Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
History of Minnesota
Geological history and early life
2.7 billion years ago, the first pieces of land that would later form the U.S. state of Minnesota began to rise up out of an ancient ocean as a chain of volcanic islands. Much of the underlying gneiss rock of today's state had already been formed nearly a billion years earlier, but still laid underneath the sea. Except for the region where the islands appeared in what is now the northern part of the state, most of the region remained underwater. About two billion years ago, much of the water had drained away. Heavy mineral deposits containing iron collected on the shores of a receding sea to form the Mesabi, Cuyuna , Vermilion , and Gunflint iron ranges from the center of the state up into what is now Canada. These regions also showed the first signs of life as algae grew in the shallow waters.
1.1 billion years ago, a rift valley began to pull the state apart. Lava emerged from cracks along the edges. The rift extended from the current Lake Superior area through the state and down into what is now Kansas. However, the separation stopped before the land could become two separate continents. About 100 million years later, the last volcano in the area went quiet.
550 million years ago, the area found itself repeatedly inundated with water of a shallow sea that grew and receded through several cycles. At this point, the land mass of what is now North America ran along the equator. At that time, Minnesota had a tropical climate. Small marine creatures such as trilobites, coral, and snails float through the sea. The shells of the tiny animals sink to the bottom of the sea, eventually forming limestone and sandstone. When dinosaurs roamed the planet, Minnesota didn't have a remarkable population of thunder lizards. The region remained coastline for a long period, with creatures resembling crocodiles and sharks sliding through the nearby seas.
Other land animals followed as the dinosaurs disappeared, but much of the historical record of this time was etched away as glaciers expanded and retreated across the region through several cycles starting about 2 million years ago. Ice ages come and go as humans develop in other parts of the world. The ice continued to retreat for the last time about 12,500 years before the present time. Melting glaciers filled the lakes and rivers of the state. Minnesota was on the southern edge of Lake Agassiz at this time, a massive lake with a volume rivaling that of the Great Lakes combined together. The River Warren was the southern outlet of the lake, and had an immense flow through the valleys now used by the Minnesota River and Mississippi River. Falls on the river were precursors to the Saint Anthony Falls.
At this time, a number of giant animals roamed the area. Beavers were the size of bears, and mammoths were 14 feet (4.3m) high at the shoulder and weighed 10 tons. Even buffalo were much larger than they are today. Glaciers continued to retreat and the climate became warmer in the next few millennia. The giant creatures eventually died out about 9,000 years ago.
Early visits and settlement
Archaeological evidence indicates that human beings first came to the region about 12,000 to 10,500 years ago (10,000 BC to 8500 BC). Clovis points have been discovered in the area, but dating stone tools is difficult. Some Native Americans believe that humans came to North America even before this time.
Some of the earliest evidence of a sustained presence in the area comes from a site known as Bradbury Brook near Lake Mille Lacs which was used around the year 7500 BC. Before long, extensive trading networks apparently began to grow. The body of an early resident known as "Minnesota Woman " was discovered in 1931 in Otter Tail County. Radiocarbon dating determined that she had come through the area in approximately 6600 BC. She had a conch shell from a snail species known as Busycon perversa , which has only been known to exist in Florida.
Several hundred years later, the climate of Minnesota warmed significantly. Archaeologists have found that stone tools shrank in this time as native people transitioned from hunting (very) big game toward smaller creatures. Hooks, nets, and harpoons were also devised for catching fish.
Around 5000 BC, people on the shores of Lake Superior (in Minnesota and portions of what is now Michigan, Wisconsin, and Canada) were the first on the continent to begin making metal tools. They used pieces of ore with high concentrations of copper. The pieces were initially pounded into a rough shape, heated to reduce brittleness, and pounded again to refine the shape, and heated again. Edges could be made sharp enough to be useful as knives or spear points.
Native people began intentionally leaving their mark around 3000 BC. Stone carvings depicting people and animals were carved into rock faces until just a few hundred years ago. Pieces of pottery began to appear at shortlived settlements about 2000 years later. Around 700 BC, burial mounds were first created. The practice of making mounds also continued until about the time white settlers began moving into the area. At one time, 10,000 such mounds dotted the state.
By 800 AD, wild rice became a staple crop in the region, much like corn farther to the south. Within a few hundred years, the Mississippian culture reached into the southeast portion of the state, and large villages were formed. The Dakota Indian culture may have descended from some of the peoples of the Mississippian culture.
