Minnesota's Inland Shipwrecks
History of Inland Water Transportation in Minnesota

Minnesota boasts a wealth of water resources in its numerous lakes and rivers. One estimate suggests that Minnesota, excluding Lake Superior, contains one square mile of water for every 15 square miles of land. Although promoted as the "Land of 10,000 Lakes," Minnesota actually has 15,291 lakes of 10 acres or more. Additionally, the state has an extensive system of rivers, some of which - e.g., the Red, Rainy, St. Louis, St. Croix, and Mississippi - help to define its borders. In fact, most of the state is outlined by "navigable" water features, including, in the northeast, Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes. Among other benefits, Minnesota's water endowment contributes to its long and diverse history of water transportation.

Minnesota lies in the heartland of North America and is positioned so its runoff flows northward to Hudson Bay, eastward to the Atlantic Ocean, and southward to the Gulf of Mexico. About 34 percent of the state's area drains to Hudson Bay, 9 percent by the Laurentian basin, and about 57 percent by the Mississippi River. The State also embraces the transition between the western prairies and the eastern woodlands, and that area between the great pine woods in the north and the corn belt in the south. Relative to water and vegetation, Minnesota is at a crossroads - a place where people and trade have often converged and left their mark. Even before Minnesota became a territory in 1849, a remarkable range of water craft entered its borders, including York boats from Hudson Bay, large canoes, mackinac boats, schooners, and sloops via Lake Superior, and pirogues (dugouts), and felucca, bateaux, and steamboats on the Mississippi.

The myriad of lakes and streams in Minnesota form a remarkable inland navigation system, though use of the system by water craft is influenced by a host of natural and cultural conditions. The average elevation of the state is approximately 1,275 feet above sea level, and the lowest point, Lake Superior, is only about 600 feet above sea level. Except in the rugged upland areas of northeastern and southeastern Minnesota, dramatic changes in stream elevation are uncommon. Even the Mississippi, with head waters in northwest Minnesota, only passes over two or three falls below Cass Lake which were considered insurmountable for large vessels.

Seasonal changes and longer-term climatic shifts, like periods of extended drought, can impact water transportation. One of the most severe droughts in modern times was during the 1930s when lakes as large as Lake Traverse, an 11,600-acre impoundment near the southern end of the Red River basin, actually dried up. Even in periods of predictable flow, Minnesota's inland waters are riddled with navigational hazards. In some areas, stream erosion has exposed bedrock, boulders, or gravel beds creating waterfalls, rapids, and shoals. Other common obstructions to navigation are snags, deadheads, drifting ice, floating muskeg, wild-rice beds, log drives and booms, low or stationary bridges, and dams - including those engineered by beaver. Fast-moving water can impede upstream travel just as storms, head winds, and high waves may cause problems on open stretches of water. One of the most tragic maritime accidents ever to occur in the Upper Midwest was the loss of 98 lives when the steamboat Sea Wing capsized in high winds on Lake Pepin in the summer of 1890.

The greatest impediment to water transportation in Minnesota has always been the winters when lakes and rivers normally freeze-over, rendering boats - other than ice boats - useless until the spring thaw. Winters closed navigation, curbing amenities like mail service and isolating people - even whole communities - for months on end. During a typical year, the boating season began in spring and continued until ice blocked the waterways. Stream navigation may last longer than inland lake navigation in the northern latitudes. More than one river traveler got trapped above or below Lake Pepin when it froze before the main channel of the Mississippi did. One of the first Euro-Americans to experience that problem was the French trader and diplomat, Paul Marin. He got a late start on his 1750 western expedition and, after encountering ice on the Mississippi, was compelled to winter at Lake Pepin. The Lake Pepin ice was even more hazardous to steamboats. In the spring of 1857, hoping to be the first to reach St. Paul, a number of captains idled their steamboats on the lower end of the lake waiting for the ice to go out. When the ice finally shifted, it sank the Pioneer and cut the steamer Arcola in two. A similar ice accident later demolished the Chippewa and the Mudhen - two steamboats operating on Red Lake in northern Minnesota .

