"As a river is born deep inside the earth in springs

that gather into streams and join to become a river,

so people's lives gather into families and communities

and become part of the river of history."

Wilma Dykeman, 2000


Note to Educators

The complexity of our relationship with the river offers a unique opportunity for educators. When we study the river, we study the breadth of human knowledge and culture. The River Exploration Trunk program is designed to give educators resources to help students take advantage of this opportunity, and investigate our relationship to this mighty river. The goal of the program is not to merely learn about the river, but to use the river as a context within which we can learn about ourselves.


Grand Excursion 2004 celebrates the renaissance of the upper Mississippi River region and builds upon the original Grand Excursion of 1854, a celebration and journey that brought worldwide attention to what was then America's western frontier.

Grand Excursion 2004
, a yearlong initiative, is a celebration of the investment communities have made to re-connect with the upper Mississippi River. A major part of that investment is in the education of the young people who live in the communities along and near the river. At the heart of the K-12 education program are the River Exploration Trunks, offered free to every school in every county that touches the river from the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis to the Quad Cities of Davenport and Bettendorf, IA, Rock Island and Moline, IL.


The goals of the Grand Excursion 2004 River Exploration Trunk Program are to:


Why study rivers? For one thing, rivers are one of the most frequently, and widely used metaphors in human language. Rivers can represent thoughts, emotions, the paths our lives take, time, chains of events, and human endeavor. Rivers embody the idea of “flow;” the effortless, concentrated feeling of deep enjoyment. They are a natural context for learning. But beyond the metaphor, rivers carry water, without which we have no food, no clothing, and no shelter. Life is not possible. In a very real sense, water is one of the most compelling, immediate contexts for learning. Rivers inspire us, transport us, feed and nourish us, and amuse us. They are places of relaxation, exhilaration, occupation, contention, creation, inspiration, culture, history and industry. As you investigate the complexity of the natural and social systems that touch and are touched by the river, you will discover that each and every one of us living in the Upper Mississippi River Watershed has a complex relationship to the river.

The Mississippi River is our nation’s greatest waterway. It winds 2,302 miles from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the Delta in Louisiana. The watershed drains 40% of the land area of the United States, 1/8 of North America. The river and its watershed provide habitat for 241 fish species, 37 mussel species, 45 amphibians, 50 mammals and 40% of the nation's migratory birds.

Part of our relationship to the river is scientific- water quality and land use, the biology of the plants and animals that live in, and along its banks, the geologic history of the river valley, the hydrology and physics of its waters, the erosion that carries soil from the farm fields of the Upper Midwest to the delta, the glaciers that gouged and shaped the blufflands, and the weather patterns that spawn tornadoes, thunderstorms and floods are all part of the rich, complex and engaging scientific relationship we have with this mighty river.


We have historical and cultural relationships; rivers served as the first highways, first for the Native American nations that lived, worked and traded in the river valley for centuries, and later, for the Europeans that tamed her waters, dammed her flows, dredged a channel and built the series of locks and dams that make modern river transport possible today. Farms, villages, towns and cities along her banks were located to take advantage of the resources available in the surrounding watershed. Businesses sprang up to mine, log, and otherwise extract the raw materials of industry that wove a fabric of communities that still line her banks. Flooding became part of every river town’s history; prompting the construction of dikes and levees and floodwalls to protect towns from the spring surge. Wars were fought along her banks.


Music has always been a part of our relationship to the Mississippi, from the rhythm and blues of the earliest travelers, to the calliope music of the steamboating era, to the folk songs of loggers and raftsmen, to the more modern musical genres of blues and jazz. Though Seth Eastman, through his paintings, was one of the earliest artists to record life along the river, he is by no means the only artist who has found inspiration by her side. The power and beauty of the river has inspired artists of every genre to create great and lasting works.


