Dead Lake during 1860's

Reprinted from the Dead Lake Newsletter

DEAD LAKE HISTORY by Ernie West

    I don’t know if any of you have ever noticed, but on many large maps of the United States, if you look close, Dead Lakes is on it.  I recently got back from a trip over to North Dakota.  We visited a number of historical sites, and at one there was an ancient map dated 1860 that covered both of the Dakotas and Minnesota.  It was a rather sparse map but Dead Lake was on it.  I know it’s a small thing, but Dead Lake was important enough to put it on the map 149 years ago.

    Now back to some more local history.  The further back in time you go, the more likely you’ll find that the Sioux or Chippewa Indians were part of the story.  It’s difficult to tell which ones were the ornery ones at any exact time.  By the way, there was a third group that was quite ornery part of the time too (white settlers).  There were two fairly developed white settlements back in the 1860’s and 1870’s:  The Alexandria area and the Pelican Rapids area.  In between these two it was very unsettled, and those settlers knew they were pretty much on their own.  One such settlement actually built a small fort just east of where Underwood is now.  They had an alarm system set up and a plan for everyone to flee to the fort if danger approached.  I don’t know if it ever came down to a fight, but if not it was probably due to the fact that the Indians knew these settlers were prepared.  More information can be found at The Ottertail County Historical Society in Fergus Falls.

    Much closer to home; one of our local persons, Tim Sullivan, who has quite a bit of knowledge regarding Indian history along with archeological experience both here on Dead Lake and over in the Dakotas, has proven again that the Indians did trade wares over quite an extended area.  He has found on the shores of Dead Lake a type of flint that only could have come from the Knife River area in North Dakota over 300 miles from here.  Before the white man came the Indian nations used their local products as trade (money) for items that other tribes had.  Sometimes this trading leap-frogged from tribe to tribe over considerable distances.

    In the last Dead Lake Newsletter, I’d mentioned the fact that there were some more or less unmarked cemeteries in the area.  One of these is an Indian burial area on what I prefer to call “Oak Knoll”.  That’s the part of our lake that some people tried to call “Blue Heron Bay”.  In the recent past there seemed to be little concern for this Indian cemetery by the Indian community, the government, or the developers.  I’m one of only four or five people who know where this cemetery is at.  Maybe I’m reading too much between the lines, but I get the feeling that all of us want to keep it that way.  Being that we’re all getting a little long in the tooth, it won’t be to long and this secret will be lost in time.  Better yet, Oak Knoll has more and more of a chance to be a state park now with no development.  Let’s hope so!                                                         

Ernie West