Surviving the Elements

A Life Changing Storm

In various settlements throughout what became Scott County, the Dakota witnessed all types of weather during their hundred years in the Minnesota River Valley.  Samuel Pond, a missionary to the Dakota who lived among Chief Shakpe’s band in the 1830s, described the near-death experience of a Dakota acquaintance.  Cloud Man, chief of a village on Lake Calhoun (Bde Maka Ska), told Pond of being caught in a blizzard while hunting on the plains near the Missouri River.  He and his companions pulled blankets over themselves and lay down where they were, letting the snow cover them in cold, but protective pockets to wait out the storm.  To his surprise, Cloud Man and each of his companions emerged the next day alive, though weak from cold.  During his confinement in his little bubble of snow, Cloud Man thought about farming, a controversial occupation for the Dakota, who were primarily hunters.  After the storm, he did indeed begin one of the first Dakota agricultural settlements on Lake Calhoun, an experimental village known as “Eatonville.”[i]

Early Settlers & Weather Worries

Scott County received an influx of settlers after the 1851 treaties with the Dakota that opened the land to settlement.  One of the earliest pioneers to the Shakopee area, Moses Titus, described the first lonely winter of the few settlers who arrived almost before the ink on the treaties was dry:

“The winter was long, and cold, no news, no festivities, no pleasures, parties, no dancing (unless to warm freezing toes), and no papers from St. Paul or Ft. Snelling…Our town proprietor [Thomas A. Holmes] did not starve, his Indian friends brought him plenty of venison; potatoes were to be had at the old Mission site (S.W. Pond’s) and towards spring our heroes in their rambles captured a large bear.  This was rare sport, and furnished them with food, and fun, for a full month.”

As Minnesota opened to European settlement, it was “pitched” to eager pioneers in various ways.  Some writers tried to counter rumors of a harsh environment.  Others proclaimed the vigor and “robustness” gained from the cold, dry climate.  Writing in 1853, Wesley Bond strongly put forward the case for a stalwart northern temperament among the settlers: “To begin with, if you are of that incorrigible class of persons who have taken it into their brains that no part of this great globe is habitable, by reason of the cold, to a higher degree of latitude than about forty degrees north, we have no use for you.”[iii]


“A Glorious Old Storm”

March of 1899 saw a major snowfall in Shakopee.  A photograph from the time shows C.J. Strunk looking over his shoveling work in front of the businesses along First Street.  In front of Strunk a hitching post is dwarfed by a pile of snow.  The photograph tells us something of winter weather gear at the turn of the century.  Only one person in the picture is wearing what we would think of today as a winter jacket—the man at the right in the fur coat and hat.  The rest have ventured out to shovel in coats and ties (though it could be that it was not all that cold that March).  Another photograph taken just after the storm shows the snow removal system in 1899—two men with a horse-drawn wagon who haul the snow away.  The Argus dismissed what looks from the photographs to have been a major storm, saying, “Wasn’t that a glorious old storm we had Saturday night and Sunday?  There is no scarcity of snow here at this writing.”[iv]


The Armistice Day Blizzard

Even with the modern conveniences of heating, electricity, and automobiles, severe weather still wreaked havoc in Scott County in the 1940s.  November 11 was Armistice Day, a day marking peace at the end of World War I.  But in 1940, on the verge of another World War, the day was anything but peaceful.  Fine fall weather turned abruptly into a hard-freezing rain that coated the streets.  By mid-morning the snow was falling, as well as the temperature, and by midday the blizzard was in full force.  Local papers describe the escalating dangers of “tornadic winds” and “15-foot drifts.”  Motorists were apparently taken by surprise and had to abandon their cars as the roads became impassable.  The only human deaths in Scott County were two Minneapolis men who stayed in their car near Belle Plaine to wait out the storm.  One of them wrote to his girlfriend to pass the time, telling her he was quite comfortable in the heated car, and had even taken off his shoes.  Snow piled up underneath the car and clogged the exhaust pipe, flooding the car with carbon monoxide and killing the men.  In Shakopee, an electrical highline snapped, which sent the town into utter darkness.  Those with electric heating had to wait out a very cold night.  Snow plows could not get through because of all the stranded cars.  In and around Belle Plaine and Shakopee, every hotel, farmhouse, and public building was filled with stranded motorists or school children seeking shelter.  In New Prague, 200 turkeys froze as farmer Edward Palma tried to get them to shelter.[v]

