American Folklore: Minnesota

American Folklore: Minnesota

Minnesota has lots of virgin forest, a long Native American history, and a history of European exploration going back at least four centuries (maybe more, as you will see). Not surprisingly, it has some intriguing folklore. Here are some of the highlights of it.

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The Land of 10,000 Lakes joined the union in 1858 as the 32nd state. Before that, it was home to Native Americans for thousands of years. In fact, the area that is now Minnesota was home to the Dakota tribe, which was a sub-tribe of the Sioux. When Europeans came to the east coast, other tribes moved inland and settled in Minnesota, such as the Ojibwe. Europeans are first known to have come to Minnesota in the 1600’s; these were French fur traders. These traders began exploring the area and mapping farther inland from the Great Lakes.

Minnesota has had thousands of years to develop some of its own folklore, and several cultures to develop it. Here are some of the highlights of it.

Did Vikings Visit Minnesota?

While the first documented visit of Europeans to Minnesota was the French in the 1600s, there might have been an earlier visit. There is even evidence. The Kensington Runestone is a controversial archaeological artifact found in Minnesota that may prove Vikings visited there long before the French. This 202 lb stone, covered in Norse runes, was discovered in 1898 by a Swedish immigrant living in the town of Solem. The runes tell the story of a Scandinavian expedition to the area in the mid-1300s.

The runes say the expedition made camp in Minnesota, near Solem, went fishing in one of the lakes there, and some of them set out to explore more inland areas. When the exploration party returned, their expedition-mates who stayed at the camp had been killed. While it doesn’t say so, the killings are presumed to have been done by local Natives, who did not know who these strange looking intruders to their land were.

The runes seem to have been carved by two different people, and conventional archaeologists say the stone is a hoax, though a good one. Rogue archaeologists and alternative history enthusiasts maintain the stone is authentic. Because it isn’t out of the question that Vikings were in Minnesota in the 1300s (we know they were in Newfoundland in the 1000’s), this is a possibility that tantalizes people and needs more study.

The Ghost of the Stagehand

At the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, which is home to the popular radio show done by storyteller Garrison Keillor, you will find not only the oldest theater in the state but a ghost, as well.

The ghost is called Ben, which is a name given to him by those who work at the Fitzgerald. Ben began making appearances around 1985. His initial appearances coincided with renovations to the theater that revealed a hidden balcony and a letter to a stagehand named Ben.

Usually, Ben is quiet and friendly, if a bit playful. He will move tools and hide empty bottles of muscatel in strange places. One time, though, he did almost injure two stagehands by dropping a big piece of plaster from the ceiling above them, and it fell between them instead of on them. The stagehands looked up and saw a hazy figure on the catwalks who disappeared as they were looking at it.

Even stranger? The origin of the plaster is still a mystery. The ceiling of the Fitzgerald is not made of plaster.

Have You Seen Pepie?

Like many large, deep lakes around the world, Minnesota’s Lake Pepin, on the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin, has a lake monster. Sightings of Pepie go back to ancient Native times. The interesting thing about Pepie, though is that a businessman named Larry Neilsen has offered $50,000 to anyone who can provide definitive proof Pepie exists. The reward was offered as a means to increase tourism to the area, but it is a real offer and is still available.

Bigfoot Abounds in St. Louis County

There is a lot of virgin forest in Minnesota, particularly in the northern part, so lots of previously undiscovered animals could hide there. That is why St. Louis County is home to a larger than usual number of Bigfoots. While Bigfoot, or variations of him, can be found in most places in the United States, this area is a hotbed for Bigfoot sightings. There have been seventeen verified encounters since 1973. This makes St. Louis County, Minnesota one of the most active Bigfoot areas outside of Washington state and Oregon.

The Wandering Wendigo

The Wendigo is a cannibalistic being from Native American folklore in the Minnesota area, and it is still supposedly active in the state today. According to the Native legend, any human who eats another human, for whatever reason, even starvation, is transformed into a wendigo. A wendigo is a fifteen-foot-tall monster with a hairy body, glowing eyes, long tongue, and huge, long fangs. The wendigo hunts members of the Native communities of Minnesota, and anyone else who comes across its path. Even some early European settlers of the area claimed to have encountered it.

Natives continued to actively hunt wendigos until the early 20th century. A famous wendigo hunter named Jack Fiddler claimed to have killed fourteen of them in 1907. He was put on trial, along with his son, for the murder of a Cree woman, and his defense was that she was about to transform into a wendigo, and he had to defend himself and his son from her, as well as keep her from eating members of the local community.

The Phantom Pickup Truck and the Sioux

There are a lot of Native American burial grounds in Minnesota. In fact, Grey Cloud Island in Minnesota has the largest number of Native burial mounds in the United States. There are all kinds of paranormal things going on on this island, including the ghosts of coyotes, and the ghost of Grey Cloud, the Native woman after whom the island was named.

The weirdest ghostly thing on the island, though, is a phantom white pickup truck that supposedly appears out of nowhere and chases strangers off the island. The island is considered sacred ground to the Natives, but it is not clear if the truck is a manifestation of a Native spirit or has a Native driver. Some who have seen it say there is no driver, while others say it has a ghostly being behind the wheel.


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