Mille Lacs history: Eviction of the Mille Lacs Chippewa

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 17, 1997 - 11:00 PM

In 1911, a sheriff forcibly removed a small band of Mille Lacs Chippewa from its encampment near Lake Mille Lacs.

Among Indians affected was Wadena, a Chippewa leader who had refused to move to the White Earth Indian Reservation, which was opened in part to receive Chippewa from Mille Lacs, which at the time was being settled by whites and which was becoming a popular destination for anglers and others.

The story below, published in a St. Paul newspaper, chronicles Wadena's removal:

"The whites, in opening the Mille Lacs Indian reservation to settlement, have burned a village -- the ancient city of the tribe, a seat of government, a battlefield, a place of the burial of the dead, a place of religious and military and historical renown -- and the Mille Lacs band of Chippewas, after standing back and shouting with ironic laughter, have begun that last hopeless wandering in the wilderness which will culminate only with the vanishing of the race from the Earth. . . .

"Year by year, a patient procession of Indian agents have persuaded the various wandering bands of the tribe to go into modest retirement at Leech Lake, until that reservation had a population of 3,000 and only 75 bad little Indians remained near the site of their ancient village with its earthen works, mounds, monuments and burying grounds on the shores of that mythically beautiful lake of a thousand lakes, Mille Lacs.

"It was this remnant of the band who were evicted from the newly platted summer colony on the south shore, stimulated to stubborn resistance by the magician 'Wadena,' wrongfully called 'medicine man,' an individual of strong personality and quiet, if smoldering temperament. . . .

"When Wadena had been saying nothing for about a year, living in the exact middle of the street . . . with his campfires smoking, pots boiling, dogs howling and children sprawling right where various magnates and potentates were aching to build stucco and cobblestone and concrete palaces -- why, then the agent decided to get a pulley or something to lift him out of the foreground of the scenery and set him gently somewhere in the middle distance -- which would tone him down in various ways and make him a more acceptable detail of the picture.

"Wadena was duly notified of the eviction, and he broke silence long enough to say the land was his by right of descent and possession, that he would not voluntarily give it up, and if necessary he would sue for his property. . . .

"The sheriff was summoned from the county seat . . . and early in May he came with two wagons to move the effects of the Indians, and an armed posse of settlers. . . .

"It may be doubted whether Wadena meant to make serious and harmful resistance.

"The chief characteristic of the Chippewas these latter days is their air of complete submission and the broken spirit of them.

"White settlers are no longer afraid of the Indians, they are so thoroughly cowed and have a notably long memory for punishment. As for Wadena, a man of 60, he is for all his fierce resentment a man of sense; so what followed was a shameful and unnecessary thing.

"Wadena awoke to bitterness. The fat and swarthy squaws tumbled lazily out of the tepees, sullen and blinking in the bright light; little Indian children scampered affrightedly into the bush; men and boys, with soft felt hats, pulled low over their faces, stood around waiting. . . .

"Hardly had the blue and pungent smoke of the morning fires cleared away when the sheriff ordered the work begun.

"The white men unroofed and tore down the frame structures, and piled the lumber at one side, not caring to destroy property; they also unroofed the winter cabins and piled the logs in heaps.

"It was by this time afternoon; the farther shore of the bay threw deep purple shadows across the bright water; broad rays of yellow light struck in upon the scene; a silence fell upon the wood and upon the humble disinherited.

"The sheriff set fire to the ruined village -- the Indians laughed. . . .

"The red flames crept around the heap of timber that had been his home for 10 years. . . . Wadena glowered his resentment, and if he had been less a man, no doubt he would have wept in the fury of his despair; or had he been white, he would have made a monkey of himself with impotent mutterings.

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