MINNESOTA: A STATE GUIDE
Minnesota's Indian mounds have long attracted archeologists, but it was not until the discovery of a skeleton of obvious antiquity that investigators found what they had long sought--remains of Pleistocene man in North America.
As recently as 1929 the well-known archeologist, Sir Arthur Keith, expressed his surprise that in America no fossil form of prehistoric man had come to light, despite the conjectured existence of an unsubmerged land bridge at Bering Strait over which he might have crossed from Asia. "He almost certainly did take it," said Sir Arthur, "and his fossil remains will yet be found in America."
Only three years after this statement a crew of road builders near Pelican Rapids dug into the silt of a lake bed, known to be even older than the extensive glacial Lake Agassiz, and found there the well-preserved fossilized remains of a young girl. The fossil skeleton, found in layers that had been studied previously, was adjudged to be about twenty thousand years old. This much-discussed young woman has come to be known as the "Minnesota Man" and has been minutely measured and studied in order that her racial origin and age may be surmised. Measurements indicate that she is an ancient Homo sapiens, a more primitive Mongoloid than the Indian or Eskimo, being long-headed whereas finds of later groups are more or less round-headed.
The Browns Valley Man, another famous Minnesota skeleton, found a few years later than the Minnesota Man, is of a more recent time. He belonged to that early Indian race which made what are by some regarded as the oldest flint artifacts. His features must have resembled those of the Greenland Eskimo, and his jawbone, much wider than that of the mound builder, exceeds in width even that of the Heidelberg Man. Buried with this early Indian, whose age is estimated at twelve thousand years, were artifacts of a transition period between the Yuma and the Folsom types.
The great majority of Minnesota's archeological relics have come from the thousands of Indian mounds and habitation sites that dot the State. A1though the mounds are more obvious than the village sites, the latter are particularly rich in relics. On many of them successive generations lived and worked, dropping broken tools and dishes, discarding bones of the animals that supplied their food, chipping the implements they used for the hunt, and sewing the skins they used for clothes. Some of these villages were on open ground, others were in rock shelters or caves. One cave home site on the St. Croix River has been thoroughly explored and its relics identified. Here successive families lived in one place so long that the debris accumulated around the "doorstep" to a depth of 4 feet. The first inhabitants chose the site perhaps as much as a thousand years ago. They chipped arrows, scraped skins, built fires, and prepared food. Along with their discarded fishhooks were found the bones of the fish they caught-- sheepshead, pike, catfish, and the like. That their hunters were skillful is attested by the many bones of deer, bear, and smaller animals. Dogs and turtles seem to have added variety to the diet.
The hunting and household implements are of varied design and material. Many of the excavated tools are of bone, but a few have been found on the shores of old Lake Agassiz which point to probable prehistoric use of ivory. Ivory beads, pipes, and even imitations of animal teeth had apparently been carved from tusks, but whether from fossil or living ivory is undetermined.
Pottery vessels have been uncovered in many places. The prehistoric pottery from the State is of two distinct types. Those from the northern areas are usually of fire clay with elaborate impressed decorations and with a capacity as great as 3 to 5 gallons. The clay, mixed with sand or grit temper, was molded into a fragile vessel often less than one-eighth inch thick. Among those displaying the best craftsmanship are the Blackduck vessels named for the vicinity of their discovery in Beltrami County. To the south of the Twin Cities crushed shell was mixed with clay, and the pots were decorated in a very different style. Despite their differences both types are believed to have been made by Siouan tribes. Charred bits of broken vessels indicate that although extremely fragile these vessels were actually used for cooking.
Suggestive of the ingenuity of these early races are the numerous hammered copper implements--spearheads and knives--and even beads which frequently are found. Although it seems likely that the natives used copper nuggets scattered in the glacial drift, legend and some evidence bear out the opinion that prehistoric races actually mined this workable metal in the region of Lake Superior.
Many of these relics are found along portages traversed for no one knows how many generations or even centuries before the white men came. Well-worn prairie and woodland trails were noted by the very first explorers, who also saw maple trees gashed for drawing sugar sap, and often used for landmarks the ancient pictographs they found on the rocks.
