The Land of 10,000 Lakes

Minnesota's name comes from Minisota, the Dakota (Sioux) word for sky tinted waters. Minnesota has 11,842 lakes that are over ten acres in size, covering 4,967,510 acres. Rivers and streams number 6,564 going a distance of 92,000 miles.

As early as the 1837 treaty with the Ojibwe bands, the land in Minnesota was referred to as the pine triangle. The grand white pine stands were making logging companies salivate over the area even before the railroad arrived. Minnesota at one time was the center of saw milling in the world. That time period would cover the end of one century and the beginning of another as 1899 gave way to 1902.

Two-billion board feet were harvested in one peak year. Most of the lumber went south to build famed tree-challenged frontier cities like Kansas City and Omaha. After the peak, a substantial decline happened quickly.

In March 1849, Minnesota became a United States territory through an act of Congress. Boundaries were drawn west from Lake Superior and Wisconsin, north from the state of Iowa, and south from the British possessions, and east from the Missouri and White Earth Rivers. Alexander Ramsey became the first territorial governor.

A census taken in Minnesota in 1849 recorded 4,535 Euro-American and white and Indian mixed blood people in the 1,666,000 square miles in the territory of Minnesota. Negroes and Indians were not included in this census. Most of the population was located in St. Paul, St. Anthony and Stillwater. A Euro-American population of 5,000 was needed to become a territory. Imagine taking an accurate census in an almost roadless wilderness?

By 1854 the population of the territory was 50,000. Three years later it became 150,000 people.

In 1854 a cholera epidemic prompted the Sisters of St. Joseph to found St. Paul's first hospital. More than 80 newspapers had been started in the territory. Seventy-two school districts provided free education to anyone between 5 and 21. In 1856 Hamline became the first college west of the Mississippi, opening its doors to women as well as men.

In 1885 the first bridge to span the Mississippi River's main channel anywhere along its length opened between St. Anthony and Minneapolis.

From the 1830s the Red River Ox Cart Trails connected St. Paul and the steamboat navigation on the Mississippi River with the settlements on the Red River and southern Canada. Farm products rolled on the Red River Ox Carts from the farming areas of Minnesota and provided access to markets for their farm products. It also provided access for immigrants to these areas. Ruts from the Woods Trail of the Red River Ox Trail can be seen in Crow Wing State Park.

Many of your ancestors, grandparents to great-grandparents, arrived in Minnesota via the Red River Ox Trail.

Fur pelts were brought down river by fur trappers and traders. Loggers floated logs down the many rivers, and these same streams provided power to mill the grain, and cut the logs into lumber.

The Mississippi River provided the country with a 1,000-mile navigational channel to transport products via steamboat, and unite the North and the South.

The Sault Canal brought shipping to the Duluth Harbor. Plans for a transcontinental railroad west from Lake Superior had a link to St. Paul.

The discovery of iron ore in Minnesota, with rail access to the Duluth Harbor, brought many immigrants to the state. The early history of Minnesota settlements was written by white males, so little was written of the blacks or Indians. Indians and blacks were not considered citizens or voters and women could not vote.

A small black community grew in St. Anthony, which, according to the census, was 94 percent literate. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 prohibited the introduction of slavery above 36 degrees 30 minute north latitude in the Louisiana Purchase lands, except Missouri. The Kansas-Missouri Act by Stephen Douglas repealed that law, and introduced popular sovereignty which allowed each new state to decide if slavery would be allowed in their state. At the time Minnesota politicians opposed the extension of slavery, but opposed abolitionists, saying the Constitution of the United States protected slavery where it existed, and most supported popular sovereignty.

Cultural differences showed up when the Minnesota delegates gathered to draw up a state constitution in 1857. The issue of slavery and the status of black people, both free and slave, and the Supreme Court decision known as the Dred Scott Decision which ruled that although Dred Scott and his wife, Harriet, had lived in Minnesota in a free territory, they were still slaves. Residing in Minnesota territory did not entitle Dred Scott to sue for his freedom.

Loggers came to work in northern Minnesota forests long before the 1900s. Using horse and river power, trees were felled and moved to regional lumber mills. At one time at the center of saw milling in the world, lumber moved south and west to build frontier cities. The sawmill capital of the world once was in Minnesota. More than 300 sawmills were operating in the spring of 1898 when plans began for the pulp and paper mill's birth in Cloquet.

March 1999, is the 150th anniversary of Minnesota becoming the "territory" of Minnesota. Minnesota attained statehood in 1858. When Minnesota became a state, its boundaries remained the same except for its western boundary, which became the Red River, and south to the Iowa border.

Page updated Aug 06, 2005