Folsom's 50 Years in the Northwest (Pages 262-366) 1888
beautiful lake lies in township 39, range 22. It is about five miles
in length by one in breadth and finds an outlet in the Kanabec River.
It is celebrated for is historical associations. Thomas Conner,
an old trader, informed the writer of these sketches, in 1847, that
he had a trading post on the banks of this lake thirty years before,
or about the year 1816. This was before Fort Snelling was built.
Mr. Conner said that there was a French Trading Post at Pokegama
long before he went there. It was in the spring of 1847, after a
wearisome day's tramp, that I made his acquaintance and shared his
unstinted hospitality. His post, at that time, was located at the
mouth of Goose Creek, Chisago County, on the banks of the St. Croix.
His rude portable house was built of bark, subdivided with mats
and skins into different apartments. Although at an advanced period
in his life, his mind was clear and he conversed with a degree of
intelligence, which caused me to ask him why he lived thus secluded,
away from all the privileges of a civilized life. His reasons, some
of them, were forcible; he liked the quiet of the wilderness, away
from the turmoils of the envious white race. I learned from him
many interesting facts connected with travelers, traders and explorers
of our St. Croix Valley. This was the last season he spent on the
In 1847, when I visited Pokegama, Jeremiah Russell, an Indian farmer,
had a very pretty farm on a point of land on the southwest side
of the lake, between the lake and the river. A Frenchman. Jarvis,
lived a short distance from Russell. Across the lake from Russell's
were the neat and tasteful log buildings and gardens of the Presbyterian
mission. The mission was established in the spring of 1836, by Rev.
Fredric Ayers and his associates, under the auspices of the American
Board of Foreign Missions. Mr. Ayer had been laboring at Yellow
Lake mission, but owing to the growing unfriendliness of the Indians,
had been removed to Pokegama. Much pertaining to the mission work
both at Pokegama and elsewhere will be found in the biographies
of the principle missionaries. We mention here only such incidents
as may be of more general interest. For many of these incidents
we are indebted to Mrs. Elisabeth J. Ayer, of Belle Prairie, the
widow of Rev. Fredric Ayer, for a long time missionary to the Ojibwa.
This estimable lady has passed her eighty-fifth year, but her mind
is still clear and her hand steady, her manuscript having the appearance
of the work of a precise young schoolmistress. She mentions an old
Canadian, who had been in the country sixty years, and for seven
or eight years had been entirely blind. He was known as Mushkdewinini
(The Old Blind Man), also the trader, Thomas Conner, the remains
of whose mud chimney and foundations of the old trading house may
still be seen on the southern shore of the lake.
Franklin Steele was the first white man to visit the mission. In
the spring of 1837 the mission aided three of four families in building.
February 1837, Rev. Mr. Hall, of the La Pointe Mission, visited
Pokegama, and organized a church of seven members, three of whom
were natives, administered the ordinance of baptism to eight persons,
and solemnized two marriages, probably the first in the valley of
the St. Croix. Revs. Boutwell and Ely came to the mission in 1837.
A school had been opened, some Indian houses built, and gardens
enlarged, and the future of the mission seemed assured. Mrs. Ayer
relates the following account of the
the Sioux selected this establishment as the place to avenge the
wrongs of the Ojibways - some of recent date; the principle of which
was the killing of two sons of Little Crow (done in self defense)
between Pokegama and the falls of the St. Croix. The Sioux arrived
at Pokegama in the night, and stopped on the opposite side of the
lake, two miles from the mission. The main body went to the main
settlement, and, after examining the ground where they intended
to operate, hid among the trees and brush back of the Indian gardens,
with orders that all keep quiet on both sides of the lake till a
given signal, when the Indians were busy in their gardens, and then
make quick work. But their plans failed. Most of the Ojibways of
the settlement had, from fear of the Sioux, slept on an island half
a mile out in the lake (I mean women and children), and were late
to their gardens. In the meantime a loaded canoe was nearing the
opposite shore and the few Sioux who had remained there to dispatch
any who, in time of battle, might attempt to escape by crossing
over, fired prematurely. This gave the alarm and saved the Ojibways.
