It was 1878, and the Minnesota Legislature — not to mention the railroad barons — were desperate to attract pioneer farmers to settle the sparsely populated southern and western parts of the state.
With its generous $10,000 annual appropriation, the Minnesota State Board of Immigration published “Minnesota, the Empire State of the New North-West, the Commercial, Manufacturing and Geographical Centre of the American Continent.”
Minnesota leaders spent more on their recruiting effort than competitor Wisconsin, translated publications into multiple foreign languages to target European immigrants — and embellished the truth more than a little.
She’s a looker
From the very first sentence of the introduction, it’s clear that “Minnesota, the Empire State ...” would not be a testament to understatement and modesty.
“Elevated as in a mirage of beauty, from eight to eighteen hundred feet above the Gulf of Mexico, lies a wide spread domain of unparalleled fertility.”
Later, the lengthy pamphlet suggests that readers imagine Iowa or Wisconsin except “with greater diversity, beauty, and picturesqueness imparted to the scenery by rippling lakes, sparkling waterfalls, high bluffs and wooded ravines.”
The booklet quotes from an 1869 article by a Boston Journal reporter, as well, describing his impression of Minnesota: “I can say without reservation that nowhere in the wide world, not even in England, the most finished of all lands; not in la belle France, or in sunny Italy, or in the valley of the Ganges, or the Yanktze, or on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada, have I beheld anything approaching this region in natural beauty.”
The Boston reporter does caution that he visited the state in summer: “’How it would look in winter I cannot say ... .’”
Water, water everywhere
Minnesota is “dotted with sparkling lakes of crystal clearness” and “rapidly flowing streams, whose fountains are pure and renovating.” There’s an unnamed waterfall on the north shore of Lake Superior, according to the booklet, “equalling Niagara in the grandeur and sublimity ... .”
The lakes are spread across most of the state “sparkling on the open prairie, hidden in the depths of its primeval forests, and glistening like gems of beauty among the ragged hills of its northeastern section” and teeming with “fish of superior flavor and quality,” home to “immense numbers of wild geese, ducks and other water fowl.”
And in what would become the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” Minnesota was actually shorted in that category by the publication: “... our seven thousand lakes will furnish lasting resources of amusement and health, and add forever an indescribable charm to our natural scenery.”
Gotta love the dirt
Much attention was given to the soil, “... most of it a deep rich black loam, unequalled in quality and fertility and apparently inexhaustible.”
The author of the booklet, when beginning the section on soil, appeared to be approaching a state of ecstasy: “I now come to the pith and marrow of my subject, where the pen is sure to run riot, unless held with a master hand.”
There was so much good farm land and it was destined to be so productive that Minnesota could unilaterally pay off the national debt in a snap all by itself: “... Minnesota alone could throw from her bountiful soil, enough produce to pay that debt in the short space of four years time.”
Along with soaring language, there are also statistics from 1877 comparing average yields in Minnesota with Iowa and Ohio for crops varying from wheat to corn to potatoes. Minnesota wins convincingly in every category.
And testimonials of a sort were provided from counties across the state, including this one from Le Sueur County extolling the land’s ability to grow oats and trees: “Here is a good farmer: C.C. Whitney recently threshed a little over two acres of oats and the yield was 160 bushels, or nearly 80 bushels to the acre. He has cottonwood trees, planted in 1872, which measure 21 inches around the butt.”
Give me your livestock, yearning to be fat
A farmer as far north as Wadena reported that he could raise hogs to slaughter weight without feeding them, even in winter: “I killed five hogs, in full aggregate weight of 1,400 pounds, that did not cost $5 to fat them, nuts and mast being abundant. I have six fine shoats that will weigh 150 pounds each, that are now thriving finely, and I do not feed them anything whatever; the weather is fine, and there is not enough snow to prevent them from getting to the ground — hence they get a good living.”
In Minnesota winters, livestock are highly motivated to eat, according to “Minnesota, the Empire State ... .”
