Note to readers: Weekly articles as part of Kristina Gray’s latest historical series continue to run on this page on Fridays, but with Mary Holz-Clause to be inaugurated as the U of M Crookston’s sixth chancellor on Friday, April 6, in Kiehle Auditorium with its iconic murals serving as the backdrop, Gray has written this article to be published in advance of Holz-Clause’s inauguration.
In an article dated October 11, 1932 in the Crookston Daily Times, it was headlined “Indian Pact Described in A.C. [Ag College] Assembly: Saugstad Traces Development of Valley in 69 years.” Coincidentally, this article was written the same year that the NWSA Class of 1932 donated money for the newly refurbished Kiehle auditorium. The NWSA students wanted to help pay for a mural painted in remembrance of this historic event that John Saugstad outlined. However, the John Martin Socha mural was not painted until 1942, a decade after that initial donation, with the help of WPA funding. I have discovered the Crookston Daily Times had written many articles in the 1930s for the people in the Crookston area to read. The NWSA faculty and students and the Crookston citizens were intent on remembering their history of the treaty that impacted them in the Red River Valley and showing an important historical marker, the statue at Huot.
This 1932 article began: “The Treaty of the Old Crossing” which led to erection of the monument near Huot, was described to the assembly at Northwest School [of Agriculture] today by John Saugstad, secretary of the Crookston association and business manager of the Red River Valley Winter shows.
“The treaty, by which the Chippewas relinquished their right to the Red River Valley,” said Mr. Saugstad, “was signed October 2, 1863, by representatives of the Indian tribes and government officials. By the stroke of a pen, this vast territory extending from the Canadian border to the southern end of the valley and for a distance of over 50 miles both east and west of the Red River Valley of the North, was turned over to the white men at approximately five cents per acre. To the present generation it seems almost unbelievable that this fertile country was occupied by Indian tribes as late as 69 years ago. The development in this brief period has been one of the most amazing achievements of the settlement of the west.”
“As a result of an appropriation by the United States government, a suitable monument has now been erected near Huot on the bank of the Red River where the treaty was signed. Hundreds of people have already visited the spot and inspected the bronze statue of an Indian with peace pipe in one hand and the other outstretched as if addressing the white men. The six foot statue rests on a massive granite marker bearing an inscription indicating the date and event.”
John Saugstad later wrote about the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Old Crossing treaty. On Aug. 6, 1934, the writer Win V. Working added in his column the words written by Mr. John Saugstad of Crookston which was published in the Old Crossing Treaty memorial booklet [in 1933]. Columnist Working believes Saugstad’s words “should be given newspaper publicity, particularly that school children who may not have encountered a booklet may learn the details of the treaty making.”
The following quotes were taken from Saugstad’s remarks in the Crookston Times Nov 21, 1935 newspaper write up with a headline of “Old Crossing Treaty Signed in 1863.” It began with this as a preface: “Of major importance in the history of Polk County was the making of the Old Crossing Treaty in 1863 by the terms of which a large area in the Red River Valley on both sides of the river was ceded to the government by the Chippewa bands of the region. The following account of the signing of the treaty was written by Mr. John Saugstad in connection to the dedication of the Old Crossing Treaty Memorial at Huot, Minn:
“Seventy years ago, while the United States of America was engaged in a bloody civil war in which many Indian tribes were involved, an invitation was sent out from Washington to the Red Lake and Pembina bands of the Chippewa Indians to assemble at the Old Crossing for a pow-wow where a treaty could be agreed upon whereby the said Indians would cede to the United States nearly all of that vast tract of land known as the Red River valley of the north.
“This message was passed on to the two respective bands by the United States agents, the Indian chiefs and headmen together with a command from the chiefs to assemble a the Old Crossing of the Red Lake river during the middle part of September, 1863.
“At about the middle part of September the Red Lake bands of the Chippewa Indians assembled at the designated crossing and there pitched their wigwams. With them came U.S. Agent Morrill. To this same place came the official party with Alexander Ramsey, representing the U.S. government, escorted by a small detachment of U.S. soldiers, and pitched their tents on the 21st day of September. On the 23rd day of September the Pembina band of Indians arrived and the first session of the treaty council was held that day.
“The two Indian bands were encamped on a beautiful grassy lowland near the Red Lake river and only a short distance from the ford, or Old Crossing. The white men were encamped on a small hillock between the two Indian bands.
“For about two weeks and until October 2 the chiefs and headmen bargained and discussed the terms of the treaty, always seeking better terms and conditions for their respective bands. On October 1 all the chiefs had agreed to the terms of the treaty except Chief May-dwa-gun-on-ind of the Red Lake bands who steadily opposed the terms, and when the chiefs left the council on the evening of October 1 all hope of effecting a treaty with the Red Lake Indians seemed to be at an end.
“The following day, however, the council assembled again without May-dwa-gun-on-ind, and after some further discussion lasting about three and one-half hours, Red Lake Chief Mons-o-Mo (Moose Dung) ‘touched the pen.’ Five other chiefs, either warriors and one head warrior followed him in signing, and the treaty was completed by the signing of the commissioners, Alexander Ramsey and A.C. Morrill and witnesses. This was Oct. 2, 1863.
“On October 3, the treaty goods, presents, flags and provisions were distributed, and ‘on the fourteenth day from our arrival at the treaty grounds the expedition started on its return home.
“Thus, the Red Lake and Pembina bands of the Chippewa Indians ceded to the United States of America that most wonderful and fertile tract of land that has become known as the “bread and butter basket” of the nation, making it possible for thousands of families to acquire homes and happiness.”
“The ceded area was approximately 180 miles long and 127 miles wide east and west at the extreme length and width, containing approximately 11,000,000 acres according to Alexander Ramsey’s estimate and report. For this tract the United States paid $510,000.
“The wording and terms of the treaty make interesting reading for anyone who likes history. A photographic copy of the treaty is now in the files of the Polk County Historical society. Article One of the treaty reads as follows: ‘The peace and friendship now existing between the United States and Red Lake and Pembina bands of the Chippewa Indians shall be perpetual.’
“Thus the ‘Old Crossing’ of the Red Lake river, where thousands of ox cart have passed in the years gone by and the making and signing of the Old Crossing Treaty has gone into history as one of the outstanding historical places and events of Northwestern Minnesota and Northeastern Dakota, and the second day of October, 1863, has become and will remain an outstanding historical date for the states of Minnesota and North Dakota.”
That ends what I found that was documented of John Saugstad’s thoughts about the Old Crossing Treaty and also the Chippewa Indian’s statue. This Friday, I will return to information I have discovered about the first NWSA superintendent, Torger A. Hoverstad after reading through his letters during his tenure of 1895-1905.
Kristina Gray is a local author and historian, and a faculty member at the University of Minnesota Crookston.