The freezing and thawing of waterways also affected land transportation in Minnesota. During such seasonal transitions, river fords became impassable, and ferries - crucial elements of many early roadways - became useless. Take, for example, the Minnesota - a ferry that crossed the Mississippi at Clearwater. It operated just 200 days a year, from April 15 to November 15, and spent the winter months parked on shore. When the ferry at Little Falls (about 45 miles upstream) was thus sidelined, a boom was strung across the river to establish an ice bridge suitable for a winter crossing.

It is likely that changing human needs and capabilities in regard to water transportation are reflected in the introduction and development of different water craft or "vessel types." Small bark canoes could operate most anywhere that there was at least several inches of water; large canoes required no more than a foot or two of water. Some lakes or streams, though navigable for large vessels, saw little commercial use because they did not interconnect with other waterways or were too far removed from consumer markets or population centers. Similarly, on some waterways the use of commercial vessels was terminated when local resources - such as harvestable timber - were exhausted, when continued operation was unprofitable, or when the need for water transportation was supplanted by roads or railroads.

Streams may be classified by their current velocity (flow rate) and volume (discharge rate). Although, for purposes of navigation, other factors like stream size, depth, configuration, clarity, gradient, sinuosity, directness, or difficulty of travel come into play. Rapidly flowing water can move sand, gravel, branches, trees, and even rocks, thereby causing frequent changes in streambed composition and configuration. Streams carrying high sediment loads may have limited visibility. Streams uncluttered with aquatic vegetation after ice-out, nonetheless, may be choked with plant life by mid-summer. As with high sediment loads, vegetation can obscure shoals or rocks, creating hazards for passing vessels or log drives.

A stream might have adequate depth to admit a deep-hulled vessel but be too narrow or winding to allow free navigation. Take, for example, the side-wheeler White Swan - a packet steamer built in 1878 at Brainerd, Minnesota. Regular runs on the Mississippi between Aitkin and Pokegama apparently were too difficult in that narrow channel. After only one season, the vessel was dismantled and shipped to Red River for "reconstruction and service" there. Streams like the Mississippi, St. Croix, and St. Louis have natural barriers or thresholds for large vessel navigation in the form of St. Anthony Falls, St. Croix Falls, and the Dalles (near Fond du Lac). While dams constructed on Minnesota's streams might interrupt or preclude their potential for large vessel navigation, sometimes the opposite was true. A 40-foot dam built on Red Lake River at Thief River Falls, for instance, allowed steamboats to operate from the dam flowage upstream to Red Lake. Dams placed at the outlets of Cross Lake on the Snake River and at Cass, Winnibigoshish, Leech, and Gull Lakes in the Mississippi Headwaters also worked to enhance the range and quality of navigation on the resulting reservoirs. Some dams in Minnesota had locks to allow the passage of boats. For example, the first and second generation government dams at the outlet of Sandy Lake both had locks, as did a series of small dams built on a stretch of the Fishhook River near Park Rapids, Minnesota.

Streams navigable for large vessels during periods of high water might lack the capacity to float them during periods of low water. Any change in flowage volume also affected current velocity. At times, the Minnesota River allowed steamboats to ascend nearly to its source at Big Stone Lake, but the head of low-water navigation was Little Rapids, just 35-miles from St. Paul. The Crow Wing River permitted the downstream passage of a shallow-draft steamboat (the Lotta Lee or Lottie Lee), built on its upper reaches in 1884, but proved to have waters too low and currents too fast for the vessel to return. Similarly, in the spring and early summer of 1858, a 60-foot steamer went down the south fork (the "Hassan River") and main stem of the Crow River to the Mississippi but never returned, even though there was sufficient water to do so. Thus, just because streams would accept large vessels or were navigable by such craft some of the time does not mean that they were widely or regularly used.

