In 1803, the United States made the Louisiana Purchase for $15 million from Napoleon Bonaparte. In this purchase, the United States not only acquired the land Hastings would eventually sit on, but all of the French land west of the Mississippi.
During the Louisiana Purchase, President Jefferson sent Captain Meriwether Lewis and Lieutenant William Clark to explore the recently acquired lands. They were tasked to find the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce.
President Jefferson turned to General James Wilkinson to appoint the best suited military man for finding the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Wilkinson chose a man who would later make his mark on history with his famous 1806 expedition in the Southwest, where a peak was named after him.
On August 9, 1805, Lt. Zebulon Pike set out from St. Louis, Mo., with orders from Wilkinson to find the source waters, find where the British fur traders – who, with the American Indians currently occupied Minnesota – were operating, plant the American flag to declare the area United States Territory, make peace between the Dakota and Ojibwa Indians and locate areas for potential forts. It was the last item mentioned on his daunting list of tasks that brought the first official representatives of the United States to Hastings.
Lt. Pike set out to procure the land to build his forts from the Sioux inhabitants. On September 23, 1805, Zebulon Pike purchased two sets of lands from the Sioux tribe. The purchase came to be known as Pike’s purchase, or the 1806 Treaty of St. Peters. This treaty granted Pike the land that Fort Snelling was later built on, and the land that is now Hastings. It was the mouth of the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers that Lt. Pike recommended building one of his two proposed forts - the other being, the mouth of The Minnesota and Mississippi rivers, where Fort Snelling now sits.
No fort ever came to fruition in Hastings, and it was not until 1819 that the government would utilize the area again.
In November of that year, a keelboat carrying provisions from Prairie du Chien, Wis., to the building site of Fort Snelling was stopped due to river freeze. A native Pennsylvanian, and veteran of the War of 1812, Lt. William G. Oliver, was sent to set up a camp and guard the provisions for the winter.
Lt. Oliver built a crude log cabin for his men in a grove of trees on present day Hastings; this became known as Oliver’s grove, the name given to the area for 34 years. With the exception of being soft on discipline, and slander from other soldiers, Oliver was viewed as a good officer.
Upon his relief on Feb. 16, 1820, by Lt. Camp, Oliver had kept all the provisions safe and established a friendly relationship with the local French and Indian traders. Lt. Oliver’s command of the camp was viewed as successful.
Before Zebulon Pike discovered Hastings for the United States, Native American tribes had been occupying and living in the area for hundreds of years. O-wo-bop-te or “the place where they dig tipsinna” was the name given to Hastings by the Dakota Sioux.
In the spring, the Dakota Sioux would tap the local trees for their useful sap. Lawrence Taliaferro, in charge of Indian affairs in Minnesota, declared O-wo-bop-te Indian land, making civilian settlement forbidden. The first non-native resident to Oliver’s Grove was Joseph R. Brown, a fur trader. Because he was in violation of the law, Taliaferro forced him to abandon his settlement. It would not be until Treaty of Traverse des Sioux – one of the questionable treaties that led to the Dakota war of 1862 – that white settlers would begin to arrive in Hastings.
The town proprietors – who would help establish Hastings as a town – began to arrive after the signing of the treaty. Except for Alexis Bailly. His son Henry Bailly had settled in Hastings the previous year under a license he received from Taliaferro. The license gave him permission, under the provision, that he could open a trading post on the Indian land, making Bailly the first permanent settler of Hastings.
The other proprietors were big names in Minnesota history: Henry Hastings Sibley, the first state governor and a leader of the army in the Sioux uprising; Alexander Faribault, son of Jean Baptiste Faribault and name sake for Faribault Minnesota; and Henry G. Bailly, son of Alexis Bailly and Alexander Faribault’s son-in-law.
These men, along with Alexis Bailly, were given the task of naming the unincorporated town. The men each put a selected name in a hat; the winning name would be chosen as the town’s name. Hastings, Sibley’s mother’s maiden name, and his middle name, was chosen. Hastings, Minnesota was incorporated as a city on March 7, 1857.
Editor’s note: This article was written by Jake Bourbon, who is a Hastings resident. He is studying history at Concordia College in St. Paul.