Along with our relationship to rivers, it is important to note that one of the goals of the River Exploration Trunk program is to inspire students, parents, and other community members to become better stewards of the river. In the 150 years since the original Excursion of 1854 steamed its way to St. Paul, communities have abused and neglected the river, bringing its ecological systems to the brink of collapse. While the Grand Excursion 2004 celebrates the renewed commitment to river restoration and development, it is also a call to renew our commitment to stewardship and action, to preserving the precious ecosystem that supports, inspires and nourishes us.

How Materials Were Chosen

From the beginning of the River Exploration Trunk project, the intent was to create a resource collection that served the needs of classroom teachers, without adding to their already considerable workload. The plan for realizing that intention was simple; ask teachers what they need then give it to them.

The materials in your River Exploration Trunks were chosen from among resources collected by staff and faculty of Hamline University’s Center for Global Environmental Education (CGEE) over a period of 18 months, and represent the recommendations of 65 teachers from school along the Mississippi River from Minneapolis, MN to Muscatine, IA. In meetings held in river communities between October, 2001, and February, 2002, teachers gathered in school libraries, museums, hotel meeting rooms and board rooms to read books and pamphlets, view video tapes, investigate CD-ROMS, listen to music and pore over maps and posters.

They offered comments on the usefulness of each resource they examined, and assigned a numeric priority to each on a scale of 1 to 10, with ten being an absolute must-have resource. These comments- nearly 1000 of them- were transcribed and compiled, and the numeric priorities graphed for each resource. Final decisions on the mix of materials included in the River Exploration Trunks were strictly guided by the comments generously offered by classroom teachers.


A project of this scope requires the efforts of talented, dedicated supporters, and the River Exploration Trunks have many.

The River Exploration Trunk program was conceived by the Educate Committee of Grand Excursion 2004, a not-for-profit-corporation whose mission is to promote the renaissance of the upper Mississippi River from the Quad Cities to the Twin Cities.

Peggy Knapp and Mark VanderSchaaf co-chaired the Grand Excursion Educate Committee, whose members included:

John Anfinson, Randy Brockway, Jason Busch, Paul Druckman, Tracy Fredin, Teri Goodman, Gene Henriksen, Greg Juenemann, Reggie McLeod, Pat Nunnally, Kay Patterson, Julian Sellers, Sarah Wash, John Tefer, Heather Koop, Linda Henning, Brad Buxton, Jeff Goldstein, Nancy Goodman, Susan Hamerski, Bonnie Heimbach, Clarence "Buck" Malick, Donna Murray, Steve Nelson, Maureen Otwell, Mark Peterson, David Wiggins, Ric Zarwell.

An advisory board of teachers led the decision-making process to select resources for the trunks, and without their work, this project could not have been completed successfully. They are:

Polly Smull, Mara Coyle, Leah Carr, Jean Tushie, Renie Willard, Gail Christiaansen, Lynne Valiquette, Val Critzman, Jane Wernecke, Joann Twidt, Beverly Mellskog, Chuck Korte, Sue Cording, Mary Richter, Elene Waters, Sue Dickinson, Christopher Kohn, and Jacquie Salisbury.

Other valued advisors, associates and supporters include:

Karen Gill-Gerbig, Walter Enloe, Jay Badheart Bow, Chris Oshikata, Kristie Estes, Char Mason, Beth Clark, Brenda Erickson, Margaret Flanagan, Clara Littig, Rita Thofern, Jane Ellis, Jerry Greiner, Dan Loritz, Deirdre Kramer, Rob Pruden and Elizabeth VanderSchaaf.

Funders of the Grand Excursion River Exploration Trunk Program as of the date of printing of this guide are:

Hamline University, 3M Foundation, Bituminous Insurance, Dubuque Bank & Trust, Dubuque Racing Association, Ecolab Foundation, Grotto Foundation, The St. Paul Companies, Inc. Foundation, Star Tribune Foundation, Wilkie Brothers Foundation, John Deere and the Xcel Energy Foundation.

Operational Funding of Grand Excursion 2004 provided in part by:
Katherine B. Andersen Fund of the Saint Paul Foundation, Boss Foundation, F.R. Bigelow Foundation, The McKnight Foundation, Riverboat Development Authority, The Saint Paul Foundation.

