dred Scott lived at Fort Snelling, in the Wisconsin Territory,
a "free territory" where slavery was prohibited. He had lived
at Fort Armstrong in the free state of Illinois with his master, Army
surgeon John Emerson, from 1833-35.
- Scott was born Sam Blow in Virginia in 1795. The family & slaves
moved westward settling in St. Louis, Missouri. He changed his name
after his first wife was sold "down the river." He ran away
as Sam, was caught & beaten by a gang of young thugs who returned
a changed man, Dred Scott, to his master for the reward money.
- Dred Scott, his wife Harriet & their two daughters, lost their
11-year battle for freedom in the "most unpopular Supreme Court
decision in the 70-year history of the court." Into the rising
fire of Abolitionist sentiment, Scott v. Sanford (1846-57) declared
Dred Scott to be ineligible to file a suit in federal court because
he was not a person.
- Dred Scott walked here. Coldwater Springs furnished drinking &
cooking water to the fort for a hundred years, hauled in barrels on
"water wagons" until after the Civil War.
- In 1843 the Coldwater area was declared to be within the Fort Snelling
Military Reservation along with most of Minneapolis, St. Paul,
Bloomington & Richfield. The army continued to evict people in order
to secure its water source & enough surrounding land for gardens,
firewood, hunting & military control.
- 1851 Treaty negotiations at Mendota with Mdewakanton Dakota people
were accelerated by the denial of rations (beefsteak). Millions of acres
of southern Minnesota was ceded to the US for white settlement for a
few cents an acre including: Fort Snelling, Coldwater & lands west
of the Mississippi.
- Traders received $410,000 of Dakota treaty money to cover inflated
debt for trade goods. Minnesota territorial Governor Alexander Ramsey
was found "free from blame" for his part in engineering the
- 1851-63 Annunity payments & the reservation system was organized
to "civilize the Dakotas" in permanent homes along the Minnesota
- 1855 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha was published.
Hugely popular, it brought tourists by the boatload. Those who landed
below Fort Snelling followed the trail to Coldwater Spring, then north
(1¼ miles) to Minnehaha Falls, site of the "Indian" Victorian
- 1858 Minnesota statehood, St. Paul, largest city, became the state
capitol; St. Anthony, second city got the state university while Stillwater,
the state prison. Slavery was the major federal issue, this was the
year of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
- 1862 The Dakota Uprising resulted in 644 white deaths. Native deaths
were not recorded. 38 Dakota men were hanged at Mankato the day after
Christmas. 1600 Dakota people were interned over-winter in a squalid
camp on the river flats below Fort Snelling. Accounts vary about how
many died (at least 130) & where they were buried.
- A removal bill was enacted in March 1863. Two months later more than
1300 Dakota Indians were shipped down the Mississippi & up the Missouri
to Crow Creek, South Dakota, in boats so crowded 300 people died. Conditions
were comparable to the Middle Passage of the slave trade.
- Parts of Minnesota were declared "Indian free." A bounty
was offered for native scalps. At this time Minnesota troops were fighting
& dying in the American South to free blacks from slavery. In fact
Dakota men were in the Union Army.
- Dakota people who were neutral during the uprising or who acted as
"friendlies" could neither go to a reservation nor remain
near white settlements. Although "any meritorious individual…who
exerted himself to save the lives of the whites in the late massacre"
was granted 80 acres, in reality they became landless, homeless &
were compelled to live hidden as outlaws.
- In the 1870s Indian people began to come out of invisibility &
to return to their homelands from the reservations. Assimilation pressures
intensified. Some Mendota Dakota "friendlies" squatted across
from Fort Snelling along the south bank of the confluence of rivers
where they were flooded out nearly every spring.
- 1885 Minnesota legislature allocated money for Minnehaha State Park,
first state park in the US (second is Niagara falls). It was Horace
Cleveland’s vision & energy that preserved the land from the falls
to the fort.
- 1890-1978, Indian religious practice was outlawed in America.
- An aerial photograph from the 1930s shows two pow wow circles just
south of 54th Street, on federal land. (Pow wows are social-cultural
- During the 1950s & 1960s plans to preserve Camp Coldwater &
to excavate some of the historic sites came to naught.
- 1959 Government officials considered building a nuclear reactor at
- 1960-97 a portion of the federal land was fenced by the US Bureau
of Mines for Cold War research. There was little news from inside the
compound however, once in the 1970s Coldwater Springs was open to the
public during a drinking water emergency.
- The Bureau of Mines has been reabsorbed back into the Department of
Interior & Camp Coldwater has been vacated.
- MAC (Metropolitan Airports Commission) holds a signed agreement with
Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles-Belton to receive title to Camp Coldwater
for an 850 car parking lot for employees. The land is in the flight
path of the NE-SW runway extension. If Camp Coldwater becomes an Airport
Sacrifice Zone all buildings would be demolished & removed with
7 acres of surface parking & some landscaping.
- March 19, 1999, Eddie Benton Benais, Grand Chief of the Mdewiwin (Medicine)
Society, Anishinabe spiritual elder from Lac Courte Oreilles, Wisconsin,
gave court-ordered testimony in the State Office Building of the Minnesota
Capitol grounds about the cultural significance of the Camp Coldwater
area. "My grandfather who died in 1942…many times he retold how
we traveled, how he & his family, he as a small boy traveled by
foot, by horse, by canoe to this great place to where there would be
these great religious, spiritual events. And that they always camped
between the falls & the (spring) sacred water place….We know that
the falls which came to be known as Minnehaha Falls, was a sacred place,
a neutral place, a place for many nations to come….And that the spring
from which the sacred water should be drawn was not very far…a spring
that all nations used to draw the sacred water for the ceremony….How
we take care of the water is how it will take care of us."
- February 7, 2000, University of Minnesota historical anthropologist
Bruce M. White, PhD, released a report
calling the Camp Coldwater settlement "a dream archaeological site.
The birthplace of Minnesota [is] a rich, culturally diverse area in
which Indian people, whites, fur traders, missionaries, soldiers &
settlers came together to create the basis for the state as it is today."
- Blegen, Theodore C., Minnesota: A History of
the State, University of Minnesota Press, 1975.
- Brick, Greg, 1989 inventory of springs of the Twin
Cities for the Minnesota Polluntion Control Agency
- Clouse, Robert, PhD, head archaelogist, Minnesota
- Fehrenbacher, Don Edward, The Dred Scott Case:
Its Significance in American Law and Politics, Oxford University
- Hill, Frederick Trevor, Decisive Battles of
the Law: Narrative Studies of Eight Legal Contests Affecting
the History of the United States Between 1800-1886, Harper and Borthers,
- Iverson, Mary Jo, Green Cities Inc., researcher,
- LaDuke, Winona, Last Standing Woman, Voyageur
- Meier, Peg, "Digging the Past," Star
Tribune, 12/1/98, pp. A 14-15.
- Meyer, Roy W., History of the Santee Sioux:
United States Indian Policy on Trial, University of Nebraska Press,
- Mosedale, Bob, historic preservation researcher
- Red Hawk, Jay, Lakota enrolled at Cheyenne River
Indian Reservation in South Dakota
- Wilson, Charles Morrow, The Dred Scott Decision,
Auerbach Publishers, 1973
Researched & written by Susu Jeffrey
© Preserve Camp Coldwater Coalition, 2000.