Murphy Square, the green space in the center of Augsburg's campus, is Minneapolis' oldest city park. One of Cedar-Riverside's first European-American settlers, Captain Edward Murphy, donated it in 1857. During its first few decades, it served as a public pasture where cows and other livestock occasionally grazed. In 1871, Murphy donated land adjacent to the park for Augsburg Seminary's new campus. A few years later he planted trees and constructed a fence around the park, but it wasn't until 1883, when the Minneapolis Park Board constructed walkways, that Murphy Square took shape as a public park.
This small piece of land-3.33 acres-represents a complicated transition from being part of the historic home of the Dakota people to becoming an American settlement that would attract thousands of immigrants and migrants, including Augsburg's Norwegian immigrant founders. Captain Murphy, a second-generation Irish American, moved to Minnesota in 1852 to join his brother in an emerging settlement on the West Bank of the Mississippi River. Since the area was part of the Fort Snelling Military Reservation, Murphy applied to the Secretary of War Department for permission to be on the West Bank and eventually claimed about 80 acres of land, amounting to most of what became Cedar-Riverside. He secured his claim with the construction of a house on the river bluffs and making the land "productive" through farming, raising cows and developing fruit orchards. He defended his claim against other squatters and in 1854 went to Washington D.C. to gain legal title to the land. Like fellow settlers of his generation, Murphy looked out from spaces like Cedar-Riverside and saw vast tracts of land that were "unoccupied," and ripe for "improvement."
But this land was not unoccupied or unused. Generations of Dakota and Ojibwe (Anishinaabe) had worn paths through its woods to camp, hunt, fish and tap maple trees. They held ceremonies at sacred places such as St. Anthony Falls and the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers, and traded with European explorers, voyageurs and American military personnel. The area that became Minnesota was largely home to the Dakota, and they called their homeland Mni Sota Makoce.
Land treaties in 1837 and 1851 forced Dakota to cede most of their lands in Minnesota. The U.S.-Dakota War in 1862 forced a majority of Dakota out of Minnesota and exiled them from their homeland. Not much physical trace of these early inhabitants remains in Cedar-RIverside. The sugar orchards have been replaced with highways and high-rises, concrete and college campuses.
Historical narratives of Minneapolis usually emphasize the contributions of people like Edward Murphy and other early settlers (most with the legal status of "squatter") who "occupied," and "improved" the city. Murphy is remembered as a "fair and civic minded" man who donated most of his land to neighborhood institutions, including Augsburg.
The history of Murphy Square reminds us that this land was once Mni Sota Makoce and for many Dakota it remains so. Its transition to becoming the center of Augsburg's campus was more complicated than this serene patch of green space may indicate.