Throughout the southwest suburbs, stories are passed down from generation to generation. Whether it be town lore or family history, the art of storytelling is vital for a community.
The next time time you’re at a (virtual) party, here are a few regional “believe it or not” type of stories, ranging from cannibalism to speakeasies, that you can share with your own family and friends.
In 1916, Shakopee resident Joe Ring built a place called the stone house, located on the southwest end of Prior Lake. A salesman for Hamm’s Brewing Company, Ring originally intended the building to serve as a summer home.
However, when he sold the house in the 1920s, it was renamed the “Bucket of Blood,” a speakeasy.
It became notorious. Guests would stand at the Grainwood railroad stop and wait for a man named Pete Sprank to pick them up in his horse and buggy and take them to the Bucket of Blood. Rumor has it that many guests were mobsters from St. Paul and even Chicago.
With a name like Bucket of Blood, and mobster guests, it was sure to be one-of-a-kind.
In the history of Carver County commissioners, William Foster sets himself apart.
Before he was appointed by the territorial governor as one of the county’s first commissioners in the 1850s, Foster traveled from Illinois to California as a member of the Donner Party.
In search of free land, he and his family set off along with several other families, not knowing what obstacles might come in their way.
“They had land fever,” said Marian Calabro, author of “The Perilous Journey of the Donner Party.”
In the winter of 1846, they met those obstacles.
Of the 90 people in the party, 43 died when they got stuck in the Sierra Nevada mountains that month. For the 47 that lived, options for food were scarce.
Calabro remembered a phrase used by survivors: “Were one to die, the rest might live.”
That meant using their deceased peers as food.
Although they are remembered for the unusual survival tactics, Calabro said it was their last resort.
“It wasn’t premeditated,” she said, “except for Foster.”
In December 1846, the Donner Party was running out of hope, so they sent a 15-person team to travel through the 20-foot-deep snow to find help. Foster was a member of that group called the Snowshoe Party, otherwise known as the Forlorn Hope, a phrase describing military expeditions that were suicides.
As they began migrating, instead of going west, they went southwest.
Running low on resources, two Miwok Native Americans in the group, Luis and Salvator, caught the eye of Foster as food. Experts believe that Foster was displaying not just a need for food, but a bigoted belief toward Native Americans.
“Foster’s attitude was that all Indians were subhuman,” said Frank Mullen, author of “The Donner Party Chronicles.”
Another member of the group tipped Luis and Salvator off about Foster’s plan for murder and they soon disappeared. But not knowing where to go, they crossed paths with Foster a week later, when he killed them.
Foster was never charged for their killings. “It was cold-blooded murder,” Mullen said.
When Calabro and Mullen were writing their books, they interviewed several of Foster’s descendants and they were standing firm in their loyalty to Foster.
“I’m enormously proud of my ancestors,” one of Foster’s relatives told Calabro. “I don’t care what they say about him.”
“People believe what they want to believe,” Mullen said.
At the end of their journey, seven out of the original 15 Forlorn Hope members had survived, including Foster. While his legacy is known as being a murderer, he did go back across the Sierras to rescue children of the Donner Party.
The oddity of this tale is met with just as much mystery. Why did the Donner Party resort to cannibalism? Was there another way? The unsettling details and looming questions are what make this chapter of history intriguing.
“If everything had gone fine, nobody would remember them,” Calabro said. “Some of these questions will never be answered.”
Fred Geiser was born in 1856 on his family farm west of Chanhassen.
In death, Geiser shared accommodations — namely a tombstone in St. Hubert Catholic Cemetery.
According to “Chanhassen: A Centennial History,” Frederick Geiser wanted the biggest tombstone in the cemetery. When a salesman came along, he chose a large tombstone, but he couldn’t afford it. So he asked his brother-in-law Henry Schroeder to purchase an adjacent plot, set the tombstone on the border and split the cost.
They agreed to the venture, but when Schroeder paid the quoted price, Geiser tricked him into paying the full amount, according to the book.
A tombstone with the name Geiser on one side and Schroeder on the other was erected in 1935 and is still the biggest tombstone in St. Hubert’s Cemetery.
At the time of the Great Depression, Shakopee, like many areas in the country, was dealing with a homelessness crisis. What set the Scott County town apart was that something was being done about it.
On June 21, 1934, 520 acres near Shakopee were sold to the government for $46,000 to be a “Transient Relief Headquarters,” according to Rose James, program manager at the Scott County Historical Society. Five camps were used in Mendota, Savage, and Shakopee to house homeless men from ages 17 to 87.
200 men were assigned duties such as kitchen duty, clerical work, landscaping, carpentry, and others and worked 36 hours a week.
