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The Minnesota Pioneer

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Minnesota would certainly be considered among the healthiest of the United States were it not for Minnesota fever, that disease which claims as many as 93% of all those who move there. It's not life threatening, but it does affect the mind, creating the illusion that everything in Minnesota is bigger and better than anywhere else.

Even normally suspicious, hard-bitten newspaper editors are not immune, as the story of James M. Goodhue shows. Goodhue was an easterner, a graduate of Amherst, with a reputation for bold, honest, and intelligent journalism. In 1849 he went to Minnesota with his own printing press in 1849, intending to publish the first newspaper in the new Territory. He arrived in St. Paul in April, ahead of the first territorial officers.

Minnesota fever must have struck Editor Goodhue faster and stronger than usual. He planned to call his newspaper The Epistle of St. Paul, but the fever must have been in its early stages. He changed the name to The Minnesota Pioneer.

Then, the fever took over completely. Goodhue turned from editor to prophet. St. Paul was only a village of straggling shanties in 1849, but to Goodhue, it was more marvelous than the Seven Cities of Cibola. Minnesota's prairies were as fertile as the banks of the Nile (one of those lesser rivers compared to the Mississippi). He praised Minnesota's "forests of ancient pines and its lakes of crystal waters." He predicted that the Indians would disappear to be replaced by farms and villages amid "jungles of corn." He called for railroads, for telegraph lines, for good schools, for bridges across the Mississippi.

Nowhere was there a state like Minnesota. The prospectors heading for the gold fields in California in 1849 were headed for a place of "lingering, living death." The South was full of "debilitated wives and pale children—life there is merely death prolonged." Out East, resorts like Saratoga and Newport were "utterly insipid." "A month in Minnesota, especially in dog days, is worth a whole year anywhere else," he wrote.

Which proves that any last brain cells of the hard-bitten editor were burnt to a crisp by Minnesota fever.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.