When Taopi was digging ginseng in the Big Woods
of Minnesota, much of the original three to six thousand square
miles of this unique forest was still covered with trees. It stretched
from near Faribault up to about St. Cloud, covering the area between
the northern pine forests and the prairies of the south and west.
The Big Woods was home to massive elms, sugar maples, basswood,
red oak, and other trees.
||The Big Woods today. Nerstrand
Big Woods State Park.
It is likely that Taopi and the other Dakota living on Alexander
Faribaults land also found ways to use the many ferns, mushrooms
and over 50 types of wildflowers that grew in this forest. Many
people also tapped the trees for maple syrup. (Even though Laura
Ingalls Wilders book was called Little House in the
Big Woods, she did not live in the Minnesota Big Woods in
the book. She lived in Wisconsin, but the woods there were very
New settlers coming to Minnesota devastated the
Big Woods. They used the trees for building and burning. They chopped
down the trees and sold the wood. They also tried to get rid of
the trees that they didnt need, because they wanted clear
land for farming. Today, only about 10% of the Big Woods that Taopi
knew is still standing. One of the best examples of the Big Woods
is near Faribault, in Nerstrand
Big Woods State Park. Many people visit the park in the spring,
when many types of spring wildflowers such as trillium and dutchmans
breeches carpet the forest floor.
||Jack-in-the Pulpit at Nerstand Big
Woods State Park.
Ultimately, the shrinking of the Big Woods drove
much of Taopis family out of Faribault. When they began chopping
down trees for firewood, Alexander Faribault asked the government
to remove the Dakota from his land. Even though the Big Woods were
still pretty big, there were fewer trees every year. They became
more valuable. Alexander could not allow the Dakota to use them
up. He needed the money he could get from selling them.
Students in Rice County have been involved in
Big Woods Project.
Twin Cities Public Television offers lesson
plan ideas for studies of the Big Woods.