According to local legend, the earliest Europeans to arrive were Vikings from Scandinavia around the year 1362. The Kensington Runestone was reportedly found in the field of Olaf Ohman near Alexandria, Minnesota in 1898. Most scholars dismiss it as a hoax, however.
It was a few more centuries before contact between Europeans and Native Americans of Minnesota could be confirmed. In the late 1650s, Pierre Esprit Radisson and Sieur des Groseilliers were probably the first to meet Dakota Indians while following the southern shore of Lake Superior (which would be northern Wisconsin). The north shore was explored in the 1660s. Among the first to do this was Claude Allouez , a missionary on Madeline Island. He made an early map of the area in 1671.
Also around this time, the Ojibwe Indians reached Minnesota as part of a westward migration. Having come from a region around Maine, they were experienced at dealing with white traders. They dealt in furs and possessed guns. Tensions rose between the Ojibwe and Dakota in the ensuing years.
In 1671, France signed a treaty with a number of tribes to allow trade. Various explorers and traders were soon coming through the region. French trader Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut was soon in the area and trading with the local tribes. Du Lhut explored the western area of Lake Superior (hence the city of Duluth) and areas south of there. He helped to arrange a peace agreement between the Dakota and Ojibwe tribes in 1679.
Father Louis Hennepin with companion Michel Aco (and possibly another) headed north from the area of Illinois after coming into that area with an exploration party headed by René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. They were captured by a Dakota tribe in 1880. While with the tribe, they came across and named the Falls of St. Anthony. Soon, du Lhut negotiated to have Hennepin's party released from captivity. Hennepin returned to Europe and wrote a book, published in 1683, about his travels where many portions (including the part about St. Anthony Falls) were strongly embellished.
Explorers still searching for the fabled Northwest Passage and large inland seas in North America continued to pass through the state. In 1731, the Grand Portage trail was first passed through by a European, Pierre La Vérendrye . He used a map written down on a piece of birch bark by Ochagach , an Assiniboin guide.
The area of Minnesota was first claimed by France in the 17th century, before anyone had even visited the area. Explorers came through over the course of about a century. In 1763, the French ceded much of their claimed territory in North America to the Kingdom of Great Britain in the Treaty of Paris following the Seven Years' War. Northern regions of Minnesota now came under the control of the British. Spain claimed the rest of the region comprising the current state. However, no Spanish explorers had come through the area, and it was eventually transferred to French hands in 1800.
In the late 18th century, The United States came into being. A portion of previously British territory in Minnesota was soon claimed by Americans. The Northwest Territory was formed in 1787 and included lands east of the Mississippi, including the northeastern region around Lake Superior.
In 1800, the Northwest Territory was divided into two parts. The western portion became Indiana Territory while the western part became Ohio. Also in 1800, a wide swath of land once claimed by Spain became French territory, but it didn't stay that way for long. The Louisiana Purchase brought most of what is now Minnesota under the control of Americans in 1803.
In 1809, the eastern portion of Minnesota again changed names, this time becoming Illinois Territory until the State of Illinois was formed in 1818. The land became part of Michigan Territory. The western part of the state became known as part of Missouri Territory in 1812, until it became unorganized in 1821 when Missouri became a state.
The western portion of Minnesota was merged into Michigan Territory along with the eastern portion that was already part of that region in 1834. It was separated off in 1836 to become Wisconsin Territory. Another two years, and Iowa Territory was separated off in 1838.
The area was split off again when Iowa was formed from Iowa Territory in 1846. Minnesota Territory finally came into being on March 3, 1849. The territory stretches west to the Missouri River. A flurry of other activities occur the same year as cities and counties are incorporated and new agencies are formed under the new government (such as the Minnesota Historical Society ).
Land purchases and treaties
In 1805, two years after the Louisiana Purchase, Zebulon Pike purchased land from the Dakota that would later become the basis of Fort Snelling. For Americans, this was the first region that could be legally settled. However, a permanent U.S. presence didn't come to the new land for more than a decade.
The Ho-Chunk were moved in 1847 by the U.S. government after a treaty was signed with them. They were moved from northeast Iowa and southeast Minnesota into a reservation in the central part of the state where Todd County currently is. The reservation was meant to be a buffer zone between the Dakota and Ojibwe tribes, which were continuing to come into conflict. Also in 1847, the Ojibwe ceded a section of land west of the Mississippi in central Minnesota to the U.S. government.