But exciting as are these scattered and isolated discoveries it is not so much they as the ten thousand or more Indian mounds that have interested the population at large in the State's prehistory. Two early Minnesotans, Alfred J. Hill and Theodore Lewis, located almost eight thousand before 1895. Many other mounds have since been charted.
Although usually knob-like and symmetrical, there are in localized areas a few mounds whose pattern is so different as to have attracted keen attention. These are often shaped to resemble birds, and less frequently turtles, fish, or other animals. In some of them human remains have been found at the presumed position of the effigy's heart or head. This type of mound is present chiefly in a restricted area in southeastern Minnesota and is much less common than in Wisconsin. Although the explanation of these effigies has not been established, many people believe they have a religious or tribal significance.
Typical burial mounds are scattered throughout the State, although weathering, farming, road building, and relic hunting have reduced their number. Many seem to be empty, but may have contained decomposed human remains. A sufficient number contain preserved skeletal remains to make it clear that their primary use was for burial. Although there is some indication that they were still in use when the first explorers arrived, it is thought that most were built in the centuries immediately preceding the coming of the white man.
Examination of their contents has resulted in an interesting reconstruction of early customs. The presence in some mounds of only the long bones of the body is explained by the early practice of disposing of the dead in shallow graves, in trees, or on scaffolds, until the flesh decomposed, after which the large bones were gathered and given permanent burial in the traditional mound. Frequently tools, decorative beads, and utensils were buried with the bones, and some mounds have yielded relics identical with those from habitation sites.
Gruesome indications of early tribal culture are the human skulls with sections broken away (probably to facilitate brain removal), and human bones fractured in such fashion as to permit the removal of marrow by roasting.
It is impossible now to determine the period during which these mounds were built, or the specific tribe that made them, but continued investigations substantiate the opinion that they are not extremely old. Romantic tales of their construction by a strange giant race have been discarded. All the evidence seems to bear out the belief that the builders were Indians of ordinary size, much like the Indians of today, whose ancestors probably came thousands of years earlier from some primitive Asiatic stock.
In the stories of Minnesota's Indian tribes four names occur repeatedly and are often used with no clear implication of their differences. Dakota, Sioux, Ojibwa, Chippewa--these are met in almost every frontier tale, often to the confusion of the uninitiated. They are intelligible only when it is remembered that the Minnesota Sioux are more properly called Dakotas, and were only one group of the great Siouan family that once occupied almost the whole of what we now call the Midwest, and which claimed many tribes, among them the Omaha, the Osage, the Crow, and the Winnebago.
The Chippewa, or more properly, the Ojibwa, spring from another Indian line, the Algonquian family, who, with most of the Iroquoian peoples, occupied a region near the upper Atlantic Coast. Likewise of Algonquian stock were the Ottawa, Cree, Blackfeet, and Kickapoo.
Many factors contributed to the early ethnological confusion. It was customary for several Indian tribes to hunt together, exchange weapons and patterns for clothing, and even borrow embroidery designs, much as women today exchange crochet patterns. Intermarriage helped still more to mix tribal customs. Another factor was the custom of the whites of coining tribal names so that they could discuss Indian problems without arousing suspicion if overheard. In this fashion many tribes came to be known by disparaging or flattering names, several by their geographic locations, others for characteristic activities. Thus the Potawatami were council fire makers, the Kemisteno were killers, the Menominee were wild rice gatherers, the Nopeming were inlanders (located farther from the Lakes), the Muskego were swamp dwellers, the Mukkundwa were pillagers, or more literally takers.
This last band had established itself in Minnesota near Leech Lake, when one day a sick trader, one of the first whites in the area, stopped at their encampment with a huge load of pelts. They gave the suffering man a night's lodging but took from him his valuable cargo because he had sold firearms to the Sioux. Thenceforth they were known as pillagers. The cause given for the thievery typifies the enmity that existed for two centuries between the Chippewa and Sioux.
The Minnesota Sioux were forest dwellers and thus differed in many ways from the prairie Sioux farther southwest. Their food included wild rice and swamp roots--staples scarcely known to the Plains people. (More than a century before the Revolution, Father Allouez had been given "marsh rye"--wildrice--by men "toward the great river Messipi," but there is no evidence that he valued that delicacy, so highly regarded today and still gathered by many Indians precisely as it was then.) They had to travel far to hunt bison, but almost in their dooryards were bear, deer moose, and many smaller animals. They, of all the great Indian tribes were most like the Wild West Indian of the American boy. Their deerskin shirts and leggings, fringes and embroidered trimmings, leather moccasins and elaborate headdress, became the almost classic Indian costume. They rode horses, hunted with bows and arrows or spears, covered their dome-shaped wigwams with skins, and crossed the lakes in awkward round boats. Their craft were shaped like washtubs, with a wood framework covered by skins.
