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Chapter IV

Southern Minnesota and

Its Sprinkling of Finns

Red Wing

In the southeastern corner of Minnesota, where the Minnesota and St. Croix rivers empty into the swiftly flowing Mississippi, lies the river port town of Red Wing. A century ago the river was the vital nerve center, controlling all activity. The sounds of side paddles and whistles blowing heralded the river boats and their cargoes of grain, supplies and prosperity, but death, unfortunately, travelled the same route.

In 1853, Asiatic cholera made its first appearance, and after that, it returned every summer for about twenty years. In 1854, for example, of twenty settlers who just arrived in the town, seven died on the island set aside for the contagious disease, and Dr. Sweeney ordered the bodies burned to prevent a spread of the epidemic - and to keep secret from the Indians the loss of life that the white settlement was suffering.' However, new outbreaks recurred whenever new people arrived in Red Wing.

In 1864 some of these newcomers were, for the first time, Finnish settlers. The summer of that year saw several small groups of Finns arriving in Minnesota, all of them following more or less the same route: having arrived in Chicago, they came by train to the Mississippi, and then on river craft downstream to Red Wing.

Members of the first group were Peter (Pere) Lahti from the Tornio River valley, and his wife Johanna (nee Palovainio) from Hietaniemi; Matti Niemi and his wife Maria (nee Korpi) from Kemi; Antti Rovainen from Matarenki and his wife Matlena (nee Helppi) from Kittilä. In addition to these families there were two

1. Ilmonen, S. op. cit. II, p. 143.


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