History of Lac Courte Oreilles
The Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe is one of six bands of the Lake Superior Band of Chippewa Indians who entered into treaties with the United States in 1837, 1842, and 1854. The Chippewa of this area have a long and rich heritage. It is thought that they migrated to the Lake Superior region from Canada along the St. Lawrence waterway.
The Chippewa have been known by many names, and to this day, Canadians refer to them as “Ojibwa.” The word “Chippewa” is considered a corruption of speech. The origin of these two names is said to refer to a “manner of speech,” a style of moccasin, or to a cooking method, and means “pucker.” Some Chippewa prefer to call themselves “Anishenabe” mean “original or first man,” although this term is not widely used. “Chippewa” gained general acceptance in the United States after its use on the treaties of the 19th century.
The Chippewa are members of the Algonquin linguistic family which also includes the Ottawa, Potawatomi, Fox, Cree, Menominee, and many other well known tribes.
Historians have divided the Chippewa story into periods in which they came into contact with the white culture, namely the period before European settlement, the French, the English, and finally the United States terms. Little is known of the Chippewa history prior to white contact due to an absence of written records covering that era, however, the tribe has an oral tradition in which information has been kept and passed down generation to generation through stories. The tribe, like many others, has a creation story and an account of their journey from eastern Canada to the Great Lakes Region.
There are a number of mounds on the south shore of Lac Courte Oreilles Lakes and other areas nearby which provides evidence that the area was the home of Mound Builders which may have extended as far back as 500 B.C.
During the migration of the Chippewa from Canada, they paused at Sault Ste. Marie, momentarily, and then split into two groups, one going into Canada along the north shore of Lake Superior, and the other moving westward along the south shore into Wisconsin and Minnesota. In 1636, Gabriel Sagard published Histoie du Canada with a report of the Chippewa Indians of the Sault Ste. Marie area. Etienne Brule has earlier reached Sault Ste. Marie in 1622 and identified the Indians there as “Algonkin” because their language was similar to that of the Ottawa Alongonquian tribes of eastern Canada.
The arrival of French fur traders to the area provided the Chippewa with a market for their hunting skills, and in exchange, the Chippewa received guns, knives, cloth, liquor, and other manufactured goods. The acquistion of these products changed their lives and disturbed the nomadic nature of their patterns of existence. The French fur traders were readily accepted by the Chippewa because of the way they embraced the Chippewa culture. They learned the language and married Chippewa women.
During 1661-62, the French fur traders Raddison and Groseilliers journeyed four days from Madeline Island to a Huron Indian village, believed to be near the present village of Reserve on the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation. The French received permission to use the Indian lands for passage.
During the early 1700s, the Chippewa of the Madeline Island area began applying pressure on the Sioux Indians who lived in the region. Great battles between the Chippewa and Sioux were waged throughout northern Wisconsin and some of the battle sites are marked today for tourists. In 1745 a group of Ojibwe hunters braved the attacks of the Sioux by building their wigwams on the shore of Little Lac Courte Oreilles Lakes. During the winter, a child of the band died and was buried in the woods nearby. Legend has it that the parents were so bereaved they would not leave and defied the dangers of their enemies. Other Ojibwe followed and settled in such large numbers that the Sioux were driven out of the area.
In 1800, Michael Cadotte built the first permanent trading post for the British Northwest Fur Trading Company, and John Baptist Corbin, a 22-year-old French Canadian, became the first clerk of that post and the first white settler in the Lac Courte Oreilles area. Corbin married into the Lac Courte Oreilles band and raised many children. Many of his offspring still inhabit the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation. He died in 1877 at the age of 99 and is buried in the Catholic Cemetary at Reserve.
In the years 1807 and 1842, the entire state of Michigan was ceded to the U.S. Government by various Indian tribes and a policy of Indian removal was instituted against the Chippewa. With the depletion of the fur trade the Chippewa bands faced famine, since they had grown so dependent upon the manufactured goods of the traders. The United States provided the Chippewa bands with provisions and annuities in exchange for land cessations granted under the treaties of 1837 and 1842. The Lac Courte Oreilles band, along with others were targeted for removal.
During the winter of 1850-51, a deceptive scheme was orchestrated against the Wisconsin Chippewa to dislodge them from the homelands and remove them to the west. First, the LaPointe Agency was closed and its functions moved to Sandy Lake at Fond du Lac. Then the Wisconsin Chippewa were refused their annuities, except at the distant location. The adult males were required to bring with them their families. Once the Indian families arrived, the rations and goods were purposefully delayed until the winter had set in and the Indians had not received the opportunity to prepare for the seaon. Hundreds perished at Sandy Lake and the outcry from that travesty resulted in a change of course from the removal policy toward the Chippewa band.
The Treaty if 1854 was designed to assimilate the Chippewa Indians into the mainstream of American life as small-scale farmers, an aim that Indian Affairs Commissioner Manypenny had idealized previously with tribes in Oklahoma.
Terms of the treaty were never fully provided for by the U.S. Government and pressure was employed upon the Lac Courte Oreilles band to consolidate into one reservation at Bad River. In 1872, the Chiefs of the tribe accompanied a team of surveyors and laid the external boundaries of the reservation. The reservation had been trepassed by “pine thieves” so often during this period that the tribe complained loudly to Indian agents.
The federal government quickly provided a mechanism for the lumber interests to invade the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation, which was considered the wealthiest site for virgin timber anywhere in the north. During the period of 1884-88, the majority of virgin timber on the reservation was removed, and the tribe, through its individual allottees, had received 7-1000ths of one percent per board foot, which, according to historian James Clifton, “must have been one of the best timber bargains of the century.” By 1890, nearly all of the prime timber had been cut, while the logging of the hardwood had been delayed until 1904.
No matter the amount of pressure applied to the tribe to change to agricultural economics, the Lac Courte Oreilles bands continued to exercise their traditional economic skills of nomadic hunting, roaming, and seasonal collection of wild harvests of rice, berries and fishing.
As the tribe approached the 20th century, they were experienced survivors of a harsh policy of colonial intrusion.