The current preliminary data for inland water navigation in Minnesota can document where and when certain types of vessels were commonly used, as well as to suggest time periods or waterways where both large and fuel-powered vessels were not used at all. For example, it would be futile to look for a pre-1820s steam vessel of any type in Minnesota waters. There were no steamboats or other fuel-powered craft there prior to 1823 when the Virginia, a stern-wheeler, became the first steamer to reach Fort Snelling. Likewise, sloops and schooners are known to have entered only Minnesota waters and ports on Lake Superior.

In the mid-1860s, railroads linked Minnesota with the outside world and put St. Paul within 30 hours of Chicago. Prior to this time, water transportation played a major role in the exploration, trade, commerce, and settlement of the State. Of the importance of water in general, the historian Theodore Blegen in Minnesota: A History of the State wrote:

Supplies were brought in, furs sent out, in canoes, barges, boats, steamboats. Water linked frontier Minnesota with nation and world; and within the area it connected community with region. On the rivers, logs were floated to mills in a great lumber industry. Lakes and streams, easy of access, had much to do with the location of cities and towns and the exploitation of the soil. Falls and rapids offered water power for industry, large and small.

In relation to steamboating on the rivers of southern Minnesota, Rhoda R. Gilman in A Historic Interpretation Program for the State of Minnesota said:

Life on the river boats was reported in detail, both by newspapers in the river towns and by travelers who wrote memoirs. It has been a favorite topic of writers, artists, and dramatists from Mark Twain to Edna Ferber, and the potential for interpretation is virtually unlimited.

Exploration and Fur Trade (1650-1840)

Long before the appearance of Euro-Americans in the 17th century, Minnesota's inland waters were linked by ancient portages (carrying places) that formed transportation routes and route networks. Between 1640 and the mid-1800s, during the Contact Period, the bark canoe and some of the established canoe routes were also adopted for use by Euro-American interlopers. Because portages enjoyed long temporal use, the archaeological record at such places may be key to dating the emergence, fluorescence, and Euro-American use of water transportation in various regions or watersheds.

The known traditional Aboriginal water craft of Minnesota's tribal peoples are bark and wood canoes, skin boats, and probably simple rafts. Although any of these vessels may have been used at one time or other on most of Minnesota's inland waterways, relatively few actual wrecked or abandoned examples have been reported. Some scholars suggest that the earliest form of water transportation in Minnesota was the dugout wooden canoe. Various accounts show that such vessels have been found "throughout the State" including places like Lake Auburn, Lake Minnetonka, Lake Traverse, St. Anthony Falls, and Rice Lake Wildlife Refuge (near McGregor, Minnesota). It is further suggested that dugout canoes became larger and more common "after the introduction of modern tools."

Examples of abandoned or wrecked aboriginal skin and bark boats are presently unknown in Minnesota; moreover, it is doubtful that many will be found. Between 1960 and 1976, archaeologists with the former Quetico-Superior Underwater Research Project explored numerous fur-trade canoe accident and landing sites along Minnesota's northern border. No evidence of dugouts was recovered, and the only site to yield fragments of a birch-bark canoe (or canoes) was Fort Charlotte at the Pigeon River terminus of Grand Portage. No aboriginal or fur-trade canoes should be expected to have survived in Minnesota's waters unless they became embedded or buried in peat deposits or lake or river bottom sediments.

The birch-bark canoe was the workhorse of the fur trade. Because some trade routes followed shallow rivers in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, Ojibwe canoe builders there created a distinctive regional variation of the bark canoe - with wide, flat bottoms - known as the Fond du Lac style. The largest bark canoes to find use in Minnesota were those fur trade vessels like Bâtard and Montreal canoes used in hauling cargo on Lake Superior. Birch-bark canoes were faster, more maneuverable, and more easily portaged than dugouts. Furthermore, these canoes were common in lake-forest districts of northern Minnesota until the latter half of the 19th century. Dugouts or pirogues saw heavy use in riverine areas of southern Minnesota into the second quarter of the 19th century.

