The Rock Island Railroad became an active promoter of the Minnesota Territory. In June 1854 the railroad management sponsored a "grand excursion" with Minnesota as its destination. Men of national prominence-- magnates, savants, historians, editors, and politicians--were invited to make the trip over the new railroad to the Mississippi. Former President Fillmore was in the party and gave it official approval. At Rock Island the excursionists boarded five large river steamers and sailed up the Mississippi to St. Paul, there to be received with open arms. Business was suspended and western hospitality reached new heights. Indeed the excursion received so much publicity that Congress began to regard with more prejudiced eyes the aspiring Territory at the head of the Mississippi.
Mark Vanderschaaf is correctly credited with instigating the current excitement about the Grand Excursion. His enthusiasm is built upon a desire to embrace a large region that once represented the vast, unexplored area of a continent, and has now become a group of states that do not fully appreciate their relationship to one another.
Here are two rather scholarly articles Vanderschaaf wrote on the subject:
Origins of the "Crazy Idea": How The Grand Excursion Concept Was Born
The paucity of information on this seminal journey only underscores the immense lack of awareness we currently have of such a profound historical event. It's an interesting comment on our times.
We'll have more stories of the 1854 Grand Excursion as the project moves along.