Minnesota Geographic Names - Yellow Medicine County


    This county, established March 6, 1871, is crossed by the Yellow Medicine river, whence the name is derived. It is a translation of the Dakota or Sioux name, which Prof. A. W. Williamson spelled and defined thus: "Pajutazee (Pezhihutazi, abbreviated from Pezhihutazizi kapi),--- peji, generic name, including grasses and all other erect plants without wood stems; huta, root; si, yellow; kapi, they dig; diggings of yellow plant root, or yellow medicine diggings; the Dakota name of the Yellow Medicine river, written by Nicollet Pejuta zizi. The name as first spelled was given by Dr. T. S. Williamson to his station, and is found in this form on a number of maps."

    The late Dr. Thomas M. Young, who was during several years in charge of the government school for Indian children at the Sisseton Agency , South Dakota, stated that the "yellow medicine" is the long, slender, bitter, yellow root of the moonseed (Menispermum Canadense), which grows abundantly in thickets in this region. From the root of this plant came thus the name of the river and the county.

    It was proposed in 1878-9 to establish a new county, named like the village and city of Canby, in honor of General E. R. S. Canby, whose biography is presented in the notice of that city. The legislative act passed for this purpose, subject to ratification by the people, received the governor's approval Febraury 27, 1879. The proposed county was to comprise the western six townships of Yellow Medicine county, the three most northern of Lincoln county, and three from southwestern Lac qui Parle county. The vote in Yellow Medicine county was 463 yes, 370 no; but the vote in Lincoln county defeated it.


    Information of geographic names here, with their meanings, has been gathered from "History of the Minnesota Valley," 1882, having pages 882-912 for this county; "An Illustrated History of Yellow Medicine County," by Arthur P. Rose, 1914, 562 pages; and from George H. Wilson, county auditor, Charles F. Hall, judge of probate, Hon. Ole O. Lende, and Frederic W. Pearsal, each of Granite Falls, the county seat, interviewed during a visit there in July, 1916.

    BURR, a village of the Northwestern railway in Florida township, founded in 1886, was called Stanley until its post office was established in 1895. Because the name Stanley had been given to an earlier postoffice in this state, the name Burr was adopted at the suggestion of Alfred Froberg, the merchant and grain-buyer here, "that being a Froberg family name." (History of the county, 1914, p. 247.)

    BURTON township, settled in 1877 and organized May 20, 1879, was named "in honor of Burton French, the father of Palmer O. French, a pioneer settler."

    CANBY, a city in Norman township, was platted in the summer of 1876, three years after the building of this line of the Northwestern railway, was incorporated as a village in 1879, and as a city March 1, 1905. It was named in honor of Edward Richard Sprigg Canby, as before noted in relation to a proposed county bearing his name. He was born in Kentucky in 1819; was graduated at the U. S. Military Academy, 1839; served during the Mexican war, 1846-8, and the civil war, 1861-5; was commander in Louisiana, and of the U. S. army departments west of the Mississippi, in 1864; captured Mobile, April 12, 1865; was promoted to major general of volunteers, and in 1866 became a brigadier general in the regular army; was treacherously killed by the Modoc Indians during a conference in Siskiyou county, northern California, April 11, 1873.

    CLARKFIELD, a village of the Minneapolis and St. Louis railway in Friendship, platted October 7, 1884, incorporated October 10, 1887, was "named in honor of Mr. Clark, who was connected with the railroad company."

    ECHO township, first settled in 1869, was organized March 31, 1874, being then named Empire, which was changed in the next month to Rose, "and on July 17, 1874, the name Echo was bestowed upon it . The difficulties encountered in selecting a name not borne by some other township suggested the final name. This was one case where echo answered." (Arthur P. Rose, History of the county, p. 95.) The railway village, bearing the township name, was founded in August, 1884, and was incorporated May 31, 1892.

    FLORIDA township, organized January 27, 1879, is crossed by Florida creek, which was named for a railway contractor, whose camp was there in 1873, when the railway was built.

    FORTIER township, settled in the fall of 1873, was the latest organized in this county, May 30, 1881. "The name of Le Roy was first given to it, but, as there was already a town of that name, Fortier was substituted in honor of Joseph Fortier." He was born in Napierville, Canada, April 12, 1835; came to Minnesota in 1854, and from 1855 to 1862 was employed at the Upper Sioux Agency; was in the battle of New Ulm, the defence of Fort Ridgely, and the battle of Wood Lake, 1862; served also in Sibley's and Sully's expeditions, 1863 and '64; later was a merchant in Yellow Medicine City, and after 1874 at Granite Falls; was sheriff of this county, 1877-87; died at Granite Falls, March 27, 1898.

