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North Country

The Making of Minnesota

2010
Author:

Mary Lethert Wingerd
Kirsten Delegard

North Country

The untold history of how the land of the Dakota and Ojibwe became the State of Minnesota

North Country: The Making of Minnesota unlocks the complex origins of the state—origins that have often been ignored in favor of legend and a far more benign narrative of immigration, settlement, and cultural exchange. It is the unflinching account of how the land the Dakota named Mini Sota Makoce became the State of Minnesota and of the people who have called it home.

North Country by Mary Lethert Wingerd is a long overdue book. It illustrates the historic and cultural richness of the land that straddles the source of the Mississippi River and became known as the state of Minnesota. By teaching us the story of this land, Professor Wingerd tells us where we are today, and by opening up this neglected and hidden history of its native people, she helps us to understand the debt and respect that we owe them and points the way for us to make a better future for our children.

Jack Weatherford

In 1862, four years after Minnesota was ratified as the thirty-second state in the Union, simmering tensions between indigenous Dakota and white settlers culminated in the violent, six-week-long U.S.–Dakota War. Hundreds of lives were lost on both sides, and the war ended with the execution of thirty-eight Dakotas on December 26, 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota—the largest mass execution in American history. The following April, after suffering a long internment at Fort Snelling, the Dakota and Winnebago peoples were forcefully removed to South Dakota, precipitating the near destruction of the area’s native communities while simultaneously laying the foundation for what we know and recognize today as Minnesota.

In North Country: The Making of Minnesota, Mary Lethert Wingerd unlocks the complex origins of the state—origins that have often been ignored in favor of legend and a far more benign narrative of immigration, settlement, and cultural exchange. Moving from the earliest years of contact between Europeans and the indigenous peoples of the western Great Lakes region to the era of French and British influence during the fur trade and beyond, Wingerd charts how for two centuries prior to official statehood Native people and Europeans in the region maintained a hesitant, largely cobeneficial relationship. Founded on intermarriage, kinship, and trade between the two parties, this racially hybridized society was a meeting point for cultural and economic exchange until the western expansion of American capitalism and violation of treaties by the U.S. government during the 1850s wore sharply at this tremulous bond, ultimately leading to what Wingerd calls Minnesota’s Civil War.

A cornerstone text in the chronicle of Minnesota’s history, Wingerd’s narrative is augmented by more than 170 illustrations that depict the fascinating, often haunting representations of the region and its inhabitants over two and a half centuries. North Country is the unflinching account of how the land the Dakota named Mini Sota Makoce became the State of Minnesota and of the people who have called it, at one time or another, home.

Awards

Minnesota Book Award winner

North Country

Mary Lethert Wingerd is associate professor of history at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota. She is the author of Claiming the City: Politics, Faith, and the Power of Place in St. Paul.

North Country

North Country by Mary Lethert Wingerd is a long overdue book. It illustrates the historic and cultural richness of the land that straddles the source of the Mississippi River and became known as the state of Minnesota. By teaching us the story of this land, Professor Wingerd tells us where we are today, and by opening up this neglected and hidden history of its native people, she helps us to understand the debt and respect that we owe them and points the way for us to make a better future for our children.

Jack Weatherford

It is a well-done and fascinating tale.

Star Tribune

Wingerd does a masterful job of making the intricacies of politics accessible, going into detail on how Minnesota became first a territory, then a state, and covering the many twists and turns of the various treaties.

Star Tribune

Wingerd's history concentrates on the relationship between American Indians and whites, doing a masterful job of explaining the politics in an accessible way and avoiding nostalgia.

Star Tribune

This handsome and ambitious effort is history with a difference.

Winnipeg Free Press

By the fifties, the only allusion to the largest mass execution in American history was a granite marker in the parking lot of Baff’s Drive-in in Mankato. . . . The monument of the hanging was removed from the Mankato parking lot in 1971. By the mid-1990s, the cenotaph, all 8,500 pounds of it, had mysteriously vanished from the city depot where it had been stored. Mary Lethert Wingerd’s monument weighs much less, but will, one hopes, last longer.

Harper’s Magazine

An exhaustive, well-balanced telling of Minnesota’s birth story is long overdue.

METRO Magazine

Meticulously researched, with more than 170 illustrations and maps, North Country is an important book, stripping away the veneer of historical romance and selective memory to show what was done to real human beings so we might enjoy our comfortable ‘Minnesota nice.’

Lavender Magazine

The truth is, this book’s way, way too vast to possibly satisfyingly cover in a review, but let me at least make this very clear: the story Wingerd covers is so fascinating because of how it reveals the true desires and passions of those in charge.

Weston Cutter, Corduroy Books

I adore Minnesota. And I still do, even after reading Mary Lethert Wingerd’s incredible, harrowing, tough-to-stomach North Country. Wingerd makes loving Minnesota easier, which is the highest praise this Minnesotan can offer.

Weston Cutter, Corduroy Books

This book is an excellent survey of its period, and I think the first of its kind. The book has over 400 pages, none of them dull. It is gorgeously illustrated. The illustrations and captions are a book in themselves. At $34.95, a really modest price for a book of this quality, all who are interested in this period should have one.

Minnesota’s Heritage

Nothing else I’ve read so clearly explains the collision of cultures and politics that led to the ongoing dilemma facing urban Indians even today.

Minneapolis Observer Quarterly

This is a remarkable book. The narrative flows smoothly and is accompanied by 141 color illustrations and dozens of maps. It’s time travel, but its also a scholarly work.

Prior Lake American

Gracefully written, exhaustively researched and filled with amazing details and images.

MinnPost

North Country challenges the readers to rethink Minnesota history.

Minnesota History

Wingerd reproduces visuals supported by facts and descriptions in rich detail to help the reader appreciate the great sweep of history leading up to what she calls the cataclysm on Minnesota 150 years ago. Wingerd has produced a most comprehensive scholarly work on early Minnesota history.

CBS Local

This work is a necessary and important contribution to the early history of Minnesota, one that offers a sobering alternative to some of the other works that have been published recently to mark the state’s one hundred fiftieth anniversary. It is highly recommended for research collections and for readers who want to read a “warts and all” story of how modern Minnesota came to be.

South Dakota History