The Last Minnesota Indian Conflict - Interesting history connected to Round Lake

Within the history of Minnesota there are a series of tribal conflicts identified as “Uprising”, “Wars”, “Conflicts”, “Trouble”, and “Outbreaks.”  The ability of tribal governments to deal with problems and resolve issues so that they can protect their members is a very complex. 

The United States system of dealing with tribal government’s problems has many ways to be manipulated.  This manipulation of the United States system that protects tribal people has happen many times.    When the protection system failed and tribal people were being hurt there had to be a recourse.  

At different points the only resolution was armed conflict.  

In Minnesota this last armed Band conflict occurred in 1901 on the White Earth Reservation at a place called Round Lake.  Round Lake today is known as East Round Lake. The Otter Tail River begins in Elbow Lake in Becker County which is just north of Round Lake, and suitable for driving pine logs.  Over the winter of 1900-01 a series of logging company were authorized to cut pine on the White Earth Reservation in the area around Round Lake.  The Bureau of Indian Affairs authorized the cutting of dead and down pine trees around Round Lake.   The Band leader Skip-in-the-Day and other Indians at Round Lake reviewed the Bureau’s Superintendent Sullivan estimate of the pine cut and found that live trees had been cut and the estimates were in error.   The Minneapolis Journal of May 11, 1901 printed the following.

“On May 6 Special Agent McComas promised them a re-scale and Joseph Farr, who rescaled the cut at other places, is now on his way to White Earth to check up Superintendent Sullivan's estimate. McComas' letter to the Indians is as follows: United States Indian Service, White Earth Indian Agency, Minnesota, May 6, 1901.— Skip-in-the-day and Other Indians —You are notified that I have this day listened to all that has been said by you In regard to the fact that you are not satisfied with the- scale of the logs that have been cut from your reservation this last season, and that I have this day sent to the honorable commissioner of Indian affairs in Washington a telegraphic message asking him to send here at once an expert government timber sealer to go over the entire ground of the logging camps with a man selected by you to determine whether or not they have been properly scaled and paid for. You will be notified when this man comes.” —Eugene McComas, Special Indian Agent.

The plot thickens as now a Special Indian Agent was investigating this matter.   The logging camps wanted to get the pine they cut down the river and the spring was the best time to drive the logs.  They were pressuring to move the logs.  

“Park Rapids, Minn., May 11.—Traig, a merchant of Pine Point, on the White Earth Indian reservation, was here last night and confirmed the report that the Indians are congregating at Round lake, where millions of feet of logs have been banked. The Indians are excited, but no feeling is shown against resident whites, and the settlers are not likely to be troubled, whatever happens. Their quarrel is with the logging company and with the government which has permitted such extensive operations under the "dead and down" law. They feel they have been unjustly treated, and it is significant that public sentiment is largely with them, and is giving them encouragement. The Indians, says Mr. Traig, do not purpose to accept the estimate of Captain Mercer's inspectors, and demand that all logs be re-scaled. If the government meets the demand there will be no trouble. If, on the other hand, the logging company of Frazee attempts to take the logs from the reservation without a new scale or estimate, Mr. Trais says there will be serious trouble, as the Indians are determined upon this point, and to this extent are in an ugly mood. They have had several war dances and are preparing feathers. Some of the logs are moving and the situation is fast reaching a critical stage. Captain Mercer had not arrived from Leech Lake when Mr. Traig left Pine Point, and it is impossible to say what he will be able to do to ameliorate present conditions. It is known that some of the Indians are armed and that their preparations to resist the removal of the logs under conditions now existing have been systematic.”

The estimate was that about 60 men with Winchester rifles there stopping any movement of the logs until they could be rescaled.  This problem arose from powerful logging companies manipulating employees hired by the Government to protect and regulate the valuable pine lands on the White Earth Reservation.  Two of the primary criminals involved were Superintendent Sullivan and a Captain Mercer the man in charge of the inspectors scaling the logs that were cut.  The Indian Agent Sutherland resigned and the political wheels in Minneapolis pushed for the appointment of Simon Michelet.  Michelet was a close associate of Knute Nelson.  Knute Nelson, a Minnesota congressman and latter Governor was one of the most corrupt men related to Indian Affairs in Minnesota. His political support from large business came with his manipulation of Indian rights and land holding. He caused untold hardship for Indian people across the State.  His placing Simon Michelet at White Earth only enhanced the trouble for the White Earth people.  

 With the arrival of Joseph Farr the rescaling of the dead and down pine along with the illegal cutting of live pine trees began.    Inspector Farr began work sometime after May11 and by June 8thhe was removed by the Commissioner Jones of Indian Affairs in Washington D.C.

 "Inspector Farr was needed in his regular territory in Wisconsin," said Commissioner Jones, "and he was withdrawn from work at White Earth,”  Minnesota Journal June 8th 1901.

The next bit of logic used by the Government was to have Captain Mercer select Farr’s replacement.  This did not sit well with the Round Lake Ojibwe and moved to bring in an old agreement that the Ojibwe could also select and inspector to rescale the timber cut.  Because of newspaper pressure and the armed protest the Bureau had to agree.  The information about the problems with the cutting of dead and down policy was also occurring on Leech Lake and Captain Mercer was also operating on that Reservation.  All this lead Captain O’Neil to organize and a Congressional involvement into what was going on.  

 “The work of rescaling was begun in the McDougall lumber camp, and the crew was not quite through with the camp when the telegram ordering a suspension was received. As far as they went, the sealers brought to light an amazing discrimination of the cutting of green pine under the guise of "dead and down" timber. When the work of reseating ceased and the notes of the six different experts were compared and compiled by Mr. Farr it was developed that 1,253,56t5 feet of green standing pine had been illegally cut In the McDougall camp alone.”  Minnesota Journal June 8, 1901.

By October 4th Captain O’Neil’s report was finished but he would not reveal his findings.  The newspaper was able to gather some information. This information stated.

“It can be stated almost positively that the report of Mr. O'Neil shows even greater frauds than reported by the Farr investigation. The visit of Indian Commissioner Jones to Minnesota last week, In company with Senator Quarles, a member of the committee on Indian affairs of the senate, is thought to have been in connection with the frauds at White Earth. A consultation was held between Special Agent McComas, who was connected with the White Earth investigation; Captain O'Neil, Senator Quarles and the commissioner.” Minnesota Journal October 4th 1901.

The final report was accepted in November stating that some 8,000,000,000 ft of live pine had been fraudulently cut off of the lands at Round Lake.  

“The department selected Senator William O'Neil and nine disinterested men to make a rescale of the entire reservation and settle the amount of trespass. Their report sustains my findings says Joseph Farr on every point. On the entire reservation they find 8,580,000 feet, as against 1,260,000 feet as shown inthe report of the agent Mercer. Farr further states at the camp where I made a test scale and did not finish, but found 1,800,000 feet, O'Neil's report shows about 2,200,000 feet, as against 198,000 feet as shown by the representative of the agent Mercer and supported by the contractors.” Minnesota Journal December 28th 1901.

Through the hard work of Skip-in-the-Day and other Ojibwe Leaders and warriors, a Pine Point merchant, and other honest people this fraud was revealed.  The Band received the correct payment and corrections in the dead and down pine policy were made.   This ended the conflict at Round Lake, but not the conflicts coming at the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. 

For the next big manipulation came with trying to “Open up the Reservation.”   

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