    FRIENDSHIP, settled in the spring of 1872, organized March 11, 1879, was named in the petition of its people to the county commissioners for organization.

    GRANITE FALLS, the county seat, platted May 7, 1872, incorporated as a village March 17, 1879, and as a city in April, 1889, received its name from the granite and gneiss outcrops of the Minnesota river here, over which and on boulders in the river bed it falls 38 feet.

    HAMMER township, settled in June, 1872, organized July 2, 1877, has a name that is borne by villages in Bavaria and Prussia, and also by a village in Tennessee.

    HANLEY FALLS, a railway junction village on the Yellow Medicine river, was founded in the summer of 1884, the Minneapolis and St. Louis track being laid to this place on August 19, and it was incorporated January 8, 1892. The name was given in honor of an officer of that railway company.

    HAZEL RUN township, settled in 1871 and organized in 1877, bears the name of its creek, tributary to the Minnesota river. The railway village, named like the township, was platted in September, 1884, and was incorporated May 16, 1902.

    HAZELWOOD, a mission station of Revs. T. S. Williamson and S. R. Riggs during the years 1854 to 1862, was in section 15, Minnesota Falls. Here were a mission school and numerous families of Christian Sioux, who were organized under a plan of self government, called the Hazelwood Republic.

    LISBON township, settled in June, 1871, organized September 20, 1873, has the name of the capital of Portugal, borne also by townships and villages in nineteen other states.

    LORNE, a station of the Great Northern railway five miles south of Granite Falls, established in 1898, was named in honor of the Marquis of Lorne, a British statesman, the eldest son of the eighth Duke of Argyll. He was born in London, August 6, 1845; represented Argyllshire in Parliament, 1868-78; was governor general of Canada, 1878-83; and succeeded to the dukedom in April, 1900. He married the Princess Louise, fourth daughter of Queen Victoria, in 1871.

    MINNESOTA FALLS township, settled in October, 1865, organized April 5, 1873, and its former village, platted in 1871, which flourished during a few years, but whose buildings were partly burned and the others removed before the end of 1882, derived their name from the falls of the Minnesota river. At the sawmill and flour mill of Governor Austin and Park Worden, the utilized fall was 10 feet.

    NORMAN, settled in 1870, was organized April 7, 1874. "The first settlers of this township were Norwegians exclusively, and the name was given in consequence. In Norway a native is referred to as a Norsk or Norman." (History of the county, 1914, p. 94.)

    NORMANIA township, settled in 1867-8, was organized March 12, 1872, being then named Ree, for "a prominent group of farms in Norway," which was changed in 1874 to the present name, of the same significance as the last preceding.

    ORMO township, settled in April, 1878, organized January 29, 1880, was named on suggestion of Robert North, the first chairman of the board of supervisors, "after a town in Mr. North's old home county [Winnebago] in Wisconsin." (History of the county, p. 102.)

    OSHKOSH township, settled in the spring of 1877 and organized July 19, 1879, was named for the city of Oshkosh in Wisconsin, the county seat of Winnebago county, which commemorates the head chief of the Menominee Indians.

    OTIS, formerly a small fractional township at the west side of Granite Falls, organized October 16, 1873, "named in honor of its first settler, John D. Otis," has been annexed to Stony Run.

    PORTER, a village of the Northwestern railway in the south edge of Wergeland, platted in October, 1881, and incorporated February 10, 1898, was named for the L. C. Porter Milling Company, by whom its first grain warehouse was erected.

    POSEN township, settled in 1868, organized May 17, 1879, received its name "from the province of Posen, formerly belonging to Poland, but now a part of the German Empire, from whence most of the settlers came." (History of the Minnesota Valley, p. 908.)

    ST. LEO, a village on the line between Omro and Burton, "was named after the church, and the church was so christened in honor of Pope Leo." (History of the county, p. 247) The church, built in 1896, is commemorative of Saint Leo, the first Pope of this name, A. D. 440-461, who is surnamed "the Great."

    SANDNES township, settled in 1866, mostly from Norway, and organized March 12, 1872, bears the name (with slight change in spelling) of Sandnaes, a seaport town of southwestern Norway, adjoining the Stavenger fjord.

