When Father Lucien Galtier arrived at the small settlement on the upper Mississippi River in 1841 to build it's first church, he was aghast at the town's name. According to local legend, when he consecrated his chapel, he rechristened the community as well: "…converted thou shalt be, like Saul; Arise, and be, henceforth, Saint Paul!" But for Father Galtier, the capitol of Minnesota might have retained it's original name: Pig's Eye.
Pierre "Pig's Eye" Parrant was a fur-trapper and part-time bootlegger who lived in the Great Lakes region during the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. He was born near Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, around 1777 of French Canadian parentage. For most of his life he worked as a fur trapper for a company called McKenzie and Chouteau. He was blind in one eye and his puffy bad eye gave him a pig-like appearance, and so he gained the nickname "Pig's Eye".
By the 1830s, the fur trade was beginning to dwindle and Pig's Eye was getting to old for trapping; so in 1832 he settled in a small community of squatters located near Fort Snelling at the confluence of the Minnesota River and the Mississippi. He distilled his own liquor which he sold to the other squatters, to the local Indians, and even to the soldiers of the fort. A few years later the squatters were forced off the land, and so Parrant laid claim to a tract of land on the riverbank at the mouth of a nearby cave. The cave had a natural spring in it, which served Parrant's distillery business well, and the property was located in a cleft in the river bluffs which made a good natural landing.
On June 1, 1838, Parrant completed building a small shack on the property which became “the first habitation, and the first business house of St. Paul.” This tavern became the nucleus of a small community on the river, and Pig's Eye Landing became a popular spot for the local residents, rivermen and the soldiers from the fort. And since the tavern was the most important place in town, it was natural for the residents to call the town "Pig's Eye." At least until respectable folk began settling in the area and the disreputable one-eyed booze slinger became something of an embarrassment.
In 1844, Parrant lost his claim to Fountain Cave; possibly because of a property dispute with a neighbor; possibly because of debts; and left the community he had started and which for a while had borne his name. According to one story, he died on the way back to Sault Ste. Marie. Another story says he settled in Manitoba near Winnipeg and lived until the age of 100. The truth is unknown.
Game and Story Use
- In a historical or time travel campaign set in the early 1800s, Pierre Parrant might make an interesting NPC to meet.
- He could also be a good model for a colorful tavern-keeper in any setting.