blizzard-armstice - MHS

These stories are not merely tall tales of exceptional weather.  Part of their historical value is the way they show the interaction between society and our environment.  Some of these interactions are humbling, putting a stop to social life as “usual” and leaving us at nature’s mercy.  These stories also show how people adapted to radical changes in their environment, helping each other cope with nature’s antagonism and upholding social bonds that we rely on during times of distress.  And, of course, there are lessons about preparedness and safety to be learned from every storm or disaster.  Studying history is one way to prepare for future crises.  If you would like to know more about this topic, visit the Scott County Historical Society on the web and search our collections at

Edited from original article by Patrick Rodgers, SCHS 2006

[i] Samuel Pond, Dakota Life in the Upper Midwest.  (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1986: 10-11); Roy Meyer, History of the Santee Sioux.  (Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1993: 49-50).

[ii] Speech by Moses Titus to the Good Templars Lodge, 1879.  MHS manuscript collection C.F.612.55.T623.

[iii] Wesley Bond, Minnesota and its Resources.  (NY: Redfield, 1853: 161).

[iv] Scott County Argus, March 16, 1899.

[v] Shakopee Argus-Tribune, Nov. 14, 1940; Belle Plaine Herald, Nov. 14, 1940; Belle Plaine Herald, Nov. 21, 1940.


Where Did My Office Go!?

I feel it is important to give everyone at look at what it takes to put exhibits together. Seldom does the general public get to see the behind the scenes of putting together an exhibit. It is a thrilling and exhausting process. For months now we have been gathering artifacts and stories, building walls and connections, and putting together stories from across the county. The exhibits you see at the Stans Museum take months to develop and design. Physically putting them together can sometimes be the easiest part, once the research and planning is finish. Now while it is important to discuss all of this, there is one other, more humorous aspect to exhibits that I would like to share. That is of course, my vanishing office.

As you can see, it seems to have disappeared beneath baseballs, jerseys, trophies, and all manner of other sports memorabilia. In plain view is a Prior Lake Basketball Trophy that gets to enjoy my chair more than I do. Pictures and baseballs line the tables and shelves, not to mention the baseball team of my own I could field with all the jerseys. Granted the team would be confused when they all got jerseys from different teams, but that’s part of the fun. While I hope my office will reappear once the exhibit goes up, this seemed a good opportunity to get in a small laugh, and show the fun that we can get up to at the museum. Play Ball opens September 27th and we hope you enjoy it.

Back to School

Labor Day signals the start of another school year.  I took a stroll through our photograph collection to showcase schools, teachers, and school activities.  Although the timeframe for these photos covers over a century, the sentiments are similar.  Schools are the heartbeat of a community.  Kids attend school to learn, make friends, enjoy activities, and sometimes cause their teachers headaches.  Here is a photo salute to Scott County Schools.


Postcard of Jordan High School’s front brick and limestone facade. A small chain link fence is seen around the building’s front lawn. c1920


This is a photographic postcard of Union School in Shakopee. Two people are seen leaning out one of the windows on the second floor. There is a pile of wood debris, possibly firewood, near the side entrance.  c1907-1910


Black and white negative of Belle Plaine Elementary School: a two-story brick facade (originally the high school built in 1897), with a two-story brick addition at the north end.  c1959


Black and white photograph of the country school located six miles southeast of Shakopee. Seen in the image is a one room school with the students lined up in front of the building. Also seen in the background is an outhouse. c1917 to 1924


Trinity Lutheran School at Belle Plaine, Reverend Kock is seen standing at the right side of the image. c1900-1910


Letter from Juni Hardware in Jordan to School District #19, the Hafermann/Geister School in Spring Lake Township. The letter is typed and dated March 30, 1922 and addressed to William Giester, Clerk of District #19. The body of the letter gives Giester price quotes for sanitary heaters. Prices included the system, delivery and labor.




