Joseph R. Brown, peerless Minnesotan

There seem to be gremlins all around us; wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, they get their sticky fingers into the pot. It happened to us at the Trib a couple of weeks ago. About half of a column on the life of Joseph R. Brown, one of the founders of the state of Minnesota, turned up missing. It was recovered recently so now the rest of his story can be told — and here it is!

In 1851, he led a delegation of Sioux leaders to Washington, D.C., where negotiations led to the Sioux giving up about a million acres of land north of the Minnesota River. Nine years later he could report that he had more than a hundred Indian families living in houses and learning farming.

While all this was going on, Brown was running his fur business, and his shipping interests, which were so successful that he built a home for his family south of what is now Sacred Heart. It was the largest home built in that part of the state. He was so proud of it that he named it Farther-In-Gay Castle, after a castle in Scotland.

About that time he was appointed United States Indian Agent for the Dakota, a federal appointment, which he held until there was a change of administrations in Washington, D.C., in 1861 and he was replaced.

During the Dakota Conflict, Farther-in-Gay burned to the ground. This was after the family had left for safety.

Their wagon was stopped by a war party, but the members were unharmed when Susan Brown related all of her personal relationships among the Dakota, and a couple members of the war party had told of her personal kindnesses to them. They were escorted to Little Crow’s camp, where he welcomed them and kept them as his guests during the remainder of the hostilities.

It is to be assumed that Brown maintained his interests and activities until his death in 1870. He and his wife, Susan, are buried in a cemetery in Henderson.

A man who had known him well had this to say:

“Brown was prominently identified with every phase of early Minnesota history. He was a member of the convention that took the first steps to organize Minnesota Territory, and was said to be one of the most forceful writers of his day, despite his lack of education. He was a member of the constitutional convention and always had a large influence with the Indians. He was a major in the army.”

One of his contemporaries said that “Joseph R. Brown, though not free from guile, was in the main an honest man — he was a drummer boy, soldier, Indian trader, lumberman, pioneer, speculator, founder of cities, legislator, politician, editor, and inventor.”

It is also reported on good authority that his only swear word was “By George.” He was a temperance man (rather notable in a pioneer), and once introduced a bill in the Senate for the suppression of immorality, which included the prohibition of the sale of liquor on the bars of steamboats, and a provision resolving that “to advance the moral character of the community, no person shall be permitted to hang the undergarments of either sex on a public clothes line.”

This latter proposed enactment was supposed to reveal the major as a humorist; at any rate, the joke was on the state — Brown was the official printer and his bill had to be printed.