Scenes

Five Points

“Five Points Crossing is a Historic Complex of Early Trails"

By Bill Morgan

When Chris Platz bought his house, the inspector said, “Daniel Boone must have built it” Chris and is fiancé, Jessica Pfeil, live at Five Points Crossing, a historic intersection in Stearns County’s LeSauk Township. The house stands on the edge of Sartell’s future development, where several farms, including four Century Farms, are clustered near County Roads 4 and 13.

In 1861, Mathias Staubach and his wife, Gertrud, purchased the LeSauk site from the federal government. Sometime between 1861 and 1878, when the Staubachs sold the property to Peter and Maria Schmitt, Staubach erected his house in a corner where two roads meet at Five Points.

When Florence and Clarence Heim bought the farmsite in 1957, it had, besides the house, a chicken coop, a barn, a granary, a blacksmith shop, a machine shed, and a sawmill. Florence said that when the couple occupied the house it had been used as a granary and had no running water. The Heims razed all of the buildings, except for the house.

The house retains many of its original features today, including rough-hewn rafters, plank flooring, and a fieldstone foundation. A first-floor support beam shows ax marks on two sides and bark on the others. At the time when it was used as a granary someone nailed Copenhagen tins over the floor cracks to keep oats from filtering through. Florence said her husband and her father-in-law, William Heim, both chewed snuff, so the plugs may have been signs of their handiwork.

Like Clarence and Florence Heim, Chris and Jessica share a connection with the pioneer past. Tired of paying gas bills, Chris hooked up a woodstove that he feeds from the woods behind the house. Because so many people stopped to ask about his woodpile, Chris set up a mini, self-serve wood business in his yard, using a coffee can to collect change. Chris, who works for Schwan’s Fine Foods, and Jessica, an SCSU senior in elementary education, hope to restore parts of the house to their pioneer appearance.

Behind the house is a stand of oak trees, a tiny remnant of the Big Woods that once covered eastern Stearns County. Today, these woods shelter deer and turkeys, and until recently, coyotes. With access to both town and country, Chris says he and Jessica have the best of both worlds. Today, only four roads meet at Five Points Crossing. An 1874 atlas shows dense woods and a handful of dwellings, an indication that Five Points Crossing may have been a Native American site. Florence and William Heim found a pipe carved from a bone when the barn was razed. A neighbor, the late Veronica Lahr, told Florence that she fed Indians who came to her door in the 1890’s. The proximity to the 19th-century Oxcart Middle Trail is an added historic dimension to the Five Points area.

I would like to see the county erect a permanent marker to honor this unique Central Minnesota Landmark.”

Morgan, William Towner. Earth, Wood, Stone Vol. II, Central Minnesota Lives and Landmarks, pg. 122-123.


Red River Oxcart Trail ca 1860 Minnesota Historical Society

Oxcarts Plied Minnesota Prairies, 1845-1870


A Poet called the sound “simply hellish- like no sound you ever heard in your life, and it simply makes your blood run cold.” A mid-century visitor from France wrote, “A den of wild beasts cannot be compared to its hideousness.” A writer called the, “a continual creak, squeak, groan and moan from 120 pairs of wooden wheels innocent of grease.”

The sound these writers heard came from a famous early form of transportation- the Red River oxcart. The screech of hundreds of oxcarts plying Minnesota’s prairies was the result of greaseless, hard-maple axles rubbing against wheel hubs carved from elm trees. (Unlubricated axles prevented dust from collecting in the joints and freezing the wheels.) Due to continual rubbing, drivers had to carry five or six axles as replacements during a single journey. During their hey-day- 1845 to 1870- oxcart caravans carried goods between Winnipeg, Canada, Pembina, North Dakota, and St. Paul, Minnesota.

Over the years, a vast network of trails evolved, including the Woods Trail that ran through East St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids, and Sartell. The Middle Trail connected St. Cloud to Canada by way of Rockville, Cold Spring, Richmond, and points northwest.

In oxcart caravans that numbered 200 to 300 cars, Canadian traders loaded dried buffalo meat, moccasins, and beaded garments for markets in St. Paul. They later returned north with groceries, tobacco, liquor, dry goods, tools, hardware, guns and ammunition, farm implements, and window glass to sell on the Canadian market. A one-way journey took about one month.

Oxcart drivers and their families constituted one of the most colorful communities in 19th-century America-the French- Canadian metis (may-TEZ) who lived at the mouth of the Pembina River. The offspring of local American Indian women and European fur traders, the metis hunted buffalo to supply the fur traders with hides. The drivers also transported pemmican-food made from dried lean meat pounded fine and mixed with berries and melted fat.

The metis drivers wore brightly colored sashes, flannel shirts, buckskin trousers, beaded moccasins, and spoke a language formed from a broad mixed heritage, including the British Isles, France, and American-Indian. A contemporary journalist wrote that the metis language was a “rapidly uttered French patois that would drive a Parisian mad.”

The oxcart itself is one of America’s most intriguing artifacts. Prior to 1800, fur traders used dog sledges that resembled a modern toboggan. A sledge pulled by three dogs could haul 400 pounds. Traveling in caravans of 25, sledge drivers averaged 40 to 50 miles a day. In 1801, Scotsman Alex Henry taught Canadians how to build an oxcart, a popular means of transportation Henry knew from his native Scotland.

The oxcart was ideally constructed for travel through a roadless wilderness inundated with rain filled sloughs and a hilly terrain. Making use of on-site materials, the oxcart could be built on the spot with an ax, a saw, an auger, and a drawknife. In place of iron, the wooden parts were held together with pegs and rawhides. Prior to crossing a river, the five-foot wheels were removed and strapped to the floor beneath so the cart could be used as a raft.

During the 1850’s, St. Cloud and Sauk Rapids stood at the junction of the Middle Trail and the Woods Trail. Caravans crossed the Mississippi on the three ferries that operated where local bridges stand today. Waite’s crossing was a popular campsite for the oxcart drivers-a marker in River Park in Waite Park next to the Sauk River designates the spot today.

Morgan, William Towner. Earth, Wood, Stone, Central Minnesota Lives and Landmarks, pg.2-3.

10/06/2001