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When Europeans arrived in North America, the Dakota people lived in what is now Minnesota. The first Europeans to enter the region were French voyageurs, fur traders who arrived in the 17th century. They used the Grand Portage to access trapping and trading areas further into Minnesota. The Anishinaabe (also known as Ojibwe or Chippewa) were migrating into Minnesota, causing tensions with the Dakota people, and dislocated the Mdewakanton from their homelands along Mille Lacs Lake. Explorers such as Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut, Father Louis Hennepin, Jonathan Carver, Henry Schoolcraft, and Joseph Nicollet mapped the state.
The region was part of Spanish Louisiana from 1762 to 1802. The portion of the state east of the Mississippi River became part of the United States at the end of the American Revolutionary War, when the Second Treaty of Paris was signed. Land west of the Mississippi was acquired with the Louisiana Purchase, though the Hudson Bay Company disputed the Red River Valley until the Treaty of 1818, when the border on the 49th parallel was agreed upon. In 1805 Zebulon Pike bargained with Native Americans to acquire land at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers to create a military reservation. The construction of Fort Snelling followed between 1819 and 1825. Its soldiers built a grist mill and a sawmill at Saint Anthony Falls, which were harbingers of the water-powered industries around which Minneapolis later grew. Meanwhile, squatters, government officials, and others had settled near the fort; in 1839 the army forced them off military lands, and most moved downriver, just outside the military reservation, to the area that became St. Paul.
Minnesota was part of several territorial organizations between acquisition and statehood. From 1812 to 1821 it was part of the Territory of Missouri that corresponded with much of the Louisiana Purchase. It was briefly an unorganized territory (1821–1834) and was later consolidated with Wisconsin, Iowa and half the Dakotas to form the short-lived Territory of Michigan (1834–1836). From 1836 to 1848 Minnesota and Iowa were part of the Territory of Wisconsin. From 1838 to 1846 Minnesota west of the Mississippi River was part of the Territory of Iowa. Minnesota east of the Mississippi was part of Wisconsin until 1848. When Iowa gained statehood western Minnesota was in an Unorganized Territory again. Minnesota Territory was formed on March 3, 1849. The first territorial legislature, held on September 2, 1849, was dominated by men of New England ancestry. Thousands of pioneers had come to create farms and cut timber. Minnesota became the 32nd U.S. state on May 11, 1858. The founding population was so overwhelmingly of New England origins that the state was dubbed "the New England of the West".
Treaties between the U.S. Government and the eastern Dakota and Ojibwe gradually forced the natives off their lands and onto reservations. As conditions deteriorated for the eastern Dakota, tensions rose, leading to the Dakota War of 1862. The conflict was ignited when four young Dakota men, searching for food, killed a family of white settlers on August 17. That night, a faction of Little Crow's eastern Dakota decided to try and drive all settlers out of the Minnesota River valley. In the weeks that followed, Dakota warriors killed hundreds of settlers, causing thousands to flee the area. The six-week war ended with the defeat of the eastern Dakota and 2,000 in custody, who were eventually exiled to the Crow Creek Reservation by the Great Sioux Reservation in Dakota Territory. The remaining 4,500 to 5,000 Dakota mostly fled the state into Rupert's Land. As many as 800 settlers were killed during the war.
Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey subsequently declared that "the Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state” and placed a bounty of $25/scalp on the heads of the eastern Dakota men. Over 1,600 eastern Dakota women, children, and elderly walked from the Lower Sioux Agency to Fort Snelling to be held until the spring thaw allowed riverboats to take them out of Minnesota to Crow Creek Indian Reservation. William Crooks, commander of 6th Minnesota, had a palisade erected around the encampment on Pike Island, just below the fort, to protect native people from the soldiers and settlers. Conditions there were poor and between 125 and 300 died of disease. Around 400 Dakota men were tried after the war. 303 were sentenced to death, but Abraham Lincoln reviewed the convictions and approved 39 of the death sentences. In December 1862, 38 of them were hanged.
