During the summer of 2017 a committee in charge of the archives at the Hinckley Fire Museum decided to go over all the files of documents and photos collected at the museum since it opened. Colleen Volden chaired the committee. I was aware that the local Ojibwe tribe was planning to have a book written about their history. I volunteered to set aside all the documents and photos about the Ojibwe in order to share with them. I should also explain that there have been several names for the natives in our area that have been used over the years. They are often identified as Chippewa and later as Ojibwe. They refer to themselves as Anishinaabeg. I am using the Ojibwe identification.

My interest in the Ojibwe culture has evolved over the years. At the museum one of the often asked questions is “What happened to the Ojibwe during the fire?” I recall that when the museum opened we received information from Duane Dunkley that there is no exact information but that his father informed him that he knew of no deaths in the fire. In recent years I met David Matrious who was a local Ojibwe historian. We often traded information and I encouraged him to write down or record his records. During our year of record review, David died suddenly of a heart attack.

In this first article I would like to share local Ojibwe history located in our files and prepared by Lee Guptil and Carl H. Sommer. Lee worked at the Hinckley Post Office and loved local history. He  published a book on our early history that is still used often to verify information. Carl Sommer was from Rush City and he was also a local historian who wrote a book on the Government Road. My third local reference was a book titled “We Are at Home” by Bruce White. Mr. White’s book records photos and pictures as well as his interview with local Ojibwe families including the Towles and Dunkleys.

Early history

I would like to share a brief summary of the early history that brings us up to the time of the fire.

The Ojibwe burial services involve mounds. In 1966 the Stumne Mounds west of Pine City were opened under the direction of the Minnesota State Historical Society. This mound was ascertained to be about 1,200 years old, meaning that these people lived here since 800 A.D. The first European people began coming into this area in the early 1800s. The Northwest Fur Company established a trading post in 1805. Conner’s trading post came between 1816 to 1825. The next step in the area was taken by the missionaries.

Mission on Pokegama

In 1836, Reverend Ayers established a mission on Pokegama Lake. He worked on translating the Bible into the Ojibwe language. He also taught religion, home building and gardening. The mission closed in 1847.

The Sioux and the Ojibwe battled over this area. The Sioux had lived along the St. Croix and Kettle Rivers but were pushed to the west and south by the Ojibwe. The last of their battles took place at the Mission on Pokegama Lake. In an earlier raid by the Ojibwe on an encampment near Stillwater, two sons of Little Crow had been killed.

The Sioux planned their revenge raid carefully. They were to wait in hiding until the Ojibwe began working in their Mission gardens. Part of the raiding party was stationed on the west side of the lake to cut off any escape by canoe. A signal had been arranged for the beginning of the attack. A member of the raiding party prematurely fired his gun. When warned, the Ojibwe were able to remain in their homes and the Mission building, sheltering their defense. The Sioux were beaten and retreated, taking their dead with them. The Ojibwe had anticipated the attack and sent their families to an island in the lake.

The fear of more attacks led to the closure of the Mission. Families left until it was no longer worthwhile to keep the Mission open.

My second article will bring information about the Ojibwe location at the time of the fire. It will involve the locations in the St. Croix State Park and their connection to Ed St. John and Chief Songetay.

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