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Photographer standing near whirlpool rapids below St. Anthony Falls, Minneapolis, 1865

Photographer standing near whirlpool rapids below St. Anthony Falls, Minneapolis, 1865

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General Features

Minnesota received its name from the largest river that lies wholly within its area, excepting only that its sources above Big Stone Lake are in South Dakota. During 150 years, up to the time of the organization of Minnesota Territory in 1849, the nameSt. Pierre orSt. Peter had been generally applied to this river by French and English explorers and writers. March 6, 1852, the territorial legislature adopted a memorial to the president of the United States, requesting that this name should be discontinued and that only the aboriginal name should be used for the river, the same as for the territory, by the different government departments; and this was so decreed on June 19 of the same year by an act of Congress.

The Dakota, or Sioux, name Minnesota means sky-tinted water (Minne, water, and sota, somewhat clouded), as Rev. Edward D. Neill translated it on the authority of Rev. Gideon H. Pond. The river at its stages of flood becomes whitishly turbid. An illustration of the meaning of the words was told to the present writer by Mrs. Moses N. Adams, the widow of the well-known missionary of the Dakotas. She stated that at various times the Dakota women explained it to her by dropping a little milk into water and calling the whitishly clouded water "Minne sota."

The name Itasca, devised in 1832 by Henry R. Schoolcraft with the aid of Rev. William T. Boutwell for the lake at the head of the Mississippi, was urged by Boutwell for the territory. Other names were suggested in the discussions of Congress: Chippeway, Jackson, and Washington. Final choice of the name Minnesota was virtually decided in the convention held at Stillwater on August 26, 1848, which petitioned to Congress for territorial organization.

Like Michigan, which is frequently called the Wolverine state, and Wisconsin, the Badger state, Minnesota has a favorite sobriquet or nickname, the Gopher state. Its origin has been given by the late Judge Charles E. Flandrau, who, in his History of Minnesota, says that the beaver, as well as the gopher, was advocated to give such a popular title. The latter gained the ascendancy, soon after the admission of Minnesota to statehood, on account of the famous "Gopher cartoon," published in derision of the Five Million Loan bill, which was passed by the first state legislature to encourage the building of railroads. The striped gopher, common throughout our prairie region, is the species depicted by the cartoon (Minnesota in Three Centuries, 1908, vol. I, pp. 75-76).

Minnesota is also often called the North Star state, in allusion to the motto "L'Etoile du Nord," chosen by Governor Sibley for the state seal in 1858. Another epithet for our fertile commonwealth more recently came into use from the Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, N.Y., in 1901, where the superior exhibits of wheat, flour, and dairy products of Minnesota caused her to be called "the Bread and Butter state."