Named for General Winfield Scott, Scott County is an area of 375 square miles located in the southwest corner of the Twin City metro area.
The Minnesota River Forms the northern border of the county. The broad river valley cuts though glacial sediment into some of the oldest rock known. Now primarily farm land, an oak savanna, a mixture of grass and clusters of trees grew parallel to the river valley. The savanna bordered the “big woods,” a hardwood forest that covered a majority of the state before it was logged in the mid-nineteenth century. Native American people occupied this area for last 10,000 years. Physical evidence of these inhabitants in Scott County remains as Burial Mound sites.
The Dakota Indians inhabited southern Minnesota at the time Europeans began to enter the area to explore and later to engage in the fur trade. The Dakota are comprised of three major groups: Lakota, the western Dakota group; Nakota in the middle and Sentee on the east. These three groups are further divided into several bands. The area of Scott County was inhabited by two bands of the Sentee, the Mdewakanton and Wahpeton.
The Dakota people lived semi-nomadic lives following a seasonal cycle. Mother earth provided their subsistence; they gathered food, hunted, fished and planted corn. Dakota villages were occupied in the summer, but in winter the bands dispersed for hunting. The Dakota bands of the Shakopee, Eagle Head and Sand Creek had permanent villages in the area along the Minnesota River. Numerous trails linked these settlements and the Red River Valley in the North and Prairie Du Chein to the Southeast. These trails were used by fur traders and settlers and came to be known as the “ox cart trails.”
The area of Scott County – and much of southern Minnesota – was opened for settlement by two treaties signed at Mendota and Traverse des Sioux in 1851 and 1853, respectively. These treaties officially removed the Dakota to a reservation on the upper Minnesota, though many returned to their traditional hunting grounds in the summer.
Land speculators and settlers entered the area in droves staring in the mid-1850s. The Minnesota River and the ox cart trails being the primary transportation routes. The ethnic make-up of these settlers and speculators was broad. Yankees were the first to arrive, followed by groups of German, Irish, Czech and Scandinavians. Each group brought with them their own religion and traditions. Most became farmers.
Townsites sprang up as quickly as farms. Some survived; others did not (see St. Lawrence). Shakopee, the County Seat, began in 1851 as a trading post near the Dakota village of Chief Shakopee (or Shakpay). Townsites, like those worldwide, were established along transportation routes. Initially the Minnesota River was the predominant mode of transportation, the railroad changed that, and highways developed along the ox cart trail and between communities.
New Prague was founded by a group of Czech/Bohemian immigrants. Belle Plaine was founded by Territorial Judge A. G. Chatfield. Jordan, Prior Lake, Savage and other smaller and abandoned communities comprise an ethnically diverse history. (Click here for a detailed history of Downtown Prior Lake)
Today, urban sprawl and suburbanization are changing this primarily rural county. Industry has taken hold, and transportation issues play a primary factor in recent development. The Scott County Historical Society is working to preserve this rich and varied history by maintaining a resource center, exhibits and historic sites.