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History Along the Long Prairie River

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Historical Uses and Changes

The Lonq Prairie River played a vital role in the early settlement pattern of Todd County. History describes the Long Prairie River valley as a hunting ground for the Dakota and Ojibwa, with the river itself providing a transportation link with the Crow Wing and Mississippi.

Starting as early as the 1840’s the river and its grass filled valley were where the settlers first established themselves. By the mid 1860’s several settlements from the present site of Long Prairie to Motley were prospering, using flatboats, and for a very short time even a steam boat, for transportation and shipping. By 1877 the water level had fallen to a point that only very small water craft could navigate the river on a regular basis. In late 1877 H.D. Orendorf cut a road down the west side of the river from Turtle Creek to Motley. For many years this was the only road down the river valley.

Some of the villages that grew up along the 100 mile length of the Long Prairie have prospered, some have disappeared completely. Hartford, on the banks of the river, opposite the mouth of Eagle Creek was settled in 1865 by John Bassett who was attracted to the area by the open grasslands north of the river. The railroad brought about the demise of Hartford when they built on the west side of the river, the community migrated to it and became what is now known as Browerville.

Long Prairie was never a river town like Hartford. In the 1840’s, it was settled as the administrative headquarters for carrying out the agreement between Washington and the Winnebago Indians. The settlement developed along Venewitz Creek and was said to be more populous than St Paul at that time. In 1855 the Winnebago had been moved to a reservation and the lands were sold to investors from Ohio. The settlement was abandoned in the 1860’s during the Ojibwa uprising. The area slowly repopulated by settlers passing through the area who stayed, in many cases, because of the availability of the already constructed buildings and homes.

At the end of the Civil War the communities west of Long Prairie were settled by soldiers who had fought for the Union Army that were not very welcome in their home state of Kentucky. Once located at the present intersection of County Roads 38 and 11, Whiteville was settled by the three White sisters and their families. Clotho, it seems was settled where it is because settlers couldn’t go any further. The forests and swamps to the west were impenetrable.

At the time of Todd County’s original European settlement, the forested areas of the Long Prairie River Watershed were substantial. The Marshner Pre-European Settlement Vegetation Map, shows 65.5% of the area was covered by a variety of hard woods and pines. The first commercial logging began about 1866 and continued through the mid 1890’s. Eagle, Moran, Fish Trap, and Turtle creeks were all large enough, at that time, to power mills and float logs to the Long Prairie River where they joined other log rafts on their way to the Crow Wing and to the Mississippi. As most of the trees were harvested, the sandy soils in these areas were left unprotected, increasing the erosion, and gradually filling the streams with sediment. The result is the very much smaller streams we have today. The 1990’s Land Use map shows only 21 % of the area forested, much restored due to reforestation plantings, and over 60% of the area as cultivated, hay, pasture or grassland.

As the Long Prairie River Watershed was settled, roads and railroads took over the job of transportation and shipping. Landowners used the river as a source of water for themselves, their livestock, and more recently, for irrigation. Industry located along the riverbanks and used the river as a source of water and as a discharge point for the waste materials generated by their companies. Few cities and villages used the river for drinking water, because the shallow sand aquifer along the river provided easy access to well water. Wastewater, however, was and still is discharged to the river and to Eagle Creek, one of the larger tributaries.

Early irrigation used mostly surface water sources, primarily the Long Prairie River. In the dry years of the late 1970’s, many irrigation systems were shut down at critical times because of low surface water levels. This action prompted most Irrigators to change over to wells. To this day, irrigation systems are flourishing in the deep water rich sands of the Long Prairie River Valley, but by 1994, only 14 surface water permits still existed in Todd County.

Submitted by: Todd County Soil and Water Conservation District

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