Black and white tintype of Mr. and Mrs. George Murphy, c1875-1895. George was the son of Major Murphy, the Shakopee area Indian Agent, and Mrs. Murphy was a school teacher.


Black and white photo of 23 teachers from Shakopee High School. Written in silver ink at the lower right corner of the image is “Shakopee/Sept. 7, 1951.” Dysterheft grew up on a farm in Jordan.


Teaching license issued to Mary Benes. The license reads “State of Minnesota Department of Education/Elementary School Certificate/Limited/This Certifies that Mary A. Benes is qualified to teach in ungraded elementary schools (except superior or accredited) from the date hereof until July 1, 1942./This certificate is issued on the basis of a one-year course in elementary education, with training for rural teaching in Teacher Training Department, New Prague/Dated at St. Paul, Minnesota July 1, 1937.”



Annual Report for School District #19, the Hafermann/Geister School in Spring Lake Township. William Giester was the school district’s clerk. Below the title are a handwritten list of 18 payments made by the district for various services. Payments include teacher’s salary, wood, library books, stationary, clerk’s fees, treasurer’s fees, and so on. The total amount spent by the school during that year was $858.58. c1915-1925


Small notebook produced by the Minnesota Tuberculosis and Health Association. Geared toward children, the piece contains promises to keep clean, visit a doctor yearly, visit a dentist yearly, stay home from school when one was sick, keep records of height and weight, learn first aid, learn about diseases, and remain faithful to the United States. It also has a map outlining TB cases in Minnesota. c1956-57


Certificate of Perfect Attendance presented to Julia Hartman, certifying that Hartman attended the State Teachers’ Institute for Scott County at Belle Plaine and satisfactorily performed all required duties, dated May 7, 1926.


Harold Albrecht’s Grade 7 report card from St. Peter and Paul’s Parochial School in Belle Plaine. Under each month is a numbered score for such things as attendance at mass, deportment, days absent, Christian doctrine, reading, spelling, arithmetic, grammar, language, penmanship, U. S. history, geography, times tardy, German, and so on. c1917


Report card issued to Dennis McDermott for the 1951-1952 school year. McDermott was graded on Reading, Language Art, Arithmetic, Spelling, Geography and History, Handwriting, Art, Health, Science, school attitude, and effort in work. Most of McDermott’s grades were As, Bs, Cs or S (satisfactory). His teacher was Janice Jackson. c1951



Black and white postcard of the assembly room at Shakopee High School (Union School). c1907-1908


Black and white photograph of Raymond (Jim) Dahl’s class at St. Mark’s School in Shakopee. Seen are approximately 47 students gathered together in a classroom. Seen behind the students are chalkboards, a wall clock, an American flag, a wall calendar, a piano, and framed religious images. Written on one of the chalkboards is “Read Much/Talk Less/ Think More.” c1936


Red letterman’s sweater from New Prague High School. Sewn onto the sweater above the left pocket is a large patch, an intertwined “NP” for New Prague. Stitched in gold with the patch are a megaphone (cheerleading) and three bars. Seen on the left sleeve are patches forming “48.” Mary Ellen Robel. c1948


Knit cap for Prior Lake football. c1970-1980


1914 Belle Plaine High School football team. Various statements are written on the chalkboard including “After the Game/B.P. Football Team/Champion of Minn” and “B.P.H.S., 14/Football Team/Champions Minn. Valley.” The boy standing and looking at the group is carrying a metal box. Written on the side of the box is “Doc. Pill.” At the center of the group is a football with “B.P.H.S./’14” written on it. The boys are identified as Lorenz Woods, Bill Crahan, Emmett O’Neill, James McDevitt, Martin Donovan, George Brown, Mike Pendy, Tom Sheehan, Leo Pendy, Herman Beutow, Bob White and John Weibeler.


