A Brief History of
"BIRTHPLACE OF MINNESOTA"
Camp Coldwater is an historic, Minnesota pioneer village site located in south Minneapolis and a part of Fort Snelling State Park. lt's boundaries are located approximately due east of the Veterans Hospital, Highway 55 on the west, 54th Street on the north, the Mississippi River on the east, and just outside of the Bureau of Mines southern fence line. The center of historic Camp Coldwater is the cold, crystal clear, flowing spring, for which the historic settlement owes its existence.
The first settlement here was that of the Native American origin. A stone ax, bones, and Indian trails surround the spring. On the highest hill just west of the spring was the sacred hill called TA-KU WA-KAN TI-PI, "THE DWELLING PLACE OF THE GODS."
The second settlement was the U.S. military, On May 5, 1820, the 5th U.S. Infantry under Col. Leavenworth moved to this area to escape the unhealthy conditions they had endured at their earlier stockade on the Minnesota River. The clear, cold sprang water helped restore the health of the men and their families who lived in tents, elm bark huts, and small barracks. They conducted much of their military business here for four years while building Fort Snelling. The military continued to rely on the spring's fresh water through the 1800's. They used horse drawn wagons and later built a stone water tower and underground pipes to transport water to Fort Snelling The military transferred control of the spring to the Veterans Administration in 1945.
The third settlement began in 1821. Families who left the Red River Selkirk Colony at Pembina were allowed by Col. Snelling to settle around the spring. About 500 people from this colony came down the Red River and rested here from their journey. Some continued moving onto other settlements. The settlers that remained at CAMP COLDWATER built farms, raised cattle, and sold provisions to the army. They built trading posts, steamboat landings, a hotel, blacksmith shops and stables. Many settlers were employed by the Fort as mail carriers, Indian interpreters. missionaries, trail guides, servants, and babysitters. The families that settled here were of Swiss, French, Canadian, Irish, English, Native American, and Black heritage.
The settlers were allowed to remain at CAMP COLDWATER until 1840. They were forcibly removed by the military because the settlers were selling whiskey to the indians and soldiers, and they were using up the local fuel and food supplies near the Fort. The B. F. Baker Trading Post was still available as a hotel after this time and converted to a larger hotel called the St. Louis House. Norman Kittson, with others, located another trading post nearby.
When these settlers were evicted from CAMP COLDWATER, they moved down the Mississippi a few miles and rounded a new village which later became the city of St.Paul. Some of these settlers also were the first settlers of Minneapolis and Bloomington. There are many stories written about these first settlers, as they were the builders of the state of Minnesota as well. Some of these citizens became our state's first politicians.
Through all of these years, while the great State of Minnesota was growing, the land around CAMP COLDWATER spring remained pretty much untouched. The spring still flows out from the side of the hill, winding its way past where settlers once lived. Flowing past where B. F. Baker's Trading Post stood, past the stables, past the Peter Quinn homesite, and as it passes the Perry homesite it descends over a hidden waterfall finally becoming part of the mighty Mississippi. A rare sight this is, that with all the development within this state, you can stand near this spring and see the footprints of our heritage. The winding spring and these pioneer homesites still exist since their beginning.
Through the 1950's and 1960's there was talk of preserving CAMP COLDWATER and completing archeological excavations at this historic site. Not much has become of this as the spring became part of the Bureau of Mines property, locked behind gates from 1960 to 1997. The Minnesota Historical Society placed a historical marker at the spring site in 1991 at the urging of citizens. Descendants of these pioneers attended the ceremony and stood upon the homesites of their forefathers.
The Metropolitan Airports Commission is planning to receive title to
this property soon, and hopefully will contribute to the preservation of
the spring. The Minnesota Department of Transportation has proposed a new
highway nearby and it appears that the flow of water to this historic spring
will be disrupted with the construction of the road. Hopefully this will
It is hard to imagine that this spring flows as it has always has through history. Everywhere roads, towns, and cities have sprung up leaving no trace of their past. People spreading out over the land forgetting where they came from because there is nothing left to remind them. Politicians clamor "Reclaim the Riverfront" and will spend millions of dollars to try and re-create the land as it once was. People of the cities trying so hard to show they are different rather than the same. Children are taught with school books about the past, and the school books are only a few chosen words which try to descibe a past they can no longer use. If those words fail to capture the imagination, the past is lost, and with it the sense of unity with which this state began its existence.
The past is alive at this historical site. You can see where all races lived together, united, coping with nature and building new local governments. You don't have to spend millions to reclaim the Riverfront, it's still pretty much as it was. Most importantly, the children won't have to try to imagine the past. They can see it, touch it. drink from it. They can stand near the spring and step back in time -- a time which was the birth of our past.
Read more history from Dave Fudally