“Jolly Joe” Rolette, Minnesota’s beloved buckskin-clad territorial legislator, “runs away with the Capitol” in this 1964 comic by previous Pioneer push artist Jerry Fearing.

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Minnesota’s territorial Legislature poll in 1857 to move its funding from St. Paul come the town of St. Peter, around 60 mile southwest.

But the man tasked with sending out that legislation to the governor for a signature absconded with it instead. He disappeared ~ above a weeklong bender and also returned simply as the session finished 162 years earlier this week through the bill unsigned. Or so the story goes.

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Joe Rolette, a Minnesota ar legislator from Pembina, N.D., is often attributed with preventing Minnesota’s resources from being relocated to St. Peter. However the reality is more complicated. (Courtesy of the Minnesota historic Society)

That male was Joseph Rolette, a colorful fur businessman from the Red river Valley. His antics are often attributed with saving the capital for St. Paul by preventing its removal to St. Peter.

It’s a great story — and much of that factual — however the truth is much more complicated.


“It’s a myth the Joe Rolette conserved the resources for St. Paul,” claimed William Lass, a Minnesota historian who has actually researched and written around the episode. “But once those things space ingrained, that darn tough to root them out.”

The credit for maintaining the funding in St. Paul, Lass says, belongs rather to a lesser-known Territorial can be fried Court justice.

THE myth OF JOE ROLETTE

When Minnesota region was developed in 1849, St. Paul was designated its capital. The farming city was easily available by riverboat, and also it was among the territory’s largest population centers.

But together Minnesota all set to enter the union together the 32nd state, other capital contenders sprang up. St. Peter arised as the most serious challenger.

The initiative to relocate the resources to St. Peter to be driven practically entirely through the St. Peter soil Company, a real estate firm that owned practically all the residential property in the tiny town. Amongst the company’s shareholders were several of Minnesota’s most influential men — consisting of Gov. Willis Gorman.


Gorman and his associates experienced an opportunity to progressive the value of your land by swiping the seat of federal government from St. Paul.

“It’s a power grab on the component of the company,” Lass said.

The cause found very small support among the citizen of Minnesota, however the company’s offer to donate a thoreau of land because that the new Capitol building — and also a sizable sum of money toward its building and construction — earned the donate of part in the Legislature.

A bill for the removed of the resources to St. Peter was presented in February 1857, during the final legislative session before Minnesota would end up being a state. The bill narrowly passed the house of Representatives and also the Council, predecessor of the state Senate.

On Feb. 27, the official copy of the removal act was entrusted to Rolette, follow to early Minnesota historian J. Fletcher Williams.

“Jolly Joe,” as he to be affectionately known, had represented the Canadian border an ar of Pembina (most of i m sorry is currently in north Dakota) for five terms in the Legislature. The buckskin-clad councilor travel the 400 miles to St. Paul each year by dogsled.

As chairman the the committee ~ above enrolled bills, Rolette to be tasked with reviewing the file and forwarding it to Gorman for his signature. But Gorman never ever received the bill and also Rolette disappeared.

Most at an early stage Minnesota histories agree the Rolette locked the bill in the for sure of a neighborhood banker before retiring come an maximum ground room in ~ the Fuller house hotel, where he invested the following seven job boozing and playing cards through a discreet team of friends.

When Rolette was no at his workdesk on Feb. 28, the males of the St. Peter faction panicked.

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In desperation, among them demanded a “call that the Council,” a legislature maneuver the forced lacking members come report come the chambers — however it likewise prevented those that were existing from leaving.

All this did was freeze the proceedings that the board of directors while lock waited for Rolette to return. The Sergeant at Arms was dispatched to find for him, yet he appears to have actually made at finest a half-hearted attempt.

Back in the board of directors chambers, cots were collection up and food yielded for the legislators. This state the affairs continued for five days and also nights until among them got the shining idea come ask one more member the the Enrollment Committee to draft a second copy that the invoice for Gorman come sign. Which the did.

With only a pair of job left in the 60-day session, the call of the Council was suspended therefore it might finish its other work.

As the clock to win midnight on march 7, the president of the Council lugged down his gavel to close the session.

“The moment the doors were thrown open, in stalked Jo. Rolette, and commenced rallying his brothers members, in his vivacious and pointed style, top top the good joke he had played top top them,” Fletcher writes.

St. Paulites commemorated Rolette together a hero, carrying him with the highways — and also according come pioneer chronicler T.M. Newson, payment him a cool $3,000 because that his service to your city. (Newson additionally alleges a reward was paid to the Sergeant in ~ Arms, who had actually such a hard time recognize Rolette.)

The St. Peter faction was predictably outraged, yet they believed the substitute invoice they drafted in Rolette’s absence carried the force of law. Castle sought a court order to pressure state public official to move their offices right into the new “Capitol” castle soon developed on the financial institution of the Minnesota flow in their small town.

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As a justice of the Minnesota Territorial supreme Court, Rensselaer Nelson resolved the state’s infamous funding removal controversy in 1858. (Courtesy of the Minnesota historical Society)

Minnesota Territorial supreme Court justice Rensselaer Nelson take it up the case in spring 1857. Nelson sided through St. Paul, ruling that the Capitol remove act to be invalid since the invoice signed by Gov. Gorman was not the officially enrolled copy that Rolette had carried off.

But all of this was irrelevant, Nelson added. He pointed out that the 1849 necessary Act, which developed Minnesota Territory, stipulated that the Capitol can only it is in relocated by a vote of the people.

So, even if Rolette had gotten the initial bill signed by the governor, it too would’ve to be invalid.

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“He perform a nice little stunt,” Lass claimed of Jolly Joe. “But Rolette walk not save the capital.”

Over the years, Rolette’s high jinks were mythologized by generations that Minnesota storytellers — consisting of some at the Pioneer Press. Below is a comic by employee cartoonist Jerry Fearing, which no doubt contributed to Rolette’s legend. Because that an enlarged version, click here.

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The Pioneer Press helped cement the myth the Joe Rolette’s antics preserved the capital in St. Paul through this comic, which showed up in a 1964 publishing by employee cartoonist Jerry Fearing referred to as “The Story that Minnesota.” Fearing invested a an excellent deal that time researching his 76-page pictorial background of the phibìc Star State, yet he was nonetheless taken in by fanciful early accounts that the resources removal story.