Nestled in the trees along a quiet section of Minnehaha Parkway is a beautiful memorial that is such a natural part of the landscape, it’s easy to miss. I finally noticed this big rock as I drove by on my scooter several months ago and pulled over to investigate thoroughly stumped. How could I have missed this memorial for so long? It turned out to be a tragic story with a fairly recent history.
“For a full quarter of a century, her useful life has been spent in a labor of love…” Theodore Wirth, Former Superintendent of the Minneapolis Park System
My visit to the Eloise Butler Wildflower and Bird Sanctuary had me wondering, who was Eloise Butler? It turned out that she was originally from rural Maine. Born in 1851 near Appleton, it’s theorized that her interest in botany began due to her family’s knowledge of local plants and herbal remedies.
Hidden in Minnesota’s north woods is a quiet, little state park named for Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. While Schoolcraft wasn’t a Minnesota resident, he gained fame in the state for being the first white explorer to officially locate the source of the Mississippi River after the Ojibwa showed him its origins. Based on his journals, it is believed that Schoolcraft camped in this area near Grand Rapids on that famous expedition in 1832.
Over Schoolcraft’s life, he documented the history of Indian tribes in the United States and managed to collect hundreds of Indian legends. Less well-known in Schoolcraft’s famed history, however, is the role that his first wife Jane Johnston Schoolcraft played in his success.
I would venture a guess that most Minnesotans have a photo in their collection that looks like this:
But how much do you know about the man behind the myth?
Sakatah Lake State Park is located on rolling hills 14 miles west of Faribault, Minnesota; its uneven terrain the result of glacial activity 14,000 years ago. Originally inhabited by the Wahpekute (Wapacoota) band of Dakota Sioux, they called the area “singing hills” and some of their burial mounds still exist in the park today.
I spent my college years living in a small, rural town in western Minnesota. Not only did this city girl learn the hard realities of life on the prairie where blowing wind could snow the town in for weeks at a time, but I also found Minnesota’s very own mountain range.
Minnehaha Creek and its accompanying thoroughfare Minnehaha Parkway have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I have a very vivid memory of my first exhausting bike ride to Minnehaha Falls for a picnic. Trailing behind The Mother on the path beside the creek, I wished my short, chubby legs could make the trip more effortlessly. That bike ride became more spirited as a teenager as I raced down the path; I knew every hole, bump and shortcut along the way. And I remember graduating to a car, still following the creek but on Minnehaha Parkway. Driving up and down for hours because I had nowhere else to go.
Our visit to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge was the first time I had been up close to the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge and it was in rough shape:
Located in the heart of the Twin Cities where the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers converge, Fort Snelling State Park provides not only a quick nature escape, but also the opportunity to temporarily go back in time. When I walk through the park, I always find myself reflecting on the early days of Minnesota’s history and imagining what it must have been like for the first people living here – then I’m brought back to reality by the roar of an airplane and the soft hum of the freeway. Growing up a fan of Little House on the Prairie, I know that my notions of the early days of life in Minnesota are often romanticized, so I set to work looking into the history of the park. Unfortunately in addition to the more well-known Dred Scott connection, I found a large portion of disappointing history but also some that surprised me.
Did you know that Minnesota is home to The Jolly Green Giant? When I started researching this, I hadn’t realized that there was a 55-foot tall fiberglass statue in Blue Earth, MN. I was aware of the enormous wooden sign of the Giant (with Sprout!) on Route 169 near Le Sueur, however. The few times we drove by when I was a kid, I remember waving at the sign enthusiastically and being amazed by its size. Imagine my disappointment to read on Wikipedia that this sign is a source of minor controversy because it “frequently startles motorists.” I’m going to let you in on a little secret. He’s not a real giant, people.