Answer Man: Red-faced? It's fitting on the Zumbro

Mikayla Puskala and her boyfriend, Tyler Lindblom, who both moved to Rochester three months ago, take advantage of the nice weather last month and dodge puddles on the bike trail along the South Fork of the Zumbro River.

Editor’s note: This classic Answer Man is an oldie but a goodie — from Jan. 27, 2010.

Dear Answer Man, I have lived in Rochester most of my life — and worked for many years at the Zumbro Hotel — and I have wondered many times, what does "Zumbro" mean? Thank you. — Betty

This is embarrassing — literally.

Like all good things, the word comes from the French. Early explorers and traders called it the "Riviere des Embarrass," from the word, "embarrasser," which means obstruction or difficulty. The mighty Zumbro was a mighty big pain in the posterior to early traders because of its shallows and snags — it clearly wasn’t a superhighway of the 18th century transportation system.

In French, "des Embarrass" would be pronounced something like "deh-ZUM-BEHRRR-OSS," with an extra gargling sound or two in the BEHRRR part, so of course you can see where the word Zumbro comes from.


The same French word stuck to a town in far northern Minnesota, Embarrass, which is often the coldest spot in the U.S. at this time of year.

The Dakota people called the river Wasi Oju, something like "Pines Planted," as a reference to the fine white pine woods that stood at what later became Pine Island. The Dakota called that piney area Wa-Zee-Wee-Ta, or Pine Island, and it was a popular resort area for them, according to the fascinating book, "Minnesota Places Names," published by the Minnesota Historical Society.

The Dakota name for the river was taken by the little Dodge County town of Wasioja.

The Hotel Zumbro, later the Kahler Zumbro Hotel, was at 101 First Ave. SW from 1912 to 1987. The Marriott hotel is now on that corner.

A kayaker paddles up on a group of mallards on the South Fork of the Zumbro River near downtown Thursday, March 22, 2018, in Rochester.

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