Native Americans in Pope County

Prehistoric Periods

From approximately 9000 – 5000 B.C., Paleo Indians lived in the area now known as Minnesota on the shores of the giant glacial Lake Agassi. Very little is known about these people, but burial sites have been found in Browns Valley, Pelican Rapids and Todd County. Pope County is in the middle of these three areas, so it is logical to assume that Paleo Indians lived here as well. This period is marked by very fine stone tools.

The period from 5000 – 1000 B.C. is known as the Eastern Archaic Culture. Gravesites from this period have been found near Brooten and Barrett. While very few gravesites have been found, tools from this period have been found throughout Minnesota. The arrowheads are not as fine, but have notches on the sides. Grooved stone axes from this period have been found in Pope County and are on display at the Pope County Museum.

1000 B.C. to 1700 A.D. is considered the Woodland Period. This was the first group to use burial mounds, and the majority of the mounds in Minnesota are from this period. There were two types of mounds: primary and secondary burial. Primary burials usually contain the entire body in an upright, flexed position and often contain grave goods (tools and/or ornaments). A secondary burial usually contains only a few bones such as arms, legs, skull and sometimes the jawbone, and almost never contain grave goods. Secondary burials were used after the body was removed from an open-air grave; a platform or tree. The Woodland period also brought a gradual change from a nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle towards more permanent villages. Information on several mounds in Pope County that have been professionally excavated is available at the Pope County Museum.

Mississippian Cultures also existed in Minnesota from 1000 A.D. to 1700 A.D. The Mississippian cultures came up the river from the south and brought more reliance on agriculture, and therefore created larger and more permanent villages. Burial mounds were also used by Mississippian cultures, usually primary mounds with graves goods.

Historic Times – Dakota & Ojibwe     

According to Ojibwe tradition, the Ojibwe people migrated to the Great Lakes area from the East Coast following a prophesy telling them to seek the land where food grows on water (wild rice). In the early 1600’s, the French wrote about the “people of the falls” at Sault Ste. Marie. They began to classify the different groups, even though the Native Americans may not have made the same distinctions.  The group that the French called Ojibwe migrated westward along the north and south shores of Lake Superior in the 1680s.

In the beginning of recorded Minnesota history, Dakotas controlled the majority of what is now known as Minnesota, including the area around the western edge of Lake Superior.

In 1679, the French trader Daniel du Luth encouraged a council between the Saulte Ste. Marie Ojibwe and the Lake Superior Dakota. The Dakota agreed to let the Ojibwe hunt in the eastern fringes of their country in exchange for the Ojibwe bringing them French traders and French goods. This peace lasted until 1740 when the two tribes went to war over territory. Over the next 40 years, the Ojibwe drove the Dakota out of the northern half of the state.

In 1825, the United States government called together all the tribes of the upper Mississippi at Prairie du Chien Wisconsin. The treaty signed there established peace between the Dakota, Sac, Fox, Ojibwe, and other tribes. All parties agreed to set boundaries between the tribes. These boundaries were intended to reduce conflicts between tribes, but they also made it easier for the United States government to negotiate further treaties, since clear “ownership” of the land had been established.

The border between the Dakota and the Ojibwe passed through the Northeast corner of what is now Pope County. It is clear that this area was used by both tribes. Pope County land was included in two more treaties. In the 1847 Treaty of Fond du Lac, the Ojibwe sold tracts of land that included northeastern Pope County to the U.S. Government to be used as reserves for the Menominee and Winnebago tribes from eastern and southern Wisconsin. The Pillager and Mississippi Ojibwe bands were to receive seventeen thousand dollars each and also one thousand dollars annually for 46 years, with the stipulation that the money could be collected earlier to be used to establish schools. The Menominee never moved to Minnesota and the Winnebago eventually moved to a reservation near Mankato.

The third treaty that included Pope County land was the 1851 Treaty of Traverse des Sioux. The U.S. promised $1,665,000 to the Sisseton & Wahpeton Dakota for 21 million acres of land. The U.S. Senate modified the treaty to eliminate the creation of a reservation and required the Dakota to sign. Then the payments were delayed, and largely paid to white traders. Without access to hunting land, and denied their promised provisions, the Dakota were left to starve. The horrible conditions led to the Dakota War of 1862. After a month of fighting, hundreds of settlers and scores of Dakota were killed. Over 1,000 Dakota were captured and 38 were executed in the largest mass execution in U.S. history. After the war, the treaty was considered void and the Dakota were removed to South Dakota. Less than 20% of the promised money was ever paid.

There were only a handful of white settlers in Pope County in 1862 during the Dakota War. As the war spread to nearby Kandiyohi County, settlers fled to Paynesville and St. Cloud. There is an immigrant trunk on display at the Pope County Museum that sustained damage in the conflict.

Dakota camp in Pope County - 1869

Native Americans were seldom seen in the area by the time the County was established in 1866. There are, however, reports by early settlers of bands passing though and camping in the area, especially along the lake.

(Maps courtesy of wikipedia)

For more information on Minnesota’s Native American History, click HERE.

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