T-shirt from Jordan High School. A round iron-on patch reads “JHS Speech/”Triple Crown Champs/ 78 & 79.”  c1979


Program from the Jordan High School Senior Class play “The Little Dog Laughed.” Typed inside is a synopsis of each scene, acknowledgements, cast of characters, and list of backstage workers. c1964


Shakopee High School Homecoming. Queen candidates: Clarice Stacker, Ida Beckrich, Patty Arnold, and Ann Whitley. The boya are dressed in costumes, including one boy, Paul Wermerskirchen, being dressed as a girl. Written on the backside “10-20-50/Candidates for homecoming queen: Clarice Stacker, Ida Beckrich, Patty Arnold, Ann Whitley/Players for skit: Paul Wermerskirchen.” c1950



School lunch tray and cup from the Lydia School. The tray is green plastic and divided into five sections for holding different foods. The cup is molded green plastic with small handle. c1970


Mug reads “Stier Transportation Services/Belle Plaine, MN./Since 1953.” A black transfer print on the opposite side of the body is a list reading “Serving/-Medicaid/-The Lutheran Home/-Medica Choice Care/-Belle Plaine School District #716/-MN River Valley Special Education Coop #99



The Scott County Historical Society is always collecting items that help us tell the stories of our communities – including all the schools in our county.  As you can tell from the above images, we are interested in all sorts of items – from photos to t-shirts, to mugs, to receipts.  Please, before you throw something away, give us a call.  Your trash may be our treasure! or 952-445-0378

50 Years of History – 1968-2018

The Scott County Historical Society has been around for 50 years, only about half of them at Stans Museum.  In 1968 a group of citizens got together to save their local history – much like every other historical society.

TransfigurationMany of our original members and board were from the Belle Plaine area, and one of our first projects was preserving and restoring the beautiful Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Belle Plaine, and the addition of restrooms.  Along with this project, the Society worked on the Minnesota Valley Restoration Project, resulting in the formation of Murphy’s Landing (now known as The Landing).

SCHS members not only worked on these projects, but they also set about collecting the items that would be the beginning of our over 50,000 piece collection.  Most of the early items were kept in members homes or at Murphy’s Landing.  Eventually, moving to our new home in 1995.


The Stans Museum came about through a very generous donation from the Stans  Foundation.  Maurice Stans grew up in Shakopee; he was a geeky little kid that loved math.  Eventually he became an accountant and helped form the Alexander Grant Company (now Grant Thornton).  Answering a call from President Eisenhower, Maurice entered public life and was the director of the budget for the Eisenhower administration.  He completed his public service in the Nixon cabinet as the Secretary of Commerce*.  Along the way, he always kept Shakopee close to his heart, donating funds to support local students, Murphy’s Landing, and eventually the SCHS.

Maurice’s foundation, The Stans Foundation, donated the grounds, his boyhood home, and the museum to the Scott County Historical Society in 1995.  The museum, built by Laurent Builders, had a gift store, Stans and Africa exhibits, offices, and a multi-purpose room. The original floor-plan is basically the same – but the content has significantly shifted to a more Scott County – local focus. Thanks to board planning and a generous donation from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, we made changes to the building to better serve our communities.

Original floor-plan


Gone is the African travels exhibit – in its place is an open gallery on local topics.  The African diorama is now much needed archival storage.  The center hallway is more defined with walls separating the original “Business/Govt. & Family/Shakopee” galleries, creating three defined exhibit gallery spaces – two of which are dedicated to Scott County topics.  The “Multi-purpose Classroom” still does double duty as our research library and public programs space.  The “Conference” room is now a work-room; the “Office” is the curator office, and “Sec.” is the director’s office.  The entry is more welcoming and we added an education/program closet.

Floor-plan todayBuilding-Map-sm

You’ll notice there is no collection storage in either floor-plan.  That’s because the building was designed specifically for exhibits, collection storage was an afterthought.  The collection is stored in the basement, which is only a fraction of this footprint.