The Dakota tribes ceded a massive swath of southern Minnesota in 1852, except for a region along the western part of the Minnesota River. Two vast stretches of land were ceded by the Ojibwe in following years. The first comes in 1854, and composed most of the modern Arrowhead Region . The next year, another parcel of land stretching most of the way across the state was ceded.
In 1855, The Winnebago tribe moved again, from their settlement in Todd County to a smaller one in Blue Earth County. The Todd County settlement was wooded, a relatively unfamiliar area for the tribe, which was more accustomed to prairie life.
In 1858, another blow was dealt to the Dakota tribe as half of their land around the Minnesota River (the northern bank) was ceded. Representatives of the tribe had gone to Washington, D.C. to discuss grievances about payments, but were instead pressured into signing another treaty.
Native people had been on the land for millennia. Many of the earliest major villages were part of the Mississippian civilization, though that society came apart long before Europeans came into the area. The Ojibwe came in the mid-17th century, and the earliest white settlements by French explorers appeared soon after, but didn't take root.
A military encampment known as Fort St. Anthony appeared at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers in 1819. The first winter, more than 30 people died when supplies ran low in a temporary encampment down near the river. In the following five years, the men quarried stone and felled trees to build the fort, soon named for Colonel Josiah Snelling , who led the group. The fort was built to protect the American fur trade by preventing British traders from taking business away from U.S. traders.
At the fort, Lawrence Taliaferro was an agent of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. He spent 20 years at the site, finally resigning in 1839. A community known as Mendota began growing across the river, but squatters also made their presence known in another nearby camp. A number of the people at the fort didn't appreciate the new presence, Taliaferro among them. The fort imposed new restrictions a few times, forcing the squatters to head downriver.
The squatters, mostly from the ill-fated Selkirk Colony in what is now the Canadian province of Manitoba, next settled a site known as Fountain Cave. This site wasn't quite far enough for the officers at the fort, so the squatters were forced out again, this time naming their settlement Pig's Eye after Pierre "Pig's Eye" Parrant, a popular moonshiner of the colony. The name was later changed to Lambert's Landing and then finally Saint Paul. However, the earliest name for the area comes from an Indian colony Im-in-i-ja Ska, meaning "White Rock" and referring to the limestone bluffs nearby.
Mapping the region
The earliest maps came as French explorers and traders explored the region. Lake Superior was explored in the 1650s and 1660s, and many early visitors followed the nearby St. Croix River to head south. Others came from the south along the Mississippi.
In 1822, two 14-year-old boys from Fort Snelling, Joe Brown and Will Snelling, had paddled up Minnehaha Creek and found a large lake. Few whites visited the site for the next 30 years, until territorial governor Alexander Ramsey visited the site in 1852. He named it Lake Minnetonka, a name based on the native word for the site, meaning "big water."
In 1823, Italian count Giacomo Beltrami reached Fort Snelling on the steamboat Virginia, the first steamboat to visit the fort. Beltrami, an umbrella-weilding eccentric, spent two months at the fort before heading out to explore. Before long, his two guides deserted him, and he becomes lost. However, when he returned, he claimed to have found the source of the Mississippi.
Another decade came before the true source was known. In 1832, Henry Schoolcraft was guided by a group of Ojibwe headed by Ozawindib to a lake in northern Minnesota. Schoolcraft named it Lake Itasca, combining the Latin words veritas ("truth") and caput ("head"). The native name for the lake was Omushkos, meaning elk.
Joseph Nicollet explored the area in the late 1830s, exploring and mapping the Upper Mississippi River basin. He and John C. Frémont left their mark in the southwest of the state, carving their names in the pipestone quarries near Winnewissa Falls (an area now part of Pipestone National Monument in Pipestone County).
Lawrence Taliaferro, Fort Snelling's Indian Agent, became a respected official by the local tribes. They liked him because he never made promises.
Samuel Pond and Gideon Pond came to the area in 1834 to study the Dakota language. They settled in a cabin near Lake Calhoun in what is now Minneapolis. For the rest of their lives, they worked to create a written form of the language, compiling dictionaries and unraveling the language's grammar. The following years saw further encroachment of white settlers on Dakota and Ojibwe land.
Agriculture and milling
Before Europeans arrived, the native population had raised wild rice as a staple crop. Other crops were also planted as the Mississippian culture influenced the region. As the United States government pushed into the area, the Indian tribes were eventually forced to begin European-style farming.