The Minnesota Sioux had customs and habits common to both forest and prairie. They cultivated crops, but were skilled hunters, their arrows resembled those of the West; their bows, those of the East. Many of them were in more or less permanent association with tribes unrelated by language to them, but with whom they doubtless trafhcked more freely than with their own distant kinsmen. They had large permanent villages on many of Minnesota's thousands of lakes. They used the rivers for high ways as did the fur traders. They even attempted cultivation of the rice crop, although their simple methods of harvesting usually scattered sufficient kernels for the repeated seeding of the swamps.
Earliest explorers reported the Chippewa, or Ojibwa, at Sault Ste. Marie and frequently referred to them as Saulteurs. Tradition indicates that long before they had been pushed westward, they ranged the St. Lawrence Basin.
In their westward hegira the Algonquian stock dispersed in various directions, the Ottawa (traders) to Canada, the Sauk and Fox to Wisconsin and later a few to Minnesota, while the Chippewa chose the shores of the Great Lakes and became the most important, if not the first, of the Algonquians in Minnesota.
It is true that the Cheyenne, kinsmen of the Chippewa, seem to have lived in southern Minnesota, but by 1700, when Le Sueur arrived at the Blue Earth River, they were no longer there and the Sioux assured him that their own people, the Oto and Iowa, owned all the surrounding country.
The great contest between the Ojibwa and the Sioux for the lands of Minnesota began in the seventeenth century and was not concluded until after the historic Sioux outbreak against the whites in 1862.
When Du Luth, in 1679, came to Mille Lacs and at the flourishing Sioux village at Izatys (corrupted to Kathio) planted the French flag, the Ojibwa were claiming, by right of conquest, the hunting grounds to the north and east of the Mississippi headwaters.
The two centuries that followed were unhappy ones for the Sioux. The French came and were followed by the British; the Revolution of the eastern colonists was fought and settled. But to the Sioux the white man's struggle meant chiefly that the furs, whose values he had learned to appreciate, were increasingly difficult to get. In 1805 Lieutenant Pike bought for liquor and a handful of pin money the huge tracts near the present Twin Cities, and boasted their value at $200,000, but the Sioux evidenced no realization that the white man's regard for the land was in any wise different from his own--a place to hunt and camp. He was far more concerned with the steady encroachment of the Chippewa armed with the white man's guns.
As settlers spread westward, the question of the Indian became urgent and after 1825 the leaders of the new United States were gradually framing the policy which would place all Indians on the Plains west of the Mississippi, on which, most statesmen then agreed, the white man could never live.
In the meantime the settlers, constantly annoyed as they were by the natives, could scarcely be expected to see the Indian brave as the romantic and symbolic hgure Rousseau had pictured, nor his squaw as the tragic lady that Schiller immortalized in his Nadowessian Lament. It was all very well for Longfellow to grow enthusiastic over Mrs. Eastman's descriptions of Indian legends, or to seize upon Schoolcraft's tales for his Hiawatha saga, but settlers saw little poetry in the red man. Far more heartily they agreed with Cotton Mather when he called the Indians "the devil driven race." During the same years in which poets sang of the natural man, settlers struggled to eliminate him, pushing the Chippewa back from their newly won hunting grounds into undisturbed lands of the north, thrusting the Sioux westward into the Great Plains. "I wandered about, after you first arrived at the falls," said a Chippewa chief to Schoolcraft, "like a bird not knowing where to alight."
The kidnaping of a young Ohio boy by a family of Indians late in the eighteenth century, and his sale to a kindly, bereaved woman chief of the Ottawas, was responsible for one of the earliest and most authentic tales we have of Minnesota Indian life. This story, published in 1830, tells of the wanderings of young John Tanner back and forth across the hunting lands of the upper Minnesota border country. Equally interesting is its preface in which the editor made a strong plea for a consistent American policy toward Indian problems. Let the Indians alone, he urged, or at least let the white man cease to treat them as if they had deliberately disobeyed the white man's laws of which actually they had no knowledge.
