May 11, 1858 – Minnesota Joins the Union as the 32nd State

On this day in history, Minnesota joined the Union.


Minnesota was carved out of the eastern half of the Minnesota Territory, which included the current Minnesota region, and most of what later became Dakota Territory east of the Missouri River. Minnesota Territory also included portions of Wisconsin Territory that did not become part of Wisconsin.

Before 1850, the Minnesota Territory, stretching from the upper Mississippi to the Missouri River, was still mostly occupied by Native American tribes. In 1851 and 1858, the United States signed two treaties with the Dakota Sioux that resulted in Native Americans giving up a large section of the Minnesota Territory. The tribes also agreed to live on a reservation along the upper Minnesota River. In exchange, they were promised cash and trade goods.

The treaties undermined the Dakota culture and the power of chieftains while simultaneously encouraging corruption of Indian agents and traders, because the Dakota were so powerless in their new role as dependents. Treaty violations by the United States and the corrupt and racist behavior of Indian agents and traders caused increasing hardship, hunger, and anger among the Dakota, who were swindled by most of the whites involved. Licensed traders sold goods to Indians at 100% to 400% profit and frequently took ‘claims’ for money from individual Dakota paid out of tribal funds. No effective means of legal recourse was available to wronged Dakota.

In 1858, as Ron Soodalter wrote in a history for the New York Times, a party of Sioux led by Chief Little Crow visited Washington to see about proper enforcement of the treaties. Instead of acknowledging the Sioux grievances, the government took back half of their reservation, and opened it up to white settlement. The land was cleared, and the hunting and fishing that had in large measure sustained the Sioux virtually ended.

According to a website dedicated to the story of the resulting war variously known as the Dakota War of 1862, the Sioux Uprising, the Dakota Uprising, the Sioux Outbreak of 1862, the Dakota Conflict, the U.S.–Dakota War of 1862 and Little Crow’s War, matters worsened when annuity payments for the Dakota were late in the summer of 1862. At a meeting on August 15, 1862 attended by Dakota representatives, Indian Agent Thomas Galbraith, and representatives of the traders, the traders said they would not release provisions held in agency warehouses until the payments arrived. They were unmoved by the fact that the Dakota were starving to death. Trader Andrew Myrick asserted: ‘So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry, let them eat grass or their own dung.’”

Trader Andrew Myrick, c. 1860

Outraged young Sioux braves killed five white settlers while stealing food. Then several bands held a war council, and continued attacks on the new settlements. Led by Little Crow, they seized the Lower Sioux Agency, killing whites and burning the buildings. Andrew Myrick was one of the first casualties, his body stuffed with grass.

A combined force of militia and volunteer infantry attempted to subdue the roving bands of Sioux. Appeals for help were sent to Lincoln, but he was totally immersed in the Civil War, and didn’t feel he had troops to spare. Nevertheless, over a month after the outbreak of violence, Lincoln appointed General John Pope to quell the violence. As Soodalter wrote, “A pompous, self-righteous man, Pope declared his ‘purpose to utterly exterminate the Sioux…. They are to be treated as maniacs and wild beasts.’”

General John Pope

General John Pope

The Army finally brought the Sioux to surrender on September 23. Some 77 soldiers had been killed and between 75 and 100 Sioux, as well as a large number of white settlers. What happened next typified the dishonest dealing of the U.S. Government with Native Americans:

The Sioux who surrendered were promised safety. But once the hostilities were over, hundreds of Sioux – some of whom had had nothing to do with the uprising – were arrested and summarily tried by a five-man military commission. The trials were perfunctory affairs, some lasting less than five minutes. More than 40 cases were adjudicated in one day alone. Due process played no part; most of the defendants hadn’t a clue what was happening. Of the 393 tried for ‘murder and other outrages,’ 323 were convicted, and 303 sentenced to hang – including those who had surrendered with a promise of safety.”

Fortunately, final approval for the executions rested with Lincoln, who ordered that every case be re-examined on its own merits. After a thorough analysis, only 38 of the accused Sioux were found to have participated in the uprising. Lincoln approved their execution order, but commuted the sentences of the others. This was a politically unpopular move, but Lincoln said, “I could not afford to hang men for votes.”

