Morrison County has a rich history. First the Dacotah and then the Ojibwe Indians lived in the central Minnesota area, where the county straddles the Mississippi River. French and English fur traders and voyageurs traveled through Minnesota from the 1600s to the 1800s. They used the river to transport their goods. The county was named for fur trading brothers, William and Allan Morrison.
The 1800s saw three prominent explorers lead expeditions along the river through what would become Morrison County. Zebulon Montgomery Pike came through in 1805. Winter storms forced him and his men to erect a fort near the mouth of the Swan River. Governor Lewis B. Cass led his expedition through the area in 1820. Explorer and scientist, Joseph N. Nicollet, created the first accurate map along the river in 1836.
Some of the earliest European settlers in the area were missionaries. Methodist missionaries settled temporarily along the Little Elk River in 1838. The Reverend Frederick and Elizabeth (Taylor) Ayer moved to the Belle Prairie area in 1849. They started a mission and school there for the Ojibwe. Father Francis Xavier Pierz came to the area in 1852 and started many communities in central Minnesota, including Sobieski and Rich Prairie (later renamed Pierz) in Morrison County.
The event that prodded further development of the county was the building of Fort Ripley. In order to construct this military outpost, a dam and sawmill were erected in 1849 by the Little Falls Mill and Land Company. This company was formed by James Green, Allan Morrison, Henry M. Rice, John Irvine, John Blair Smith Todd, and Napoleon Jackson Tecumseh Dana. Fort Ripley was built ostensibly to protect the Winnebago Indians, who had been relocated by Henry Rice from Iowa to central Minnesota west of the Mississippi River, between the Crow Wing and Long Prairie Rivers. Rice hoped the Winnebago would act as a buffer between the warring Ojibwe and Dacotah Indians. His plan was unsuccessful and the Winnebago were moved to the Blue Earth River in southern Minnesota in 1855.
Little Falls, the county seat, sprung up when a second dam was built by the Little Falls Company (later called the Little Falls Manufacturing Company). This dam washed out, as the first had done, and Little Falls entered a long period of economic depression and stagnation as far as population growth. Bit by bit, Little Falls grew, until it was officially incorporated as a village in 1879.
Another wave of immigration occurred between 1880 and 1920. A wide variety of ethnic groups chose Morrison County for their new home. This wave of immigration was spurred by the construction of the third dam at Little Falls in 1887. A group of investors from Louisville, Kentucky, led by M. M. Williams, provided the financing for this dam. They wanted to be sure their investment was successful. To this end, they worked to encourage other major industries to locate in the city, touting the water power as a prime feature.
Pine Tree Lumber Company, run by Charles A. Weyerhaeuser and Richard “Drew” Musser, was one such business that took advantage of the water power, with their operations in Little Falls beginning in 1890. Hennepin Paper Company also started operations that year in the city.
The Louisville, Kentucky, investors were also responsible for drawing up a charter to transform Little Falls from a village to a city. This occurred in 1889, with Nathan Richardson, one of the original organizers of Morrison County, becoming the first mayor of the new city.
The history continues and includes such figures as Chief Hole-in-the-Day I and II, Gertrude Staples, Frances Eliza Babbitt, Jacob Kiewel, Paul Larson, Pamelia and James Fergus, Ashley Morrill, Ed Morey, Clarence B. Buckman, Maud Moon Weyerhaeuser, Sarah Musser, congressman C. A. Lindbergh and his son, the aviator, Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr., Senator Gordon Rosenmeier, Peter Roy, Hans Gosch, A. R. Davidson, Dr. S. G. Knight, Alfred Tanner, Enmegahbow, F. A. Nelson, Dr. G. M. A. Fortier, the Harting Brothers, and many, many others.