 The board of directors of Grand Excursion 2004 are:
Joanell Dyrstad, Red Wing, MN; Jeffrey Goldstein, Bettendorf, IA; Teri Goodmann, Dubuque, IA; Don Hattery, Cedar Rapids, IA; William Howe, Prairie du Chien, WI; Robert Imler, Moline, IL; Mark Jacobs, Winona, MN; Michael Jameson, La Crosse, WI; Paul Knedler, Moline, IL; Peter Lardner, Rock Island, IL; Scott Lawlor, Galena, IL; David Larsen, Crystal, MN; Cynthia (Cyndi) Lesher, Minneapolis, MN; Bob Musil, Red Wing, MN; Warren Oxley, LeClaire, IA; Michael Rainville; Minneapolis, MN; Patrick Seeb, Board Chairman, Saint Paul, MN; Bill Sweasy, Board Treasurer, Red Wing, MN; Brad Toll, Saint Paul, MN; Paul Verret, Saint Paul, MN; Kathy Wine, Board Secretary, Davenport, IA; Tom Yunt, Dubuque, IA; Charlie Zelle, Minneapolis, MN.

John C. “Jay” Downie, President and CEO.


How to Use This Guide

Section One of this guide is a short history of the original Excursion of 1854, the inspiration and model for the Grand Excursion 2004.

Section Two of this guide will help you find resources that best suit your needs, and offer ideas on how to get the most from them. For each resource in your River Exploration Trunk, the guide suggests:

The National Education Standards are referenced by number, using a system from Education World’s (http://www.education-world.com) web-based guide to National Education Standards, and is reprinted below.

Your trunk contains clusters of resources organized around strands of inquiry. One cluster of resources naturally ties to others- an investigation into frogs can lead to an exploration of other animals that live by the river, which can lead to a discussion of food webs, which can lead to an extended inquiry into ecosystems and how they are managed to balance conflicting demands on the river. Poetry, songs, art projects and playwriting could all serve as modes of expression and evidence of understanding.

Section Three of this guide contains primary resources in the form of short histories from communities along the river that will give you and your students a peek back in time to how the river looked when the original Grand Flotilla steamed upstream. In photos, journals and articles, historians from river towns have collaborated to paint a picture of the sights excursionists might have seen 150 years earlier. The hope is that by looking back, we can get a clearer idea of how to paint our future.

One final suggestion: Find ways to get your students to the river. Use the wide variety of community resources available to you to get students to the water, get their hands wet, their feet dirty, feel the breeze blow across their faces, observe the life that crowds her banks and hear the songs of the birds that use the flyway. We learn to love what we come to know.


A Word About Inquiry

The materials in your River Exploration Trunk do not constitute a curriculum, but instead are intended to help you and your students inquire into your relationship with the river. Both project-based learning and inquiry-based learning are effective pedagogical approaches that will work well with the materials in your River Exploration Trunk. Inquiry is an active, student-directed pedagogy that gives students a great deal of responsibility for their own learning. Project-based learning uses a core project to focus learning while integrating many disciplines.

In her book, "Teaching Science as Continuous Inquiry" (McGraw-Hill, 1973), the late Mary Budd Rowe observes, "Suppose all students learned to ask the following questions routinely–"


What do I know?

Why do I believe it?

What is the evidence?

Do I have all the evidence?

Where did the evidence come from?

How good is the evidence?


What are all the possible interpretations?

What do I make of what I have found?

What are the relationships?

How certain am I?


What should I do with what I know?

What are some possible actions?

What one(s) should I take?

Do I know how?

Do I know when to take an action?

What if…? (Or what would happen if…?)


What does it all mean?

Do I care?

Do I value some outcomes more than others and what is my reason(s)?"


