Minnesota’s Northwest Angle

At a glance, nothing peculiar stands out about Minnesota on a map. It’s when you take a longer look that you’ll notice it. Along the northern border there is a small piece of land that looks like it should be part of Manitoba, Canada marked as territory of Minnesota, and the United States. However, this piece of land is not physically connected to the United States at all, it is surrounded by Canada on three sides, and Lake of the Woods on the other. Visitors either have to travel by boat across Lake of the Woods, or cross the Canadian border at Warroad, then cross back into the United States once they reach The Angle.

The mapping oddity that gave this 123-square-mile chunk of land to the United States happened when land negotiators were deciding where the USA/Canada border should be set. The Mitchell Map was used during negotiations — it mistakenly showed that the Mississippi River originated in Lake of the Woods. Understandably, the United States wanted to make sure the headwaters of the Mississippi River remained in the United States, so the border was set at the very northwestern tip of Lake of the Woods, ran due south to the 49th parallel, and then continued west. Because of this, the Northwest Angle became part of Minnesota.

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The Legend of John Beargrease

Since 1980, the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon has attracted mushers from around the world. Beginning in Duluth and running 400 miles along the north shore of Lake Superior to the Canadian border, the Beargrease is one of the longest, most grueling race routes outside of Alaska. With the 30th running of the marathon starting later this month, many people are asking “Who is John Beargrease” and “Why does he have a sled dog race named after him?”

John Beargrease’s story began in a wigwam on the outskirts of the first settlement along the north shore of Lake Superior – Beaver Bay. The son of an Anishinabe Chief, Beargrease grew up fishing, hunting, and trapping along the north shore with his father and two brothers. When he was in his teens he worked on commercial fishing boats that sailed up and down the coastline. By the time he was in his twenties, a few more small settlements had sprung up along the north shore, including Agate Bay (now Two Harbors), Castle Danger, Pork Bay, Grand Marais, and Grand Portage. Since the train only went as far as Agate Bay, people along the shore had a hard time sending and receiving mail.  Since this was often the only form of communication with the outside world. Letters and packages from family and friends were extremely important. Since Beargrease and his brothers made regular trips up and down the shore trapping and trading, they began to grab the mail in Agate Bay for the residents along the shore and deliver it as they checked their traps or traded with other residents. By 1879, the brothers were making trips for the mail and delivering it all the way to Grand Marais once or twice per week.

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