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Minnesota became the 32nd state to join the union on May 11, 1858. A small extension of the northern boundary makes it the most northerly of the 48 conterminous U.S. states. (This peculiar protrusion is the result of a boundary agreement with Great Britain before the area was carefully surveyed.)

Minnesota is bounded by the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario to the north, Lake Superior and Wisconsin to the east, Iowa to the south and South Dakota and North Dakota to the west. Minnesota is home to the Mall of America, which holds more than 400 stores and attracts nearly 40 million people annually. 

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Minnesota's Native American History

The first people arrived in the area now known as Minnesota around 12,000 years ago. By the 1600s, two main Indigenous groups lived in Minnesota: the Dakota and the Anishinaabe. They relied on the area’s waterways for food, transportation and trade—as attested to by the name Minnesota, which comes from the Dakota word for “cloudy water.”

The Dakota are a subculture of Native American nations with a shared culture called the Oceti Ŝakowiŋ, or the Seven Council Fires—known by Europeans as the Sioux. The Dakota comprises the Bdewakantunwan (Mdewakanton), Wahpetunwan (Wahpeton), Wahpekute and Sissitunwan (Sisseton) groups, each defined by its own geographical location.

French fur traders arrived in Minnesota in the 1600s and negotiated trade relationships with Indigenous peoples. In the early 1800s, Christian missionaries, soldiers and white settlers began colonizing Minnesota. Although missionaries successfully wiped out much of Dakota’s culture, they created a language-writing system that saved the Dakota language.

The Anishinaabe, called the Ojibwe or Chippewa by Europeans, arrived in Minnesota in the late 1600s from the northeastern United States. While they initially lived mostly peacefully with their Dakota neighbors, their relations deteriorated as European hunters nearly wiped out the Great Plains’ buffalo population—which both groups relied on for food, clothing, shelter and trade. Competition between the two nations increased for resources and diminishing land.

Starting in the 1730s, the Dakota and Anishinaabe began engaging in a long series of battles. In 1825 and 1826, the two nations agreed to the Treaties of Prairie du Chien and the Fond du Lac, which divided their lands along lines designated by the U.S. government. The agreements didn’t last. The groups didn’t stop warring until the 1850s when they ceded most of their land to the United States.

Land Cessions and the Dakota Uprising of 1862

The Anishinaabe agreed to a treaty in 1837 that sold most of their land in eastern Minnesota to the U.S. government. An 1854 treaty ceded the nation’s remaining land in the state in return for reservations. The subsequent Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 effectively forced the Anishinaabe to sell more than 90 percent of their reservation lands to white settlers.

Meanwhile, the Dakota chiefs agreed to open up land east of the Mississippi to private ownership by white settlers in 1838. As settlers continued to move westward and the Dakota and other Sioux bands struggled with a ravaged buffalo population, they signed treaties to give up their homeland to the United States. In 1851, the Sioux agreed to the Treaty of Mendota and the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, which sold almost 24 million acres in total—nearly all of their territory—across Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota. They retained a narrow 20-mile strip on the Minnesota River.

Minimal payment was made to the Dakotas, and the government violated its promises to preserve their territory. An 1858 treaty promised the Dakota farming lands, but it actually opened up their remaining territory to white settlers.

Frustrated by the U.S. government’s failure to make treaty payments and supply their families with food as promised, a group of Dakota warriors killed several settlers on August 17, 1862. The ensuing violence between the two sides, known as the Dakota Uprising of 1862, lasted until September 26th. More than 500 white settlers and 150 Dakota died.

After the uprising, the U.S. government moved Dakotans who had not participated to a concentration camp in November, where many died of disease and harsh winter conditions. President Abraham Lincoln commuted the death sentences of 264 convicted Dakota not charged with murder. On December 26, 1862, 38 of 303 convicted Dakota were hanged in Mankato in the largest mass execution in American history. A few months later, Congress passed a law expelling all Dakota bands from Minnesota. Most remaining Dakota in Minnesota was forcibly removed to South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska, and many died on the way.

