Cloudy-Sky Waters: An Annotated Bibliography of the Minnesota River

Cloudy-Sky Waters: An Annotated Bibliography of the Minnesota River
Cafaro, Kris Bronars
Additional Authors: 
The Center for Rural Regional Studies
Publication Date: 
Center for Rural Regional Studies
Publication Location: 
310 Second Street Southwest Minnesota State University
56143 Marshall , MN ,


       Watapan Mensota, Minnay Sotor, Watpamenisothe, River St. Pierre, St. Peter's River. By any name, the Minnesota River is of great historical environmental, economic, and political significance. Flowing 335 miles from its headwaters at Big Stone Lake on the South Dakota border, across the southern Minnesota plains to its mouth at the Mississippi River, the Minnesota drains a watershed of 16, 770 square miles (Senjem, 1997). It runs through an oversized valley, five miles wide at some pints, which was carved by the Glacial River Warren some 12, 000 years ago following the retreat of the last glacial ice sheets from Minnesota. The Minnesota River's channel remains largely free-flowing and natural; with only a handful of flood control and hydropower dams in place, it is one of the few larger rivers in the United States which has not been altered extensively by dams and reservoirs (Kirsch, et. al., 1985). 

          Over time, different peoples and cultures have made use of the Minnesota River, in some cases to the river’s detriment. In the past, the river served as a critical resource for native peoples, early explorers, traders, and settlers, providing an essential mode of transportation and habitat for wild game. For thousands of years, the river valley was home to native settlements. Beginning in the nineteenth century, military forts, trading posts, and missions began to appear. As the flow of settlers increased folloing the Sioux land treaties of 1851 and 1858, river towns were founded, wetlands were drained (more than 90 percent of the original prairie wetlands are now gone), and agriculture was established (it currently accounts for 80 percent for the basin’s land use).

            For the past century, the river has provided fishing, canoeing, and other recreational opportunities for humans, much needed habitat for aquatic and terrestrial wildlife within an increasingly altered landscape, and also, unfortunately, it has served as a dumping ground for municipal, agricultural, and industrial wastes. As a result of the last, the Minnesota is an imperiled river, compromised by pollutants such as phosphorus, sediment, and fecal coliform bacteria. It was recently removed from the conservation group American Rivers’ list of the twenty most threatened rivers in the United States, but it is still one of the state’s most polluted waterways.

            In recent years, the poor condition of the Minnesota River has begun to draw greater attention form the public and from local, state, and federal governments. Major studies have been conducted, such as the 1994 Minnesota River Assessment Project, and improvement efforts are under way, such as the federal-state Minnesota River Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, approved in 1998. The future of the river remains to be seen, but its present certainly includes heightened public awareness of its important roles in preserving healthy and prosperous natural and human communities. This awareness can be nurtured by producing and disseminating knowledge about the river’s rich history and present status.

            The following annotated bibliography is intended to contribute to an expansion of knowledge and awareness of the Minnesota River, and to serve as a springboard for future efforts to understand and protect it. It includes a wider range of materials, from firsthand accounts of the river and its valley, written in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to recent biological studies and management plans. I hope that this document will serve a wide range of users, including academic scholars and scientists, natural resource agency personnel, students of history and environmental policy, interested citizens, and environmental activists. 



           In conducting the search for bibliographic materials, I emphasized items that relate in whole or in part, specifically and substantively to the Minnesota River and Valley. For these purposes, the “Minnesota River Valley” is defined as the watershed so the Minnesota River and its ten major tributaries (Pomme de Terre, Chippewa, Lac Qui Parle, Hawk Creek, Yellow Medicine, Redwood, Cottonwood, Watonwan, Blue Earth, and Le Sueur rivers).  More general materials, such as those concerning water-quality management on a statewide basis or generic approaches to river protection, are not included.

            Reflecting the regional subject matter, I centered the search process on Minnesota-based libraries and information sources, including the following: the Minnesota State College and University libraries, the Minnesota Historical Society History Center, the Department of Natural Resources, the Legislative Reference Library, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and the Army Corps of Engineers- St. Paul District. No parameters were imposed upon the publication dates of materials, and dates range from original publication in 1778 through 1998.



            Annotated materials include published books, articles, and a wide variety of reports. The annotations are written to provide sufficient information for readers to decide whether to obtain the full document, give their particular interests and needs. An effort was made to highlight the specific relevance of the work to the Minnesota River and Valley. Wherever possible, International Statndard Book Numbers (ISBN) have been included to facilitate location of materials.

            Items have been organized under the following topic headings: Geology; Archaeology; General History; American Indians; Early Exploration; Trading/Forts/Missions; Steamboating/Navigation/Railroads; River Towns; Travel Accounts (Nineteenth- and Twentieth- Century); Contemporary River conditions- Minnesota River (General, Ecology, Pollution) and Tributary Watersheds (general, Ecology); Contemporary River Management- Minnesota River (General, Pollution Control, Recreational Use) and Tributary Watersheds (General, Pollution Control); and Flooding. Items that clearly fall within more than one category are listed in full under the primary where appropriate) or first heading, and then without annotation under additional headings.

            Selected unpublished manuscripts (e.g., diaries, letters, and journals) form the Minnesota Historical Society collection have been compiled in Appendix A: Manuscripts. This section is not intended to be exhaustive, but instead represents examples of manuscript sources that relate to the history of the Minnesota River Valley

            Finally, a listing of specialized resource centers for materials related to the study of the Minnesota River is presented in Appendix B: Minnesota River Resource Centers. The descriptions of these centers highlight those types of resources available which have not been individually compiled and annotated in this bibliography