These questions offer a framework for inquiry that has implications far beyond the discipline of science. History, art, music, economics, mathematics and other disciplines can all be investigated using an inquiry approach, and the questions Rowe poses. As you and your students begin to examine your relationship to the river, consider using questions such as these to guide your inquiry, and help you find the connections that naturally exist between different disciplines, subjects, events, and themes.

For more information on inquiry as a pedagogical approach, see the following web resources:

Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards


The Inquiry Page Project, from University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


For more information on Project-based Learning, see the following web resources:

The groundbreaking work of project-based learning leader Sylvia Chard


Project-based learning from Houghton Mifflin


Project-based learning resources from 4Teachers


EdVisions Cooperative- promoting school reform through teacher leadership


About the Numbering System

The numbering system used in this educator’s guide comes from Education World, an online source for educators. http://www.education-world.com

The number before each standard serves as a classification code. The first letter designates the type of standard, the second group of letters describes the subject area, and information after a hyphen is an abbreviation for the subtopic.

The group of numbers after the first period denotes the grade level and the number after the second period is the standard's identification number.

Example: NA-D.K-4.1 corresponds to

National   Arts   Dance   K-4 (Grade Levels) 1 First in Series


National   Arts
National   Arts   Dance
National   Arts   Music
National   Arts   Theatre
National   Arts   Visual Arts


National   Language Arts
National   Language Arts   ENGlish
National   Language Arts   Foreign Language


National   Math
National   Math   NUMber and Operations
National   Math   ALGebra
National   Math   GEOmetry
National   Math   MEAsurement
National   Math   DATA Analysis and Probability
National   Math   PROBlem Solving
National   Math   REAsoning and Proof
National   Math   COMMunication
National   Math   CONNections
National   Math   REPresentation


National   Physical Education & Health
National   Physical Education & Health   Health


National   Science


National   Social Sciences
National   Social Sciences   Civics
National   Social Sciences   EConomics
National   Social Sciences   Geography
National   Social Sciences   US History
National   Social Sciences   World History


National   Technology

(From Education World, http://www.education-world.com/standards/national/toc/index.shtml#numbers)


Section 1:

The Grand Excursion of 1854

By Mark Vanderschaaf

Background to the Excursion

In order to appreciate the Grand Excursion of 1854, it is helpful to imagine ways in which America was both similar to and different from the way it is today.

On the East Coast, the familiar hierarchy of large cities was well established by 1854. With more than 500,000 people, New York was the biggest and most powerful city in the United States. Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore were also significant population centers, but were only about one-third the size of New York. In the Midwest, Cincinnati and St. Louis were the biggest cities of the time. On Lake Michigan, Chicago was growing rapidly and had ambitions of surpassing Cincinnati and St. Louis someday.

In Minnesota, Saint Paul was even newer than Chicago and had also grown rapidly to a population of about 5,000 by 1854. Along with San Francisco, it was attracting attention as one of the nation’s “hot” new cities of the 1850s. Minneapolis, on the other hand, did not even officially exist, although a small community of about 300 squatters at the west end of the Falls of St. Anthony had started referring to itself as “Minneapolis” late in 1852. At the east end of the falls was the village of St. Anthony, with perhaps 2,500 residents in 1854, almost ten times as many people as were in Minneapolis. People in 1854 may have been shocked to learn that Minneapolis would one day annex St. Anthony to become the dominant city by the falls.

But although Saint Paul had been growing rapidly, it was still smaller than several other Upper Mississippi River towns ­ Rock Island and Galena in Illinois, and Davenport and Dubuque in Iowa. People held different opinions about whether Saint Paul, St. Anthony and Minneapolis would ever surpass the towns of Iowa and Illinois in population and economic significance.

In 1854, the Upper Mississippi River was well known throughout the world as a place of mysterious beauty and almost magical significance. Europeans often observed that their rivers all flowed away from one another toward the edge of the continent, reinforcing a tendency for countries there to be fragmented and isolated. But in the United States, most rivers flow toward the mighty Mississippi, bringing the country together into a single nation.

