When one does historical searches going back to the 19th century, one cannot use 21st century “correct” terms when using quotes referring to Dakota or Ojibway Indians. If one wants to learn more about these two prominent but warring tribes in the Red River Valley, the data I looked into from the 1930s Crookston Daily Times is not written up that way. For the purposes of this series, I will instead defer to the author, Win V. Working, when I use his writings about the Sioux and Chippewa tribes.
I did find one exception on Oct. 13, 1936 when Mr. Working wrote using all four terms: “About the year 1750, the Chippewa (Ojibway) drove the Sioux (Dakota) out of northern Minnesota, although for years thereafter, bands of Sioux warriors continued to roam this county as far east as Red Lake and give battle to their hereditary enemies.”
In fact, from what I read the term Nadowessiwag was a derisive term used by the Ojibway to describe the Sioux who they hated. The French version became Nadouessioux and the last syllable was easier to pronounce as Sioux, which I believe, means “snakes.” The term “Chippewa” is known to be an alternative Anglicization for Ojibway. Mr. Working claimed on Nov. 21, 1935, “The word Chippewa is a corruption of Ojibway, which means “roast till puckered up.”
These two groups of Native American Indians who lived in northwest Minnesota were continually at war with each other. One contemporary author believed that because of fur trading, there were not the wars against the whites along the Red River Valley and into Canada as may have happened in southern Minnesota or elsewhere in the U.S. The Indians knew that good relations with the whites meant they could trade their furs to buy weaponry to kill their Indian enemy. The Sioux and the Chippewa were mortal enemies with each other.
The early explorers, fur traders and missionaries had wanted to live in peace and many had prospered through the Indians ability to hunt, trap and gun down game. As long as the Indians kept at peace with neighboring tribes, the fur trade was a booming industry for the whites and the Indians profited as well. On Nov. 6, 1936, Mr. Working wrote the following: “The fur traders depended on the Indians almost exclusively at first for the millions of dollars realized from furs. Not only did the Indians furnish the pelts but they taught the white employees of the fur companies how to trap the animals and how to live on the inhospitable land.”
During the rest of this series, I will knowingly run contrary to the 21st century educated person and simply use the 20th-century terms commonly used from the texts I will quote. For example, the keyword of “Chippewa” shows up in many newspaper articles as early as Dec. 27, 1878. Such as a Crookston Weekly Times article titled “Population, Facts about Red Lake Chippewas.” Then seven years later another article on the first page dated Dec. 10, 1885, was titled “Should all Chippewa be located on White Earth Reservation?” The reader just needs to know I am referring to Ojibway and when I reference Sioux, the Dakota Indians is meant one and the same. No offense is intended but rather to flesh out what many of the Crookston Times readers were daily absorbing from the news media of their day.
In an article by Win V. Working dated on April 18, 1934, reading it might make people wonder more about what REALLY happened in Crookston, especially concerning the Indian mounds that were dug up. Working wrote: “For a long time it was thought that the people who built large mounds in different parts of what is now the US belonged to a race distinct from the Indians, but a popular theory now is that these people, known as Mound Builders, were ancestors of the Indians. How human beings got here in the first place has long been a moot question. A theory that seems as sound as any is that they came from Asia at a distant time when this continent and Asia were joined.
“Since there are mounds, evidently made by man in the northwest we have proof of early Indian life here. However, experts say that the mounds here, including the celebrated Crookston mound, do not definitely belong to the group created by the Indians known as Mound Builders. Excavations have shown that these mounds or tumuli do not contain evidence of the much earlier life found in mounds elsewhere. The Cheyenne and Sioux built mounds over their dead, but it appears certain that the mounds of this region were built by ancestors of the Cheyenne and Sioux who were known to the early pioneers.
