In a classic oversimplification, if the confluence weren't here, we wouldn't be either. Water, being the great transporter in the generations before planes, trains, and automobiles, created at the confluence a great "Y" in the road, so to speak. This area has been inhabited by humans since humans have been in the area, and the archaeological record supports this habitation. The Dakota lived, buried their loved ones in the Pilot Knob Mounds, and told creation stories incorporating the confluence area for generations.
Europeans came to the area for the fur trade, and in 1804 Zebulon Pike came in search of a place to locate a fort. In the early 1800s, the Minnesota is known by its first European name, St. Peter, the Dakota children played "white man," a trade game described by Charles Eastman, and the soldiers came to build on the bluff. The 1820s through 1840s marks the heyday for the "white man's house" on the bluff, a pentagonal fortress called Fort Snelling. Seth Eastman comes west to the post and paints it and the Dakota. He marries and has a family in the Dakota tradition, but leaves them on the prairie when he is called away. When he returns for his second posting at the fort he brings a white bride and his Dakota family remains outside the walls of Snelling and outside the walls of his European heart. The trader and statesman Henry Sibley, like Eastman, has two families--two worlds. The Dakota world and family become one of convenience and opportunity for the young. The European world and family become one of convenience and opportunity for the old. Their actions are the accepted "norm" for the conquering race.
By 1860, the United States begins to come unglued and the war begins in earnest in 1861. The Dakota, by now forced to slivers of land along the banks of the Minnesota River, are starving and forgotten by their "great father" in Washington, who can barely pay for the war exploding just outside his own doors. On the Minnesota frontier, the Dakota are "protected" on their slivers of land from the European settlers--for their own good. The government treats the Dakota worse than it treats the horses in its own cavalry stables, and expects the "savages" to like it. A trader at the Lower Sioux Agency tells the Dakota to "eat grass," and helps to light the spark of the Dakota Conflict in 1862. He is one of the first to fall, found dead with his mouth stuffed with grass. The Dakota, proud, noble, and longer on the continent than the Europeans, push back, but fail and are forced out of Minnesota. They are captured, persecuted, mutilated, and their culture as well as their personage is raped. They are stripped of who they are and forced soulless into a European world. The confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers--the Dakota birthplace--becomes the place of capture, of torture, and of death. The confluence has been changed by time and by people. Today it is barely noticed by the travelers in cars, planes, or boats, but the spirits of the people who look down upon the confluence from Pilot Knob, the spirits of those who were buried face down and eyes closed in the Internment Camp, the spirits of those who have drowned in the waters still hold this place important, cherished, and sacred. The confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers helped to shape, to change Minnesota simply by being where and what it is. Elementally and physically it exists here because of the geological changes in the bedrock in which the rivers lie and flow. Culturally the confluence has been the backdrop for attempted extermination and major change throughout time.
~Aaron Novodvorsky, Minneapolis, MN