The chief ran to Mr. Ayer's door and said , expressively: "The
Sioux are upon us," and was off. The Indians seemed at once
to understand that the main body of the enemy was at hand. The missionaries
stepped out of the door and had just time to see a great splashing
of water across the lake when bullets came whizzing about their
ears and they went in. The Sioux had left their hiding place and
the battle commenced in earnest. Most of the women and children
were yet on the island. The house of the chief was well barricaded
and most of the men gathered there. The remainder took refuge in
a house more exposed, at the other end of the village. The enemy
drew up very near and fired in at the window. One gun was made useless
by being indented with a ball. The owner retired to a corner and
spent the time in prayer. The mother of the house, with her small
children, was on her way to the island under a shower of bullets,
calling aloud for God to help.
The missionaries seeing from their windows quantities of bloody
flesh upon stumps in the battlefield thought surely that several
of their friends had fallen. It proved to be a cow and a calf of
the Ojibways. The mission children were much frightened and asked
many questions, and for apparent safety went up stairs and were
put behind some filled barrels. In the heat of the battle two Ojibways
came from the island and landed in front of Mr. Ayer's house. They
drew their canoe ashore and secreted themselves as well as the surroundings
would permit. Not long after three Sioux ran down the hill and towards
the canoe. They were fired upon and one fell dead. The other two
ran for help but before they could return the Ojibways were on their
way back to the island. Not having time to take the scalp of their
enemy, they hastily cut the power horn strap from his breast, with
dripping blood, as a trophy of victory. The Sioux drew the dead
body up the hill and back to the place of fighting. The noise ceased.
The battle was over. The missionaries soon heard the joyful words,
quietly spoken: "We still live." Not a warrior had fallen.
Two schoolgirls who were in the canoe at the first firing in the
morning were the only ones killed, though half the men and boys
in the fight were wounded. The Sioux women and boys who had come
with their warriors to carry away the spoils had the chagrin of
returning as empty as they came.
The Ojibways were careful that no canoe should be left within reach
of the Sioux. From necessity they (the Sioux) took a canoe, made
by Mr. Ely, and removed their dead two miles up river, dressed them
(seemingly) in the best the party could furnish, with each a double
barreled gun, a tomahawk and scalping knife, set them up against
some large trees and went on their way. Some of these articles,
including their headdresses, were sent to the museum of the American
Board in Boston.
the closing scene the missionaries had the opportunity of seeing
the difference between those Indians who listened to instructions
and those who had not. The second day after the battle a pagan party
brought back to the island the dead bodies of their enemies, cut
in pieces, and distributed parts to such Ojibways as had at any
time lost friends by the hands of the Sioux. One woman, whose daughter
was killed and mutilated on that memorable morning, when she saw
the canoes coming, with a head raised high in the air on a long
pole, waded out into the water, grabbed it like a hungry dog and
dashed it repeatedly on the stones with savage fierceness. Others
of the pagans conducted themselves in similar manner. They even
cooked some of the flesh that night in their kettle of rice. Eunice
(as she was named by her baptism) was offered an arm. At first she
hesitated; but for some reasons, sufficient in her own mind, thought
best to take it. Her daughter-in-law, widow of her son who had recently
been killed and chopped into pieces by the Sioux, took another,
and they went to their lodge. Eunice said: "My daughter, we
must not do as some of our friends are doing. We have been taught
better," and taking some white cloth from her sack they wrapped
the arms in them, offered a prayer and gave them a decent burial.
OF LAKE POKEGUMA
AS NARRATED BY AN EYE WITNESS. - BY REV. E. D. NEILL.
of the Minnesota Historical Society. Volume 1)
is one of the "Mille Lacs," or thousand beautiful lakes
for which Minnesota is remarkable. It is about four or five miles
in extent, and a mile or more in width.--Its shores are strewn with
boulders that in a past geologic age have been brought by some mighty
impetus from the icy north. Down to the water's edge grow the tall
pines, through which, for many years, the deer have bounded, and
the winds sighed mournfully, as they wafted away to distant lands
the shriek of many Dakota or Ojibwa mothers, caused by the slaughter
of their children.
lake is situated on Snake river, about twenty miles above the junction
of that stream with the St. Croix.--Though as late as the year 1700,
the Dakotas have resided in this vicinity, for a long period it
has been the abode of their enemies, the Ojibwas.
