Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Romulus of St. Paul

I suspect that it is not very well known that the original name of the settlement that became St. Paul was Pig's Eye. Named for the French-Canadian whiskey trader, Pierre "Pig's Eye" Parrant, who had led squatters to the settlement. Parrant had only one good eye. His other eye was piggish.

By employing my sleuthing skills (read: by searching Google Print), I found some of the story behind Pig's Eye in J. Fletcher Williams's book "History of the City of Saint Paul to 1875" (2004). Of course, Parrant was not the first to discover the land, for the Indians were already there. The story of the relations among the Indian tribes and between the Indians and Pig's Eye's whisky business is told in Gary Claton Anderson's book, "Little Crow, Spokesman for the Sioux" (1986).

The following is from Williams:

"Parrant, as before remarked, had only one eye that was serviceable. He had another, it is true, but such an eye! Blind, marble-hued, crooked, with a sinister white ring glaring around the pupil, giving a kind of piggish expression to his sodden, low features. Roswell P. Russell, now of Minneapolis, who was a sutler's clerk, at Fort Snelling then, and was frequently back and forth through the village during those days, bestowed on Parrent the suitable and expressive sobriquet, 'Pig's Eye,' and, after a little while, he was generally known by that appropriate nickname. (The Frenchmen called it O'eil de Cochon.) Finally, the name became attached to the locality itself, in the following manner:

"One day, in 1893, Edmund Brissett, a young Canadian, who had come to Fort Snelling in 1832, and was doing odd jobs of carpentering for the settlers hereabouts, such as furniture, doors, sash, &c., was stopping at Parrant's, and wanted to send a letter to Joseph R. Brown, who had a trading post on Grey Cloud Island, 12 miles below, and was a Justice of the Peace. But where should he date the letter at, was the problem? 'I looked up inquiringly at Parrant, (says Brissett, in relating the circumstances,) and, seeing his old crooked eye scowling at me, it suddenly popped into my head to date it at Pig's Eye, feeling sure that the place would be recognized, as Parrant was well known along the river. In a little while an answer was safely received, directed to me at Pig's Eye. I told the joke to some of the boys, and they made lots of fun of Parrant. He was very mad, and threatened to lick me, but never tried to execute it.' Thus the name bestowed on the place in a joke, stuck to it for years, and it is jocosely called by it to this day. After Parrant removed to the bottom, below Dayton's Bluff, some three or four years subsequently, the name became attached to that locality, and it will probably be known as such, until the end of time."

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