Big thanks go out to: Dr. Lee Smith (SCHS 1st Executive Director), dedicated members, and early board members, such as Charlie Pass and Dr. R. Pistulka.  Through the efforts of these people and a huge number of amazing volunteers, we are still going strong 50 years later.

50th picnic celebration

Please join us in celebrating our 50th Anniversary on August 25, 2018 with a picnic in the Museum Garden.  Lots of activities are planned – food, theater skit, 1968 photobooth, hands-on crafts and much more.  Stop by between 10am and 3pm for great fun; help celebrate our past and look to our future.

*Click Here to learn more about Maurice Stans on our website

The “New Woman” in Scott County

Hello all, I’m Karly, one of the Scott County historical society’s summer interns. I’ve been digging through the archives here at the Stans Museum, taking in the wealth of Scott County history, and I noticed something in a microfilm of the 1898 Scott County Argus newspaper that caught my interest. The community news section of the paper read like a Facebook feed; entries appeared, ranging from where Mr. Frank Wilder was spending the weekend to who was selling the best apple cider, as well as this gem:

new woman attempt 2

Enter the “New Woman,” a politically and socially charged term from the early 19th century. The idea of what it was to be a woman in society was a subject of constant analysis by authors, newspapers, etc., often sarcastically. Satirical photos appear constantly in this era, depicting absurd or critical versions of new womanhood.


While the information presented on the brakewoman here in Scott County offers no opinion for or against the installment of a female rail worker, the very presence of the article speaks volumes about the sentiments of the time, showing that the public was interested, invested, in this new change. Even as popular topics today are circulated again and again, locally and globally, the 1898 Shakopee public was integrated into a news network that would continue to expand.

Shakopee 1880

I was surprised to learn that the city of Shakopee set itself apart by electing its first female Mayor in 1925, just 6 years after the state of Minnesota allowed women to vote in presidential elections. Shakopee women proved that they had a place in working society and leadership positions, creating a positive reputation for the new woman.

As I continue to work here in Shakopee this summer, I’m excited to think of what other insights into the past I’ll encounter as I discover what makes Scott County such a unique place. Come pay us a visit at the Stans Museum and join me in learning more about Scott County!


What’s In Store?

We get donations from all across Scott County, and even beyond, but do you ever wonder what happens to the objects you give us afterward? Well you are in luck because that is what this blog post is about. The process of taking items into the collection in called accessioning, and entering them into our collection database is called cataloguing. One of our golden rules for items we take is “What is the history and how does it connect to Scott County?”, we don’t take copies of photos and we want to be sure that we have a good history for anything we take it. Starting to accession something requires the donor to sign over their ownership of the item to the Historical Society. Once all the paperwork is done, we begin the process of cataloguing the items.

Cataloguing has a few different steps to it, but all of them are pretty easy. Cataloguing an item starts by giving it a particular number. This number serves to tell us who gave it to the Historical Society, as well as which item in the system we should look for when we need it. The number is based on the donor, and then for each item they gave it proceeds in numerical order: 1, 2, 3, etc. We attached the number with a tag, or sometimes we use a special material that lets us write the number directly on the item. In most cases though we use a tag, it’s much easier to remove if we need it later.  After we give the object a number we enter into our database a description, dimensions, what we know about its history, connections to people and places, and finally, its storage location.

Storing historical artifacts is part space management, part chemistry, and part environmental sciences. Objects of all kinds are very particular about the kind of environment that is best for them. We have specially controlled storage rooms that keep the artifacts stable for as long as possible. Once we assign a space to an object, we begin boxing it or lining a shelf with foam to keep the artifact safe. As you can see, we have a lot of full shelves but very little space. Once the item is placed in storage, we check on it periodically to make sure it isn’t decaying or breaking down. Steps are taken to make sure items in our collection have the longest life span possible for the generations to come. When we put together new exhibits, we always search our own collection first for artifacts and stories of the people of Scott County.

Beating the Summer Heat

Seems like we went directly from winter into summer – skipping spring altogether this year.  For many of us – turning on the A/C cuts the the high temperatures and humidity, but what did people do in the early 1900s to escape the heat?

