The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 25, Number 9, February 27, 2022, Article 13


Pete Smith submitted these notes on the Minnehaha Falls vignettes discussed in John Ferreri's article last week. Thank you! -Editor

  Hiawatha $2.jpg Minnesota Bk

I have several items in response to the article by John Ferreri on the Minnehaha Falls vignettes.

  Item 1 - The Check Collector

The Check Collector 2009 The October 1, 2009, issue of The Check Collector illustrates two checks with the image of Minnehaha Falls and the Indians. The article indicates these were printed by the Western Bank Note and Engraving Company of Chicago. Under one is the word Minnehaha indicating that the name was known by 1868. The vignettes are similar to the banknote vignettes but not identical.

Did Western copy from the ABNCo vignettes or do both come from a common source? I am not aware of another illustration that would have been that source.

  Item 2 - Minnehaha Falls

In about 1820, the United States built Fort Saint Anthony in Indian territory at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. It was renamed Fort Snelling in 1825. Various treaties opened the land for white settlement. Steamboats came up the river as far as St. Paul which was incorporated in 1854. Upriver was the Falls of Saint Anthony with the Township of Saint Anthony established on the east side of the falls in 1855. The Township of Minneapolis was established on the west side of the falls in 1858.

Between the fort and the falls was another smaller waterfall, shown on the first maps as Brown's Falls. The native Dakota Indians used the word minnehaha, which generally translates as falling water, for both falls. By 1849 the name Minnehaha was applied to the smaller falls and it was a tourist attraction when Minnesota became a territory in 1849.

  Item 3 – The Hesler Daguerreotype
  Hesler Daguerreotype 1852

In 1852, before the towns were incorporated, travelling photographer Alexander Hesler (1823-1895) took a daguerreotype from the north side of the creek. It was reported that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow saw the photo and took inspiration to choose the name of Minnehaha for the character in Song of Hiawatha, published in 1855.

As Minneapolis developed, the names of Longfellow, Hiawatha, Minnehaha and Nokomis were applied to streets, lakes and schools in the southeast quadrant of the city near the falls. These were not a tribute to the native inhabitants but to the fictional characters in the epic poem. The Minneapolis Park Board purchased the falls and adjoining land in 1889.

The Hesler daguerreotype appears to be the source for the vignette on the $2 note for the Bank of Minnesota. Although the article by John Ferreri in The E-Sylum states that the note was printed in 1857, it is clearly dated July 4, 1862. Thus the Minnesota note is dated later than the 1861 Hartford note.

There is another vintage photograph from 1858 showing Dakota Indians at the south side of the falls. An 1885 painting by Jerome B. Thompson depicts Hiawatha and Minnehaha on Their Honeymoon which is set at the Catskill Cascades in New York. I have not found another source for the vignettes.

  Item 4 – The Hoeffler Sketch

Hoeffler Sketch 1852 Also in 1852, landscape artist Adolph Johann Hoeffler (1825-1898) came up river to visit the falls. His narrative and sketches were published as Sketches on the Upper Mississippi in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in July 1853.

The publication in a mass-circulation magazine would have brought the falls to the attention of more people than the Hesler daguerreotype with limited distribution.

  Item 5 – Hoeffler on Indian Names

I enjoyed Hoeffler's comments on Indian names.

The Indians, in their exquisite appreciation of nature, have given this water-fall the appropriate name of Minnihaha, or The Laughing Waters, but utilitarian, egotistical white man calls it Brown's Falls! In the name of common sense and all that is poetic and pleasing in human nature, let us solemnly protest against those desecrations which rub out our beautiful lakes, rivers and cascades, of their charming and significant Indian names and no longer allow every Brown, Smith, Snooks and Fizzle, who happens to be the first to see some beautiful creation of nature, with dull eyes which have no appreciation for any thing more sentimental than a lump of copper or lead, a buffalo hide or a cat-fish, to perpetuate his cognomen at the expense of good taste and common honesty.

  Item 6 – The Indian Name

White translation of Indian words often suffers from misidentification and misinterpretation. The Dakota phrase minne translates as water and is used in Minnesota place names like Minneapolis, Minnehaha, and Minnetonka. One translation of the Dakota minnehaha is falling water or waterfall. The Dakota used it for both the Brown's Falls and the Falls of Saint Anthony.

Some writers think that haha is a laugh and say minnehaha meant laughing waters. This was not correct. It is also not correct to say that the Indians called it Minnehaha Falls. That would be like saying they called it Waterfall Falls. It is likely the Dakota did not use the name Minnehaha Falls before Longfellow wrote his epic poem.

Longfellow used the names Minnehaha and Laughing Water interchangeably for the woman. He set the site of her Dakota village at the Falls of Minnehaha.

  Item 7 – How Did it Work?

I can imagine a scenario where a bank president would meet with a salesman from the American Bank Note Company. The salesman would show samples of vignettes that were available and the president would select what appealed to him. The vignettes might have had a local connection or might be totally unrelated.

Was the image of the falls promoted as related to The Song of Hiawatha? Would the bank president know that? That part of the story remains unknown. Perhaps this example could lead to a larger discussion of landmarks that appear on National Bank Notes.

  Item 8 – The Northwest Coin Club Medal

Northwest Coin Club 1936.02 Finally, I want to put in a plug for my local coin club and show the medal the club produced in 1936. There are no fictional Indians on the medal.

John Ferreri writes:

"Nice to have more information! I've been pondering that date of mine, he mentions. I don't know where that came from, obviously incorrect!"

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:

  MDC Monaco E-Sylum ad 2022-02-13 E-Sale 2

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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