Samuel Hibler and a Bookstore (and More) in Shakopee: 1855

Samuel Hibler, a young man from Pennsylvania, opened a first-class bookstore in the fall of 1855. “Hurrah for Shakopee!” said the Shakopee Independent on Nov. 17, 1855, “Such an establishment is needed in Shakopee, and no man that we know of is better qualified to transact that same business than is Mr. Hibler. May success attend him for his enterprise.”

Samuel Hibler set up a book seller and stationer in just a few days, according to the article.

Though the idea of a bookstore in Shakopee was wonderful then (and wish the same now!), there is more about Samuel Hibler than just the bookstore!

On a cold stormy night in the last days of January 1856, James B. Wakefield, Henry P. Constans, Spier Spencer and Samuel V. Hibler, with several others, whose names are not important to this history, were assembled in a small store by a warm stove in Shakopee. All were poor in purse, but in youth, health and courage, were rich and hopeful.

This was a year ever memorable in Minnesota of inflated prices of land and of wild speculations. Immigrants had been coming into the territory in great numbers. For several years past great improvements had been made and fortunes acquired in a day, by speculators in lands, town-sites and corner lots. The prospects for the year just beginning were very flattering.

The conversation of this small company turned upon these interesting subjects and the project was proposed of striking out somewhere and founding a city. Others were doing this very thing and were rapidly acquiring wealth and why should they not do the same? They agreed to go forth into the wilderness and find a suitable place for a town-site, survey and plat it and settle down as permanent citizens and build a town.

Speculation was not the sole motive of this project. A desire to secure permanent locations, the establishment of business and to contribute their mite, toward the building up and development of the country, as well as the bettering of their financial condition, induced this determination.

The first intention was to go into Freeborn County, but on examining the map of southern Minnesota, the valley of the Blue Earth River fixed the attention of the company. The buffalo and elk hunter, the trapper, the Indian and the explorer, had already told their stories, of the beauty and fertility of the Blue Earth valley. Thomas Holmes had talked in glowing language of the forks of the Blue Earth River as an eligible location for a town.

In fact, a small, rough log cabin, on the north bank of the stream was built by Thomas A. Holmes in 1854 at the two branches of the Blue Earth River in Faribault County. It was very crudely built, quite low and not more than ten by twelve feet in size, and had evidently been built as a mere temporary shelter. He erected this cabin, with the intention of making a claim of the land adjoining, with a view of eventually laying out a town in the vicinity.

This he never did, however, but went so far as to employ two men, whose names are now forgotten, to go upon the land and to occupy this cabin a short time.

This cabin was the first advance made in the building of a human habitation, on the capacity and architectural style of a Dakota tioti. It was the first house erected in the county. But in 1854, Thomas A. Holmes decided to focus more on Shakopee.

And so, in 1856, the group of men from Shakopee decided to go to the head-waters of the Blue Earth River. The winter had been long and cold. It was now the beginning of February and the snow lay twenty inches deep on the level and great drifts were piled in every direction, but what are such difficulties to western energy, bent on great projects?

The company hired one Huffman, with his team and sled, and gathered together a few provisions. They gathered flour, pork, beans, some culinary utensils and a ten gallon keg of a peculiar fluid extract of rye, which latter article had been recommended by solicitous friends, as a valuable medicine in cases of frost-bites, snake-bites, chills, or general prostration. Well-armed with guns, pistols and plenty of ammunition, Samuel and others started for the forks of the Blue Earth, across a trackless region.

The cold was intense, and the roads, where there were any, were blockaded. South of Mankato no roads existed. After a tedious journey, on Feb. 6, 1956, Samuel and his group crossed the lands where Blue Earth City now stands, and proceeded about a mile further south, to the cabin of Moses Sailor, the first settler. The group stayed overnight with Moses Sailor.