Go Boating!


Grab some friends and go on a hayride!

Try your luck fishing.

Head to the lake or pool!


Hang out by yourself or with family, friends, coworkers …


Just try to keep cool!

Metal elec fan c1970

Send us your photos of keeping cool this summer!

All photos are from the SCHS collection – check us out online at


To Honor Mom

Mother’s Day can be filled with flowers, candy, presents, hugs, sticky kisses, longing, and sadness.  Setting aside a special day to celebrate mothers has a long and somewhat painful history.  Ancient Greeks and Romans held festivals to honor the mother goddess, and early Christians celebrated a festival known as “Mothering Sunday”, however, it was death, poverty, and war that brought Mother’s Day to a national holiday.

Modern Mother’s Day began as a political and social peace movement.  In 1868 a “Mothers Friendship Day” was organized by Ann Jarvis* for mothers to gather with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote reconciliation. She stated the purpose of the day was to:

To revive the dormant filial love and gratitude we owe to those who gave us birth. To be a home tie for the absent. To obliterate family estrangement. To create a bond of brotherhood through the wearing of a floral badge. To make us better children by getting us closer to the hearts of our good mothers. To brighten the lives of good mothers. To have them know we appreciate them, though we do not show it as often as we ought… Mothers Day is to remind us of our duty before it is too late. This day is intended that we may make new resolutions for a more active thought to our dear mothers. By words, gifts, acts of affection, and in every way possible, give her pleasure, and make her heart glad every day, and constantly keep in memory Mothers Day.

Abolitionist, pacifist, author, and suffragette Julia Ward Howe wrote a Mothers’ Day Proclamation in 1870, calling mothers to unite in promoting world peace.  In fact, she and other antiwar activists called for a Mother’s Peace Day to promote unity after war.  She believed women bore the loss of human life more harshly than anyone else.

Founder of Mother's Day Anna M. JarvisThe official observance of Mother’s Day is due to Anna Jarvis (Ann R. Jarvis’s daughter).  Anna pushed the efforts for an official Mothers’ Day after the death of her Mom, to honor her mother and the sacrifices mothers made for their children.  Her idea was to set aside a day for children to celebrate their Moms, and remember the work of peacemaking, reconciliation, and social action against poverty.**

She also argued that most national holidays were biased toward men’s achievements, so she started a letter writing campaign.  By 1912 many towns and states adopted Mothers’ Day as an annual holiday and by 1914 President Wilson officially established the second Sunday in May as Mothers’ Day.

Side note: originally the holiday was intended as a day to recognize women’s activism – the organized social and political action by all mothers. The apostrophe was moved so the original intent of Mothers’ Day, became Mother’s Day to emphasize women’s role in the home and family; a day to celebrate the service of your own mother.

Although she never married or had children, Anna Jarvis envisioning people wearing a carnation (colored if your mom was living, white if she was not***), as a badge and attend church services.  However, once it became a national holiday – it became heavily commercialized.  Anna spoke out against people buying items; she wanted to protect the day and filed lawsuits against groups that used the “Mother’s Day” as a slogan for sales.  “To have Mothers’ Day the burdensome, wasteful, expensive gift day that Christmas and other special days have become, is not our pleasure,” she wrote.  “If the American People are not willing to protect Mothers’ Day from the hordes of money schemers that would overwhelm it with their schemes, then we shall cease having a Mothers’ Day …” Eventually, she went broke using her money to battle the holiday’s commercialism. By her death in 1948, Anna – the Mom of Mothers’ Day – had completely divorced herself from the holiday and lobbied to have it removed from the calendar!

However you celebrate Mother’s Day or Mothers’ Day – we wish all moms peace and happiness, and thank you for your sacrifices.

Here are a few Scott County Moms.

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*Ann Jarvis helped start Mother’s Day Work Clubs to teach women how to properly care for their children.  Ann had lost eight of her own children under the age of seven and wanted to combat the poor health and sanitation conditions that contributed to a high child mortality rate.

