Sandy Lake Tragedy: Wikis


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The Sandy Lake Tragedy was an incident that took place in Sandy Lake, Minnesota, that resulted in the death of several hundred Ojibwe during the US Government's attempt in 1850 to remove several bands of the tribe to areas west of the Mississippi River; about 400 men, women and children (12% of the tribe) died.[1]



By the 17th century, the Ojibwe nation was spread across the Lake Superior region in modern day Ontario, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. With the bands in Wisconsin, Michigan, and parts of eastern Minnesota being east of the Mississippi River, they came under the effect of the Indian Removal Act. In 1830, when the act was signed by US President Andrew Jackson, the Ojibwe lands east of the Mississippi were not highly desired by white settlers. By 1850, however, pressure from whites in both Wisconsin and Minnesota led President Zachary Taylor to order their unlawful and unconstitutional removal [2], breaking multiple treaties in the process.[3]


To force the Ojibwe west of the Mississippi, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) made a last-minute change to move the annual annuity payments from a central region around La Pointe, Wisconsin, the economic and spiritual center of the nation, to not-so-central, but well known trade-hub location of Sandy Lake, Minnesota. The BIA hoped to strategically trap the Ojibwe in Minnesota, forcing them to spend their annuity payments in Minnesota rather than Wisconsin, which was both economically and politically beneficial to the BIA. The Ojibwe were concerned about the issues this move presented, and many bands of Ojibwe gathered together to deliberate their options. Unfortunately, the discussions consumed such a lengthy span of time that the Ojibwe were left with sparse time to plant their spring crops. As a result, they were forced to relocate to Sandy Lake if they wished to survive. So, in the fall of 1850, representatives from 19 Ojibwe bands packed up and started an arduous journey to the shores of Sandy Lake, where they had been told to gather in late October for their annual annuity payments and supplies. They waited there for several weeks before a government agent arrived and informed them that Congress had been unable to send the appropriate money and supplies. A small portion of the payment finally arrived in early December, consisting of spoiled food and a small percentage of the promised payment. By this time, around 150 Ojibwe had died of dysentery, measles, starvation, or freezing. The return journey was equally perilous: aside from being weak from sickness and hunger, the Ojibwe were also unprepared for a winter journey. As a result, 200-230 more Ojibwe died on the return journey.[4]


As a result of this tragedy, the Lake Superior Chippewa bands under the leadership of Chief Buffalo of La Pointe, pressed President Millard Fillmore to cancel the removal order. There was a loud public outcry from the whites regarding the government's inhumane treatment of the Ojibwe, supporting Chief Buffalo's request, resulting in the formal end of the Indian Removal Act. Still, not wanting to have Indians among them, the whites encouraged the establishment of Indian Reservations.

Chief Buffalo became a proponent for setting up permanent reservations in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota in the 1854 Treaty of La Pointe. Many of the Chippewa Bands agreed to the establishment of Ojibwe Reservations and subsequent relocation to these Reservations. Majority of these reservations were located at already well-established Ojibwe communities, but aggregating less powerful Bands with their more powerful neighbors. Under the Treaty of La Pointe, Grand Portage, Fond du Lac, Red Cliff, Lac Courte Oreilles, Bad River, Lac Vieux Desert, L'Anse, Ontonagon and Lac du Flambeau Indian reservations were established.

In the following year with the Treaty of Washington (1855), additional reservations were established in Minnesota. Under this treaty, Leech Lake, Cass Lake and Lake Winnibigoshish Indian Reservations were established for the Pillager Chippewa. For the Mississippi Chippewa, Sandy Lake Indian Reservation, together with other Mississippi Chippewa Reservations of Pokegama Lake, Rabbit Lake, Gull Lake and Mille Lacs Lake, were established.[5] The same treaty established the Rice Lake Indian Reservation, but due to the Bureau of Land Management claims of the Rice Lake Indian Reservation being within the boundaries of the Sandy Lake Reservation, the reservation was never formally platted.

Unfulfilled hopes

Despite the Sandy Lake Tragedy, the St. Croix Band and the Mole Lake Band still held hope of the fulfillment by the United States of the previously broken treaties and refused the signing of the Treaty of La Pointe. By refusing to sign the treaty and be relocated onto reservations, the two Ojibwe Bands lost their Federal Recognition, and did not regain their recognition until the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, also known as the Indian New Deal. During the non-recognition period, the Mole Lake Band became associated with the Lac du Flambeau Indian Reservation, while the majority of the St. Croix Band was split and associated with both Lac Courte Oreilles and Mille Lacs Lake Indian Reservations.

Along with Bois Brule Band, the St. Croix Band in the river's headwaters refusing aggregation with the La Pointe Band were forcibly removed to the Gull Lake Indian Reservation in central Minnesota. This implementation of the Indian Removal Act despite the official end of the act forced Chief Bagonegiizhig of the Gull Lake Band to aggressively negotiate with the BIA to restore these groups to Wisconsin. Without much success in the negotiations, Chief Bagonegiizhig participated in Dakota War of 1862 against the United States. This alliance also proved tragic, forcing much of the Mississippi Chippewa to be uprooted and removed farther west, first to the vicinity of Leech Lake, and eventually to the White Earth Indian Reservation.

Sandy Lake Memorial

On October 12, 2000, a memorial commemorating the Sandy Lake Tragedy was established at the United States Army Corps of Engineers Sandy Lake Dam Campgrounds. Along Minnesota State Highway 65, a rest area with a view of Sandy Lake was established, enhanced with a Historical Marker plaque to further commemorate the Sandy Lake Tragedy.

See also


  1. ^ WHS - Dict. WI Hist.: Sandy Lake Tragedy
  2. ^ U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals case 19-1757
  3. ^ ibid
  4. ^ Wildenthal, Bryan H. (2003). Native American Sovereignty on Trial: A Handbook with Cases, Laws, and Documents, pp. 172-73. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1576076245.
  5. ^ Folwell, William Watts (2006 reprint). A History of Minnesota: Vol. IV, p. 192. Minnesota Historical Society Press. ISBN 0873514904.


  • Clifton, James A. (1987) "Wisconsin death march: explaining the extremes in old northwest Indian removal." in Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. 5:1-40.
  • Loew, Patty (2001). Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press.
  • Warren, William W. (1984). History of the Ojibway People. St. Paul, Minnesota: Borealis Books
  • White, Bruce M. "The Regional Context of Removal Order of 1850" in Fish in the Lakes, Wild Rice, and Game in Abundance: Testimony on Behalf of Mille Lacs Ojibwe Hunting and Fishing Rights, James M. McClurken, compiler. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2000. ISBN 0870134922.
  • Wisconsin Historical Society. "Sandy Lake Tragedy" in Dictionary of Wisconsin History.

External links



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