"We are all of us living in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." ~Oscar Wilde
"Adventure is worthwhile in itself." ~Amelia Earhart

October 1, 2011

Pierre "Pig's Eye" Parrant and Fountain Cave

Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Sometimes, I become fascinated by people from history.  Most of the time, they're obscure figures that most living people have never heard of. And, just as often, they're a little bit dodgy. That's the case with Pierre "Pig's Eye" Parrant.

Pig's Eye was one of the first European settlers in the area of St. Paul, Minnesota and that town almost ended up being named after him. Before moving to Minnesota, Parrant was a fur trader. But, sales had started to die down and he ended up in a squatter's colony near Fort Snelling where he supported himself by making liquor and selling it to Native Americans, soldiers, and the other settlers. But, in 1837, he was driven out of the area because of his very illegal bootlegging. 

He didn't move very far away, though. Just across the river where he staked a claim in front of Fountain Cave. And, for awhile, Fountain Cave became "Pig's Eye Tavern". The locals began calling the area Pig's Eye and even addressed their mail that way.

Around 1841, a Catholic priest named Lucien Galtier moved to the area and built a small church. When he discovered that the town was named after a tavernkeep, he was horrified and somehow convinced the residents to rename the area to St. Paul.

Parrant continued his business until about 1844 when he lost his claim to the land. And nobody really knows what became of him after that.

Sadly, you can't visit Fountain Cave anymore. The entrance to the cave was buried during road construction in 1960. But, about a year ago, I came across this historical marker telling a little bit of the cave's story.

It reads:

"Fountain Cave, a landmark known as early as 1811, was named for the sparkling creek that flowed from its mouth and continued some 375 feet through a ravine to join the Mississippi River about 140 feet downstream from this marker. The cave attracted such noted explorers as Stephen H. Long in 1817, Henry R. Schoolcraft in 1820, and Joseph N. Nicollet in 1837 - all of whom described it in their journals. 
Before the land east of the Mississippi was opened to settlement, Pierre "Pig's Eye" Parrant, a vagrant voyageur who sold whiskey illegally to soldiers and Indians, in 1837 staked a claim where the ravine met the river. Here in 1838 he built a saloon - a small hovel that was the first building on the site of what is now St. Paul. He was followed during that year by several refugee settlers who had been ousted from the Fort Snelling military reservation. 
For many decades tourists visited Fountain Cave to view its pure white sandstone walls and mysterious interior chambers. Through the years debris accumulated to block its entrance. Construction of a highway in the early 1960's made it necessary to fill in most of the ravine, so that there is now no visible indication of where the cave is located."

I remember reading a book written by a Minnesota man who spent his free time exploring the sewers and caves of Minnesota. One of his quests was to find Fountain Cave. Don't know if he ever found it.

Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Parrant
Minnesota Fun Facts - http://www.minnesotafunfacts.com/st-paul-history/pierre-pigs-eye-parrant-one-of-the-first-st-paul-settlers/
Fort Road Federation - http://www.fortroadfederation.org/westend.htm 


Lidian said...

That is really cool and interesting - thanks for writing about Pig's Eye! My mother went to college near the Twin Cities, and she liked going in to visit a lot (this was back in the 40s).

Berryvox said...

Lidian - I'm not surprised you like it! :) Your blogs are 2 of my favorites. The more I learn about MN history, the more cool characters I find.

Ferd said...

This was a VERY interesting post!
I hope this is a chapter in your forthcoming ebook! ;-)

Berryvox said...

Ferd - It's very likely. :)