Such pleas were of small avail; little by little the Indians' lands were reduced, their activities restricted. By 1835 President Jackson could boast that the movement of tribes to the western prairies approached consummation, and that this great area could be forever "secured and guaranteed them."
Two treaties in 1837, one with the Sioux and another with the Chippewa, opened the triangle between the Mississippi and the St. Croix. The payment to the Sioux was $500,000, of which $200,000 went to the traders and half-breeds, the usual reward for influence. When on June 15, 1838, the waiting settlers heard that the treaties were ratified, they rushed to spots they had already selected and by morning were staking claims
Only the first comers were satisfied with so small a share of the unbounded West, and when in 1849 Alexander Ramsey left the East to head the newly organized Minnesota Territory the war cry was "Get the Suland." Scarcely had Ramsey reached the little fort on the Mississippi when he dispatched runners to call in the chieftains. The Bureau of Indian Affairs had fixed the price, with only $6,000 allowed for presents, but St Paul boosters, fearful that the opening of the western country would de tract from their own land boom, discouraged the plan. An 1850 bill increased the gift to $15,000, but the red men were away on their autumn hunt and the delay permitted rival fur companies to fight for treaty committee appointments until members of the Indian bureau itself were placed on the committee. The new members, freed from restriction, were permitted to bargain with all who had influence, to clear the Indian throat with liquor, and to make a tacit agreement for payment of the Indian debts to the traders That strange legal procedure, the Indian treaty, was at last at work in Minnesota.
Traders had to be placated outright or with promises of debt payments: chiefs had to be convinced, and firearms and firewater were found to carry conviction. Most difficult to handle were the half- or mixed-bloods among whom were numbered some of the most heroic of the frontiersmen as well as many of the most dissolute characters the settlers were to face. Mothered by Indians, fathered by lonely French traders, these children of the wilds (bois brûlés as they were called because of their burnt-wood complexion) were free from the tribal inhibitions and without the discipline of life in a crowded community. They were received both at the tribal fire and at the trading post, they could pass either as white or red, and were in truth go-betweens with a price.
To all of these avid participants, the bargainers made representations. They trekked long distances to the conclaves, and rationed out beef, pork, and flour, often to hundreds of Indians and for weeks at a time before the land cessions were signed. But oftener than not the money they paid out preceded their return to the Twin Cities via the groggeries, which were a constant temptation to the native, or through the hands of the trader whose overdue bills were provided for handsomely by the Government. By such methods in a series of treaties before 1863, the Sioux parted with their entire holdings with the single exception of a narrow strip along the Minnesota River; the Chippewa ceded almost the entire upper half of the State. One farsighted chief complained at the low price saying: "You forget that the land will be yours as long as the world lasts." But land acquisition by a method best described as one of food, flattery, and fraud was the order of the day; cynically, the historians of that time called the Minnesota treaties "as honest as any."
The Chippewa treaty of 1854 appeased the half-breeds of that tribe by giving to each grown person title to an 80-acre tract. Within two years 312 "bloods" had been satisfied. Ten years later a prominent Minnesota family with Indian blood but no tribal connection received two tracts. The Indian Bureau supported the claim with the ruling that a relative of any Chippewa tribe was eligible. Shrewd "altruists" immediately set about to search for beneficiaries who might otherwise have been overlooked. Twelve hundred were soon discovered, their applications in some cases duplicated, some of men no longer living. The certificates were legally non-transferable, but two power-of-attorney contracts circumvented the law, and permitted the lucky purchaser to look over the pine land and choose at will. Soon Chippewa bloods were rounded up, paid off with a small fee, and the bundles of applications forwarded to Washington.