** This was the Progressive Era.  Women started using their roles as mother, wife, and homemaker to make changes in the public arena.  Many women saw motherhood as a moral responsibility to become activists.

***Today, the white carnation is the most popular flower choice and was Annas original flower for Mother’s Day. She chose the flower because “The carnation does not drop its petals, but hugs them to its heart as it dies, as so, too, mothers hug their children to their hearts, their mother love never dying.”

Better One? or Two?

A couple of weeks ago the Scott County Historical Society was lucky enough to have donated a unique piece of medical history. Before the days when you could go to a Pearle Vision, you had to have your eyes test the old fashion way, enter the Trial Lens Case. This massive case has been used by a few different doctors throughout the years in Belle Plaine. The case comes with dozens of removable lenses that are placed in a pair of frames to measure what strength of glasses you need.

According to what we could learn, this case was first purchased in 1927 by Dr. Herman Jurgenson, who then gave it to Dr. Roger Hallgren when he retired. The case changed hands many times, even at one point being used as a stand in the doctor’s office. This is a wonderful piece of the past to help show how far we have come in such a small time. Its objects like this that make history fascinating, imagine that less than a century ago this was how you got your glasses measured and fitted. Medicine in all fields has changed so much, it is good sometimes to look back and consider where we have come from. Now if you will excuse me, I need to see if I can find the right lenses for my poor eyes.

The Sound of History: Music and Society in Scott County

When it comes to history, it is easy to see how people’s clothing has changed, how houses look different, or even how social customs evolve.  We often take it for granted that life sounds much different than it did 100 years ago.  I remember watching an old episode of The Twilight Zone in which a scientist experimenting with time travel in 1961 brings a violent cowboy from the 1880s into his present.  The cowboy, a master of his environment in the 19th century, is nearly driven mad when he walks out onto the New York street and hears cars honking their horns, jukeboxes blaring from diners, sirens whizzing by, and the dull roar of the city crowds.  The difference in sound between his world and the modern world was overwhelming.  Today, we can walk into virtually any business and hear music piped throughout the store or restaurant.  Our cars are equipped with radios, tape decks, CD players, or even DVD players, turning them into portable sound machines.  And our homes have just as many, if not more devices that emit constant streams of sound, television being chief among these.  In the pioneer days of Minnesota history, long before these technological and cultural innovations enveloped our everyday worlds in sound, music was a much more powerful social force.

Social connectedness was one of the underlying purposes of music for a long time, and still is among those who go to concerts, play in bands, or sing in choirs.  Just as music was an important part of individual expression and entertainment, live musical performance was an important social activity that brought individuals together and connected them to their communities.  Here at the Scott County Historical Society, we have a number of items that illustrate this important musical legacy throughout the county.

The earliest pioneers to the county brought their musical instruments, skills, and traditions with them from the eastern U.S., Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Bohemia and other countries.  In those heady days of land-grabbing and town-founding, dances and parades were some of the few occasions when settlers could enjoy themselves and interact with one another.  Maine native Daniel Storer kept an extensive journal of his migration to Scott County in the early 1850s and his new life in Shakopee.  Like many pioneers, Storer was multi-skilled and held numerous positions in the new town: carpenter, justice of the peace, town clerk, as well as fiddler and singer.  His journal, published by the Shakopee Heritage Society, gives a glimpse of Storer’s success as a fiddler.  It also hints at the social interactions of others during such festive occasions:

December 14, 1854: Went to a party in the hall in the eve.  Gates and I played for them.  A good many got drunk.  I took Dr. Ripley’s lady home, and he was so mad that he set out to shoot me.  He was so drunk himself that she would not go with him.

December 19, 1855: Went to Mrs. Holmes’ birthday party the night of the 19th.  There was a large crowd of people there.  Douglas and I played for them.  John McCormick, whom I used to know in Stillwater, was after me to go to Eden Prairie the same night and play for a dance there.