Mark Twain was just a simple newspaper reporter in 1854, so the world lacked his essays and novels, which would draw attention to the southern portion of the Mississippi. In the absence of Mark Twain, people elsewhere more often thought of the magnificent bluff country of northwestern Illinois, northeastern Iowa, southwestern Wisconsin, and southeastern Minnesota when they thought of the Mississippi River. It was said that the river here was much like the famous Rhine River before it was settled and its valley filled with farms and cities. The Falls of St. Anthony, ten miles upriver from Saint Paul, was also well known as the only major waterfall on the Mississippi. Many travelers enthusiastically compared its beauty favorably to the even more famous Niagara Falls.

One other difference between 1854 and today involves the way in which the country celebrated the completion of major transportation projects. Today, we might have a ribbon cutting, speeches by politicians, and television news coverage when a new highway or bridge opens, but people quickly forget about the event. In the early nineteenth century, though, transportation projects were seen as having great patriotic significance (perhaps somewhat like the landing of a man on the moon in 1969). First canals, and then railroads, were believed to be part of the United States’ “manifest destiny” to spread democracy through a nation united from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.

For a number of reasons, then, the completion of the first railroad link between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River attracted great national attention. Symbolically, it represented the midpoint of the nation’s quest for a transcontinental railroad ­ particularly because the company building the link from Chicago to Rock Island, Illinois already was constructing the first railroad bridge to cross the Mississippi, which they believed (correctly) would continue to move the railroad westward toward California and the Pacific. The new Chicago and Rock Island Railroad also promised to open up the famous scenery of the Upper Mississippi bluff country to a greater number of tourists, and to provide better access to the rapidly-growing Minnesota Territory, which had only recently been opened to large-scale white settlement.

Henry Farnam and Joseph Sheffield, the contractors who built the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad, had a flair for the dramatic and a well-developed sense of the historical significance of their accomplishment. Their railroad connection actually was completed in the winter of 1854, and initially was celebrated with a dinner in Rock Island on February 22, George Washington’s birthday. Perhaps as a result of the enthusiasm expressed by dinner attendees, the contractors hatched the idea of hosting another, larger national celebration of their accomplishment during the summer of 1854. Specifically, they arranged to invite family, friends, company stockholders, and prominent representatives from all respected professions to gather in Chicago and from there to ride by train to the end of the railroad line in Rock Island where they would transfer to steamboats for a holiday in the famous bluff country, a visit to the new boom town of Saint Paul, and a pilgrimage to the lovely Falls of St. Anthony.

Farnam and Sheffield were in a good position to be taken seriously by prominent leaders on the East Coast. Although now working out of Chicago, they were born and raised in the East, and were well connected with institutions in New England and New York where they began their careers building canals and railroads. A combination of their reputation and the obvious patriotic significance of the new railroad helps to explain the overwhelming response to their invitation ­ a response that apparently took even Farnam and Sheffield themselves by surprise.

In planning for the excursion, the Farnam and Sheffield staff expected about 500 guests to take advantage of the free trip. To their great surprise, about twice as many did so ­ contemporary observers estimated the figure to be as high as 1,200. Not only was the quantity staggering, but the quality of the guests was also dazzling. Prominent artists, academics, clergymen, novelists, statesmen, and newspaper editors rubbed elbows (quite literally due to crowded conditions on the trains and boats) for nearly a week. Prominent figures that are still remembered today include John Frederick Kensett, an artist of the Hudson River School; George Bancroft, regarded as the “national historian”; Catherine Sedgwick, the leading female American novelist of the time; and Yale professor Benjamin Silliman, regarded as the greatest American scientist of the time. Most prominently, former president Millard Fillmore headed up the list of famous politicians on the trip. Observers of the excursion at the time often used words such as these reported by the Chicago Tribune, which judged the group of excursionists to be “the most brilliant ever assembled in the West.”