the year 1836, missionaries of the American Board of Foreign Missions
connected with the Congregational and Presbyterian denominations,
came to reside among the Ojibwas was of Pokeguma, to promote their
temporal and spiritual welfare. Their mission-house was built on
the east side of the lake; but the Indian village was on an island
not far from the shore. In a few years, several Indian families,
among others that of the chief, were induced to build log houses
around the mission. The missionaries felt, to use the language of
one of them, that "the motives of the gospel had no more influence
over the Indian, in themselves considered, than over the deer that
he follows in the chase." They therefore first encouraged the
Indian to work, and always purchased of him his spare provisions.
aiding them in this way, many had become quite industrious. In a
letter written in 1837, we find the following: "The young women
and girls now make, mend, wash, and iron after our manner. The men
have learned to build log houses, drive team, plough, hoe, and handle
an American axe with some skill in cutting large trees, the size
of which, two years ago, would have afforded them a sufficient reason
why they should not meddle with them."
May fifteenth, 1841, two young men had gone, by order of Mr. Jeremiah
Russell, now of Sauk Rapids, then Indian farmer at Pokeguma, to
the Falls of St. Croix, after a lead of provisions. On the next
day, which was Sunday, the news arrived there, that a Dakota war
party, headed by Little Crow, of the Kaposia band, whose face is
so familiar to the older citizens of St. Paul, was on the way to
their village. Immediately they started back on foot to give the
alarm to their relatives and friends.
had hardly left the Falls, on their return, before they saw a party
of Dakotas, stripped and bedaubed with vermilion, and preparing
themselves for war. The sentinel of the enemy had not noticed the
approach of the young men. A few yards in front of the Ojibwa youth
sat two of the sons of Little Crow, behind a log, exulting, no doubt,
in anticipation of the scalps in reserve for them at the lake. In
the twinkling of an eye, these two young Ojibwas raised their guns,
fired, and killed both of the chief's sons. The sentinel, who by
his carelessness allowed them to pass, was a third son. The discharge
of the guns revealed to him that an enemy was near, and as the Ojibwas
were retreating, he fired, and mortally wounded one of the two.
was the rage of the Dakotas at this disastrous surprise. According
to custom, the corpses of the chief's sons were dressed, and then
set up with their faces towards the country of their ancient enemies.
The wounded Ojibwa was horribly mangled by the infuriated party,
and his limbs strewn about in every direction. His scalped head
was placed in a kettle, and suspended in front of the two Dakota
corpses, in the belief that it would be gratifying to the spirits
of the deceased, to see before them the bloody and scalpless head
of one of their enemies.
Crow, disheartened by the loss of his two boys, returned with his
party to Kaposia. But other parties were in the field. The Dakotas
had divided themselves into three bands; and it was the understanding
that one party was first to attack Pokeguma, and then retire. After
the Ojibwas was supposed that the attack was over, the second party
was to commence their fire, and after they had ceased to fight,
the third party was to begin to slaughter.
second party proceeded as far as the mouth of Snake river, but,
supposing that the Ojibwas had discovered them, they turned back,
and upon their arrival at the Falls of St. Croix, they were still
more chagrined by hearing of the death of the sons of the Kaposia
was not till Friday, the twenty-first of May, that the death of
one of the young Ojibwas sent by Mr. Russell to the Falls of St.
Croix, was known at Pokeguma. The murdered youth was a son of one
of those families who had renounced heathenism, and whose parents
lived on the lakeshore, in one of the log buildings, by the mission-house.
The intelligence alarmed the Ojibwas on the island opposite the
mission, and on Monday, the twenty-fourth, three young men left
in a canoe to go to the west shore of the lake and from thence to
Mille Lacs, to give intelligence to the Ojibwas there of the skirmish
that had already occurred. They took with them two Indian girls,
about twelve years of age, who were pupils of the mission school,
for the purpose of bringing the canoe back to the island. Just as
the three were landing, twenty or thirty Dakota warriors, with a
war whoop emerged from their concealment behind the trees, and fired
into the canoe. The young men instantly sprang into the water, which
was shallow, returned the fire, and ran into the woods, escaping
without material injury.
little girls, in their fright, waded into the lake; and as in Indian
warfare it is as noble to kill an infant as an adult, a delicate
woman as a strong man, the Dakota braves, with their spears and
war clubs, rushed into the water after the children and killed them.