Euro-American explorers and traders introduced other vessel types to the Minnesota area as early as 1700. A French expedition under Pierre Charles Le Sueur arrived that year with a longboat, or felucca, from the Lower Mississippi Valley. In the late 1700s, Hudson's Bay Company traders plied the Red River with York boats at least as far up as Pembina, and Montreal-based traders routinely operated sailing vessels on Lake Superior. Although the French had a decked vessel on Lake Superior by the mid-1730s, the Otter - the first large sailing vessel known to enter what is now Duluth-Superior harbor - did so in the spring of 1794. The Otter, a 75-ton sloop, also made regular runs to Grand Portage. Later, American Fur Company traders probed the St. Louis River to Fond du Lac with mackinac boats. Indeed, fur trade sloops, schooners, and mackinac boats largely eclipsed the canoe on the south shore of Lake Superior by 1825.

When the American explorer Zebulon Pike traveled to the Mississippi Headwaters in 1805, he began his journey from St. Louis in a 70-foot keelboat. The boat was sailed, rowed, and poled upstream to Prairie du Chien where Pike exchanged it for two smaller bateaux. The bateaux were later portaged around St. Anthony Falls and taken nearly to Little Falls in central Minnesota. While there, Pike fashioned dugout canoes from pine trees, but dallied so long in erecting a fort that he was later forced to abandon his water craft and complete his northerly expedition by walking on the ice.

Despite its popularity, early water transportation was not always easy. In the summer of 1820, a deputation from the Selkirk colony took three mackinaw boats up the length of the Minnesota River, portaged over to the Red River drainage, and descended the Red River to their homes. They generally went upstream by poling, proceeding at the rate of 5 to 15 miles a day. The poling of large vessels continued on some waterways into the last quarter of the 19th century. During the low water of 1879, for example, supplies for lumber camps ancillary to the Mississippi north of Aitkin, Minnesota, were "transported by flatboats poled and dragged upstream by hand." To this day, persons involved in the hand-harvesting of wild rice still traditionally pole their boats or canoes.

St. Croix Triangle Lumbering (1830s-1900s)

Prior to the arrival of the steamboat Virginia, in 1823, all water craft used in Minnesota waters were moved by wind, water, hand, or horses. From then until some time after the advent of railroads, the waterways continued to channel and shape the State's economic development and settlement. The fur trade was already in decline in 1837 when the first major land-ceding treaties, negotiated with the Ojibwe and Dakota, opened much of east central Minnesota to lumbering along the St. Croix and its tributaries. Yankee entrepreneurs, many of whom had honed their skills in the forests of New England, moved into the St. Croix Valley. There, they developed a rhythmic lumbering enterprise based on the harvesting of pine during the winter and the transportation of logs or sawn lumber downstream in the spring. Several mills and mill towns, such as Marine and Stillwater, sprang up.

The first regular lumbering outfit on the St. Croix arrived in 1837 by mackinaw boat. The first steamer up the river was the Palmyra. Chartered for the occasion, in 1838, it carried sawmill machinery, men, and supplies to St. Croix Falls. Mills established there and at Marine sent the first rafts of lumber and logs downstream. Within five years, larger rafts of St. Croix logs were being floated to St. Louis. Initially the rafts were managed with large oars and taken through lakes St. Croix and Pepin by means of sails or, in calm weather, by cordelling (men walking along the shoreline pulling the rafts with hand lines). Lake Pepin was dreaded by raftsmen; more than one raft was lost there during an attempted crossing. By 1851, steamboats were used for the first time in towing log rafts through those lakes, and, in 1863, a steamer was first used for the same purpose on the Mississippi below Lake Pepin. Log raft construction also improved, cutting assembly costs and creating larger rafts with less waste. The early towboats, raft boats, or log rafters used to move the rafts were typically stern-wheel steamers with powerful engines. Eventually, oars on the heads of rafts were replaced by bowboats.

Commercial lumbering in the Mississippi River system began tentatively in 1848-1849 when logs cut that winter on the Mississippi (above Little Falls) were floated down to a new commercial sawmill at St. Anthony Falls. At the same time, Minnesota became a territory of the United States, and St. Anthony, fed by an ever-increasing flow of logs and grain, soon grew into one of Minnesota's largest towns. With the northern harvest of logs in escalation, both the St. Croix and the Mississippi alike became conduits for southbound logs.