Only a handful of Dakota people remained in Minnesota by the 1870s, although many more returned during the 1880s and 1890s. The 1934 Indian Reorganization Act reestablished some Native American land in Minnesota. In the 1960s, Native Americans across the United States began reclaiming their culture and seeking to improve conditions for Indigenous peoples, and in 1968 the American Indian Movement was established in Minneapolis. By 2022, there were four federally-recognized Dakota tribes in Minnesota and seven federally recognized Anishinaabe tribes.

Minnesota Fur Trade and Exploration

French fur traders living in Canada were the first Europeans to explore the area now known as Minnesota in the 1600s. Medard Chouart, Sieur Des Groseilliers—a French fur trader known for starting the Hudson Bay Company for the English—explored the Great Lakes region from 1654 to 1656. He and Pierre Esprit Radisson traveled to Lake Superior with a group of French in 1659, and they explored Wisconsin and Minnesota in 1660. They established the basis for several profitable fur trading posts in Minnesota in the early 1700s.

In 1763, France lost the Seven Years’ War to Great Britain, and the Americans and British began competing for the fur trade in North America. With the 1763 Treaty of Paris, France ceded its lands west of the Mississippi River, including a large part of Minnesota—known as Louisiana Territory—to Spain. Spain gave Louisiana Territory back to France in 1800, and in 1803, the United States bought the land with the Louisiana Purchase.

Minnesota's Colonial History and Statehood

Trade disputes between Great Britain and the United States led to the War of 1812. The 1814 Treaty of Ghent led to the Convention of 1818, which set the 49th parallel as the boundary between British North America (now Canada) and the United States—and all of Minnesota formally became part of the United States.

In 1819, Colonel Henry Leavenworth began building Fort Snelling (in modern-day Minneapolis). Completed in 1823 by Colonel Josiah Snelling, it was the first American settlement in Minnesota. Modern-day Minnesota was originally part of the Michigan Territory, then part of the Wisconsin Territory created in 1836. The eastern portion of Minnesota became part of Iowa Territory in 1838.

Population growth in Minnesota remained slow until the mid-19th century. As the local logging industry grew, the settlement of Minnesota picked up from 1850 to 1857. The earliest influx was mainly people of British descent, who moved to Minnesota to create a “New England of the West.” On May 11, 1858, Minnesota became the 32nd state admitted into the Union.

Slavery in Minnesota

Fur traders used slaves since the first white settlers arrived in Minnesota. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 established a government for the Northwest Territories and forbade slavery in new territories, including Minnesota east of the Mississippi River. The Missouri Compromise of 1820, which prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Territory above the 36º 30' latitude line, extended the prohibition on slavery to all of modern-day Minnesota. However, people remained enslaved in Minnesota—notably in Fort Snelling, where slavery was subsidized by the United States Army for members of the military.

Slavery remained almost uninterrupted in Minnesota until 1858. Most enslaved people had no legal recourse, although two women, Rachel and Courtney, won their freedom in the courts in the 1930s. Dredd Scott and Harriet Robinson Scott, an enslaved married couple who lived at Fort Snelling from 1820 to 1839, may have been influenced by the success of Rachel and Courtney’s case when they challenged their enslavement in court in 1846.

The Dredd Scott v. Sandford case—filed in St. Louis, Missouri, where the Scotts were enslaved—made its way to the Supreme Court. It resulted in the legal reinstatement of slavery in the Louisiana Territory. However, Minnesota had a relatively strong abolitionist movement in the 1850s, and slavery ended in 1858 when the territory entered the Union as a free state. During the Civil War, more than 25,000 soldiers passed through Fort Snelling en route to fight for the Union. More than 2,500 Minnesotans died in battle or from illness.

Immigration in Minnesota

Minnesota has a strong history of immigration dating to its early days as a state. In the 1860s and 1870s, a flood of immigrants arrived from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Czechoslovakia, France, Italy and Poland. By the late 1800s, 40 percent of the state’s population was born outside of the United States, compared to 11 percent nationally. More than 60 percent of that population was from Germany, Norway and Sweden.

In the 1870s, Chinese immigrants came to Minnesota to escape anti-Chinese sentiment brewing on the West Coast. More immigrants from Cambodia, Laos and South Vietnam arrived a century later to escape their repressive governments. By the 2010s, Asian Americans were the fastest-growing ethnic group in Minnesota.