Storer’s talents were much in demand, and the playing provided him with a little extra income.  More importantly, he and other pioneer musicians brought townspeople together.  Young men and women could court at such functions and strengthen their relationships with dance and conversation.  Business might be conducted, or neighborly disputes settled (or commenced, in Dr. Ripley’s case).  For many, town hall dances and concerts would simply be a much-needed reprieve from their daily toil.

Storer also witnessed several dances and songs performed by the Mdewakanton Dakota (Sioux) of Chief Sakpe’s village.  Like Samuel Pond in his recollections of the Dakota in 1834, Storer was entranced by Dakota music, yet failed to understand it as a vital part of Dakota culture.  Dakota traditions emphasized connectedness and kinship, and dances and singing were a way of reinforcing stories and memories from their history.

Browsing through our photograph catalogue, a researcher might find any number of images of marching bands parading through the streets of downtown Shakopee, Main Street in Belle Plaine, or Water Street in Jordan.  Many of the occasions for which bands played in small towns and cities were tied to community or national celebrations, such as Independence Day, or Armistice Day.  One photo from 1925 shows band leader extraordinaire Hubert Stans with his Shakopee band during the annual picnic of the American Range Corporation.


Bands were an effective way to create fanfare to advertise business or products.  Two photos from Belle Plaine in the early 1900s bear this out.  “Plano Day” on June 19, 1901, took place along Main Street.  The marchers advertised machinery made by the Plano Company and sold in town.  American flags waive and signs read “Plano Plano” and “Plano Leads the World.”  The band in the middle of the photograph is the Valley Coronet Band of Belle Plaine led by Matt Hally and Barney Kirchoff.  The band is headed straight for a muddy patch at the intersection of Main and Meridian (or else a large pile of horse manure).

In a second photograph, this one from 1904/5, we are back on the same corner in Belle Plaine with the same Valley Coronet Band, but a different product and different advertising scheme.  Rather than a march, we have a stunt, with six men on a makeshift stage pulling on a pair of overalls to demonstrate their durability.  At such parades one might hear rousing songs with names like, “Robinson’s Grand Entrée,” “The Explorer March,” or “March Independentia.”


The coronet was a smaller version of the trumpet, and coronet bands were popular throughout the county.  Hubert Stans was an accomplished coronet player in his Shakopee band and Chaska Sodality Band.

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In Jordan, the Germania Band, the Jordan Coronet Band, and the Jordan Imperial Band, all made use of this light and loud instrument.  Most cities proudly built bandstands in public parks and other gathering places to accommodate the growing number of musical groups.  The resorts around Prior Lake and Spring Lake always promoted their band pavilions and Saturday night dances to vacationers as their main social events.

While bands played at civic occasions and for advertising purposes, other people voiced their opinions about important political and social issues through song.  The anonymous writer of a temperance song from 1880 probably intended his song to be circulated among others who supported the prohibition of alcohol.  The lyrics come from an older temperance song that may have been written by New England poet and abolitionist John Pierpont.  The song is scribbled on a scrap of lined paper, and the author must have had some formal training in music to be able to put notes to the lyrics.  One verse captures the crusading spirit of their movement: “No alcohol we’ll buy of sell/ Away, away the bowl./ The tippler’s offer we repel,/ Away, away the bowl./ United in a temperance band,/ We’re joined in hearts,/ We’re joined in hand./  Goodbye to rum and all its harms,/ Farewell the winecup’s boasted charms,/ Away, away the bowl,/ Away, away the bowl.”

Throughout the history of the county, communities have produced musicians and forms of music that helped strengthen social ties.  Music and performance had a way of bonding people together and bridging the gaps between communities.  It is a rich area of historical research that can lend perspective to the way that we experience musical performances today.  How is music a part of our lives in a way that connects us to one another?  Do we recognize and respect local musicians or musical traditions with the same pride that communities did in the past?  How has technology changed public and ceremonial forms of music?  Whether music brings us together for a local festival, a family celebration, or a social cause, it is a significant historic source of heritage, entertainment, and social well-being.


If you would like to know more about this topic, visit the Scott County Historical Society on the web and search our catalogue at, or email us at

By: Patrick Rodgers, past SCHS Curator