Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library

Minnesota: A History of the State

Theodore C. Blegen
with a new concluding chapter, “A State That Works” Russell W. Fridley
Copyright Date: 1975
Edition: NED - New edition, Second
Pages: 762
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    A concise yet comprehensive account of the state’s development, following the progress and landmarks in politics, technology, the arts, architecture and more. It deals with the earliest struggles of the fur traders to the modern problems of urban transportation. The second edition includes a concluding chapter by Russell W. Fridley.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8154-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  3. 1 Land, Water, and Time
    (pp. 3-14)
    John Mix Stanley

    Events “take place.” They occur somewhere and sometime. Consequently, historians, from the Greeks to our own day, have had to take into account geography and its connections with human affairs.

    Geography means many interrelated things. It involves location, proximity to seas and to other lands or areas, climate and seasons, soil, and minerals. It has to do with mountains, hills, valleys, prairies, lakes and streams, water power and supply, and animal and plant life. It looks at nature’s resources in their abundance or lack of abundance — and at what people have thought about resources and done with them.


  4. 2 The Redmen through Many Moons
    (pp. 17-29)

    No one knows when Asiatics, in the pre-dawn of history, crossed over a land bridge to the North American continent, but the finds of archaeologists point to a very early time indeed. The dispersion of these Mongoloid people and the emergence of American Indian races antedate the pyramids of Egypt by long ages.

    Ancestors of the redmen almost certainly were in Minnesota in late glacial times. The domination of the scene by them and their descendants went unchallenged by white men until the seventeenth century. The era of the redmen, therefore, has a sweep of ten thousand or more years....

  5. 3 The French Look West
    (pp. 31-42)
    Douglas Volk

    The water route from Montreal to Lake Superior and beyond was long and toilsome in times when paddles and muscles furnished the motive power for transportation. The wonder is, not that it took much time for white men to establish control over the wilderness, but that they made their way into the “savage country” as early as they did. Only a decade after the initial settlement of Quebec in 1608, and before theMayflowerlanded at Plymouth Rock in 1620, Frenchmen reached the waters of Lake Superior, westernmost of the inland seas.

    Fourteen years after theMayflower, Frenchmen stepped onto...

  6. 4 Minnesota and New France
    (pp. 45-62)
    Francis Lee Jaques

    The vibrant leadership of Frontenac, the curiosity of traders and missionaries, the gaudy proclamation of the aims of Louis XIV at Sault Ste. Marie, and the discovery by Jolliet of the upper waters of the great river gave impetus to the westward advance of the French in the 1670s and 1680s. This brought Minnesota within the orbit of French exploration and royal control.

    Other forces also made themselves felt. The great company sponsored by England’s Prince Rupert, chartered only a year before the Sault Ste. Marie ceremonies, served notice of coming competition reaching downward from the north. And the French...

  7. 5 The British and a Lakeside Emporium
    (pp. 65-83)

    British control of the lands given up by the French was not achieved by any easy transition. The French, it is true, readily abandoned their western posts, but the change of regimes was no simple matter of the French stepping out and the British stepping in.

    Even before peace was proclaimed, British troops and traders tried to occupy posts in the frontier region. Their purposes centered particularly in Mackinac and Green Bay, with Detroit as a strategic point of defense. The brilliant Robert Rogers, a “ranger” of distinguished exploits, was sent out to take over these establishments, but he encountered...

  8. 6 The Americans Build Fort Snelling
    (pp. 85-104)
    Seth Eastman

    The transfer of the North West Company’s emporium from Grand Portage to Fort William came none too soon. National and international movements early in the nineteenth century led to American control of the Minnesota country. That control meant that the British would have to move north to be under their own flag, and such a change coincided with their own fur-trade interests.

    One major influence on events was the organization of the American fur trade under John Jacob Astor. He was a native of the Duchy of Baden who emigrated to America in 1783 at the age of twenty after...