The Excursion

The sponsors of the Grand Excursion paid for their guests to travel to Chicago, using a wide variety of routes and timetables. But the excursion proper began in Chicago at 8 a.m. on Monday, June 5, 1854, when the throng of invitees boarded two special trains of nine coaches each, decorated with flowers, flags, and streamers. Westward through Illinois the trains sped towards Rock Island, which they reached eight hours later at 4 p.m. Although the land through which they traveled was newly settled with towns and farms, the guests reportedly began imagining that they were already “out west,” and that the cows they observed at a distance were really buffaloes.

At Rock Island, townspeople welcomed the excursionists with speeches and ceremonies ­ which were repeated later that evening, along with fireworks, across the river in Davenport, Iowa. Reports of speeches in these two cities make it clear that the emphasis was on the expected crossing of the river by railroad at this point, and the path to the Pacific that the crossing would make possible.

And indeed, a visible reminder of this expectation was the new bridge that was already under construction. No one at the time could have known that a few years later this bridge would make legal history and would help propel Illinois attorney Abraham Lincoln into the national spotlight. In 1856 the bridge was completed and began to function. But almost immediately an accident occurred that provided a test case regarding the rights of the growing American railroad system. A steamboat, the Effie Afton, crashed into a piling of the bridge and was severely damaged. The owners of the boat sued the railroad, claiming that the prior existence of the steamboat system should guarantee its protection from such damages. Lincoln defended the railroads prior to his election as president. Eventually, in 1862, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that railroads have as much right to cross waterways as steamboats do to travel on them.

After viewing the fireworks in Davenport, the excursionists proceeded upstream in an overnight cruise to Galena, Illinois. It is a matter of some dispute as to how many boats were in the flotilla heading upriver. All accounts agree that there were at least five ­ the flagship War Eagle, the Galena, the G.W. Sparhawk, the Golden Era, and the Lady Franklin. The Chicago Tribune, however, reported that seven boats actually left Rock Island, the aforementioned five, plus two additional boats added to accommodate unexpectedly large crowds. Since upstream accounts mention only five boats, it is likely that the two additional boats only went part of the way up river (perhaps as far as Galena and Dubuque?).

The major activity of June 6, Day 2 of the 1854 Grand Excursion, was a tour of Galena and the nearby city of Dubuque, Iowa. The excursionists were interested in these cities because of their prominence as centers for the first mineral rush in U.S. history ­ the lead rush of the 1830s. Actually, as mineral rushes go, the lead rush was relatively slow and methodical. Indigenous peoples had mined lead in the area for hundreds of years, and French explorers had done so as far back as the seventeenth century. But as treaties gave U.S. settlers the right to own large tracts of land in the area, serious lead production began.

By the time of the 1854 Grand Excursion, both Galena and Dubuque were well-established, prosperous towns whose prosperity was grounded in the mining and production of lead. Today, Galena has no direct connection to the Mississippi River, but in 1854 its tributary river was navigable the short distance to the Mississippi. Even then, however, the river was beginning to fill with silt due to excessive soil erosion caused by mining activities.

Although Galena was well known in 1854, it would become even more famous a decade later as the home of nine Civil War generals. Most notably, Galena native Ulysses S. Grant would distinguish himself in the war, and then be elected president of the United States based on that performance.

The excursionists’ visit to Galena was reportedly pleasant, and included a tour of a lead mine, and a picnic. But as the excursion moved on to nearby Dubuque, a rainstorm dampened and abbreviated the festivities. After leaving Dubuque, the boats continued on and journeyed overnight to La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Day 3, Wednesday, June 7, dawned near La Crosse, treating the excursionists to views of the beautiful bluff country scenery they had heard so much about. Aside from La Crosse, there were no towns of substance to be seen on this day. But the splendors of nature more than made up for the lack of civilization. Accounts by newspaper writers who participated in the 1854 excursion confirm their sense that this region was a place of rare beauty. A writer from the New York Times enthused, “Perhaps you have beheld such sublimity in dreams, but surely never in daylight waking elsewhere in this wonderful world. Over one hundred and fifty miles of unimaginable fairy-land, genie-land, and world of visions, have we passed during the last twenty-four hours… Throw away your guide books; heed not the statement of travelers; deal not with seekers after and retailers of the picturesque; believe no man, but see for yourself the Mississippi River above Dubuque.”

