3. People of the Thick Fur Woods: Two Hundred Years
of Bois Forte Chippewa Occupation of the Voyageurs National Park
Jeffrey J. Richner
This report documents historical and archeological research regarding the historic use of the area now subsumed within Voyageurs National Park by members of the Bois Forte Band of Minnesota Chippewa Indians. It synthesizes historical and archeological data collected over a 16-year period by the author and Voyageurs National Park Cultural Resource Specialist Mary Graves. The period from 1736 through 1941 is the basic focus for research, with the period from 1880 to 1930 considered in greatest detail.
No specific project or funding source supported this study. Basic research was conducted as a component of parkwide archeological inventory, campsite management, prescribed fire management, day labor, cyclic maintenance, and other programs. Archeological fieldwork spanned 1979 through 2001 and ranged from multi-week, intensive field efforts by small archeological teams from the Midwest Archeological Center to brief, single-day reconnaissance efforts. Mary Graves, who shared all of her varied information sets with the author, gathered historical data over that same period. These range in scope from lengthy transcriptions of various payment rolls to single sentence citations in local newspapers. Most of the archeological fieldwork was conducted by Midwest Archeological Center teams under the author's direction between 1986 and 2001, although some data are derived from earlier Midwest Archeological Center field efforts.
The data sources utilized for the project are specified, and an overview of Bois Forte history as it relates to the project area is presented. This discussion begins with a general contextual presentation and moves to a more specific analysis of the Bois Forte occupation of the chain of lakes within the park. A basic theme of the presentation is that Bois Forte bands continued to occupy the lake chain that now forms the park for many years after they ceded the land to the U.S. Government through an 1866 treaty. The methods used by the Bois Forte to purchase or otherwise retain use of this land are primary report topics. The former structure, leadership, and membership of four bands that were resident within, or adjacent to, the current national park boundaries are reconstructed and analyzed from historical sources. Specific evidence of use of the area by these bands is then developed from historical and archeological data. This includes information from a wide array of historical sources and from about 40 archeological sites that have yielded historic features or artifacts attributable to Bois Forte Chippewa occupation. Based upon historical evidence, several of these sites are shown to be the result of occupation by specific, named individuals or families.
This historical and archeological analysis is presented according to specific areas of the park where evidence of Bois Forte occupation has been found. These are Crane Lake, Sand Point Lake, Moose Bay of Namakan Lake, the northern part of Kabetogama Lake, Kettle Falls, and Black Bay of Rainy Lake. Emphasis is placed upon providing historical background for use of these areas, followed by presentation of confirming archeological evidence. Off-reservation allotment lists, annuity and other payment rolls, oral histories, newspaper accounts, and census records are heavily utilized in this effort. Data from traditional archeological inventory and very limited test excavation efforts provide the tangible evidence for this occupation. The most in-depth presentation is made for Moose Bay, which has been a primary archeological study area over the past 20 years. While the discussions for all the areas are generally similar, the data for Moose Bay are more extensive and therefore conducive to more detailed analysis.
The report concludes with a series of suggestions for future research and management of the Bois Forte-related archeological sites within the park and for future study of the associated historical record. The report is intended for an audience that includes park managers, interpreters, historians, ethnographers, archeologists, and the Anishnabeg descendants of the subjects of the study.
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