    SIOUX AGENCY township, first permanently settled in 1865, "was set apart for organization September 4, 1866," being named Yellow Medicine, and its first township meeting was held April 2, 1867. "In March, 1877, the present boundaries were fixed and the name changed to Sioux Agency." (History of the Minnesota Valley, p. 892.) The Upper Sioux Agency was on the north side of the Yellow Medicine river and about a mile west of its mouth, in the northern part of this township. It was occupied from 1854 to 1862, and, as noted by Rose, "became a place of considerable importance and was virtually the capital of the Indian country."

    SORLIEN MILLS, a hamlet of much business in the pioneer days, had a gristmill and post office on the Yellow Medicine river in the southeast part of Minnesota Falls township. E. H. Sorlien and brothers erected the mill in 1872. The post office was established in July, 1878, and E. H. Sorlien was postmaster till it was discontinued in July, 1896. (History of the county, p. 249.)

    STAVANGER post office named from the fjord, city, and district of this name in southern Norway, was established about 1870 in section 27, Ree (afterward Normania), and was discontinued by a rural free delivery route in November, 1903.

    STONY RUN township, settled in 1869, organized September 26, 1871, "is named for the creek that courses through it," in many places flowing over drift boulders.

    SWEDE PRAIRIE township, settled in 1870, was organized January 19, 1878. "The name first given to the town was Green Prairie, but was changed March 12, 1878, to Swede Prairie," in compliment to its many immigrants from Sweden.

    TYRO township, settled in August, 1872, was organized October 25, 1879. This name, meaning a beginner, is borne also by villages or hamlets in Virginia, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Kansas.

    WERGELAND township, organized April 5, 1879, was then named Union, which was changed on May 1 of that year, by request of the many Norwegian settlers, "in honor of one of their native country's poets, Henrik Wergeland." He was born at Christiansand, June 17, 1808, and died at Christiania, July 12, 1845.

    WOOD LAKE township, settled in 1868, organized November 1, 1873, was named for its largest lake, fringed with timber, whence the battle fought under General Sibley against the Sioux, about four miles east of this lake, September 23, 1862, has been called the battle of Wood Lake. That battle ground is marked by a monument, on the northwest quarter of section 9, Sioux Agency. The battle was followed by the flight of the hostile Sioux to Dakota and the release of the white captives, September 26, at Camp Release in Lac qui Parle county, opposite to Montevideo, likewise marked by a monument. The railway village of Wood Lake, established in the summer of 1884, before the first passenger train came on August 18, was incorporated November 28, 1891.

    YELLOW MEDICINE CITY, founded in 1866 and platted June 10, 1869, was on the south side of the river of this name, about a mile west of the site of the former Yellow Medicine or Upper Sioux Agency. This village was designated as the county seat early in 1872, but in accordance with the vote of the people in 1874 the county offices were removed in December of that year to Granite Falls, which has since been the county seat. During 1875-80 the area of the Yellow Medicine village site reverted to farming land.

    The mission station bearing this name, also called Pajutazee, occupied from 1853 to 1862, was in section 24 of the present Minnesota Falls township, being nearly two miles southeast of the Hazelwood mission school and its Sioux community.


    Yellow Medicine river bears this name on the map of Long's expedition in 1823 and on Nicollet's map, 1843. The latter has also the Dakota name, noted at the beginning of this chapter.

    Florida creek, Hazel Run, and Stony Run, giving their names to townships, and Wood lake, whence another township is named, are noticed in the preceding pages.

    Canby creek, named from the city, and the East branch of Lac qui Parle river, crossing the west part of this county, flow northward into Lac qui Parle county.

    Mud creek, flowing eastward across Wergeland and Burton, and Spring creek, crossing Swede Prairie and the north edge of Normania, are tributary to the Yellow Medicine river.

    The lakes of this county, occurring only in its southeastern part, include, with Wood lake, before noted, Sand and House lakes in the same township, the last being named for a pioneer; three small lakes in sections 8 and 17, Sioux Agency, lying a half mile to one and a half miles south of the Wood Lake battle ground and monument, the two northern being named High Bank and Battle lakes; a former Lake of the Woods and another long lake or marsh in Echo township, both now drained; Tyson lake or marsh, and an adjoining Twin lake, in Posen, the first being named for Joseph Tyson, an early homesteader on its south side; and a group of three lakes in Normania, of whch the middle one is called Gullickson lake, for a pioneer Norwegian farmer beside it.

Source - Minnesota Geographic Names - Their Orgin and Historic Significance by Warren Upham, Published by Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul - 1920.
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