Through its treaty policies and frontier military operations, the federal government stimulated the development of steamboat traffic on western rivers. In the Minnesota area, they were helped in that regard by the operations of the American Fur Company, which maintained regional headquarters at Mendota, at the mouth of the Minnesota River. For 25 years after the steamer Virginia made its appearance, Fort Snelling was a primary motivation and destination that drew boats upstream. Although some visiting steamers probed the Minnesota River Valley, the first serious attempt at navigation there did not occur until June, 1850, when high waters allowed the upstream passage of the Mississippi steamer Anthony Wayne. The Anthony Wayne turned back at Little Rapids (the aforementioned head of low-water navigation on the Minnesota), where the steamboat encountered another crew pulling and poling the keelboat Rocky Mountains upstream. Over the next several weeks, there developed a sort of contest in which several steam vessels loaded with excursionists each tried to outdo the other in seeing how far up the Minnesota they could go. Before long, the Yankee made it beyond where the town of Judson is now located in Blue Earth County.

Early Agriculture and River Settlement (1840-1870)

Regular steamboat packet service to St. Paul began in 1847 and grew steadily thereafter (until the peak years of 1857-1858), bringing thousands of immigrants to the new settlement frontier. A treaty signed at Traverse des Sioux on the Minnesota River in 1851 channeled white immigration in that direction, leading to the establishment of the Sioux Agencies and Fort Ridgely in 1853. The rush of settlers along with the government's need to supply its outposts and provide annuities to the Indians promoted the growth of steamboat and barge traffic on the river. In the drought year 1854, most supplies were poled upstream in keeled barges ranging from 50 to 60 feet long and 10 to 12 feet wide. Another dry summer, in 1863, led to realization that it was easier, more predictable, and more expedient to transport freight up the Minnesota River in strings of barges drawn by small tugboats.

The Minnesota River Valley settlement patern was initially based largely on river settlement, with many new towns relying on the river for transportation and water power, and on farmers for agricultural products. Literally dozens of steamers (including packets) and numerous other shallow draught, small capacity vessels frequented the river until 1871 when railroads reached the towns of Mankato and New Ulm, consequently crushing their business. Ferryboats made their appearance on the Minnesota River in 1839 at Mendota; others followed, often staying in business until they were replaced by bridges. The first ferry in Minnesota was likely one that connected Fort Snelling with a road on the east bank of the Mississipp. In the days before the proliferation of improved roads and bridges, ferries were known on waterways throughout the State. Over time, the ferry operations ranged from simple canoe-ferries to large, durable craft with steel hulls.

Government operations also were the impetus for placing the first steamboat on the Mississippi River above St. Anthony Falls. When Fort Gaines (Fort Ripley) - Minnesota's second American military fort - was established in central Minnesota in 1849, the Governor Ramsey was placed in service. This light-draught steamer made regular runs upriver to Sauk Rapids. Sauk Rapids, like Little Falls, was a barrier to further upstream navigation at all ordinary water levels. The first steam vessel to penetrate the Mississippi Headwaters higher up was the North Star, a vessel that earlier operated between St. Anthony Falls and Sauk Rapids.

There may have been two motivations for taking the North Star upriver. One may have been a scheme to make Fort Ripley an excursion post from which steamers could make regular outings to Pokegama Falls with stops at Crow Wing and other points of interest along the way. The other may have been to vie for a cash prize offered by the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce to anyone who put a steamboat on the Red River. In any case, in 1858, a St. Paul contractor named Anson Northup bought the North Star. Taking advantage of the high water that year, he guided his new acquisition up Sauk Rapids and Little Falls past Fort Ripley and on to Pokegama and Sandy lakes. It was indeed a pioneering effort, but not nearly so intriguing as his next move. He dismantled the North Star on the Crow Wing River and hauled the parts to the Red River where he reassembled the vessel as the Anson Northup. He then ran the reassembled vessel down river to Fort Garry (Winnipeg), Canada. With the passing of the North Star, no further attempts at steam navigation were made on the upper Mississippi until 1870.