However, James said that by August 1935, the government announced that transient camps nationwide would be closing. Three years later, they reversed course.
The former transient camps soon became a part of the National Youth Administration, a New Deal agency.
Young men ages 18 to 25 came for six months and split time working half the day and studying the other half.
They made $30 a month — $20 going to room and board and $10 going to the boys’ families.
A year later, when Adolf Hitler and Germany began to invade Poland, kicking off World War II, the youth men were taught a new occupation: airplane mechanic.
In August 1940, construction of two seaplane bases began at the camp, kicking off work specifically tailored to national defense. And in 1942, the camp officially transferred to the U.S. Navy, where they trained recruits as machinists.
When the war ended, Shakopee Public Schools took over the land and created rental properties until the early 1960s. Currently, the site of the transient camp is part of historical interpretive village The Landing — Minnesota River Heritage Park, part of Three Rivers Park District.
Sitting in downtown Jordan is a log cabin. It may seem like just a collection of logs on the outside, but it holds more history than first meets the eye.
Built in 1870, the Ambrose Friedman log cabin first served as a barn. In 1931, Friedman, a German immigrant, marked each log in the cabin, moved the structure four miles, into the city, and rebuilt the entire building.
In 1937, a new roof, fireplace, and entrance were built. They are still a part of the building today. Three years later, the cabin was dedicated and the five local county commissioners planted five trees around the building.
While it is not part of Jordan’s city museum, Jordan Area Historical Society curator Liz Thaves said the log cabin is a museum under the supervision of the park commission and Jordan City Council.
“(The cabin) is in very good shape,” Thaves said.
Thaves encourages anyone who has an interest in the city’s heritage to venture out and explore the cabin’s history. However, she has noticed that the older generation in town seems to be more interested in the cabin than the younger ones.
“I think as people get older you become more interested in your history,” she said.
But whether old or young, this cabin still stands in Jordan and welcomes anyone who wants to learn more about the town’s history.
For residents of Savage, the town’s namesake is only half of the most well-known partnership ever to reside in the area.
In 1902, Marion W. Savage, a proprietor of the International Stock Food Company in Minneapolis, spent $62,000 to purchase a race horse named Dan Patch.
By that time, Dan Patch had been racing for two years and started to make a name for himself. Undefeated and unblemished on the race track.
Savage, as the new owner, brought something to the table that made Patch even more famous. His marketing expertise.
He put the famous Patch on everything: wagons, washing machines, clothing, plates, you name it.
“He was like our Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods,” Dan Patch Society board member Tausha Chamberland said. “He was the sports celebrity at that time.”
Chamberland, originally from the Savage area, is continuing her familial interest in the famous horse. Her father, George Augustinack, the vice president of the society until his passing in 2018, knew all there was to know about Savage and Patch. “He was a walking encyclopedia,” Chamberland said. “It was something we could do together.”
Will Williams, a good friend of Augustinack, is also a board member of the society.
Another version of a Savage encyclopedia, Williams remembered how Patch’s fame transcended Minnesota, America, and ultimately the world.
When Savage purchased Patch, a jockey came with the horse. Savage soon got rid of the jockey and, when searching for a new one, got contacted by the Russian czar, who said he would send over his country’s best jockey to man the horse.
“Talk to any horse person that knows about Dan Patch,” Williams said. “They knew him around the world.”
Along with international fame, his on-the-track success is unparalleled. In 19 official races, Patch finished his career undefeated and eventually raced against the clock, since no horse could come close to beating him.
Throughout his racing career, Savage and Patch had a special bond, like a dog to his master. Even up until their last days.
In 1916, Savage went to the hospital for hemorrhoid surgery. During his time there, the then 20-year-old Patch collapsed and died in his stable. Legend has it that before he collapsed, his legs started moving like he was running his last race.
When Savage heard the news, he was heartbroken.
Jim Ross, current vice president of the Dan Patch Society, said that there have been romanticized rumors that Savage died of a broken heart, but reportedly had a pulmonary embolism and passed away 36 hours after his beloved horse.
“It is unmistakable that Savage was very close to his horse,” Ross said.
This is where details get muddy.
Patch was reportedly buried at an unmarked grave under a tree on the Credit River. Over the years, the river rerouted slightly and very few people knew where the location was.
Ross and Williams both think that one of the few people to know where Patch was buried was Augustinack. Whether he left the coordinates before he passed away is unknown.
For everyone else, Patch’s gravesite remains a mystery.
“There isn’t anyone who knows where it is,” Chamberland said.
“I don’t think anyone knows,” Williams said.
That only adds to the legend of Dan Patch. Unparalleled racing success, worldwide fame, and gravesite mystery will be chapters of his story for all time.
“Dan Patch should be remembered for a history of excellence,” Ross said.