White settlers became interested in the area's trees, and treaties allowing logging were signed in the 1830s. In 1848, businessman Franklin Steele built the first sawmill on the St. Anthony Falls. Several more mills quickly followed. Interest in trees was quickly followed by interest in other crops. The first delivery of wheat from Minnesota reached Chicago in 1859.
Harriet Bishop was the first public school teacher in St. Paul, coming to the area in 1847 and setting up in a former blacksmith's shop. Originally from New England, she had gone to New York to attend Catharine Beecher's training courses. She later wrote several books and opened a "Female Seminary" in 1850. She was also an advocate of women's suffrage for the rest of her life.
The University of Minnesota first formed in 1851, although college-level courses don't begin for quite some time. The University had a rocky beginning, and it eventually closed for several years before being restarted.
In 1885, children between the ages of 8 and 16 were required by law to attend twelve weeks of school per year.
Promotion and mass media
From the time Father Louis Hennepin first laid out an account of travels to Minnesota, the region has been heavily promoted.
Jonathan Carver, a shoemaker from Massachusetts, visited the area in 1767 as part of another expedition. He and the rest of the exploration party were only able to stay for a relatively short period, due to supply shortages. They headed back east to Fort Michilimackinac, where Carver wrote journals about the trip, though others would later claim the stories were largely plagiarized from others. The stories were published in 1778, but Carver died before the book gained him much money.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published The Song of Hiawatha in 1855, which contains references to many regions in Minnesota. He hadn't visited the state, but instead based his story on Ojibwe legends carried back east by other explorers and traders (particularly those collected by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft).
Ignatius Donnelly and John Nininger "founded" the settlement of Nininger in 1856 near the current city of Hastings. Initially, the site only existed on paper, but through clever marketing, the speculators were able to build a thriving community of 1000 inhabitants within two years. However, boom soon turned to bust, and by 1869, Donnelly was the town's only resident.
Henry Hastings Sibley came to Minnesota around 1834, to head a post of the American Fur Company in Mendota. Sibley stayed around, eventually acting as a delegate for Minnesota Territory in the United States Congress (starting in 1849), becoming a territorial legislator in 1855, and then becoming the first Governor of Minnesota after the territory became a state.
1857 was a busy year. Slavery and race became an important issue as the state began drafting its constitution in preparation for statehood. The Missouri Compromise meant that Minnesota should become a free state, but this wasn't true for everyone. Dred Scott and his wife Harriet had been brought to Fort Snelling in 1836 and they had traveled with their owner through other northern territories where slavery was illegal. Scott sued for his freedom in 1846, but after 11 years of trials, it was declared that he was still a slave.
Republicans attempted to include the right for blacks to vote in the state's constitution, but Democrats did not like the idea. The eventual constitution did not give blacks the right to vote, but amending the constitution was made easy enough that it could be tried later.
The capital of Minnesota was almost moved to St. Peter, but legislator Joe Rolette disappeared with the bill long enough to prevent it from being signed into law. The bill had been proposed by individuals with vested interests in moving the capital—they owned land in the new city.
Blacks were given the right to vote when a constitutional amendment was passed in 1868.
Early transportation in Minnesota was simple: by foot or by water. Native populations made canoes out of local materials.
As European traders first came into the region, they also brought horses, which had been extinct on the continent for 8,000 years. They were reintroduced to the area through trade in the mid-18th century. The Dakota used them to follow bison herds over greater distances.
1855 marked the completion of first permanent bridge to cross the Mississippi River's main channel. The toll bridge made use of Nicollet Island just upriver of Saint Anthony Falls to shorten the required distance. A suspended span, the bridge was replaced by a heavier Hennepin Avenue Bridge in 1876, which finally gave way to a steel arch crossing that lasted for nearly a century starting in 1891 before being replaced by the current bridge on the site in 1990.
Until the late 19th century and early 20th century, the state was highly dependent upon the availability of horses. In 1872, the state's horses were hard-hit by an Epizootic fever .
Early traders and explorers largely moved along the waterways of the area. The Mississippi and St. Croix rivers were well-known by 1700, along with Lake Superior. The steamboat made it possible for newcomers to quickly come into the area by traveling up the Mississippi. During warmer months in the mid-1850s four or five steamboats were arriving every day.
In 1862, a train pulled by the locomotive William Crooks made the first trip by rail between St. Paul and St. Anthony (in what is now Minneapolis). The ability to travel by rail was greatly expanded in the following years.