In the meantime, logging operations in the Mississippi Headwaters progressed with scattered cutting on the Gull, Crow Wing, Pine, and Rabbit rivers. In 1870, the Northern Pacific Railroad reached the Mississippi where the town of Aitkin now stands and also crossed the Mississippi north of Crow Wing. This signaled the end of that once thriving frontier community and gave rise to the new city of Brainerd. Both Aitkin and Brainerd quickly became supply centers for local logging operations. Aitkin, in particular, trans-shipped many supplies up the Mississippi on steamboats with carrying capacities ranging from 30 to 100 tons each. Hundreds of men also passed through these towns each year to work in the northern camps. Some of the resulting wood products were shipped by rail to feed burgeoning railroad and agricultural developments in relatively timber-free areas of western and southern Minnesota.

Urban centers also benefited through the creation of industry and jobs, and through the availability of cheap building materials needed to develop commercial and residential structures. Urban centers created their own synergy, providing markets, services, and outlets for surrounding hinterlands as well as for their own residents. For this reason, most of Minnesota's major urban centers - Winona, Mankato, the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, St. Cloud, Duluth, Moorhead, and East Grand Forks - are on what are, or have been, navigable waters.

Northern Minnesota Lumbering (1870-1930s)

The spread of Northern Minnesota lumbering spawned a new era of water transportation in the northern and northeastern regions of the State. This, in turn, led to the creation of a rather interesting array of vessels - many often jerry-rigged for very specific and often quite short-lived purposes. A primary concern of loggers was the transportation of trees or logs from the place of cutting to some usually distant mill site. To facilitate their operations and supply their camps, they used a variety of rowing vessels such as bateaux and sacking boats, and barges. Log drives were accompanied down rivers by wanigans or wanigan rafts - simple craft that provided platforms for cook shacks or bunk houses. Log booms or rafts were often towed across slack or open water with headworks run by human or horse power, or by more sophisticated steam vessels like alligators, slough hogs, or towboats. Though often of common purpose, some of these vessels were seemingly one-of-a-kind in appearance. A good example is the Swan - the "ugly" side-wheel raft used to pull log booms on Lake George. Another is the Shadow - an open-decked side-wheel barge or scow, lacking even side rails - which ran on Bemidji and Little Turtle lakes. The latter craft may share affinities with an alligator, perhaps called Bull-of-the-Woods, used on Burntside Lake near Ely, Minnesota, before apparently being scuttled on Hoist Bay.

Despite the aberrant vessel types, written and photographic evidence shows that many smart-looking, traditional, stern- and side-wheel steamboats served the needs of loggers, settlers, suppliers, and entrepreneurs on many northern Minnesota waterways. These waterways include the Cross and Pokegama lakes on the Snake River, the Red River of the North, Red Lake and Red Lake River, Rainy Lake and River, Lake-of-the-Woods, Lake Vermilion, Mille Lacs; Cass, Winnibigoshish, Leech, Sandy, and Gull lakes. Government steamers ran on Leech Lake, Red Lake, and on the Mississippi between Aitkin and Grand Rapids.

Steamboats were often built on the waterways where they operated. For example, the steamer Zelah May, which saw service on Wolf, Andrusia, and Cass lakes, was reportedly built on the south shore of Wolf Lake. The Mudhen, a steamer operated on Red Lake and Red Lake River, was said to be built at the mouth of Sandy River on the southwest corner of lower Red Lake with oak milled at the town of Buena Vista. Leila D, the first individually owned steamer on Leech Lake, was built at the "shipyard" at the west end of the town of Walker, Minnesota, with wood cut at Eagle Bend in Todd County. Steamboats also were built at Gull Lake, Brainerd, Sauk Rapids, St. Anthony, around Mille Lacs, on the Red River at Georgetown, Breckenridge, Grand Forks, Fargo, Moorhead, and McCauleyville. In addition, they were constructed at several towns on Lake Minnetonka, at Stillwater, Franconia, Osceola, Prescott, Taylor's Falls, Arcola and Lakeland in the St. Croix Valley, as well as on other lakes and rivers in Minnesota.