Having traveled all day over trackless prairies, plunging through deep snow drifts, sometimes breaking the way for the team, Samuel and the other pioneers were well nigh exhausted and they enjoyed the hearty welcome, the warm fire, the corn bread and bacon of the first settler.

Having fully explained their designs to Moses Sailor, the next morning the pioneers, with Moses in the lead, entered upon the lands where the future city was to be built. Moses, knowing the ground well, pointed out to them in glowing language the beauty and adaptability of the location for a town-site. But few words are necessary with men of business and it was forthwith decided to found the town. They were shown the small log cabin of Thomas A. Holmes, in which they stored their goods and took up their abode for the present.

On the following day Wakefield and Spencer started out with the team, on their return to Shakopee, leaving Constans and Hibler to hold possession of the country.

Henry and Samuel were left alone and went to work to render themselves as comfortable as possible in their cabin. Their usual amusements were chopping wood and carrying it up the steep bank of the river, to their cabin, keeping fire and cooking their victuals. Frequently informal visits would be made to Moses’s, where they would get a warm meal, which visits would be kindly returned by Moses in a day or two, and these courtesies were usually, according to the strict etiquette of the times, rendered mellow and agreeable.

Thus the time passed until about March 7, 1856, when James returned with a pocketful of official commissions and accompanied by another new settler, George B. Kingsley. Spier did not return, but stayed in Shakopee.

During this time of organization of the county, there were not probably more than fifteen white male voters in the county. The pioneers, now four of them, Wakefield, Constans, Hibler, and Kingsley, all living in the small cabin, decided that their quarters were too small and uncomfortable and determined at once to build a larger house.

This they proceeded to do and, after a week or two of hard work and the assistance of the Sailor boys, the result was the Elkhorn, erected on the proposed town-site of Blue Earth City. It was the first house on the town-site. The building was constructed of rough logs and was very roomy, being sixteen by twenty-two feet, one story high, large chimney, puncheon floor, and one civilized window. As soon as completed they removed into this commodious tenement and it became the general rendezvous, and head-quarters of the county for some time.

Spring set in about the middle of March and the snow soon entirely disappeared, but it was still cold. Provisions had run very low and Moses had also exhausted his store. The weather continued cold—the ice in the streams was breaking up—the waters getting high and traveling was impossible. Day after day even weeks passed, but no one came bringing provisions. No one could go after supplies, and starvation was imminent. They were at last reduced to buckwheat slapjacks, the flour being stirred up with water, and as a rarity occasionally seasoned with ground cinnamon bark. This was the only article of food for some weeks, except that on several occasions some wild game—a squirrel or a rabbit—would be shot.

And to add greatly to their miseries, their stock of tobacco became entirely exhausted—not a crumb left. “Oh for one chew! Just one smoke!” was the repeated exclamation. Barks and roots were tried but gave no relief—pockets were worn out with the involuntary search for the weed and in the silent hours of the night weird dreams came to them of jolly plugs of pure Cavendish, great smoking Meerschaums, and Royal Havanas, dancing in the air.

During this trying time, however, an event occurred which threw the company into great excitement—a fine fat raccoon was discovered in a tree top, at a short distance! Here now was something of real importance. It had of course to be taken by some means as they were out of meat. It was one of those great emergencies, where presence of mind, steady nerves, and skill alone triumph. So the mighty hunter Constans, by far the best marks-man in the party and a dead shot, was deputed to bring down the raccoon.

Henry approached the game with that silence, stealth and cunning, known only to the skilled hunter. He took deadly aim with a rest, he fired—the raccoon did not stir. Quickly loading again with great care and circumspection, he shot again but strange to say there were no signs of trouble in that tree top. And now, alas, it was found that the shots were all exhausted. What was to be done?

Henry wore a vest, on which were some round buttons. He pulled out his knife and off came the buttons. This was serious, so the gun was reloaded with the heavy buttons. Henry, concentrating his powers, took another deadly aim—fired and down came the raccoon, and down also came the hunter! The gun killed, or nearly so, at both ends. It had kicked him fair on the nose, knocking him over. His nose was smashed. But they got the raccoon, and they had a great old time eating once again!