  9. 7 Under the American Flag
    (pp. 107-123)

    Fort snelling was a frontier sentinel. The interests that brought it into being found expression in a pageant of exploration, moves to direct American relations with the Indians, the reorganization of the fur trade, the coming of missionaries, and trickles of settlement.

    Much had been done to reveal the nature of the lands beyond the Great Lakes. Explorers, traders, and travelers had pushed north on the Mississippi. The waterways beyond Superior had long known the flash of paddles and the strains of lilting songs. Pike had carried the American flag to northern posts; and soldiers had occupied a fort at...

  10. 8 Tribal Feuds and a Fur Barony
    (pp. 125-140)
    R. O. Sweeney

    American wisdom was challenged by the job of superintending the wilderness, governing frontier lands, and dealing with people recently out of the stone age.

    Treaties, laws, soldiers were essential, but they were not enough. This the War Department realized. Its policies involved not only defense, the building of forts, and the sending of expeditions in search of information, but also a frontier civilian administration. This centered in the management of Indian relations. It meant agreements with native tribes; law enforcement; the prevention, if possible, of intertribal wars; control of the use of liquor in the fur trade; payments of annuities;...

  11. 9 Preachers, Word Hunters, Teachers
    (pp. 143-157)

    Some moderns think of missionaries as people narrowly circumscribed in their interests, but the records of early Minnesota do not sustain such a view. With few exceptions the missionaries were men of generous interests and liberal education. They were curious and observant, versatile, practical, and buoyed by their faith. Some who were unlearned trained themselves in what can only be called scholarship. And the men did not stand alone. Their wives were “wilderness Marthas”— women who took part in the missionary work and adapted themselves to primitive living conditions with courage and poise.

    The missionaries were not only preachers. They...

  12. 10 “The Green Tree of Empire”
    (pp. 159-181)

    The creation of Minnesota Territory was marked by ambition, hope, anomalies, and audacity. Its history ran from 1846 to 1849, and the organized territory preceded rather than followed a mushrooming of population. Even by the summer of 1849, when territorial status had been achieved, fewer than 4000 people (counting mixed-bloods but not the native Indian contingent) lived within the limits of what became the state of Minnesota. By a generous count, St. Paul had 910 residents, Stillwater 609, St. Anthony 248. When the federal census of 1850 was taken, Minnesota Territory (including Pembina and straggling settlements as far distant as...

  13. 11 Brave New Pioneer World
    (pp. 183-210)

    The pioneers of the 1850s were young, optimistic, and hardworking. In building their “brave new world,” they were kept busy — breaking land, starting farms, putting up cabins or frame houses, building roads, launching towns, opening schools, initiating business and professional practice. Fashioning the economic, social, and political life of a commonwealth in the making was a job for supple minds and strong muscles.

    Minnesota pioneering by no means comes to a stop in the 1850s. As Minnesota was gradually filled in to the west and north, various regions experienced “pioneer periods.” They were not all alike. Change characterized the...

  14. 12 A State Is Born
    (pp. 213-230)

    During the generating 1850s political lines were drawn in Minnesota. Alignments were marked out and traditions engendered. The frontier was no island separated from the political mainland. Every tolling national bell was heard in the Upper Mississippi Valley. In Minnesota villages and on farms only recently the hunting grounds of Sioux and Chippewa, American issues stirred debate and stimulated emotion. Bridges faced east and faced west. National problems were western problems. Western interests echoed in Washington; western papers reflected national crises; and eastern papers printed news from the frontier.

    This stirring and eventful decade saw the birth of Minnesota as...

  15. 13 Minnesota and the Civil War
    (pp. 233-256)
    Anton Gág, Christian Heller and Alexander Schwendinger

    Minnesota was only three years old as a state when the bombardment of Fort Sumter opened the Civil War. A little more than a year later it faced an uprising of the Sioux Indians on its home front. Two wars, coming hard on the heels of financial depression, made the 1860s a period of strain for Minnesotans and also of a nationalizing of their outlook. In their pioneering, they had turned to the nation for help — for enabling legislation, for land grants. Now, in a national emergency, they had to give as well as receive. Ordeal, with all its...