The practice was stopped during Lincoln's administration only to be resumed in 1868 when a prominent citizen succeeded in having 310 applications approved, although an investigating committee believed not one to be valid. In 1869 the applications were again refused, but Minnesota speculators pushed the search for half-breeds, and found more than seven hundred and fifty. The Neal Commission, finding less than two dozen of these valid, ruled that only Congressional action could approve further awards. But optimistic lumber speculators continued to value the applications, bankers accepted them as valuable investments, and in 1872 Congress was prevailed upon to pass an "Act to quiet certain land titles." Persons who had bought the scrip in "good faith" should be allowed to make good their claims and purchase lands at not less than $1.25 per acre. In a short time "the innocent parties," whom Congress termed victims of a fraudulent system, had acquired for about $2.00 per acre almost 20,000 acres of Minnesota's richest timber, worth at that time about $150,000.
The Sioux "half-breed" tract on the Mississippi had been guarded until 1840 by the incorruptible agent Taliaferro, but in 1854 the President was given power to issue certificates to the mixed-blood Sioux who owned it whereby they could take up land in any unappropriated territory. Four hundred and eighty acres was the share for each. Like the Chippewa-scrip these certificates became negotiable by the power-of-attorney method, speculators fought for them, white men who had married squaws rejoiced, and since ten children were worth 4,800 acres, their delight is easily understood. Land speculators hastened to prospected town sites, took up the choice lots before the surveys were made, reaped a quick fortune, and hunted for new bonanzas. The more adventurous hastened to California with a pocketful of paper to grab rich mineral and timber lands.
But the end had not yet arrived. Lumbermen, not satisfied with obtaining a small fortune for a barrel of whisky, a dog or a cat, invented the "floating" scrip system. They located on a stretch of land, removed the pine, and then obtained a cancellation on the ground that they had not "done right" by the Indian client, moved to another stretch and repeated the process. When ore was discovered on Minnesota's Iron Range, the scrip came into undreamed-of demand. The Secretary of Interior denied the title to ore lands acquired by the Sioux scrip method, but the years of litigation were concluded in 1902 by a Supreme Court decision which accorded validity to the strange procedure, and assured the owners of their right to millions of dollars' worth of the richest iron land in the world.
Throughout this long series of unappetizing affairs, few but the religious or philanthropic sided with the Indians. Even the devout were handicapped by the difficult language, and by the white man's examples, which spoke to the Indians more loudly than words.
More practical than the missionaries was the farsighted Taliaferro. He hoped to teach agriculture to the red men who already had a working acquaintance with agricultural methods. Although Connecticut realists like Samuel and Gideon Pond could always spare a few hours from proselyting for mundane labor, later missionaries gave less time to practical matters.
A much more successful agriculturist was Joseph Renville, a half-breed Sioux who had held a captaincy in the British Army, but returned after numerous adventures to marry an Indian woman, and establish, at Lac qui Parle, a baronial estate with herds of cattle and sheep, acres of cultivated land, and a large Indian following. In his leisure he translated the French Bible of his trader father directly into Sioux, dictating to Gideon Pond.
In spite of occasional petty quarrels, the ministers were, as a group, the stanchest supporters of the Indians. But even the influential Bishop Whipple was able to do no more than mitigate the hate that consumed the Minnesota settlers when warfare broke out (see HISTORICAL SURVEY).
The horror of the Sioux uprising so infuriated the whites that with one sweep the standing debts to this tribe were abrogated, those under arrest were driven onto barges, and after great hardship were unloaded far beyond the existing boundaries of the white man's land. Not content with banishment, Minnesota officials, with the aid of the War Department, carried out punitive expeditions against the escaped bands far out in the Dakotas. Sibley's expedition of 1863 to the region of Devils Lake, and the winter skirmish of Hatch's Battalion at Pembina the following winter, were highly publicized drives that did little to correct the depredations within the State itself. But not until still more troops had been sent to join Sully's expedition in 1864-65 did Minnesota lose interest in wholesale acts of vengeance and turn to the less spectacular business of bartering with the Chippewa.
Visitors, who may travel through the State with never a glimpse of an Indian, are surprised to learn that Minnesota's Chippewa population exceeds fourteen thousand. Of these, 12,680 are members of the consolidated Chippewa agency which was established in 1919 to take over the work of five reservations. More than eight thousand live on the White Earth Reservation area, the remainder in villages or on nearby farm or timber land on the various reservations (most of whose lands have been alloted) located in the region lying betwen Mille Lacs in the center of the State, and Grand Portage far up on the north shore of Lake Superior. Almost two thousand are found on the unallotted land of the Red Lake Reservation. In addition to the Chippewa there are more than five hundred Sioux at Pipestone and a number of mixed families scattered throughout the southern counties. Many of the last have been partially or completely assimilated, and exercise all legal rights of citizenship, attending schools and churches and sharing generally in the activities of community life.
