Dalles of the St. Croix River

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Prehistoric geology - The basalt that forms the Dalles was laid down by volcanoes in Precambian times. The Dalles themselves were formed when the St. Croix River drained an enormous glacial lake. The flow was so tremendous that whirlpools caused holes to form on the river bottom, and when a rock would finally get trapped in one of these holes it would grind around until enormous potholes were formed. These are still visible today.

Historic times - The first Europeans to come to this area were French adventurers. They found this area peopled by several Native tribes, with the Dakota being the dominant force. A profitable fur trade was established that eventually wiped out most beaver in the region. These traders lived very closely with their Native partners, often taking Native wives and educating their sons. Eventually, the Dakota began moving west and could no longer hold the area. A famous Chippewa chief named Wabejeeg fought a victorious battle at the Dalles that marked the beginning of the end of Dakota domination of the area.

About the same time as the fur trade was drying up, loggers came in to exploit the vast northern forests. Every log cut passed by the Dalles on its way to mills downriver. The Dalles were the site of an almost annual logjam. This was a disaster for loggers, but brought business to the Dalles as tourists came to see the sight. The Dalles are very near the falls that marked the northernmost point a steamboat could navigate. Many immigrants landed here.

The St. Croix is a border river for Minnesota and Wisconsin. Originally, the area was part of the Wisconsin Territory, which reached to the Mississippi, but when Wisconsin achieved statehood it was not included. Partly because they knew they could get more congressional seats if they formed two states. Also, local people thought Madison too remote to represent them.

After logging had diminished, this area was populated by immigrants from all over Europe. Most farmed and were successful. The draining of the glacial lake left sediments that are 150 feet thick in places- making Minnesota farmland some of the richest in the world.

The Dalles today is a busy tourist area. Interstate Park runs along both sides of the river in the area of the Dalles. On the Wisconsin side, one of the interpretive signs relates that while Minnesota has bigger and deeper potholes, they are more numerous on the Wisconsin side. I'm surprised it didn't say "Go Packers."

In summary, what could be a better example of what Minnesota was and is, than the Dalles. From volcanoes and glaciers, through Native settlement and European migration. The fur-trading voyageurs, lumbermen, merchants, and farmers that called this place home. To the present day as a busy tourist area close to the biggest Metro area between Chicago and Denver. With the modern issues of environmental degradation and invasive species.
~Tim Cutschall, Cedar, MN




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