In early 1863, Ramsey resigned as governor to become the Federal Indian Commissioner. His successor, Governor Henry Swift, raised the bounty to $200/scalp. A total of $325 was paid out to four people collecting bounties, including for Little Crow who was killed in July 1863. Upon becoming Indian Commissioner, Ramsey set out to get Ojibwe lands too. In 1863 he negotiated the Treaty of Old Crossing, whereby the Ojibwe ceded all their land in northern Minnesota and moved to reservations.
Logging, farming, and railroads were mainstays of Minnesota's early economy. The sawmills at Saint Anthony Falls and logging centers of Pine City, Marine on St. Croix, Stillwater, and Winona processed vast quantities of timber. These cities were on rivers that were ideal for transportation. St. Anthony Falls was later tapped to provide power for flour mills. Innovations by Minneapolis millers led to the production of Minnesota "patent" flour, which commanded almost double the price of "bakers'" or "clear" flour which it replaced. By 1900 Minnesota mills, led by Pillsbury, Northwestern, and the Washburn-Crosby Company (an ancestor of General Mills), were grinding 14.1% of the nation's grain.
The state's iron-mining industry was established with the discovery of iron in the Vermilion and Mesabi ranges in the 1880s, followed by the Cuyuna Range in the early 1900s. The ore went by rail to Duluth and Two Harbors for ship transport east via the Great Lakes.
Industrial development and the rise of manufacturing caused the population to shift gradually from rural areas to cities during the early 20th century. Nevertheless, farming remained prevalent. Minnesota's economy was hit hard by the Great Depression, resulting in lower prices for farmers, layoffs among iron miners, and labor unrest. Compounding the adversity, western Minnesota and the Dakotas were hit by drought from 1931 to 1935. New Deal programs provided some economic turnaround. The Civilian Conservation Corps and other programs around the state established some jobs for Indians on their reservations, and the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 provided the tribes with a mechanism of self-government. This gave Natives a greater voice within the state and promoted more respect for tribal customs because religious ceremonies and native languages were no longer suppressed.
After World War II, industrial development quickened. New technology increased farm productivity through automation of feedlots for hogs and cattle, machine milking at dairy farms, and raising chickens in large buildings. Planting became more specialized, with hybridization of corn and wheat, and farm machinery such as tractors and combines became the norm. University of Minnesota professor Norman Borlaug contributed to these developments as part of the Green Revolution. Suburban development accelerated due to increased postwar housing demand and convenient transportation. Increased mobility in turn enabled more specialized jobs.
Minnesota became a center of technology after World War II. Engineering Research Associates was formed in 1946 to develop computers for the United States Navy. It later merged with Remington Rand, and then became Sperry Rand. William Norris left Sperry in 1957 to form Control Data Corporation (CDC). Cray Research was formed when Seymour Cray left CDC to form his own company. Medical device maker Medtronic also started business in the Twin Cities in 1949.
The United States Navy and Coast Guard have recognized Minnesota with:
Minnesota is the second northernmost U.S. state (after Alaska) and northernmost contiguous state, as the isolated Northwest Angle in Lake of the Woods County is the only part of the 48 contiguous states north of the 49th parallel. The state is part of the U.S. region known as the Upper Midwest and part of North America's Great Lakes Region. It shares a Lake Superior water border with Michigan and a land and water border with Wisconsin to the east. Iowa is to the south, North Dakota and South Dakota are to the west, and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba are to the north. With 86,943 square miles (225,180 km), or approximately 2.25% of the United States, Minnesota is the 12th-largest state.
Minnesota has some of the earth's oldest rocks, gneisses that are about 3.6 billion years old (80% as old as the planet). About 2.7 billion years ago basaltic lava poured out of cracks in the floor of the primordial ocean; the remains of this volcanic rock formed the Canadian Shield in northeast Minnesota. The roots of these volcanic mountains and the action of Precambrian seas formed the Iron Range of northern Minnesota. Since a period of volcanism 1.1 billion years ago, Minnesota's geological activity has been more subdued, with no volcanism or mountain formation, but with repeated incursions of the sea, which left behind multiple strata of sedimentary rock.
