Historical Facts on Sleepy Eye
Earliest travel in Minnesota was by waterways or across country until the railroads became a reality. Because of that the pioneers settled near these transportations modes. Sleepy Eye was no exception.
In 1862, a few families acquired land near Sleepy Eye Lake, a lake which had the name of a Dakota Chief Ish-Tak-Ha-Ba, which means drooping eyelid, therefore the name of Sleepy Eye, later changed to Sleepy Eye.
One of the early settlers, Thomas Allison, arrived in 1864 and decided there should be a town located here. He took his idea to the railroad's attorney, Walter Brackenridge in Rochester. After listening to his ideas Brackenridge agreed with Allison and purchased some land from him. They, with the help of others, set about the task of platting the area. On September 18, 1872, the plat of Sleepy Eye Lake was filed in the County's Book of Plats.
In the Dakotah language, the word Sisseton mean Swamp-dweller. The Sisseton people live in or near sloughy areas and Chief Sleepy Eye settled on the north shore of Sleepy Eye Lake, near the present site of the Sportmen's Park campground.
The City of Sleepy Eye was named after the Dakota Chief named Ish-Tak-Ha-Ba, which means Sleepy Eye or Dropping Eyelid. The peaceful Indian got his name from the appearance of his eyes when he woke up and before he went to sleep. An unusually tall Indian (over 6 feet), he was born around 1780 in a Sisseton Dakota Village at Swan Lake in Nicollet County, he achieved fame through friendships with Traders, explorers, missionaries, government officials and other white settlers. In fact, he wasn't a hereditary chief at all, but was commissioned by the Bureau of Indian Affairs as one in 1824. He and his band hunted a wide area between southwestern Minnesota and southeastern South Dakota. When some settlers were killed by Indians in 1857, it was demanded that he remain on reservation land along the Minnesota River. Chief Sleepy Eye agreed and from 1857-1859 his main village was at the lake that bears his name. He died in 1860 in Roberts County, South Dakota.
Some say that if Sleepy Eye had been alive, the Dakota would not have gone on the warpath and the 1862 conflict between the settlers and the Indians might not have happened. In 1898, famous Dakota Chief Red Cloud showed where he was buried. "They hit the top of his head when they dug, He was buried in a sitting position. The City of Sleepy Eye disinterred his remains from South Dakota in 1902, reburying them in a small park with proper ceremonies. A tall obelisk marks his final resting place.
Sleepy Eye wasn't always so popular, however. After the Dakota Conflict of 1862, settlers in the area were so infuriated with the Indians that they decided they did'nt want a town to be named after one. A Jan. 6,1880 election finally changed the town's name to Loreno. It didn't last long, though, and was changed to Sleepy Eye Lake, which was the original name, on May 2, 1881.
It seems almost impossible that the lake could go dry but that is what happened in the 1880's, 1931 and 1932. As a result, several people planted "Depression gardens" in the lake bed and a booming crop of potatoes was harvested.
One of the earliest industries of the city was the Sleepy Eye Flour Mill. Several different products were processed and different brands of flour, including Sleepy Eye Cream. Premiums such as butter crocks, spoons, vases and steins. Most of these items are now highly sought and sell very well as antiques. The mill finally closed its doors due to the decline of the railroad, and the flour mills in the state are now located in Minneapolis and St. Paul, along the Minnesota - Mississippi River fronts.
Another of Sleepy Eye's largest industries, Del Monte, opened a plant in Sleepy Eye in 1930. Peas and sweet corn are raised by area growers and processed at the plant.
A.J. Pietrus & Sons was a poultry processing plant and operated in Sleepy Eye for many years. Chickens, ducks, and geese were processed. An egg-dying plant provided dried eggs, many of which were used for service people in the time of wars. The plant was sold and remained in business as Pietrus Foods for a time. It was sold again and operated for a short time as Sleepy Eye Foods.
The first school in town was a log building, 16x20' and was erected by Thomas Allison. The first teacher was Justine LaFramboise, who was reportedly a relative of Chief Sleepy Eyes. This school was torn down in 1886 and a new three story school was build in 1890. On Friday, May 17, 1895 at 12:20 am an explosion occurred at the school and it was burned to the ground. A new school was build in 1895. The first graduating class was in 1890 and consisted of two graduated. The 1895 school was demolished in 1982 and a new one story school was built.
In July 1873 the area around Sleepy Eye was hit by a grasshopper plague. The devoured everything - every living green plant and the bark on trees. The plague continued through 1877 and many farmers gave up hope and sold out and moved away.
Sleepy Eye was home to the many times state champion Sleepy Eye Drum and Bugle Corps. Founded in 1927, it had three drum majors; Al Heymans, Sam McNall, and Leo B. (Pinky) Schroepfer. The corps won many state and national titles over the years. Now disbanded, there is a display in the Sleepy Eye Depot Museum showing its glory days.