“White Men’s Tribes: We need not devote any further space to the earliest Indians, or aborigines here. Instead, we shall deal with the records that reveal what tribes the white men first found here and later movements of the tribes. Explorers found Crees in the region that includes this part of Minnesota. In 1640, the Crees were mentioned as inhabiting a great area centered about the Lake of the Cree which undoubtedly was either the Lake of the Woods or Lake Winnipeg.
“These early Crees apparently knew nothing of agriculture but were a primitive people who made crude shelters and lived by hunting and fishing. Their implements were few and primitive. There is little evidence of the presence of Cheyenne here, but there is reason to believe they were driven southward by the Crees. Of course, there were numerous families or tribes of Indians on the American continent when the whites came.
“Anthropologists are careful in the use of the terms, family, tribe, nation, etc. with reference to the Indians, but we need only to refer to the different major bands as they were known to the whites. They were often at war, the conflicts usually arising from disputes over certain areas. It is clear that as the tribes in the east obtained firearms from the whites and found that they could sell them furs and hides, they encroached on the territory of more primitive tribes.
“Sioux in Control – The Sioux were in control of the north-central lake and forest area when the first white explorers and traders entered Minnesota in the second half of the 17th century. But just prior to 1750, the Chippewa with guns newly acquired from the whites found their way westward to the choice hunting grounds in the north central part of Minnesota and drove the Sioux to the southern part of the state. The Chippewa were in the north and the Sioux in the south during the early settlement period. Crees were related to the Chippewa but had separate tribal organizations. They did not seriously oppose the Chippewa but had moved almost wholly into Canada before 1820. The Chippewa and Sioux were long at war and there are many living eyewitnesses to battles between them in Minnesota.”
The above article by Win V. Working gives a helpful background dating back four centuries ago up to the 1930s. Two more quotes from Mr. Working, which reveals to his Crookston area readers what was probably common knowledge to them, the Native American Indians, were not a threat to the whites because of the fur trade. One thing I have read repeatedly, the Chippewa and Sioux hated each other. Here is what Working wrote on Aug. 16, 1937: “It is creditable to the Chippewa that the Sioux committing brutal murders over a wide area in southern Minnesota and in the southern part of the Red River Valley, the Chippewa remained peaceful. There were thousands of them up in this section and whites were few, yet they were unmolested.”
Another Working quote from Aug. 27, 1937 reads as follows, “But the important fact to remember is that the large number of Chippewa in this region aware of the trouble below and probably confident that they could commit depredations without being stopped by troops, refrained from doing so. While the Chippewa were peaceable, they were by no means cowardly and we must attribute their attitude at least in some measure to their fairness and good judgment. The Sioux lost heavily by their activity in the summer of 1862 and while the Chippewa suffered too since even government officials could not differentiate between one tribe and another, apparently still, they fared much better than the guilty Sioux, although in this case, too, more innocent Sioux suffered with the rest.”
I do not know who Win V. Working was, I suspect it was his pen name he used for his column titled “History of the Northwest.” He grew up in southern Minnesota and went to UND later but was well traveled and highly intelligent on a number of topics, though he did not consider himself a historian. I found that he had been an editor of “Southern Minnesota” but later he was the editor to “Northwest Pioneer.” He believed strongly in interviewing the early pioneers of the Crookston and Red River Valley area. He was a part of the Polk County Historical Society. I will try to find out more about him because he was very adamant about changing the dearth of information about northwestern Minnesota and the Red River Valley.
By repeating what he wrote, I believe I am carrying on what Win V. Working started. One of the many subjects he wrote about that I find fascinating is what he knew about battles of the two warring tribes in our surrounding area. One was in the Nielsville area. I believe an important historical memorial still exists which was set up as a marker in the 1930s. Also, another great battle was in Climax where Working looks into what Elias Steenerson revealed about it. However, I am getting ahead of myself, you will see how this highly esteemed writer, known as Win V. Working, tried to make people aware of their more recent history from the late 1800s into the early 1900s.
Kristina Gray is a local author and historian, and a faculty member at the University of Minnesota Crookston.