In more recent times, massive ice sheets at least one kilometer thick ravaged the state's landscape and sculpted its terrain. The Wisconsin glaciation left 12,000 years ago. These glaciers covered all of Minnesota except the far southeast, an area characterized by steep hills and streams that cut into the bedrock. This area is known as the Driftless Zone for its absence of glacial drift. Much of the remainder of the state has fifty feet (15 m) or more of glacial till left behind as the last glaciers retreated. Gigantic Lake Agassiz formed in the northwest 13,000 years ago. Its flat bed now is the fertile Red River valley, and its outflow, glacial River Warren, carved the valley of the Minnesota River and the Upper Mississippi downstream from Fort Snelling. Minnesota is geologically quiet today; it experiences earthquakes infrequently, most of them minor.
The state's high point is Eagle Mountain at 2,301 feet (701 m), which is only 13 miles (21 km) away from the low point of 601 feet (183 m) at the shore of Lake Superior. Notwithstanding dramatic local differences in elevation, much of the state is a gently rolling peneplain.
Two major drainage divides meet in Minnesota's northeast in rural Hibbing, forming a triple watershed. Precipitation can follow the Mississippi River south to the Gulf of Mexico, the Saint Lawrence Seaway east to the Atlantic Ocean, or the Hudson Bay watershed to the Arctic Ocean.
The state's nickname "Land of 10,000 Lakes" is apt, as there are 11,842 Minnesota lakes over 10 acres (4 ha) in size. Minnesota's portion of Lake Superior is the largest at 962,700 acres (389,600 ha; 3,896 km2) and deepest (at 1,290 ft (390 m)) body of water in the state. Minnesota has 6,564 natural rivers and streams that cumulatively flow for 69,000 miles (111,000 km). The Mississippi River begins its journey from its headwaters at Lake Itasca and crosses the Iowa border 680 miles (1,090 km) downstream. It is joined by the Minnesota River at Fort Snelling, by the St. Croix River near Hastings, by the Chippewa River at Wabasha, and by many smaller streams. The Red River drains the northwest part of the state northward toward Canada's Hudson Bay. Approximately 10.6 million acres (4,300,000 ha; 43,000 km2) of wetlands are within Minnesota's borders, the most of any state outside Alaska.
Minnesota has four ecological provinces: prairie parkland, in the southwestern and western parts of the state; the eastern broadleaf forest (Big Woods) in the southeast, extending in a narrowing strip to the state's northwestern part, where it transitions into tallgrass aspen parkland; and the northern Laurentian mixed forest, a transitional forest between the northern boreal forest and the broadleaf forests to the south. These northern forests are a vast wilderness of pine and spruce trees mixed with patchy stands of birch and poplar.
Much of Minnesota's northern forest has undergone logging, leaving only a few patches of old growth forest today in areas such as the Chippewa National Forest and the Superior National Forest, where the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has some 400,000 acres (162,000 ha) of unlogged land. Although logging continues, regrowth and replanting keep about a third of the state forested. Nearly all Minnesota's prairies and oak savannas have been fragmented by farming, grazing, logging, and suburban development.
While loss of habitat has affected native animals such as the pine marten, elk, woodland caribou, and bison, others like whitetail deer and bobcat thrive. Minnesota has the nation's largest population of timber wolves outside Alaska, and supports healthy populations of black bears, moose, and gophers. Located on the Mississippi Flyway, Minnesota hosts migratory waterfowl such as geese and ducks, and game birds such as grouse, pheasants, and turkeys. It is home to birds of prey, including the largest number of breeding pairs of bald eagles in the lower 48 states as of 2007, red-tailed hawks, and snowy owls. Hawk Ridge is one of the premier bird watching sites in North America. The lakes teem with sport fish such as walleye, bass, muskellunge, and northern pike, and brook, brown, and rainbow trout populate streams in the southeast and northeast.