Boats that were unwieldy, damaged, worn out, or which proved to be too large or too small for their intended use might be remodeled or reconfigured. Several vessels operating on the Mississippi between Brainerd and Grand Rapids, for example, were rebuilt to meet the requirements of navigation in the narrow winding channel of that river.

Steamboats were occasionally shipped by land conveyance to their intended place of use, or they were shipped from one lake or drainage to meet demands. Quite often, overland shipment required the disassembly and reconstruction of the vessel. A classic example, aforementioned, is the steamer North Star which was dismantled near Crow Wing and transferred in pieces to Red River where it was reborn as the Anson Northup. A similar endeavor occurred in 1878 when the steamer White Swan, after proving to be unsuitable for navigation on the Mississippi, was disassembled and shipped to the Red River for reconstruction and service there. One of the most convoluted journeys by a vessel is likely that of the 30-foot steam launch Remnica which was plagued by its deep draught. The Remnica was originally sent by rail to Aitkin in 1903, but proved too shallow for safe operation on the Mississippi. Consequently, in 1904, it was sold to a logging company and transported to Mille Lacs with much the same result. From there, it was transferred to International Falls for use on the Rainy River.

Tourism and Recreation in the Lake Region (1870-1945)

Minnesota tourism and recreation in the lake regions took root in the spring of 1826 when the steamer Lawrence reached Fort Snelling to re-establish its communication with the outside world. The captain of the Lawrence invited a number of officers and their wives on board and made a short excursion trip upriver. In 1835, the steamer Warrior arrived at the fort carrying the usual supplies plus the first group of sightseeing passengers to embark on what became known as a "Fashionable Tour" of the Northwest. Soon visitors from as far away as New Orleans, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh traveled to Minnesota to promote their health, out of an interest in the natural world and Indian cultures, or simply to escape the heat of southern summers.

From the beginning, the growth of Minnesota's tourism/resort industry was linked to mechanized transportation systems like steamboating. The industry grew steadily with the introduction of railroads, and later modern roads and automobiles. Even before Minnesota became known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, the focus of tourism was the State's waterways. People engaged in sightseeing, camping, fishing, or hunting; those attending youth camps or going to summer cottages, seasonal estates, and recreational communities generally gravitated to water. Seemingly every place packet or tramp steamers were in operation, there was at some time or other a use of those vessels for celebrations or outings. In the 1890s, a Mississippi River excursion was an annual event for teachers attending an institute at Aitkin. A three-day celebration to mark the launching of the Lotta Lee on Shell River included excursions, live music, speeches, and a race pitting the steamer against Indians in canoes.

Excursions and pleasure boating also were popular on inland lakes such as Leech, Mille Lacs, Minnetonka, and many others. The Ida - a double-decked steamer capable of carrying 200 passengers - operated on Lake Bemidji. Minnesota's greatest maritime disaster - the loss of 98 lives caused by the capsizing of the Sea Wing - occurred during a Sunday excursion. Pleasure barges too were outfitted to accommodate excursionists on day-trips or special events; showboats (floating theaters) and circus boats, also pushed by steamers, appeared on the Mississippi River as far north as St. Paul between 1855 and 1915.

The demand for water transportation and activities spawned a wide range of recreational water craft like fishing launches, row boats, speed boats, sailboats, and house boats. Boat builders in towns like Little Falls worked hard to meet the demand. Even today, tourists and excursionists by the thousands flock to Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to experience the outdoors in a canoe, much as the American Indians and fur traders did in Minnesota in the years before intensive white settlement. Others who yearn to relive the steamboat days on the Mississippi can take a local ride on the replica Josiah Snelling or Jonathon Paddleford in the Twin Cities, or can catch a larger vessel like the Delta Queen on a run to downriver ports.

Adapted from the "Shipwrecks of Minnesota's Inland Lakes and Rivers" report by: Wes Hall, Douglas Birk and Sam Newell.

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