The third day of the excursion featured two special events that were recorded for posterity. One happened near the present-day town of Trempealeau, Wisconsin (then known as Montoville) where the boats had stopped to “wood up.” Abby Fillmore, the ex-president’s 22-year-old daughter, was so enamored with the scenery that she procured a horse and rode to the top of a bluff to get a better view. As steamboats saluted the young lady with their whistles, Abby waved her handkerchief in greeting. Later she would pronounce the view from the bluff to be the best she had ever seen.

In the evening of Day 3, another memorable event occurred. As the boats ascended Lake Pepin, four of them were lashed together to enable guests to socialize and dance with one another, while the boats turned their spotlights towards the shores of the lake.

On Thursday, June 8, Day 4 of the Grand Excursion, the good citizens of Saint Paul were beginning to prepare for what they believed would be a Friday visit by about 500 excursionists. Imagine their surprise when five boats with twice as many visitors rounded the bend a day earlier than expected!

Contemporary accounts in Saint Paul newspapers maintained that the city had been informed of the wrong date for the visit ­ although some accounts indicate that the date kept changing. In any event, the mixup resulted in a situation that many, perhaps most, visitors regarded as great fun ­ but some regarded as an insult.

The plan had been for visitors to arrive in Saint Paul, and then to journey overland to the Falls of St. Anthony, and from there to return to Saint Paul via Fort Snelling. In the evening, there was to be a great ball honoring the visitors at the territorial capitol building.

All of the planned events did indeed occur, but major improvising (and some free market economics) were required to make them happen. Esteemed visitors found themselves riding on rickety carts over a bumpy prairie road ­ and some evidently had to pay good money for this dubious privilege. Novelist Catherine Sedgwick, writing in the literary journal Putnam’s Monthly Magazine, revealed the fun that most visitors had during the experience: “You should have seen the gay scrambling at our landing there, for carriages and wagons, and every species of locomotive, to take us to our terminus at St. Anthony’s Falls. You should have seen how, disdaining luxury or superfluity, we ­ some among us accustomed to cushioned couches at home ­ could drive merrily over the prairies in Lumber-wagons, seated on rough boards.”

But not everyone enjoyed this introduction to the rustic charms of Minnesota. The same New York Times writer who rhapsodized over the scenery near La Crosse, was furious with Saint Paul. Calling Saint Paul citizens “the Yankees of the Yankees,” he accused them of charging exorbitant prices for bad experiences:

The Hudson River is nowhere beside the Mississippi, and even Long Island Yankees, who, after the money-changers that the Saviour whipped out of the Temple, are greediest after lucre, must retire before the people of St. Paul’s, or they will be assuredly beaten in the contest. St. Paul’s, Minnesota, stands alone, unrivalled, unapproached, as the greediest place on all this Western Continent.

While the New York Times writer sulked, others enjoyed two particularly meaningful experiences in Minnesota. At the Falls of St. Anthony, a ceremony was performed to highlight the patriotic meaning of the Grand Excursion. Water recently drawn from the Atlantic Ocean was poured into the Mississippi at the base of the falls in a “mingling of waters” ceremony. This ceremony symbolized the “marriage” of “Old Atlantic and Mrs. Sippi,” in the words of one observer.

The ball at the territorial capitol building in Saint Paul was also a highlight of the trip for many. Among the several speeches at the event, that given by the national historian, George Bancroft, especially impressed many as an authoritative interpretation of the meaning of Minnesota to the United States. The Daily Minnesotian provides this account of the speech:

[Bancroft] spoke of the enthusiasm with which he had been inspired at beholding our Great Valley and the river which bore its waters to the ocean. He was rejoiced to find that the great institutions of our common country, religion and education, had preceded him into this western world, and were sustained and nurtured to such an eminent degree by the community in whose midst he now stood. By the natural aid of the great Father of Waters, and the expansive and fertile country we possessed, combined with the benign influences of these institutions, we need have no fears of a great and glorious destiny in the future. He had looked upon Lake Pepin, where the Mississippi concentrated all its energies in one vast expanse of waters, and for the first time had fully realized the magnitude of its destiny.

