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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 7, 2004 - Issue 106


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Here Are Two Versions of The Same Battle
Battle of Pokegama

credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)
Pokegama Lake
From: W.H.C. Folsom's 50 Years in the Northwest (Pages 262-366) 1888

This 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 river.

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

Battle of Pokegama
In 1841 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.

In 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.

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(Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society. Volume 1)

Pokeguma 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.

This 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.

In 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.

By 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."

On 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.

They 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.

Fiendish 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.

Little 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.

The 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 chief.

It 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.

The 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.

There 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.

The 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 and breathe.

After 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.

It 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.

The 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 of skulls.

The 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.

In 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.

Saint Paul, 1852.

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