What’s in a Name, Part II: MN County Names Honoring National Figures

We started a series of posts this week reviewing the significance of Minnesota’s county names. We started by reviewing county names with Native origins. Today, we look at county names honoring national figures. In some cases, their reputations don’t hold up in the light of historical knowledge and reflection, especially when using a Native American lens.

In some ways, county names are like Capitol art. You can walk by art and never really look at the symbols or consider its historic meaning; it’s just part of the background. Likewise, we rarely think about the symbolism of our county names.

There are 13 Minnesota counties named after national figures who have no  connection to this state. All honor men. Some names are tied to the Civil War, which erupted just after Minnesota statehood.

We don’t have ready access to the deliberations that drove civic leaders to choose their county names. Sometimes short background is available county websites. Here is some of what we now know about our county namesakes.

Let’s start with Lyon County, named for Nathaniel Lyon, the first U.S. General killed in the Civil War. He fought in the Second Seminole War and the Mexican-American War, but we focus on his military action in California. According to both Wikipedia and the Civil War Trust, Lyon participated in several Native American massacres, notably the Bloody Island Massacre. Continue reading