Technically, the Grand Excursion continued on from Saint Paul, as guests returned downriver from their trip to Minnesota. However, it is clear that the return trip was designed for speed, not sightseeing. No celebratory stops were recorded as the boats traveled nonstop from late Thursday, June 8 to arrive back in Rock Island on Saturday, June 10. However, the excursion organizers did make a last-minute announcement of a special treat for their guests. If they so desired, guests could continue by boat on to St. Louis and return to the East Coast from there. Some, but not all, guests took advantage of this offer.

Entertainment on the Grand Excursion

In addition to sightseeing, we know that the excursionists engaged in a number of activities to entertain themselves while traveling. Such activities included:





On Board the

Steamer Galena,

D.B. Morehouse, Master


            June 9,……………………………………………………………….1854



                        Green Turtle

                        Oyster,                                                                                    Clam.



                        Baked Salmon,                                                Baked Pike,

                        White Fish,                                                                 Pickerel,

Mackinaw Trout.



                        Ham,                                                                           Corned Beef,

                        Tongue,                                                                       Chicken, egg sauce.

Turkey, oyster sauce.



                        Beef,                                        Mutton,                      Chickens,

                        Pork                                        Veal,                            Ducks

                        Pig,                                          Turkey                                    Lamb.



                        Prairie Chickens,                                                         Snipe,

                        Buffalo Steak,                                                             Quails.



Oyster Pie—Chicken Pie—Brazed Fillet of Mutton—Boiled Chickens—Truffle of Fowl, wine sauce—Broiled Brook Trout.



                        Pies—Cranberry, Rhubarb, Currant, Cocoanut, Lemon, Currant, Tapioca.




                        Raisins and Kisses,                                                     Figs,

                        Almonds,                                                                    Prunes,

                        Pecan Nuts,                                                                 Filberts,

                        Oranges,                                                                      Pine apples



                        Calf’s Foot                                                                  Blanc Mange,

                        Madeira,                                                                      Charlotte Russe.


                        Lemon,                                    Sherry,                        Orange.




Serious Topics of Conversation

Although the Grand Excursion was great fun for the travelers, there was an atmosphere of background anxiety that also must be mentioned. As we know now, the United States in 1854 was on a collision course that led to the outbreak of the Civil War seven years later. Major issues regarding abolition, slavery, and the fragility of the Union were on everyone’s mind. Indeed, in Boston, there had just been widespread protests against a Supreme Court case ruling that slave owners could forcibly bring back runaway slaves from free states. Since several Boston newspaper reporters were on the Grand Excursion, their insights into the situation must have been highly sought.

Results of the Grand Excursion

Despite the complaints of the New York Times writer described earlier, most travelers had fun and developed favorable impressions of the Upper Mississippi Valley. No serious injuries or illnesses were reported for any excursionists ­ a great accomplishment in an age of frequent cholera epidemics.

The two urban areas that were the focal points of the excursion both benefited demonstrably from the publicity gained by the 1854 event. The Rock Island/Davenport area brought attention to its role as the key crossing point where the east-west railroad would traverse the north-south river. The Minnesota Territory, centered in Saint Paul, received considerable free publicity that accelerated settlement and made it possible for the territory to become a state in 1858. In between, the beautiful bluff country also became better known as a magnet for tourists in decades to come.

More than forty years after the 1854 Grand Excursion, a retired riverboat captain named Russell Blakely summed up the impact of the event in his memoirs: "The success of [the Grand Excursion] and the character of the people, especially the editors of the daily press of the country, did more than the best laid plans for advertising the country than has ever been made since... Good results came back to us in a thousand ways and for many years."