75 years of progress book article

Before the White Man Came...

It was summer, 1931, and a highway construction crew was busily carving a roadway through a small knoll on the east shore of Prairie Lake. Suddenly the operator of the big bulldozer stopped. He had uncovered a human skeleton!

Nine feet below the surface, entombed in laminated glacial clay, Minnesota's pre-historic woman had slept for at least l0,000 years and perhaps for as long as 20,000 years. She was a young woman, so say the paleontologists who examined her bones. How she died will never be known. Some believe she drowned in a lake. Because of the fragments of a knife found near her bones, many believe she died in combat.

One thing is certain. Here, a few miles to the north­east of present day Pelican Rapids, Indians roamed centuries before the great ice sheets ground their slow, frigid path over most of North America.

These same rivers of ice which covered the young woman with tons of glacial drift also sculptured the landscape. Grinding ice smoothed the sharp edges from the peaks of high hills, rounding them into gentle knolls and vales. Melting ice formed Lake Agassiz, and as the waters of this great lake slowly drained north -ward into Hudson's Bay, shimmering pools of blue-tinted water were captured in the many depressions. Majestic oaks, maples, birches, aspens and pines caressed the shores and carpeted the hills. The Sioux Indian, who loved beautiful and bright things, gave us the name of our state, "Land of Sky-Blue Water"---Minnesota.

Although she is famous in her own right, Minnesota's oldest human skeleton is not so well known as her de­scendants that were to live and die in the forests and rolling plains, which surround Pelican Rapids.

Originally this land was inhabited by tribes of Sioux Indians. However, as the white man pushed relentlessly westward, the Sioux in turn were pushed westward by the retreating Chippewa Indians. Hampered by a lack of horses and not having the white man's firearms as the Chippewa’s did, the Sioux were no match for the wood-wise Chippewa’s. The hatred between the two tribes was to grow and finally culminate in the great Sioux up-risings in the early 1860's.

The Chippewa’s were by nature a hunting and fishing tribe. They and their Algonquin blood-brothers, the Ojibwas, were Lake Superior Indians and were able to adapt themselves readily to their new environment. Their new land was abundant in wildlife. White-tail deer, bear, moose, elk and even reindeer and caribou were plentiful. The great North American bison grazed in the lush grasslands to the west. The lakes and streams supplied the tribes with all the fish they desired. Besides the game, nature also provided the Indian with multi­tudes of berries and fruits that grew wild in the forests. Such was the inheritance of the Chippewa Nation. Strangely enough, they succumbed to the white man with little or no resistance. Although fierce in warfare with the Sioux, they were reluctant to fight against their unwelcome intruders from the East. Accepting the white man's ways, they retreated to the sanctuary of the reservation to become, in the main, fishermen. Today there are approximately 12,500 Indians living in Minnesota. Of this number, about 90 per cent are Chippewa, the remaining 10 per cent being mostly Sioux.

As was stated earlier, the Sioux hated the Chippewa with vengeance, and in the late summer of 1862 they began an up-rising along the western frontier. Although the attack was aimed mostly at the white settlements, the war was also directed against their old enemies, the Chippewa. At this time there is no record of anyone having settled in what is now Pelican Rapids. It is of interest, though, because the Sioux besieged Fort Abercrombie, just forty miles to the west of Pelican Rapids. The siege lasted for almost two months and the land between the fort and St. Cloud, Minnesota, was a virtual no-man's land. Hundreds of white settlers were driven from their homes, many of them never to return again. It would be folly to surmise what would have happened had not the Sioux taken up arms when they did. Cer­tainly they slowed the advance of the white man, for it was months before complete peace was restored to the area. Settlers were wary to enter upon grounds that such a short time before had heard the war whoop and tasted the blood of whites, and red men alike. It was inevitable however, that soon the first white man would stop at the place where the river tumbled over the rocks. The river had a name, taken from the great white birds that nested there.  All that was needed was a settlement…