On Dec. 26, 1862, the 38 Dakota Sioux were led to the scaffold in Mankato, Minnesota. They sang together and held each other’s hands. At a drum signal, the trap was sprung, and the crowd of thousands cheered. This was the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

Lincoln’s execution order via Minnesota Historical Society

The year after the uprising, a vengeful Congress expunged all Sioux treaties from the record, took back their reservation and ordered that the entire tribe be expelled from Minnesota. Furthermore, a bounty of $25 was offered for the scalp of any Sioux found living in the state after the edict.

In the meanwhile, a bill for the admission of Minnesota into the Union was submitted to Congress in December of 1857. The bill encountered the usual antebellum obstacle in Congress of the desire by the South to retain (or better yet, exceed) the balance of power in Congress between slave states and free states. Admission of (free) Minnesota was therefore supposed to be coupled with the admission of (slave) Kansas. The Kansas admission was highly problematic, however, and the Senate was able to get the states considered separately.

On May 11, 1858, the bill for the admission of Minnesota was finally passed and approved by President James Buchanan. However, word of its passage did not reach St. Paul until almost two weeks later. Minnesota had no telegraph lines or railroads, so a telegram was sent to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, and carried up the Mississippi River to St. Paul by steamboat. On May 24, 1858, the state officers took their oaths of office, and Minnesota’s state government began to function.


The small extension on the northern tip of Minnesota makes Minnesota the northernmost point of all 48 contiguous states. This area is known as the “Northwest Angle” and is only accessible by land through Canada. As a CBS news story reports, this part of the border was the result of a mistake made during the 1783 Treaty of Paris: “The border being drawn between the U.S. and then Britain was supposed to cut through Lake of the Woods at a northwest angle — hence the name. Problem was, the map the Founding Fathers used of Lake of the Woods was completely wrong. They were way off, but that weird boundary bump stuck.”

A faulty 18th century map led to the unusual bump along the northern border of the U.S., posing unusual logistical problems for residents. CBS NEWS

St. Paul, Minnesota is the capital and second-most populous city of Minnesota. It was originally known as “Pig’s Eye” after Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant, the first white settler to live within the borders of what would eventually become the city. The French-Canadian fur trapper was nicknamed Pig’s Eye because he was blind in one eye. When the first Catholic pastor of the region established the Log Chapel of Saint Paul, he asked for the settlement to be renamed Saint Paul, and was successful with his request.

Capitol Building at St. Paul

Minneapolis is a major city in Minnesota that forms the “Twin Cities” with the neighboring state capital of St. Paul. The Minneapolis Skyway System is the largest continuous network of enclosed pedestrian footbridges in the world. It connects over 69 city blocks and spreads eight miles. It was built as a response to the harsh winters in Minnesota. As a Minneapolis tourism site exclaims, “The Minneapolis winters can be brutal, but that doesn’t mean Minneapolis adventures need to stop!”

Minnesota is known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”, although it actually has more than 10,000. (To that end, Minnesota has one recreational boat per every six people, more than any other state.) For many years, Minnesota also had the world’s largest twine ball, at Darwin, weighing in at 17,400 pounds. (The honor of the home of the world’s largest twine ball now belongs to Kansas. As of September 2013, the Kansas Ball weighs 19,873 pounds. The Darwin ball still claims to be the largest one made by one man.) The world’s largest pelican, some 15 feet tall, is in Pelican Rapids. And of course The Mall of America in Bloomington is the size of 78 football fields — 9.5 million square feet.

World's Largest Pelican, in Pelican Falls, Minnesota

World’s Largest Pelican, in Pelican Falls, Minnesota

The most important thing you have to know about Minnesota, however, is how to talk there. For example, according to the Surly Brewing Company, which issued a guide before the 2018 Superbowl:

You call them parking garages. We call them parking ramps.

You call it soda. We call it pop. We don’t get it either that one’s not changing.

Choppers are big golden/yellow mittens. You can get them at Fleet Farm. They have a silo in the parking lot. The three preceding sentences could be the most Upper Midwestern sentences in existence.”

Or watch this video from PBS on “How to Talk Minnesotan”


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