Allotment laws led to carved-up reservations


February 10, 2023

The Camp 8 section of preserved red pines, from the 1920s, at the Cloquet Forestry Center.

It's complicated. That's the phrase that often comes to mind when delving into exactly how acres within the Fond du Lac reservation came under non-Native control, paving the way for today's Cloquet Forestry Center.

It is also quite simple. A series of laws passed in the late 1800s kick-started a land rush on reservation lands across the country. They allowed "allotments" for Native residents with promises of eventual ownership of land within reservations. It was an attempt to assimilate Native peoples into a white settler world. It left many plots open on reservations, easy pickings for mining and timber companies and homesteaders. That is likely how the St. Louis River Mercantile Company, one of many Cloquet-area lumber interests held by Frederick Weyerhaeuser, came to own the bulk of land that makes up today's forestry center.

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We scoured for more explanation of the machinations that led to Weyerhaeuser donating the land to the University of Minnesota in 1908 for an experimental station that began operation in 1909. What we found further clarifies just how this patch of land within the reservation came under university hands for the past 115 years.

- Mike Creger, Pine Knot News

From Cloquet Forestry Center files

The initial block of 2,215 acres was paid for by the St. Louis River Mercantile Co. with the understanding that while the title to the land would go to the University of Minnesota, the timber rights would be retained by the company. The St. Louis River Mercantile cut most of the red and white pine on the tract in 1910, under the supervision of the federal Indian Service.

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The Northern Lumber Company owned the timber rights on several smaller tracts of land deeded to the University of Minnesota, and at the request of the university, agreed to leave several areas uncut. The uncut wood amounted to 109,310 board-feet of white pine, and 1,188,110 board-feet of red pine. The lumber companies were reimbursed by the university for the price that was paid to the reservation for that timber. An additional 447 acres were purchased from Indian allotments, made possible, in part, through the Dawes Act (1887) and Nelson Act (1889), and paid for with funding granted by the state legislature.

B&B Market, Catering and Quality Meats, On top of big lake hill in Cloquet.

The purchase of several more small homestead tracts over the years, and the acquisition of several gifts of land, have increased the center to its current size of 3,391 contiguous acres and 3,471 acres total in Carlton County. The Cloquet Forestry Center, the Hubachek Wilderness Research Center (Lake County), the Allred Trust (St. Louis County), and the Boone Trust (St. Louis County) make up the unofficial University of Minnesota Experimental Forests network. These sites are used for natural resources education and research and are administered by the Cloquet Forestry Center's director of operations and forest manager.

From research by Clare Boerigter, a graduate student in the University of Minnesota's creative writing program

Samuel Green, the head of the University of Minnesota's forestry school, had been advocating for an experimental forest from as early as 1896. In 1908 he was finally able to convince the St. Louis River Mercantile Company to purchase and donate roughly 2,215 acres of land to the University - land that had once belonged to the Fond du Lac Band before the Dawes and Nelson acts. ...

... In 1911, Samuel Green asked the university to help him reserve certain stands by paying the timber companies the value of the stands' trees, thereby ensuring their protection. ... A young Camp 8 was selected to be one of these reserved stands, many of its red pines not even 100 years old at the time it was reserved.

From Fond du Lac Reservation files

Nagaajiwanaang, "Where the Water Stops," is the name of the homelands of the Fond du Lac Band at the time of the 1854 Treaty. We retained this name in Ojibwemowin for the present-day Fond du lac Reservation that was established under the 1854 La Pointe Treaty. Nagaajiwanaang (Fond du Lac Band) is one of the six bands of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. There are three districts that make up the Fond du Lac Reservation: Bapashkominitigong (Cloquet), Gwaaba'iganing (Sawyer), and Ashkibwaakaaning (Brookston). Today, the band includes more than 4,200 members. We have always been, and continue to be, a proud sovereign Ojibwe nation. We uphold all of our rights retained and agreed to within the 1825, 1826, 1837, 1842, 1847, and 1854 treaties.

From Andrew B. Stone, Minnesota Historical Society

Under the 1854 LaPointe Treaty, the Ojibwe agreed to sell their land only if they could live on reservations near their homes, and to hunt and fish throughout the land they ceded. They had reasons to insist on this point. In 1850 President Zachary Taylor had ordered all Ojibwe still living in Wisconsin and Michigan to be removed from their reservations and sent west. This order was later canceled. The same year, the government moved the site for treaty payments to Sandy Lake, far away from where many Ojibwe lived. Hundreds died waiting for their payments or traveling home during the harsh winter. The Ojibwe therefore requested that the 1854 Treaty promise they would not later be forced to leave their new reservations, and that treaty benefits would be paid close by.

The U.S. government sought to use treaties like the 1854 Treaty of La Pointe to change the lifestyle and culture of American Indians. It wanted them to learn English, convert to Christianity, and become individual farmers. The treaty therefore stated that the U.S. government would provide a blacksmith, farming equipment, and other supplies for each reservation, along with money to hire teachers.

Finally, the treaty promised to give the Ojibwe 20 years of payments in cash and supplies for their land, as well as an extra $90,000 for the Lake Superior bands to help pay their debts to traders.

The 1854 Treaty of La Pointe was signed by 85 Ojibwe leaders on Sept. 30. Congress ratified it on Jan. 10, 1855.

Ojibwe living on the new reservations often struggled in the years after the treaty. Timber companies cut down forests. Mining companies dug up the land, making it even harder to earn a living from hunting and trapping. Many were forced to go into deeper debt and to rely on the small treaty payments to survive.

From the Indian Land Tenure Foundation

There were several reasons that allotment proponents supported the policy. First, many of them considered the Indian way of life and collective use of land to be communistic and backwards. They also saw the individual ownership of private property as an essential part of civilization that would give Indian people a reason to stay in one place, cultivate land, disregard the cohesiveness of the tribe, and adopt the habits, practices and interests of the American settler population. Furthermore, many thought that Indian people had too much land and they were eager to see Indian lands opened up for settlement as well as for railroads, mining, forestry and other industries. ...

... Members of the selected tribe or reservation were either given permission to select pieces of land - usually around 40 to 160 acres in size - for themselves and their children, or the tracts were assigned by the agency superintendent. If the amount of reservation land exceeded the amount needed for allotment, the federal government could negotiate to purchase the land from the tribes and sell it to non-Indian settlers. As a result, 60 million acres were either ceded outright or sold to the government for non-Indian homesteaders and corporations as "surplus lands."


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