Their parents upon the island, heard the death cries of their children;
and for a time the scene was one of the wildest confusion. Some
of the Indians around the mission-house jumped into their canoes
and gained the island. Others went into some fortified log huts.
The attack upon the canoe, it was afterwards learned, was premature.
The party upon that side of the lake were ordered not to fire, until
the party stationed in the woods near the mission commenced.
were in all one hundred and eleven Dakota warriors, and the fight
was in the vicinity of the mission-house, and the Ojibwas mostly
engaged in it were those who had been under religious instruction.
The rest were upon the island. During the engagement, an incident
occurred, as worthy of note as some of those in Grecian history.
fathers of the murdered girls, burning for revenge, left the island
in a canoe, and drawing it up on the shore, hid behind it, and fired
upon the Dakotas and killed one. The Dakotas advancing upon them,
they were obliged to escape. The canoe was now launched. One lay
on his back in the bottom; the other plunged into the water, and
holding the canoe with one hand, and swimming with the other, he
towed his friend out of danger. The Dakotas, infuriated at their
escape, fired volley after volley at the swimmer, but he escaped
the balls by putting his head under water whenever he saw them take
aim, and waiting till he heard the discharge, when he would look
a fight of two hours, the Dakotas retreated with a loss of two men.
At the request of the parents, Mr. E. F. Ely, now of Oneota, from
whose notes the writer has obtained these facts, being at that time
a teacher at the mission, went across the lake, with two of his
friends, to gather the remains of his murdered pupils. He found
the corpses on the shore. The heads cut off and scalped, with a
tomahawk buried in the brains of each, were set up in the sand near
the bodies. The bodies were pierced in the breast, and the right
arm of one was taken away. Removing the tomahawks, the bodies were
brought back to the island, and in the afternoon were buried in
accordance with the simple but solemn rites of the Church of Christ,
by members of the mission.
is usual for Indians to leave their murdered on or near the battlefield,
with their faces looking towards the enemy's country; and on Wednesday
the Ojibwe was started out in search of the Dakotas that had been
killed. By following the trail, they soon found the two bodies,
and scalped them. One of the heads was also cut off and brought
to the island, to adorn the graves of the little girls. To a Northwestern
savage, such a head stone at a daughter's grave is more gratifying
than one of sculptured Italian marble. Strips of flesh were fastened
to the trees. A breast was also taken, and cooked and eaten by the
braves to express their hatred to the Dakotas.
mother and wife of the young man who had been killed by Little Crow's
third son, were each presented with a hand. These women had been
accustomed to attend preaching at the mission house, and knew the
principles of the Prince of Peace. Though they had in 1839, lost
many relatives by an attack from the Dakotas, on Rum river, they
engaged in no savage orgies, but withdrawing to their wigwam, they
placed the hands of their foes upon their knees, gazed in silence,
then wrapped them in white muslin and interred them. Such is one
of the many similar scenes that have occurred in our own Territory
within ten years. The president of the Historical Society, in his
address of 1851, well remarked, that the region between the falls
of St. Croix and Mille Lacs, is a "Golgotha"--a place
sequel to this story is soon told. The Indians of Pokeguma, after
the fight, deserted their village, and went to reside with their
countrymen near Lake Superior.
July of the following year, a war party was formed at Fond du Lac,
about forty in number, and preceded towards the Dakota country.
When they reached Kettle River, they were joined by the Ojibwas,
of St. Croix and Mille Lacs, and thus numbered about one hundred
warriors. Sneaking, as none but Indians can, they arrived unnoticed
at the little settlement, below St. Paul, commonly called "Pig's
Eye," which is opposite Kaposia, or Little Crow's village.
Finding an Indian woman at work in the garden of her husband, a
Canadian, by the name of Gamelle, they killed her; also another
woman, with her infant, whose head was cut off. The Dakotas, on
the opposite side, were mostly intoxicated; and flying across in
their canoes but half prepared, they were worsted in the encounter.
They lost about twelve warriors, and one of their number, known
as The Dancer, the Ojibwas are said to have skinned.