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March 15th Marks 100 Years Since Winter Dam Gates Closed and the Flood Waters Began

Updated: Mar 11, 2023

Dinner at Sevenwinds will commemorate the historic date

Editor's Note: Rick St. Germaine, an LCO tribal historian, posted the following article on the Lac Courte Oreilles Today Facebook Group Page and is reprinted here. Rick wrote this article to help tribal members understand the reason for a dinner being held on March 15th at 5 pm in the Sevenwinds Convention Center, which is to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the closing of the gates of the newly constructed Winter Dam in 1923.

By Rick St. Germaine

Former LCO Tribal Leader

Please attend this important historic event. We will have a brief program to remind our tribal members about this sad chapter in our history.

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The 1923 destruction of Pahquahwong settlement on the LCO Reservation was a political conspiracy engineered by American capitalists and land speculators in their quest for Indian resources. The BIA, a federal agency responsible for tribal resource protection, had for four decades (1874 – 1913) facilitated the colossal sale of Indian reservation lands to lumber companies at minimal prices. Their objective was to extinguish the reservation, then relocate the Indians west to White Earth. The 19th Century logging boom in northern Wisconsin fed millions of pine logs down the Couderay and Chippewa Rivers. In 1887 logging companies operated 150 dams along the upper Chippewa River to regulate log jams and spring flooding. There was even a small dam just above the village of Old Post that created Pokegama Lake.

A 1908 geological report identified the Pahquahwong site as ideal for a dam to control Spring water run-off and power generation for down-river towns and cities. A conglomerate of area land speculators began purchasing both county lands and tribal allotted lands in and around the Chippewa River. Their lust for tribal lands was facilitated and hastened by the BIA. In 1914, the Wisconsin Minnesota Light & Power Company (WMLPC) purchased the rights to build a dam and flood the Reservation. The BIA worked in tandem with WMLPC and state officials to facilitate the sale of Indian lands and hurry along the building of a dam to flood the Reservation.

WMLPC encouraged the Wisconsin legislature to dissolve the tribal township of Reserve and divide it (gerrymander) among five other Sawyer County townships. The Sawyer County townships then voted to support the dam. Government and corporate agencies worked together to deprive the defenseless LCO Tribe of political power in this time of crisis. This destruction of reservation lands was a blatant violation of the Chippewa Treaty of 1854.

In 1916, WMLPC officials met with tribal members in Reserve to discuss their plans for creating the 14,593 acre flowage. Tribal members opposed the flooding of Old Post and their relocation to a new village. Later that year another meeting was held in Reserve with the BIA and WMLPC representatives specifying how the Tribe would be compensated with new homes and graves relocation. Again, tribal members voted “no” to the dam. More meetings in 1919 resulted in the same negative response from Old Post residents.

WMPLC then flexed its muscles. They lobbied Congressman John Esch (R – Wis 7th) of La Crosse, who introduced legislation on their behalf. With support from the BIA and Sawyer County, their efforts led to passage of the Federal Water Power Act of 1920, which authorized the construction of dams on public lands and Indian reservations. A year later, the Federal Power Commission issued a 50 year license to WMLPC to build and operate a dam near Winter, Wisconsin.

Construction of the dam was started early in 1922, ignoring the promises made in Article 11 of the Treaty of 1854 to “never disturb the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation lands.” Construction was completed on March 15, 1923 and the gates were closed, raising the water in the river until a lake began to form. LCO Indians began to leave their homes and locate in other places around the reservation. Some went to places where the BIA had assigned them allotment sites. Others relocated to New Post. In mid-July of 1923 the water began to rise into the village of Pahquahwong. Most people had moved away but a few remained in the homes unbelieving that this was happening to them.


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