The origin stories of cities and places often take on lives of their own, with myths and legends obscuring the factual history.
One such example is the commonly held belief that St. Paul, Minnesota was originally going to be named “Pig’s Eye.”
While an intriguing legend, the truth behind St. Paul’s naming proves far more complex.
Ogrins of the Myth
The myth likely originated from a poetic 1850 newspaper passage in the Minnesota Pioneer suggesting the place once called “Pig’s Eye” would convert to St. Paul.(1)
However, historical evidence reveals Pig’s Eye and St. Paul were distinct locations.(2) So how did the name St. Paul emerge?
The Nickname Pig’s Eye
The moniker “Pig’s Eye” first appeared in a humorous 1838 letter from Edmund Brissette to Joseph R. Brown.
Brissette playfully used “Pig’s Eye” as the return address, referencing a popular local character named Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant, distinguished by his unique eye.
The nickname caught on, attaching to Parrant’s settlement along the Mississippi River.
True Origins of the name Saint Paul
But this was not the present-day site of St. Paul. The true origins of the city’s name can be traced to 1841 and the construction of a Catholic chapel by Father Lucien Galtier.
According to historical records, Galtier dedicated the modest log chapel to St. Paul the Apostle and expressed his wish that the settlement would bear no other name.
The name gained wider use when Henry Jackson, appointed Chaplain of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Minnesota, secured the formal naming of the settlement as Saint Paul in 1849.
On May 23, 1849, Jackson submitted a bill incorporating the town under the name “Saint Paul,” which was approved and signed into law on November 1, 1849.
With these acts of dedication and legislation, the name Saint Paul displaced other nicknames for the settlement and became firmly established.
Father Galtier’s wish that no other name would take hold had become reality.
The Ledgen of Pigs Eye lives on
While Pig’s Eye made for a quirky nickname, the religious and legislative origins of the actual name prove far more historic.
Though the story makes for amusing lore, the facts reveal the naming was driven by the Catholic Church and political figures, not the result of a frontier gambler’s lost bet. The truth provides insight into the Midwestern city’s founders and origins, dispelling the fiction of Pig’s Eye.
(1) “Minnesota Pioneer to its Patrons,” Minnestoa Pioneer, January 2, 1850, 2.
(2) Pierre Parrant, promissory note, November 12, 1838, MNHS Collections, P1815