Many people know that the Morningside neighborhood was originally the farm of Jonathan and Eliza Grimes. But few know that the Grimes were not the first owners of the property that lies in northeast Edina. That man was Richard Strout, a land speculator who wanted to create a new community around a mill on Minnehaha Creek. The mill was built in 1857, just as the land values crashed in a nation-wide financial crisis. Guest blogger Fred Johnson, author of the book Suburban Dawn: the Emergence of Richfield, Edina and Bloomington, sheds some light on Edina's "founding father."
By Frederick L. Johnson
Land speculator Richard Strout’s determined attempts to make it big in territorial Minnesota Territory produced decidedly mixed results. Was he a founding father of Edina, a founding failure or perhaps a bit of both?
In May 1857 he earned election as a founding commissioner of the town of Richfield and led a small group of investors who planned establish, in the western part of that village, the flour milling hamlet of Waterville (the future site of Edina).
But the disastrous financial Panic of 1857 destroyed Strout’s plans and his group sold out at a ruinous loss in January 1859. He righted himself when chosen Hennepin County sheriff and won another distinction when selected, at the outset of the Civil War, captain of Company B in the newly-forming Ninth Minnesota Infantry. More misfortune, however, lay ahead.
On August 18, 1862 a new Minnesota civil war broke out when young Dakota men, frustrated by the federal government’s late land treaty payments of cash and food, attacked white settlers and traders living near them in the upper Minnesota River valley.
Bridge Square, 1867. Minnesota Historical Society photo.
For assistance Gov. Alexander Ramsey, bereft of well-trained reserves because of the raging Civil War, called upon Capt. Strout’s Company B. On August 23, the 43-year old officer gathered 40 members of his unit and 20 citizen volunteers at Minneapolis’s Bridge Square.
Ramsey ordered the under-strength, under-trained unit—labeled in one history as “virtually a sheriff’s posse”—to advance west to Forest City (Meeker County) and then south to Glencoe. Strout’s men traveled in nine wagons. Only two men were mounted.
Company B found the prairie “nearly deserted” as they trekked west. The soldiers discovered abandoned homes and evidence of hurried flight, but saw no Dakota or signs of them. Strout reached Glencoe on August 31, pleased to see the community well defended; he then began a return to Minneapolis.
Strout ordered his men to make camp at Acton on the night of September 2. When moving out next morning, the captain reportedly bragged to his soldiers, “All the Indians between us and hell can’t keep us from moving our way through them…”
Little Crow. Minnesota Historical Society photo.
What did stand in Company’s B path were about thirty-five Dakota under the capable leadership of Little Crow and another group of about sixty led by Walker Among Sacred Stones, two miles to the northeast. Shortly after leaving camp, the Indians attacked, trapping Strout’s men between them. Strout ordered Lt. William Clark to launch a bayonet charge and clear the road.
Wagon drivers raced their teams through an opening halting long enough to load wounded. They left the dead behind. The retreat turned into a stampede; soldiers heaved food and equipment from the wagons to reduce weight. Company B suffered three soldiers and one civilian killed in action and another eighteen wounded. Strout and his men fled to Hutchinson.
To many the “Battle of Acton,” as the action came to be called, reflected badly upon Capt. Strout and his men; arguments over their performance raged for decades. Strout stayed in command until March 1864, when he was dismissed from command, tainted by the charge of making a false statement. He did, however, receive an honorable discharge on March 9, 1864.
Richard Strout returned to Minneapolis and later moved with wife Sarah to Emporia, Kansas. He died there in 1899 at age 80.
Richard Strout is listed as the first owner of record on many northeast Edina properties, like this one on Scott Terrace. Because of the financial crisis, Strout's dream of creating the town of Waterville died. He sold the mill and the land that would become the Morningside neighborhood to Jonathan Grimes in 1859. Grimes had no milling experience so he established a partnership with William C. Rheem.
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