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Chapter VI

The Pioneers of

Northwest Minnesota

Finnish settlement in southern and central Minnesota, considered in the two previous chapters, began in the 1860s. It was not until a decade later that the first Finns began to move into Northern Minnesota, which was to become the area of heaviest Finnish concentration in Minnesota as well as in the whole United States.

There were two avenues of approach, the railroads heading north from Minneapolis and the Fargo railroad heading westward from Duluth. For the Finns these railroads were not only the avenues of approach but also the source of work. That the Finns spoke little or no English did not hinder their getting jobs on the railroads, and so they moved along with the section gangs and reached the northern regions of the state, before the big mining operations were to begin and thus a decade later to form the vital center of life for thousands of Finns.

As soon as a Finn had put aside a little money from his work on the section gangs, the desire to acquire some land usually became overpowering. The seasonal character of the railroad jobs and the difficulties that the periods of unemployment brought these Finns only added to their desire for land. Year after year, then, increasing numbers of Finns on these section gangs went to the land offices and put down their names for Homestead lands. Land was the innermost cry in their hearts; land awakened new hopes. But the lands available in Northern Minnesota at the time were almost all wilderness areas with vast outcropping of stone, covered with tree stumps. The giant pines had been felled by the loggers, and occasional forest fires had completed the picture of devastation. In her book entitled Lake Superior, Grace Lee Nute suggested that no other people but the Finns would have


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