I began to think about counties with colors in their names as I investigated the etymology and history of Blue Earth County, Minnesota in further detail. My mind began to wander down this completely unrelated tangent. Soon enough I found myself hunting through a list of US counties for examples and plotting them on a map.
Feel free to open this image within another tab or window if you’d like to take a closer look. I’ve shrunk the map down to match size limitations of the blog template even though the underlying graphics file is considerably larger. I’ve also provided a public spreadsheet of my selections if you’re wondering what I discovered or if you’d like to check what I might have overlooked and offer any suggestions.
I made arbitrary decisions in some instances. Obviously something like Frederick County didn’t quality as red even if the letters r-e-d appeared sequentially within its name. How about Greenwood and Greenlee qualifying as Green? I decided to count Greenwood because green wood exists, while Greenlee, well some sources said it may have meant green field or green meadow once long ago. Nonetheless it didn’t resonate with me so I dropped it. I know! Completely unjustified. The arbitrator is a capricious jerk.
I bent protocols in the other direction, too. How about Cherry? That’s red. Vermilion? Also red. At that point I enjoyed my reacquaintance with the two counties bordering each other in adjacent states, one in Illinois (Vermilion with one "l") and one in Indiana (Vermillion with double "ll").
Finally, a big tip of the keyboard had to go to American patriot Nathanael Greene. He began the American Revolutionary War as a private and worked his way up to Major General, responsible for all Continental Army troops in the southern campaign. Historians credited him with wearing down British general Cornwallis in the Carolinas, driving the fight into Virginia where Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.
What does that have to do with anything? A grateful new nation named an astounding number of places for the famous patriot. Every one of the 14 Greene Counties in the United States honored Nathanael Greene, as did the Green Counties (inexplicably dropping the final "e") established in Kentucky and Wisconsin. The collective Green/e counties greened the map rather nicely, don’t you think?
View Colorful Roadtrip in Minnesota in a larger map
It still seemed I couldn’t dodge the specialness of Blue Earth County. I noticed that Blue Earth formed a solid anchor for an amazing sequence of colorful counties. Extending along the southern bank of the Minnesota River, physically attached like a string of precious jewels pulled upriver: Blue Earth, Brown, Redwood and Yellow Medicine. I thought that would be a fantastic premise for any prospective county counter, traveling from blue to brown to red to yellow. I’ve not captured any of them yet. I see a trip to southern Minnesota in my future.
I had to know the etymology of this colorful coincidental progression:
- Blue Earth: Named for the Blue Earth river, discussed previously.
- Brown: Named for Joseph Renshaw Brown, and early Minnesota legislator.
- Redwood: Named for a variety of juniper found locally, Juniperus virginiana, also known as Red Cedar.
- Yellow Medicine: Named for a plant, reputedly Menispermum canadense (Common Moonseed or Yellow Parilla), used by the Dakota tribe for medicinal purposes
There is one additional colorful county in Minnesota worth mentioning although it’s located in a completely different part of the state than the magnificent contiguous four: it’s called Red Lake. That county was featured in one of the very first 12MC articles (article #7! November 2007!). As far as I can tell, it’s the only landlocked county with only two neighboring counties, cradled by Polk County on three sides and Pennington County on the remaining side.