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The Red River Valley is a region in central North America that is drained by the Red River of the North. It is significant in the geography of North Dakota, Minnesota, and Manitoba for its relatively fertile lands and the population centers of Fargo, Moorhead, Grand Forks, and Winnipeg. Paleogeographic Lake Agassiz laid down the Red River Valley silts.
The first significant influx of Europeans was the result of French fur trading activity in the Great Lakes region. In the mid-17th century the Métis, descendants of these Frenchmen and Cree tribes people (in addition to other First Nations peoples), settled in the valley. These people, in addition to many First Nations people in the region, were hunters and traders involved in the fur trade. Soon interest in the region for its fur production led to the establishment of the Red River Colony by Lord Selkirk in the early 19th century.
The U.S. government uses the term to generally describe the sections of northeastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota which the U.S. secured title to following the Anglo-American Convention of 1818. Centered around the Red River of the North, these lands had previously been under the control of Great Britain. This land became part of the U.S. when the second article of the 1818 treaty declared the 49th parallel to be the official border between the U.S. and Canada up to the Rocky Mountains. (This borderline was extended to the Pacific Ocean in 1846 under the Oregon Treaty.) The land acquired from the treaty had an area of 29,601,920 acres (119,794.72 km²), comprising 1.3 percent of total U.S. land area.
It is often thought that the title was secured by the U.S. at no cost. However, the territory of the original Louisiana Purchase west of the Red River Valley extends north of the 49th parallel. Annexed by Britain in exchange for its cession of the Red River Valley, the northernmost parts of the Louisiana Purchase are one of the few North American territories ever ceded by the United States to a foreign power.
The region was sparsely populated until Ojibwe claims to the most fertile portions of the valley were extinguished in the Treaty of Old Crossing (1863), after which it opened rapidly to agricultural development and settlement in the 1870s and 1880s. The area is one of several distinct regions of Minnesota.
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The four factors make the Red River Valley so prone to flooding (the factors are related to physiographic):
Synchrony of Discharge with Spring Thaw: The Red river flows northward while along the valley, the spring thaw proceeds gradually northward. As a result of this, runoff from the southern portion of the valley gradually joins the fresh, melt off waters from northerly surrounding along the Red River. In the northern part of the Valley, the results can be devastating if this simultaneous action is perfect.
Ice Jams: Ice Jams also has to do with the northward flowing river system. Ice is moving from the southern Valley and freshly-broken ice is moving from the central and northern Valley. These two meet steadily; as a result, ice concentration in this system builds and this causes delay of water flow.
Glacial Lake Plain: The floor of Glacial Lake Agassiz is one of the flattest expanses of land in the world. Here, the Red River has cut off a shallow, sinuous valley. As a result of this, when the river floods on this plain, a devastating event can occur. The areal coverage of the waters can become dramatic. Being approximately 9 300 years old, the Red River has not existed long enough to have engraved a large valley-floodplain system on the surrounding geography. Due to this, the lake plain becomes the floodplain to this river.
Decrease in Gradient Downstream: The gradient, or slope, of the Red River averages 5 inches per mile of length. In the region of Drayton-Pembina the gradient is only 1.5 inches per mile which leads to a tendency of the water to pool during floods and, as a result, the region becomes a massive, shallow lake.