Behind the Victory Flagpole -Tales at the Falls

Everyone knows where St. Anthony is, but not everyone knows what went on there, especially at St. Anthony Falls. Old time pioneer, John H. Stevens, however, was the eyes and ears of the area. The following are a couple of his stories:

“A singular accident occurred at Captain Tapper’s ferry on April 20. Joseph N. Barber, one of the new settlers in Minneapolis, had purchased a choice yoke of oxen. In crossing the ferry they backed out of the boat and were carried over the precipice. No part or parcel of the oxen were ever found. A log chain was fastened in the staple of the yoke on the oxen. It is supposed the hook of the chain became attached to a rock down in the deep water, at the immediate foot of the precipice, and held the poor brutes some forty feet below the surface of the water. In most instances, when animals were carried over the Falls, their bodies would be seen immediately after the occurrences in the rapids towards Spirit island.”

Now that was pretty sad! Here is something a little more light hearted.

“So far as known only one man was ever carried over the Falls who came out alive. In this instance not a hair on his head was injured. Even a bottle of whiskey he had in his pocket at the time was not broken. The name of the man was Michael Hickey. He was engaged in working for Anson Northrup, on Boom Island. Hickey used to cross Captain Tapper’s ferry every morning on his way to Boom Island, and re-cross every evening on his way to Northrup’s residence. He was occasionally given to his cups, and would once and awhile punish a glass of whiskey, perhaps a half a dozen of them with great rapidity.

One Saturday evening, while on his way home, in passing a saloon in St. Anthony, he suddenly became imbued with the idea of securing a bottle of whiskey to take to his home in Minneapolis for Sunday use. The more he considered the idea the more determined he became to do so. He visited the saloon for the purpose of ratifying his conclusions. The whiskey was purchased, paid for, and deposited in his pocket. The saloon­keeper treated Mike for calling on him. Then Mike treated the saloon keeper and drank, himself, on the occasion. Others came in just at that time. Mike treated them and they treated Mike.

By midnight Mike was full and en route for his home over the river. On arriving at the ferry, he found that Captain Tapper had retired for the night. He knew of no reason why he should not take one of the captain’s small boats and ferry himself over the river. He launched the boat, but instead of making the west-side landing, he was carried over the Falls.

Early next morning a band of Winnebago Indians, in making the portage of the Falls, discovered a white man, or his ghost, on Spirit Island. They immediately informed Mr. Northrup and myself of their discovery. Captain Tapper had just informed me that someone had stolen one of his boats during the night. We sent for the captain, and all three proceeded down to the falls. There stood Mike on the bank of Spirit Island, without a blemish. Sending for ropes, we safely landed one on the island. Mike made it fast to himself, and we hauled him safely ashore. After he landed, he thought of his bottle of whiskey, which was in his pocket. He had not, during his imprisonment on the island, remembered that such a luxury was on his person. Taking the bottle from his pocket, and drawing the cork for the first time, he said “Wasn’t it lucky the cratur (meaning the whiskey) received no harm in making the bloody trip!” evidently thinking that his escape from injury was second in consideration to that of the whiskey. Poor Mike! He was an honest, faithful servant. He has been dead for more than a score of years.”

Note: Taken from the book Minnesota and It’s People-­Early History of Minneapolis by John H. Stevens.