History of Blue Earth County
Blue Earth County is located in the heart of southern Minnesota, on the western edge of an area once known as the “Big Woods.” Important features of the county are its many rivers, streams, and lakes. These natural highways were heavily traveled by the Indians who lived in the region for hundreds of years and left their cultural imprint.
The name Blue Earth is a translation of the Dakota Indian word “Mahkato,” meaning “Greenish blue earth.” The name of the city of Mankato would be “Mahkato” if a spelling mistake made when the name was chosen had not changed the “h” to “n”. The name has remained Mankato ever since.
Pierre Le Sueur, a French explorer, is the earliest known White man to have come to this part of Minnesota. He arrived at the confluence of the Minnesota and Blue Earth Rivers (the location of present day Mankato) in 1683. Le Sueur found blue-green clay in the banks of the Blue Earth River and, believing that it contained copper, took a sample back to France.
A chemist named Le Huillier declared that the clay did indeed contain copper. Le Sueur returned to the Blue Earth in 1700 and built an outpost called Fort Le Huillier (Le Hillier) as a base of operations. He shipped some 4,000 pounds of clay up the Minnesota and down the Mississippi River, but it is doubted that the shipment reached France and the mining project was never pursued. Fort Le Huillier was abandoned in 1702. Its probable site is marked by a plaque located on Minnesota Highway 66, a short distance south of Mankato.
This area remained under nominal French control until 1803 when, as part of the Louisiana Purchase, it officially passed to the United States. The first detailed maps of the region were made in 1838 by another Frenchman, Joseph Nicollet. The establishment of Minnesota Territory by an act of the United States Congress in 1849 and a territorial government stimulated interest in the Minnesota River Valley as an area for settlement. In 1850, the first steamboat trip starting from St. Paul came up the Minnesota River as far as the mouth of the Blue Earth River. The first White settlers were P. K. Johnson and Henry Jackson, who established themselves at the site of present day Mankato in 1852.
The area was still officially Indian territory until February 14, 1853, when the ratification of the Treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota ended Indian ownership. The County of Blue Earth was created by a division of Minnesota Territory in March 1853. The County originally contained a huge extent of territory to the west, but this was reduced in 1856 to the present boundaries, containing 764 square miles. The first county officials were appointed by the Governor of the territory, Alexander Ramsey. The first election of county officials took place in October of that year, with a total of 28 ballots being cast.
With the ratification of the Treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota land, which had been occupied by Indians was opened to White settlement. The rapid influx of settlers caused friction between the settlers and Indians. Dakota Indians lived on a reservation to the west of present Blue Earth County, and Winnebago Indians lived on a reservation which included eastern portions of Blue Earth County.
Tensions between Indians and settlers, limited supplies allocated to Indian agents on the reservation, and other problems led to the Dakota War of 1862. At the conclusion of the war, several hundred Indian prisoners were tried by a five-man military commission; 303 were condemned to death. The death sentences were commuted by Present Lincoln for all but 38. They were executed on December 26, 1862, in Mankato.
Growth in Blue Earth County
The last decades of the 19th Century saw great growth in Blue Earth County. The railroad arrived in 1868. This acted as the impetus for the development and growth of many of the towns in the county. River traffic continued but lost the commercial business traffic to the railroads. Industry, especially milling, and business firms established themselves in the county. Agriculture played an important role in the economic climate of the area. Educational institutions chose sites here as their base. Cultural activities also increased in number with such events as Chatauquas, circuses, and other festivities.
Blue Earth County became the home for many different ethnic immigrants and Yankee settlers. The most concentrated were the Welsh in Judson and Cambria Townships, the Scots in Mapleton, Germans, and Norwegians in several areas through the county.
Blue Earth County has grown into a prosperous area, blending agriculture, business, industry, education, and culture into a thriving area from which its more than 55,000 residents can expect continued benefits in the future.