Pioneer Recollections of Moses Armstrong

Moses Armstrong. (Image: Zenith City Press)

Moses Armstrong, a South Dakota pioneer, visited Duluth on July 19, 1871. The author, at the age of 18, migrated west of Mississippi and began his frontier life as a pioneer surveyor. he later became a Member of Congress from Minnesota and secretary of the Dakota Historical Association. The following is his recollection of Duluth:

At the head of the falls, or dalles, twenty-three miles from Duluth, is the junction of the Northern Pacific Railroad, which is already completed about 150 miles westward through the wild swamps and woods of northern Minnesota. Whole acres of railroad iron are piled up ten feet high at the junction, the company being unable to push it westward by construction trains on account of the sinking of the track in some of the marshes through which the railroad was constructed last winter. The road is now being ballasted so as to admit of the passage of heavy trains. Tearing on down the St. Louis River, we enter a great lowland basin, opening upon the rising city of Duluth and blue Lake Superior. By six o’clock we were landed upon the steps of the Clark House, in the ‘center of the world’ where, according to Knott’s speech, the sky comes down to the ground at an equal distance all round the city.

I found the magnificent hotel crowded with a large party of Minnesota wheat merchants, who had come up to Duluth with their wives and daughters, to ride upon the blue waves of lake Superior, and to examine the city as a feasible point for shipping their grain to Eastern markets. The grain dealers of Minnesota are certainly a jolly set of men. They are blessed with the happiest wives, the handsomest daughters, and the largest crops of any state in the Union. Many of them were exchanging their new wheat in the sack for old rye in the bottle. The ladies at dinner called for trout and huckleberries, and the tables were so crowded with excursionists that I was obliged to throw a biscuit at a waiter girl to induce her to bring me a cup of coffee. A wheat buyer told me it was a waste of grain to throw bread at a Duluth girl.

I went out into the street and found an old acquaintance, Dr. Foster, editor of the Duluth Minnesotian. He showed me all the churches and saloons in the place, wheat elevators, steamboats, vessels, lake wharves and warehouses, and finally took me down to the beach and introduced me to Lake Superior. I baptized my head in the waves and backed out, while the doctor was counting the fleets of ships on the distant waters. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘we have water enough in yonder lake to put the fires of hell out, rock enough in yonder hills to wall the world in, iron enough to build a railroad to the moon, and telegraph poles enough to run a fast line to the day of judgment and back again, to say nothing of our beds of copper, quarries of slate, and forests of pine.’”

From Moses K. Armstrong’s The Early Empire Builders of the Great West, year and publisher unknown, originally published as part of his Early History of Dakota Territory in 1866.

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