Yet the average Chippewa today lives at a bare subsistence level, and Government funds alone assure him his necessities. With the exception of the Red Lake Reservation, his lands have been allotted, and such work as he can obtain consists of mere seasonal or odd jobs. Harvesting the wildrice and blueberry crop, picking pine cones for the forest nurseries, and fishing and lumbering are only temporary remunerative tasks. Repeated attempts to re-educate the Indian in his native crafts have met with only partial success, although the tourist trade provides a lucrative market for products of his skill even when they include only the usual birchbark baskets, bird houses, and toy canoes. A few of the more intelligent craftsmen, however, make salable willow furniture. The birch canoe is now only rarely seen in Minnesota, for although its construction requires many weeks, it brings the maker less than $25, and must compete with the modern canvas or ply-wood product. Despite the fact that for years all the pipestone of the famous quarries has been reserved for the use of Indians, they have permitted whites to purchase the raw stone and to fabricate and sell the curios made from it.
Perhaps the most hopeful indication of the possible economic redemption of the Chippewa is their growing awareness of the advantages of group effort. Today many sell their products through the recently founded Chippewa Co-operative Marketing Association, which began with a capital of $100,000 from the tribal treasury. It not only insures the craftsman a better price for his wares, but also sponsors a wildrice cleaning and packaging factory designed to replace the primitive harvesting and cleaning methods still used by Indians in the north woods. Eventually the making and marketing of maple sugar will be added to the co-operative's undertakings.
A somewhat similar organization is the Red Lake Fisheries Association at Redby. Here the Indians have sole fishing rights in a prescribed area and their product is prepared and marketed exclusively through the organization which, in this instance, is a lessee of the Minnesota State Fisheries.
The Red Lake Reservation includes those Minnesota Indians least modified in language and custom. Of all the Indians in the State they are regarded as having maintained most nearly the pure Indian strain, and to them ethnologists continue to go for what little can be observed of tribal lore and custom. Even there the new generation is giving up the parent tongue, although many families are still bilingual.
The educational training of the Indian has been as unsatisfactory in Minnesota as elsewhere, but educators are at last recognizing the need of training the Indian youth in skills and crafts rather than the conventional studies of the white school. Recent years have seen a marked improvement in pedagogical methods.
Public health work among the tribes by State agencies has received Federal commendation, and conditions have recently been greatly improved; but tuberculosis and trachoma are still appallingly frequent and a vast amount of both money and effort must be expended before the State will have met its obligations to its dispossessed.
Indian songs, legends, and customs have attracted many students of art and science. The most comprehensive collection of Chippewa lore is that made by Frances Densmore, a Minnesota woman. Her several volumes of Smithsonian publications contain invaluable material made available through her personal acquaintance with numerous older Indians, and through long residence among them.
Chippewa songs, according to Miss Densmore, are alive with the warm red blood of human nature. Music is so much a part of their daily lives that if an Indian visits another reservation one of the first questions asked on his return is: "What new songs did you learn?"Every phase of Chippewa life is expressed in music. Many of the songs are so ancient that the idiorul is archaic; others celebrate the latest events. There are "dream songs," revealed to the singers in the half-hypnotic state verging on slumber; songs of the Midé, representing the musical expression of members of the Midewiwin, a "medicine" society; hunting songs; songs for obtaining a good supply of maple sugar; love-charm songs; healing songs; and songs recalling battles, deaths, and personal losses.
Come"It was the custom for the women to accompany the warriors a short distance, all singing this song; later the song would be heard again, faintly at first, then coming nearer as the women returned alone, singing still, but taking up the burden of loneliness which is woman's share in war." *
The complex structure of Indian music, the varying rhythms of drum, rattle, voice, and dancing feet, and the tonal and melodic peculiarities of the songs cannot be discussed in a brief space. It is sufficient to say that Indian music is not subject to white standards; it is a fully developed art with a wide range expressing every physical and emotional aspect of primitive man in America.
* Chippewa Music, Frances Densmore, Bulletin 45, Bureau of American Ethnology.