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Minnesota: Sky-Tinted Water

This state boasts over 11,000 lakes.

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Minnesota became the 32nd state to join the Union on May 11, 1858. Its nicknames include “Land of 10,000 Lakes” (although it actually has more than 11,800), “North Star State,” and “Gopher State.” It got its name from the Dakota words meaning “sky-tinted water” because of the state’s blue skies that reflect on the lakes.

Like other lands in America, Minnesota was first inhabited by indigenous tribes. The largest in the area was the Dakota Sioux, and other tribes included the Cheyenne, Cree, and Ojibwa, who had the territory to themselves until the Europeans started arriving in the 1600s. The French were the first to explore the area, mapping out the coast of Lake Superior and claiming the land for France. In 1671, they made an arrangement with the Ojibwa to trade for furs. In 1679, Daniel Graysolon, Sieur Du Luth, helped the Dakota and Ojibwa tribes negotiate peace; the city of Duluth is named after him.

The French and Native Americans continued to work this way for decades as more settlers traveled to the area to make a new life. In the 1700s, war broke out between the British and French. When the British won in 1763, they took over the eastern part of the territory. That didn’t last, though, because 20 years later the Americans won the Revolutionary War, and in 1803 the U.S. bought the remaining portion from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase.

President Thomas Jefferson sent explorers to learn more about the new territory and to find the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Zebulon Pike was the first to try in 1805 and although he never found what he was looking for, he was able to obtain more land by signing a treaty with the Dakota people.

Almost thirty years later, in 1832, Henry Schoolcraft found the source of the Mississippi River with help from the Ojibwa tribe. He named the area Lake Itasca. His stories combined with legends told by the Native Americans inspired poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to write The Song of Hiawatha.

Fort Snelling was completed in 1825 and became the first significant outpost in the state. It was built where the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers came together. Eventually, two cities were built on each side of the Mississippi River: The one on the west side became Minneapolis, and the city on the east of the river became St. Paul. These are known today as the Twin Cities and are the two largest in the state.

Native Americans had become upset and restless with so much of their land taken from them. They complained that the government was not supplying their families with food and other goods as promised in the treaties. The Dakota decided to strike back, and a group of warriors attacked and killed settlers. The fighting continued for about four months. On December 26, 1862, 38 of the 303 Dakota who were convicted during the conflict were hanged. President Abraham Lincoln had commuted the death sentences of 264 of the convicted Dakota, but Congress passed legislation to remove all of the tribe’s bands from the state a few months later.

Key industries in the state have been logging and agriculture (it grows the most sugar beets, sweetcorn, peas, and farm-raised turkeys in the nation), as well as mining. Residents are famed for their “Minnesota nice” demeanor, which is thought to be friendly, polite, and courteous.

Interesting Facts:

  • A five-year-old girl received the first successful open-heart surgery at the University of Minnesota in 1952.
  • Downtown Minneapolis has the world’s most extensive pedestrian pathways that are all indoor. They stretch eight miles, connecting 73 blocks.


Kelli Ballard

National Correspondent at and Kelli Ballard is an author, editor, and publisher. Her writing interests span many genres including a former crime/government reporter, fiction novelist, and playwright. Originally a Central California girl, Kelli now resides in the Seattle area.

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