When doing historical research going back to the 19th century, one cannot use 21st century “correct” terms when using quotes referring to the Dakota or Ojibway Indians. If one wants to know more about these two important but warring tribes in the Red River Valley, the data I reviewed from the Crookston Daily Times from the 1930s is not written that way. For the purposes of this series, I will instead defer to the author, Win V. Working, when I use his writings on the Sioux and Chippewa tribes.
I found an exception on October 13, 1936 when Mr. Working wrote using the four terms: “Around the year 1750 the Chippewa (Ojibway) drove the Sioux (Dakota) out of northern Minnesota, although for years Sioux warriors continued to roam this county as far as Red Lake and fight against their hereditary enemies.
In fact, from what I read, the term Nadowessiwag was a mocking term used by the Ojibway to describe the Sioux whom they hated. The French version became Nadouessioux and the last syllable was easier to pronounce because Sioux, which I believe means “serpents”. The term “Chippewa” is known to be an alternate anglicization for Ojibway. Mr. Working said on November 21, 1935: “The word Chippewa is a corruption of the Ojibway, meaning ‘roasted until it creases.’
These two groups of American Indians who lived in northwestern Minnesota were continually at war with each other. A contemporary author believed that due to the fur trade there had been no wars against whites along the Red River Valley and in Canada as may have happened in southern Minnesota or elsewhere in the United States. The Indians knew that good relations with whites meant that they could trade their furs to buy weapons to kill their Indian enemy. The Sioux and the Chippewa were mortal enemies with each other.
The early explorers, fur traders, and missionaries wanted to live in peace, and many of them had thrived on the Indians’ ability to hunt, trap and kill game. As long as Indians remained at peace with neighboring tribes, the fur trade was a booming industry for whites and Indians also benefited from it. On November 6, 1936, Mr. Working wrote: “In the beginning, the fur traders depended almost exclusively on Indians for the millions of dollars made from furs. The Indians not only provided the hides, but they taught the white employees of the fur companies how to trap the animals and how to live in this inhospitable land.
For the remainder of this series, I will knowingly go against the grain of the 21st century educated person and simply use 20th century terms commonly used in the texts I will cite. For example, the keyword “Chippewa” appears in numerous newspaper articles as early as December 27, 1878. Like a Crookston Weekly Times article titled “Population, Facts about Red Lake Chippewas”. Then, seven years later, another article on the front page dated December 10, 1885, was titled “If All Chippewa Should Be Located on the White Earth Reservation?” The reader just needs to know that I am referring to Ojibway and when I refer to the Sioux, Dakota Indians mean one and the same thing. No offense is intended, but rather to flesh out what many Crookston Times readers absorbed daily from the news media of their day.
In an article by Win V. Working dated April 18, 1934, reading it might make people wonder more about what REALLY happened in Crookston, especially regarding the Indian mounds that were unearthed. Working wrote: “For a long time it was thought that the people who built large mounds in different parts of what is now the United States were of a distinct race from the Indians, but a popular theory now is that these people, known as the Mound Builders, were the ancestors of the Indians. How humans got here in the first place has long been a debatable question. One theory that seems as solid as any is that they came from Asia in a distant time when that continent and Asia joined.
“Since there are mounds, obviously man-made in the northwest, we have evidence of early Indian life here. However, experts say the mounds here, including the famous Crookston Mound, certainly do not belong to the group created by the Indians known as the Mound Builders. Excavations have shown that these mounds or burial mounds contain no evidence of much older life found in mounds elsewhere. The Cheyenne and Sioux built mounds over their dead, but it seems certain that the mounds in this region were built by the ancestors of the Cheyenne and Sioux who were known to the early settlers.
“White Men’s Tribes: We don’t need to devote more space to the early Indians, or Aborigines here. Instead, we’ll be dealing with records that reveal which tribes white men first found here and subsequent tribal movements. Explorers found Crees in the area that includes this part of Minnesota. In 1640 the Crees were mentioned as inhabiting a large area centered around Lake of the Crees which was undoubtedly either Lake of the Woods or Lake Winnipeg.
“These early Crees apparently knew nothing about agriculture, but were a primitive people who made rudimentary shelters and made a living from hunting and fishing. Their tools were few and far between. There is little evidence of Cheyenne’s presence here, but there is reason to believe that they were driven south by the Cree. Of course, there were many families or tribes of Indians on the American continent when the whites arrived.
“Anthropologists are careful in the use of the terms, family, tribe, nation, etc. in reference to the Indians, but we only have to refer to the various great bands as they were known to the whites. They were often at war, with conflicts generally arising from disputes over certain regions. It is clear that when the eastern tribes obtained guns from the whites and found that they could sell them furs and skins, they encroached on the territory of the more primitive tribes.
“The Sioux in Control – The Sioux controlled the north central lake and forest region when the first white explorers and traders entered Minnesota in the second half of the 17th century. But just before 1750, the Chippewa with rifles newly acquired from the Whites found their way west to prime hunting grounds in north central Minnesota and drove the Sioux into the southern part of the state. The Chippewa were in the north and the Sioux in the south at the start of colonization. The Cree were related to the Chippewa but had distinct tribal organizations. They were not seriously opposed to the Chippewa, but they had settled almost entirely in Canada by 1820. The Chippewa and the Sioux had been at war for a long time and there are many living eyewitnesses to the battles between them in Minnesota. .
The above article by Win V. Working provides a useful overview dating back four centuries to the 1930s. Two more quotes from Mr. Working, which reveal to his readers in the Crookston area what was probably common knowledge to them, the Native Americans, were not a threat to whites because of the fur trade. One thing I read over and over, the Chippewa and the Sioux hated each other. Here is what Working wrote on August 16, 1937: “It is to the credit of the Chippewa that the Sioux are committing brutal killings over a large area of southern Minnesota and the southern part of the Red River Valley, the Chippewa have remained peaceful. There were thousands in this section and the whites were few in number, but they were not worried. “
Another quote from Working of August 27, 1937 reads: “But the important point to remember is that the large number of Chippewa in this region aware of the problems below and probably convinced that they could commit depredations without being arrested. by the troops, abstained. to do. While the Chippewa were peaceful, they were by no means cowardly and we must attribute their attitude at least to some extent to their fairness and good judgment. The Sioux lost heavily in their activity during the summer of 1862 and while the Chippewa also suffered because even government officials could not tell the difference between one tribe and another, apparently still they did. far better off than the guilty Sioux, although in this case, too, more innocent Sioux suffered along with the others.
I don’t know who Win V. Working was, I suspect it was his pseudonym that he used for his column called “History of the Northwest”. He grew up in southern Minnesota and went to UND later, but he’s traveled a lot and very intelligent on a number of topics, even though he didn’t consider himself a historian. I found out that he had been editor of “Southern Minnesota”, but later he was editor of “Northwest Pioneer”. He firmly believed in interviewing the early settlers of the Crookston area and the Red River Valley. He was a member of the Polk County Historical Society. I will try to find out more about him because he was absolutely keen to remedy the lack of information on Northwestern Minnesota and the Red River Valley.
By repeating what he wrote, I believe I am continuing what Win V. Working started. One of the many topics he wrote about that I find fascinating is what he knew of the battles of the two warring tribes in our surroundings. One was in the Nielsville area. I believe there is still an important historical memorial which was erected as a marker in the 1930s. In addition, another great battle took place at Climax where Working examines what Elias Steenerson revealed about it. However, as I go ahead, you will see how this much esteemed writer known as Win V. Working tried to make people aware of their more recent history from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. 1900.
Kristina Gray is a local author and historian and faculty member at the University of Minnesota Crookston.