“The cold, dry air sharpens the appetite, and promotes a rapid secretion of fat and a vigorous muscular development. The wool grows finer and heavier, and mutton, beef and pork sweeter and more juicy. ... Cattle do well, without exception. Finer herds than those that graze upon our prairies cannot be found in any land.”
Even veggies taste better
Minnesota’s lettuce, cabbage, spinach and other “salad plants” are not only more tender than those grown elsewhere, they “are more nutritious, because their growth is slow and their juices well digested.”
The western parts of Minnesota are extolled for the ability to grow mouthwatering potatoes “already held in considerable esteem as a table delicacy in the States below us.”
The testimonial of a Rock County farmer included, among other things, claims of a potato that measured 13 inches by 22 inches. The man’s exuberance about a harvest that “more than met my most sanguine expectations” was evident in his final sentence: “I say, all hail to the Northern Pacific country, long may she wave!”
But it’s not just the potatoes and lettuce, according to the publication: “All kinds of garden vegetables are grown in great abundance, while the exquisite flavor and fresh crispness of all table esculents grown in the quick black soil of Minnesota is a subject of universal remark.”
And don’t forget wood products.
“From her inexhaustible pineries, she can produce lumber enough, and of the finest quality, to line both banks of the Mississippi from the Gulf to its remotest spring branch in Lake Itasca, with a continuous city, sloping and terraced from bank to bluffs.”
The middle of nowhere — NOT
“Minnesota, the Empire State ...,” in great detail, portrays Minnesota as ideally situated in the middle of North America to be a distribution center for wealth flowing around the world. Riverboats would transport furs from the north and citrus fruits from the south. A future transcontinental railroad would almost certainly travel through Minnesota and create the shortest route between Asia and Europe, according to “Minnesota, the Empire State ... .”
“... The grandeur of her position ... equals that of any other commercial centre on the face of the globe, and the greatness of her future baffles all attempt at computation.”
The winters? Well, it’s a dry cold
“But, perhaps, thoughtful reader, you are prejudiced against our climate,” the booklets author writes. “... I promise you a good climate, with its drawbacks, of course, as I have found the world over.”
He emphasizes “the remarkable dryness and healthfulness of the winter. The sleet, slush, mud, and the train of diseases which the damp and variable winters of Eastern or Southern climates inflict upon animals and men, are here nearly unknown.”
And in Minnesota, it doesn’t feel as cold as other places.
“It is well known that dampness is the element whence comes the greatest suffering, whether of cold or warm weather. ... The dry atmosphere of winter in Minnesota is less cold to the sense than the warmer yet damp climate of States several degrees further south.”
If the air happens to get a bit chilly at some point in the winter, Minnesotans would not have to look far to find cheap fuel “from the immense coal fields of Iowa,” according to the publication.
And, besides, folks in Minnesota keep so busy in the winter “with ceaseless business activity and constant social enjoyment” that they hardly notice the weather.
Also, an immigrant who chooses a warmer location will rue the decision when his family succumbs to the deadly diseases in those climates: “What are soft and perfumed breezes, if they waft the seeds of pestilence and death? What are bountiful harvests of golden grain, and rich mellow fruits, and all the wealth the earth can yield, if disease must annually visit his dwelling, and death take away one by one the loved and the young?”
In summary, heaven on earth
The author of “Minnesota, the Empire State ... “ — possibly realizing the portrayal of the state might sound too good to be true — concludes with some reassurance: “Every statement made comes from the very best sources, and is entirely reliable.”
And if the reader is still skeptical, the booklet includes corroborating evidence through newspaper reports about the state, including one from the Chicago Tribune describing a visit to Minnesota.
“I know of no other portion of the earth’s surface where so many advantages are concentrated ...,” the Tribune reporter wrote, predicting a bright future as word spread of Minnesota’s endless virtues. “No wonder the people here wear such smiling countenances. They are full of hope. I have yet to see the first despairing or gloomy face.”