In 1837, the federal government negotiated a treaty for the acquisition of 13 million acres of land in east central Minnesota and northern Wisconsin.
The Chippewa believed they had retained hunting, fishing and gathering rights to the ceded territory. As compensation for the ceded land, they receive annuity payments for a period of 20 years.
“My Father, Listen to me. Of all the country that we grant you we wish to hold on to a tree where we get our living, & to reserve the streams where we drink the waters that give us life.” Spoken by Ma-ghe-ga-bo on July 27, 1837 at Treaty Negotiation between Gov. Henry Dodge & Chippewa near Ft. Snelling
Additional to the treaty journal: “This of course if nonsense– but is given literally as rendered by the Interpreters, who are unfit to act in that capacity. I presume it to mean that the Indians wish to reserve the privilege of hunting & fishing on the lands and making sugar from the Maple.”
By 1842, the government had negotiated with the Ojibwe headmen for the acquisition of 10 million more acres in northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. From GLIFWC website
The Ojibwe were allowed to remain on the ceded territory “during the pleasure of the President”. From State Museum in Springfield, IL
For several years annuity payments were given at La Pointe on Madeline Island. From Minnesota Historical Society website
Governor Ramsey and other officials of Minnesota Territory saw the benefits these annual annuities brought to people near La Pointe. They began to plot ways to have the annuity site moved to Minnesota Territory.
How would Minnesota Territory benefit by the moving of the location for the annuity payments?
As the talk of removal increased in the late fall of 1848, representatives of the Chippewa Indians (including those near Lake Superior) left for Washington to try to end the threat presented by removal.
These tribal representatives carried this pictograph with them. The animals represent the different clans traveling along Lake Superior with the lines connecting them representing their unity of purpose linked to a chain of wild rice lakes in the ceded territories.
MINNESOTA “The privileges granted temporarily to the Chippewa Indians of the Mississippi, by the Fifth Article of the Treaty made with them on the 29th of July 1837, `of hunting, fishing and gathering the wild rice, upon the lands, the rivers and the lakes included in the territory ceded' by that treaty to the United States; and the right granted to the Chippewa Indians of the Mississippi and Lake Superior, by the Second Article of the treaty with them of October 4th 1842, of hunting on the territory which they ceded by that treaty, `with the other usual privileges of occupancy until required to remove by the President of the United States,' are hereby revoked; and all of the said Indians remaining on the lands ceded as aforesaid, are required to remove to their unceded lands.” Z. Taylor Executive Office Washington City, February 6 th, 1850 By the PRESIDENT I. Ewing Secretary of the Interior By February 1850 President Taylor had issued an executive order calling for the removal of the Ojibwe to areas west of the Mississippi River.
What do you think Wisconsin white settlers thought of this potential removal?
Meanwhile back home in Wisconsin, coalitions of supporters including missionaries, newspapers, businessmen, and state legislators rallied against the removal.
With the encouragement of Alexander Ramsey and his Indian subagent John Watrous, the site for the annuities was changed from La Pointe on Madeline Island to Sandy Lake, 285 canoe miles away.
Do you think these views made any difference? If so, how do you think they changed the situation? If not, why not?
Ramsey’s plan was to have the Indians arrive in late fall and be trapped at Sandy Lake by winter conditions. The tribes were told to be at Sandy Lake by October 25, 1850 to collect their annuities. Minnesota Historical Society website
Knowing the risks, would you have gone? Why or why not?
Despite some refusing to make the trip during the winter months, approximately 5,500 Ojibwe made the trip. When they arrived in Sandy Lake, they found: no one there to distribute supplies– Indian Subagent Watrous was in St. Louis no annuities had arrived yet wild game was scare and fishing poor wild rice supplies had been wiped out by high water
Government workers ultimately gave them river-soaked flour and pork from tribal annuity stocks. The Ojibwe found that the rotten food “was so much damaged that [they] could not eat it.”
The wife of a missionary wrote of a family returning to Leech Lake: “Three days’ march from Leech Lake, the two children were taken sick, the oldest a boy of twelve years old. The father was obliged to carry his sick son, and the mother the daughter, until the last night before they reached Leech Lake, when the boy died. The next morning they set off again, the father carrying the corpse of his son, and the mother a sick child. About noon the girl died, but they came on until they reached Leech Lake, bring the dead bodies of their children on their backs”.
Soon harsh winter conditions set in. Only partial annuity payments had arrived by December 2 nd, and these consisted only on 3 days worth of food and no cash.
Recalling the events of Sandy Lake, Reverend John H. Pitezel said, “Frequently, seven or eight died a day. Coffins could not be procured, and often the body of the deceased was wrapped up in a piece of bark and buried slightly underground. All over the cleared land graves were to be seen in every direction, for miles distant, from Sandy Lake.”
Speaking of Territorial Governor Alexander Ramsey, Flat Mouth of the Leech Lake Ojibwe said, “Tell him I blame him for the children we have lost, for the sickness we have suffered, and for the hunger we have endured. The fault rests on his shoulders.” From Chippewa Treaty Rights by Ronald N. Satz
Approximately, 150 died at Sandy Lake of dysentery, measles, and hunger Another 250 died on the return trip to their villages.
Survivors refused to return to Sandy Lake for the annuity payments in 1851 because they viewed the site as a “graveyard”. A delegation of Chippewa chiefs and headmen traveled to Washington once again. This time to protest Ramsey’s removal efforts and the suffering at Sandy Lake. From Ojibwe Journeys: Treaties, Sandy Lake & the Waabanong Run by Charlie Otto Rasmussen
Chief Buffalo of La Pointe and other Ojibwe headmen dictated a letter to Commissioner Lea. The chiefs requested an audience with American leaders in Washington D.C.
Buffalo, Chief Oshoga, interpreter Benjamin Armstrong and four other Ojibwe headed east on April 5, 1852. They gathered signatures on a petition as they went. From Ojibwe Journeys: Treaties, Sandy Lake & the Waabanong Run by Charlie Otto Rasmussen
The petition proclaimed “while [Ojibwe] removal West would in Our opinion be a great damage to them it would in no manner benefit the white population of the Country.” Image from Wisconsin State Historical Society website
When they arrived, Commissioner Lea told them to return since they hadn’t been invited. New York Congressman George Briggs and members of President Fillmore’s staff were impressed by the delegation and arranged a meeting with the president.
Oshoga explained how the Ojibwe interpreted the terms of the 1837 and 1842 Treaties– they would never be required to leave their homelands as long as they maintained peaceful relations with white settlers.
Millard Fillmore agreed to rescind the removal order and pledged to repay overdue and future annuities at La Pointe. In 1854, the Ojibwe agreed to give up land in the arrowhead of Minnesota in exchange for permanent reservations in Upper Michigan and Wisconsin.