Minnesota experiences temperature extremes characteristic of its continental climate, with cold winters and hot summers. The lowest temperature recorded was −60 °F (−51 °C) at Tower on February 2, 1996, and the highest was 114 °F (46 °C) at Moorhead on July 6, 1936. Meteorological events include rain, snow, blizzards, thunderstorms, hail, derechos, tornadoes, and high-velocity straight-line winds. The growing season varies from 90 days in the far northeast to 160 days in southeast Minnesota near the Mississippi River, and average temperatures range from 37 to 49 °F (3 to 9 °C). Average summer dewpoints range from about 58 °F (14 °C) in the south to about 48 °F (9 °C) in the north. Average annual precipitation ranges from 19 to 35 inches (48 to 89 cm), and droughts occur every 10 to 50 years.
Minnesota's first state park, Itasca State Park, was established in 1891, and is the source of the Mississippi River. Today Minnesota has 72 state parks and recreation areas, 58 state forests covering about four million acres (16,000 km2), and numerous state wildlife preserves, all managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The Chippewa and Superior national forests comprise 5.5 million acres (22,000 km). The Superior National Forest in the northeast contains the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which encompasses over a million acres (4,000 km2) and a thousand lakes. To its west is Voyageurs National Park. The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA) is a 72-mile-long (116 km) corridor along the Mississippi River through the Minneapolis–St. Paul Metropolitan Area connecting a variety of sites of historic, cultural, and geologic interest.
From fewer than 6,120 white settlers in 1850, Minnesota's enumerated population grew to over 1.7 million by 1900 and 3.4 million in 1960. Growth then slowed, rising 11% to 3.8 million in 1970, and an average of 9% over the next three decades to 4.9 million in the 2000 census.
The 2020 United States census showed Minnesota's population at 5,709,752 on April 1, 2020, a 7.65% increase since the 2010 United States census. The rate of population change, and age and gender distributions, approximate the national average. Minnesota's center of population is in Hennepin County.
At the 2010 census Minnesota's population was 5,303,925. The gender makeup of the state was 49.6% male and 50.4% female. 24.2% of the population was under age 18; 9.5% between 18 and 24; 26.3% from 25 to 44; 27.1% from 45 to 64; and 12.9% 65 or older.
The table below shows the racial composition of Minnesota's population as of the 2020 census.
According to the 2017 American Community Survey, 5.1% of Minnesota's population were of Hispanic or Latino origin (of any race): Mexican (3.5%), Puerto Rican (0.2%), Cuban (0.1%), and other Hispanic or Latino origin (1.2%). The ancestry groups claimed by more than 5% of the population were German (33.8%), Norwegian (15.3%), Irish (10.5%), Swedish (8.1%), and English (5.4%).
In 2011 non-Hispanic whites accounted for 72.3% of all births, but Minnesota's growing minority groups still form a smaller percentage of the population than in the nation as a whole.
Minnesota has the country's largest Somali population, with an estimated 57,000 people, the largest concentration outside of the Horn of Africa.
The majority of Minnesotans are Protestants, including a large Lutheran contingent, owing to the state's largely Northern European ethnic makeup. Roman Catholics (of largely German, Irish, French and Slavic descent) make up the largest single Christian denomination. A 2010 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life showed that 32% of Minnesotans were affiliated with Mainline Protestant traditions, 21% were Evangelical Protestants, 28% Roman Catholic, 1% each Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Black Protestant, and smaller amounts of other faiths, with 13% unaffiliated. According to the Association of Religion Data Archives, the denominations with the most adherents in 2010 were the Roman Catholic Church with 1,150,367; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America with 737,537; and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod with 182,439. This is broadly consistent with the results of the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey, which also gives detailed percentages for many individual denominations. The international Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference is headquartered in Mankato, Minnesota. Although Christianity is dominant, Minnesota has a long history with non-Christian faiths. Ashkenazi Jewish pioneers set up Saint Paul's first synagogue in 1856. Minnesota is home to more than 30 mosques, mostly in the Twin Cities metro area. The Temple of ECK, the spiritual home of Eckankar, is based in Minnesota.