  16. 14 The Sioux Go on the Warpath
    (pp. 259-284)

    The Sioux War caught Minnesota by surprise. During the early hot days of August 1862, people had no realization that before the month was over the state would be the scene of one of the worst Indian uprisings in American history.

    Readers of the St. Paul newspapers just before the outbreak found no stories of impending trouble with the Sioux. They read about the battle of Cedar Mountain; events at New Orleans and Baton Rouge; troubles in Missouri; Garibaldi in Italy; Civil War meetings in St. Paul, Henderson, and other towns; and local subscriptions to the war fund. They saw...

  17. 15 Postwar Change
    (pp. 287-313)

    The Civil War had a long aftermath in American life. But the dynamic forces of change in Minnesota from the war’s end to the twentieth century were economic. This change was not so much a healing of scars as it was the building of Minnesota into its modern structure. The era witnessed extraordinary growth in population, the reduction of the land frontier, the building of railroads, a burst of agricultural production, the rise of the flour-milling industry, the golden age of lumbering, business and financial development, and the launching of the iron-ore industry. Not only expansion but educational and cultural...

  18. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  19. 16 With Ax and Saw
    (pp. 315-337)

    A poet says that “America is West,” but a writer on forest history declares that “When explorers landed, America was trees.”

    America was both West and trees (and more). The two were wedded in the lumber industry, and their union is illustrated in the history of Minnesota. The armies of ax and saw were an American advance from east to west. Lumber, after furs, ranks as the second industry of Minnesota, and its story embraces the decades from the 1820s to the present. Its gala period is the era after the Civil War, synchronizing with that of wheat as a...

  20. 17 Dual Domain
    (pp. 339-357)

    Wheat became a major crop in the 1850s and it maintained its priority for several decades. An economic historian of agriculture designates 1860–80 as the period of specialized wheat farming in Minnesota. This too precise dating — obviously influenced by decennial statistics—does not mean that wheat production did not increase after 1880, as acreage widened and population expanded. It implies rather that the two decades were a major era of wheat growing and that, from 1880 onward, diversification, already well under way, attracted more and more attention from the men of the soil. Though wheat was highly popular,...

  21. 18 Red Earth, Iron Men, and Taconite
    (pp. 359-383)

    Few chapters in the history of Minnesota offer dramas comparable with that of iron ore. It is one of dusty red earth, iron men, titans of finance, workers from the four corners of the earth, and laboratories where ideas were formulated and tried out. The state’s iron ore and the industry to which it gave birth have such gigantic dimensions that it is surprising they have not spawned legends dwarfing even those of Paul Bunyan.

    The Indians had their indigenous tales of a hero. He hunted wild animals with granite boulders torn by his hands from the ground. After many...

  22. 19 Land and Ideas in Transition
    (pp. 385-407)

    Transforming forces in the use of natural resources marked the closing decades of the nineteenth century in Minnesota. Farmers, it is true, were still raising wheat in huge amounts, and industry was cutting away the white pine. But at the same time the farmers were turning to diversification. Some escaped to the West, but most stayed at home and found ways of adapting themselves to new conditions. Many, in desperation, turned from plows to politics, and a few reforms were achieved as a result of their demands. But law did not provide decisive answers. What ushered in a new age...

  23. 20 Education Moves Ahead
    (pp. 409-430)

    No historian, in the fashion of Turner’s essay on the significance of the frontier, has interpreted education as a major force in the shaping of the nation. Yet few will dissent from the view that it has been far more significant as an American influence than the westward-moving frontier. There is need of a new Turner to formulate an interpretation comparable in importance with the “frontier hypothesis.” More forces than one shaped the American destiny, but education in its unceasing impact through more than three centuries might furnish the framework for a new and major interpretation of the national experience....

  24. 21 Toward Social Maturity
    (pp. 433-459)

    When John Lind, blunt-spoken teacher, lawyer, and politician, took office as governor of Minnesota in 1899, he spoke for a state modernizing its outlook.

