'An Unvaried Plain' to Amber Waves of Grain: The Great Transformation in Norman County to 1881

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'An Unvaried Plain' to Amber Waves of Grain: The Great Transformation in Norman County to 1881

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Over a roughly 300 year period from 1600 to 1900, individuals transformed Minnesota from a land populated by Native Americans and their ways of life to a neo-Europe. This so-called “Great Transformation” occurred at very different times in the different regions in the state. The Great Transformation in Norman County happened between 1872 and 1881. The spreading transportation web of the railroads and the interconnected rise of agriculture drove the Great Transformation in Norman County. Without agriculture, Norman County would never have been organized and it would not exist today. The physical transformation of Norman County is largely manifested in agriculture. The two dates used to bookend the Great Transformation are the arrival of the railroad in Ada, the seat of Norman County, in 1872 and the formal establishment of Norman County in 1881. In order to understand when, why, and how the transformation occurred, one needs to address the experiences and motivations of the American explorers and the Ojibwe, the French and the Metís, the steamboats and the oxcarts, the government surveyors and the formal establishment of the county, and the early Scandinavian settlers of Norman County. Additionally, there are several key individuals who drive the transformation of Norman County including the early settler John Shely, the Red River steamboat captain Edwin Bell, and (perhaps most importantly) the transportation tycoon James J. Hill. But it is truly the railroads that drive the Great Transformation as without those reliable, consistent transportation networks the prospects for settlement in the region were grim. In order to better grasp the transformation of Norman County, we must first get a pre-transformation picture of the land from the early explorers Major Stephen Long and Brevet Captain John Pope.


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Hest, John. (2015). 'An Unvaried Plain' to Amber Waves of Grain: The Great Transformation in Norman County to 1881. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/173996.

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