Farm workers from Mexico began immigrating to Minnesota in the 1910s to escape poverty and the Mexican Revolution. The Hispanic population grew by five times in the 1990s, with people coming to work in manufacturing, the service sector, construction and processing. The Chicano Movement, which fought for improved working and living conditions for Hispanic people, came to Minnesota in the 1960s and is still present today.

In the early 1990s, refugees fleeing civil war and famine in Somalia began arriving in Minnesota. Today, the state has the largest Somali diaspora community in the world, with up to 47,000 Minnesotans claiming Somali ancestry.

Minnesota Business and Industry

Minnesota is home to several flourishing industries, including forestry, health, agribusiness and retail. Many major national and international corporations and organizations have headquarters in the state, including 3M, Mayo Clinic, Target, General Mills and Best Buy.

With roughly 40 million visitors each year, Bloomington’s Mall of America is the most visited shopping mall in the United States. The megastructure, which opened in 1992, encompasses 4.2 million square feet—enough space to fit 32 Boeing 747s inside.

Date of Statehood: May 11, 1858

Capital: St. Paul

Population: 5,706,494 (2020)

Size: 86,935 square miles

Nickname(s): Land of 10,000 Lakes; North Star State; Gopher State

Motto: L’Étoile du Nord (“Star of the North”)

Tree: Red Pine

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Flower: Pink and White Lady Slipper

Bird: Common Loon

Interesting Facts

  • The first successful open-heart surgery was performed on a 5-year-old girl on September 2, 1952, by Dr. Floyd John Lewis and Dr. Clarence Walton Lillehei at the University of Minnesota. With her body temperature reduced to 81 degrees Fahrenheit, the girl was able to survive for 10 minutes while the doctors repaired a congenital hole in her heart.
  • The skyway system in downtown Minneapolis is the world’s largest continuous indoor network of pedestrian pathways, stretching eight miles and connecting 73 blocks—making it possible to sleep, eat, work and shop without ever stepping a foot outside.
  • Minnesota’s nickname is the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” A more accurate moniker would be the “Land of 11,842 Lakes.”

Sources 

United States Census Bureau, Quick Facts: Minnesota

Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums, Indigenous Tribes of Minnesota

Minnesota Historical Society, Native Americans

Minnesota Historical Society, The Dakota People

Minnesota Historical Society, Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, 1851

Library of Congress, The treaty of Traverse des Sioux in 1851

Minnesota Historical Society, American Indian Movement (AIM)

Minnesota Historical Society, The Land, Water, and Language of the Dakota, Minnesota’s First People

Dakota Wicohan, History on the Dakota of Minnesota

Minnesota Historical Society, The US-Dakota War of 1862

Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Tribal Community, Minneapolis History is really Sioux history

Minnesota Historical Society, The Ojibwe People

Milwaukee Public Museum, Ojibwe History

Minnesota Historical Society, Radisson, Pierre Esprit (1636/1640–1710)

Minnesota Historical Society, Groseilliers, Medard Chouart, Sieur Des (1618-1696)

James Monroe Museum, October 20 in History: Treaty of 1818 Signed

Minnesota Department of Administration, State Archeologist, Contact Period: An Overview of Contact Period Archaeology in Minnesota (1650 – 1837)

Minnesota Historical Society, The Fur Trade

Prairie Public Broadcasting, Treaty of Ghent

Library of Congress, Today in History - May 11

Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, Tribal Government

Minneapolis State Schools, Curriculum

Minnesota Historical Society, Dred & Harriet Scott: Slaves in a Free Territory: Overview

Library of Congress, Northwest Ordinance

Minnesota Historical Society, Enslaved African Americans and the Fight for Freedom

National Archives, Missouri Compromise (1820)

Papers of Abraham Lincoln Digital Library, Wisconsin Territory

Minnesota Historical Society, The Civil War (1861-1865)

Center of the American Experiment, Abolitionism in Minnesota

Minnesota Historical Society, Immigrants and Refugees in Minnesota: Connecting Past and Present

Minnesota Historical Society, Minnesotanos: Latino Journeys in Minnesota

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