By David Schleper
William Louis “Bill” Quinn was born near Coldwater Springs near Fort Snelling, Minnesota on November 4, 1828. His father was Peter Quinn, who was an Irish immigrant who married Ineyahwin, also known as Mary Louisa Finley, who was a mixed-blood Christeneauz (Cree) Indian. Therefore, William was half Cree by blood.
When Bill was 20 years old, he married a half-blood Dakota woman, Angelique Jeffries, of the Mdewakanton band in 1848. By 1856, the couple had three children, all of which were one-quarter Dakota. Bill was fluent in Chippewa, Dakota, English, and perhaps other languages. At various times he was a clerk, a scout for the army, and an interpreter. Bill was employed as a clerk in the Indian trade for many years.
In the spring of 1851, Thomas A. Holmes employed Bill as a guide. They packed for one week, and Bill had already decided on two possible places for a town. They ascended the Minnesota River and cooked a meal in a hollow near the old Dakota Indian village of Tiŋta-otoŋwe. Thomas and Bill looked the place over, and climbed the bluffs north of the settlement, and Thomas was even more impressed. They decided to continue up the river to Le Sueur. But soon Thomas and Bill returned to the first landing, and deemed it the more favorite place to locate. And so Thomas Holmes picked the area near Tiŋta-otoŋwe, and called the area Holmes Landing. It was here that Thomas built a trading post for the Dakota Indians in Tiŋta-otoŋwe (which was close by where today is Sommerville Street, and continued until beyond Memorial Park.)
One interesting story about William Louis Quinn happened a few years later.
In 1862, Bill and his family were at the Yellow Medicine Agency, where he worked in William Forbes’ store. In 1862-1865 he was a scout, guide, and messenger. Bill was chief of scouts at Fort Wadsworth from 1867-1870. For 30 years, starting in 1870, Bill was immersed in learning, documenting, and providing testimony about the genealogy of Dakota mixed-bloods. In an article written in 1901, Knute Steenerson discussed his experience of being a pioneer. He had a saloon in the village of Lac que Parle. “I sold whiskey by the drink, pint, quart, and gallon. Along in the winter came a half-breed from St. Paul. He had driven up by team—there was no railroad at that time—and he was going to Big Stone Lake, he said, to buy scrip from the Indians.” Scrip allowed the holder to appropriate about 480 acres of land not already occupied for people who were half-Dakota.
“His name was Bill Quinn. He had seventeen hundred dollars in cash in his pocket book. He came into my saloon often and treated the crowd, no matter how many there were or how few. He would throw a five-dollar bill on the counter and did not want any change. When I gave him change back, he would throw it on the dirty floor and tramp on it. So I learned after a while to please him and never gave him change, but slipped the bill into the money drawer and set up the drinks. This pleased him entirely.”
“So he proceeded on to Big Stone Lake and in about a week or ten days he was back again. He brought his son and his son’s sweetheart with him. They were pretty good-looking half-breed Indians. He said he had caught them wild on an island in Big Stone Lake and wanted to ‘buckle them up’ and marry them. So he bought ten gallons of whiskey and ten gallons of cherry brandy. I was invited to the wedding, which was held at the house of a French squaw man, who lived down the river a few miles. The next thing was to send for a justice of the peace to ‘buckle them up,’ as he said.” Knute continued, “A New England Yankee was sent for. His name was Mr. Stowell, and he performed the ceremony. But Mr. Quinn was in such a hurry that he sang out between drinks, ‘buckle them up, buckle them up,’ and then again he would jig and laugh. Well, after it was done Quinn said he was so glad that they were ‘buckled up.’”
“We had a good time at the wedding. Some were drinking, some dancing, and others talking. It was a sort of cosmopolitan gathering. There were Dakota Indians talking with the lady of the house around the cook stove. There were the squaw man and old Bushma taking French. There were Fritz and Rosenbaum talking German. There were Ole Olson and John Johnson talking Norwegian. They were all enjoying a trot sling and conversation between themselves, while Bill Quinn was dancing with a glass in his hand, to the music of the violin played by the half-breed, Joe Laframboise. A more pleasant and jolly time I have never enjoyed.”
(From Knute Steenerson’s Recollections The Story of a Pioneer, Minnesota History Magazine, Vol. 4, Issue 3-4, 1921, pg. 130-151.)