Big Sandy Lake, Crow Wing Agency, and Mille Lacs

Fond du Lac Tribal Schools.

An Ancient Mound amongst the Ojibwe.

Big Sandy Lake and the Tragedy of Government policy. There is no easy way to tell this story of deception, as it is a very lengthy story about how the U.S. Government signed a treaty that guaranteed the Ojibwe people of Wisconsin the right to remain on their lands in the Treaty with the Chippewa of 1837 , and again in the Treaty with the Chippewa of the Mississippi and Lake Superior Bands in 1842 .


The short story is the U.S. Government immediately began to connive ways in which to convince or force the Chippewa out of Wisconsin and into Minnesota, preferably to the White Earth Reservation region which was being set aside for the region's tribes. Almost immediately the Chippewa treaty annuity payments were no longer paid out from Madeline Island and instead the Ojibwe had to go to the Fon du Lac Trading Post and Agency south of Duluth, Minnesota.

In 1850 the agent in charge claimed that payments had to be made from Big Sandy Lake, another 60 miles inland and that the payment would be ready in late September or early October. When the Chippewa arrived, some 3,000-4,000 strong and with families, they were already worried about getting back to Wisconsin before the winter freeze up of waterways which would force them to abandon their canoes. Winter set in early that year, and before the payment was made in late December sickness had swept the encampment because of poor living conditions, starvation from the poor and rotten food supplied by the agency, and lack of ability to buy or borrow from the Traders pending a payment that had as many excuses for being late as the U.S. government could figure out.sandy lake mem mound.jpg

The main site is now marked by a memorial rock displayed placed there by the Ojibwe in 1999 in a ceremony that included a retracing of the migration back from Sandy Lake in early December winter weather. The story of the treaties, Sandy Lake & The Waabanong Run to Washington, D.C. the year before can be read in the book Ojibwe Journeys . The monument is said to be on top of a common grave of many Ojibwe and others who died at Sandy Lake waiting for the payment and it was made in remembrance to the many more that passed away on the way back home that winter. Some say as many as 400-600 perished that year and it became a rallying cry for others, never to go back to Sandy Lake for another annuity payment - ever!

sandy lake memorial.jpg


Crow Wing Agency - The old Trading Post, speculation failure and Alan Morrison's Trading Post. This area is a region that is rich with the family history of the Morrison's and other early settlers. These are some of may distant Ojibwe and Scottish ancestors and we have relatives scattered from Nova Scotia to Astoria, Oregon from these early fur traders.

Allan and William Morrison both spent time at this location after moving down from the Fond du Lac Trading Post area as policy makers were trying to lure the Ojibwe further west. This site also was a closer reach for to the confluence of trails and activity around what was to become the St. Paul and Minneapolis regional area.

Crow Wing actually lost out during a vote by a small margin to become the capital of the State of Minnesota. The Crow Wing Agency and village was filled with speculators, but the biggest failure was that the railroad they thought would be built never arrived. Actually it arrived, but it was built some 10-15 miles north of this site, in part because land values had been driven up by everybody thinking they could get a piece of the pie.

Now-days they are just beginning to rebuild the village, but it is another one of those places you go to where you can feel the aura of the past.

In the woods you find the remains of the old village, foundations, a sense of streets and those plots of flowers and other plants that are left over from human habitation. By the early 1900's, Crow Wing for all practical reasons was a ghost town. Most of the Chippewa that lived there, the metis cousins of the Morrisons, Fairbanks, Beauleau, Roy, Bellanger, Bongo, Cadotte, Beaudin and other explorer families and their off-spring had moved on into the big city, out west or to Alaska to seek gold, or to the reservation to settle on an allotment.

It was at this time that many Metis families either identified with the Ojibwe and went to the reservation as Indians to obtain a land allotment grant at White Earth, Leech Lake or a Wisconsin Reservation or moved on to integrate into the world of the non-Native, not quite white, not quite colored.

At this spot, I take a keen interest in the history before and after Crow Wing, as I am a Morrison descendant and over the last decade have accumulated over 4,000 names in our family tree starting on the Island of Lewis in Scotland and ending up everywhere in the world a family of explorers could go.

It is a wonderful thing being able to watch the history of the family as it entered Ojibwe Country in 1792 with William and his cousin Roderick. A few years later Williams younger brother Allen would arrive and eventually Morrison County in Minnesota would be named after the two brothers. Most of the Ojibwe Morrison descendants of White Earth are either from Allen who moved from Crow Wing, or from William who had at least one, maybe two Pillager wives whose descendants moved to White Earth, Leech Lake and Red Lake. William married at least two more times and we can ascertain some seventeen off-spring as his own, or adopted children.

Roderick, known as the "Great White Bear" was less known because he was assigned to the Nipigon Ontario outpost north of Thunder Bay and was not written about, but he left Ojibwe families and descendants who now help populate reservations at Grand Portage, and Fond du Lac, Minnesota and at the Bad River in Wisconsin. It may also be this particular part of the Morrison family tree that has several hundred relatives who are members of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin as well.

Now days, the Morrison family has Ojibwe descendants starting in Sorel, Quebec, covering the Great Lakes region and who then followed the opening of the west, at Pine Ridge, Yankton, and further west to the Northwest coastal tribes. There is even a valley out in Washington State that is named after "Wild Bill Morrison" who I believe was one of William's older sons who traveled with John Jacob Astor. His name lives up to the reputation of many of the males Morrison descendants of the Great Lakes region.

Several younger members of the Morrison clan went with John Jacob Astor to open the western fur trade front at Astoria, Oregon and the California coast, and then on to Alaska. It truly is a small world when you have a chance to examine history.