Life in Faribault County during this time was not especially attractive and began to hang heavily upon our pioneers. No amusements—but few neighbors, no mails, nothing to do, except the cooking of their meals and carrying in their wood and water. Their stories had all been told a dozen times, invention even was exhausted, no reading matter but that which had been read and re-read until it had become disgustingly stale. A vocal band was organized and much time spent in singing. Quiet games of cards were played, with no other purpose than to kill time, or as was often the fact to determine definitely who should bring in the next bucket of water, or back in the next load of wood. The last days of the month arrived and with it the occurrence of a great and long hoped for event.

Settlers now began to come into various parts of the county rapidly and locate. A number of claims were taken and cabins erected, and as the pleasant month of June arrived, the ground became settled and the great work of surveying the town-site was begun.

Thomas Hood, of Shakopee, a first-class surveyor, was employed and a surveying corps was organized. The surveying and staking out of the city required about a month’s labor, and was completed in the first days of July.

Samuel, the register of deeds of the county and one of the original town proprietors, was holding a section adjoining the town-site of Blue Earth City as a claim. He had erected a small cabin and made some other improvements in the land. The land was very valuable, and since Hibler wasn’t on the claim, Theophius Bowen jumped the claim. He wanted to contest Hibler’s right to own the land on the local land office.

The jumping of claims was in those days very unpopular. Many people lost their lives in this territory because of claim jumping. Law and order was not well established and trespassing often resulted in the strong and bloody hand.

On Oct. 15, 1856, Samuel and several friends proceeded to the house on his claim and ordered Bowen off the premises. A young man, Alfonso Brooks, was in the house at the time with Theophius Bowen. High words followed between Samuel and Theophius, and when they got into a scuttle, Alfonso tried to interfere. Hibler, who had a stout cane in his hand, struck Brooks over the head. Alphonso stooped down to pick up a piece of brick from the small pile in the corner, and as he arose, Samuel struck him again on the head several times.

Alfonso fell and died in about an hour. His skull was broken.

Alfonso was buried in the graveyard at Blue Earth City. He was a young man of good habits, intelligent, of inoffensive character, and not one of the principal parties to the quarrel. He was stricken down in the prime of his life.

Theophius immediately went to Mankato to make a complaint against Samuel and some others, whom he considered implicated. The complaint was made before the justice of the peace, who issued a warrant for the arrest of Hibler and others. Samuel Hibler got an attorney from Shakopee, Thomas J. Galbraith, and James Dow, an attorney from Red Wing. Lewis Branson of Mankato was the prosecuting attorney.

Attorney Thomas J. Galbraith (who would be involved in the U.S.-Dakota Conflict in 1862) moved to discharge the prisoners because they had no jurisdiction over the territory where the offense had been committed.

They were discharged.

Samuel never returned to the county. He went to Shakopee, where he remained for a short time. And then he returned to Pennsylvania, his native state.

Theophius subsequently pre-empted the land in dispute, and later it was laid out as an addition to Blue Earth City.

The current opinion of the time was that the killing of Alfonso was mainly an accident, and that Samuel was not seriously to be blamed under the circumstances.

And so, Shakopee lost a bookstore, Samuel V. Hibler moved back to Pennsylvania, and Alfonso Brooks lost his life.

See what happens when you read?!!!!

(Some information from The History of Faribault County, Minnesota: From Its First Settlement to the Close of the Year 1879 (1896) by Jacob Armel Kiester. Minneapolis: Harrison & Smith; The Bench and Bar of Faribault County by J.A. Kiester at geneaologytrails.com/minn/Faribault/.countyhistory.html; and New Book Store, Shakopee Independent, Nov. 17, 1855.)

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