As early as 1867, streetcars were attempted in Minneapolis. Dorilus Morrison, the city's first mayor, is believed to have laid track and purchased a horse-drawn streetcar, but it was another eight years before a successful operation started in that city. In 1872, Saint Paul beat its neighbor to the punch and launched a successful street railway. The two cities were linked by an interurban line in 1890, and the two city companies merged to form the Twin City Rapid Transit Company. Around that time, the lines also moved toward using electricity for power, rather than horses. A few steam-powered lines also ran for a while. Within two decades, certain lines were operating at speeds of 40 miles per hour or more, with some streetcars capable of traveling faster than 60 miles per hour.
In 1879, James J. Hill first got into the railroad business by purchasing a failing company. It was renamed the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba, and would eventually become known as the Great Northern Railroad. In 1883, his company constructed the Stone Arch Bridge as a crossing of the Mississippi in Minneapolis, a landmark that still stands today. By 1891, Hill was a very rich man. His home was being completed around that time. The total cost came to $931,275.01, including furnishings.
That same year, the city reported its highest level of passenger rail traffic, with about eight million passengers handled at the old Saint Paul Union Depot. About 150 trains departed daily around this time.
Many place names in Minnesota have interesting stories behind them. Some sites used traditional Dakota or Ojibwe names, but many were named for historical or legendary figures. Hiawatha and Nokomis come from the legend of Hiawatha. Minnehaha Creek was already named by that time, according to the legend, and Hiawatha became involved with a woman named after the creek, Minnehaha . Winona, Minnesota is named for Wenonah, another character in the story.
The population of the region dramatically increased in the 1850s after treaties were signed with Native American populations, allowing newcomers to legally settle on the land. In 1849, the estimated population of the region was 3,814. Just over a decade later, the 1860 census indicated a population of 172,072.
When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, governor Alexander Ramsey was in Washington. His proximity to the President allowed him to visit the White House and be the first governor to pledge troops for the conflict. Large numbers of Minnesotans enlist, to be trained at Fort Snelling. About 25,000 enlist, roughly half of the eligible population. More than 100 black men enlist during the war (the estimated 1860 population of blacks, including women and children, was only 259). About 600 Minnesotans would die in the conflict.
On August 17, 1862, five American settlers were killed by a group of Dakota Indians. They had been angered by a lack of compensation for their land. When the Civil War broke out, many white men from the state left, giving the Dakota an opportunity. Over the following six weeks, 500 settlers and an unknown number of Dakota would die in an undeclared war known as the U.S.-Dakota Conflict or the Sioux Uprising. The conflict ran across the southwestern quadrant of the state across 23 counties. In the aftermath, 38 captured Dakota were hanged in the largest mass execution in U.S. history. More than 300 were initially sentenced to death, but President Abraham Lincoln commuted most of the sentences. Still, 130 other prisoners would die in camps in the following months, and other Dakota people would be forcibly removed from the state.
At the Battle of Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, the First Minnesota Infantry Regiment made one of the most notable charges, against Cadmus Wilcox's Alabama Brigade . In five-to-one odds against them, more than 212—more than half the regiment—were killed or wounded in the engagement, but they held the line for General Hancock's forces until reinforcements could arrive. A poem written 20 years later in commemoration would remember,
- Honor our fallen comrades-cover their graves with flowers,
- For they fought and fell like Spartans for this glorious land of ours;
- And oft shall our children's children garland their graves and say—
- "They bore the banner of Freedom on the Gettysburg hills that day."
During World War II, Minnesotan Naval Reservists serving aboard USS Ward fired the first American shot of the war on December 7, 1941, sinking a Japanese minisub during the attack on Pearl Harbor. A gun from that ship is placed near the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul.
Major flooding hit southern Minnesota in 1978, sumberging large portions of cities such as Rochester and Austin. It was then considered a "100-year flood", although Austin would see even higher water less than three decades later. The Rochester flooding led the city to construct flood-control systems, which have reduced the impact of high water.
In September 2004, much of Austin was submerged when heavy rain caused flooding. Some lessons had been learned from the 1978 floods, and many people had moved out of the area flood plain as part of a buyout program. However, water still hit an even higher level. One man drowned in the flood, and another died from a heart attack he had while sandbagging.
- TimePieces: Timeline. Minnesota Historical Society.
- Leanne Brown. Who was Jonathan Carver? Carver County Historical Society.
- Paul J. Lareau. Pig's Eye's Notepad.
- Harriet Bishop. National Park Service.
- U.S.-Dakota Conflict.
- The Dakota (Sioux) Uprising.
- Chuck Barden. First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry.
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