    The Swedish-born Lind won the governorship a half century after Minnesota’s birth as a territory. He served across the borderline between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. His experience had embraced three terms in Congress as a Republican, but intellectually and by temperament he was an independent. Cutting loose from old ties, he called himself a “political orphan.” In 1896, the year of Bryan’s first candidacy for President, Lind ran for governor with the triple endorsement...

  25. 22 Peace, Turbulence, and War
    (pp. 461-485)

    Old ideas jostled with new as people welcomed in the twentieth century. If they rejoiced at the wonders of the developing machine age, they also were increasingly aware of its problems and dangers. It was a time of enterprise, invention, and industrial concentration, but it was also one of “trust busting,” extensions of public control, and a regression from old-time faith inlaissez faire.

    Minnesota shared in the novelty and excitement of the interests that stirred the country. There was an outburst of national and world fairs — Pan-American (1901, at which President McKinley was shot), St. Louis (1904), and...

  26. 23 The Advancing Arts
    (pp. 487-500)

    A writer on Florence in Renaissance times speaks of the “impulse to beauty” which helped to give the Italian city the luster of undying fame. Main Street is not Florence, but the age-old impulse has not been wanting among Minnesota people. Many of them have painted, carved, composed, written, performed, collected, designed buildings, and cultivated human and natural lore.

    In the early periods, people built cabins, houses, churches, and public buildings simply and quickly, with an eye to immediate use. In succeeding decades, though much building was haphazard, architecture began to take its place as a recognized profession.

    With urban...

  27. 24 The Theater and the Book World
    (pp. 503-519)

    Before the advent of movies, radio, and television, no form of popular entertainment excelled the theater in Minnesota public interest and favor. The decades after the Civil War witnessed a succession of theaters in the Twin Cities, and by the mid-1880s nearly a half hundred Minnesota towns had theaters or halls where touring companies could perform. Plays were in fact so popular that a circuit was established from the Twin Cities and lower river towns to the western border of the state.

    For music, plays, and lectures, Minneapolis through four decades had at least eight or ten theaters and halls....

  28. 25 Depression, Readjustment, and War
    (pp. 521-549)

    It was no temporary Wall Street squall that struck Minnesota and the country in 1929. It was a convulsive and protracted deflation of values. The depression that followed went swirling with ups and downs through much of a decade.

    Minnesotans, as in earlier economic reversals, were reluctant to believe that a crisis in the New York financial district could signal hard times for the commonwealth of the Middle West. Wall Street was far away. Conditions at home seemed hopeful. And newspapers printed optimistic stories during the first few days after the debacle in stock prices. The day after the catastrophic...

  29. 26 Changing Modern Scenes
    (pp. 551-568)

    Every period in the state’s past has been marked by political undulations, economic and social change, the rise of new leadership and the withdrawal of old, new problems and new ways of tackling old problems, and the interweaving of tradition with novel ideas as past has merged with present. Things occur in their time and place; and as Carlyle once said “Today is not yesterday,” though today flows out of yesterday. Needs, causes, human concerns, and talents are architects of change. Shakespeare understood some of the variants of change when he wrote:

    That we would do,

    We should do when...

  30. 27 Social Currents, Politics, and Problems
    (pp. 571-598)

    The contrasts of sections of Minnesota, the changing fruits of its soil, and the specialties of communities furnish clues to economic interests of recent years. They do not shed much light, however, on the social forces that have altered the pattern of rural — and urban — living. They do not explain what a perceptive sociologist has called the “desegregation” of farm and town.

    The industries of both the larger and the smaller towns, making capital of the productivity of nearby farms, have forwarded cooperation and, in some instances, partnerships between country folk and town people. Thousands of farmers near...

  31. For Further Reading
    (pp. 599-624)
  32. Index
    (pp. 625-688)
  33. “A State That Works”
    (pp. 691-726)
    Russell W. Fridley
  34. Back Matter
    (pp. 727-731)