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BELTRAMI COUNTY

The surface of Beltrami County is sharply divided into two areas by the southern shore of glacial Lake Agassiz which passes through the county east and west, a few miles south of Lower Red Lake. North of this shoreline, in the area once occupied by the glacial lake, the surface is fairly even and level, without lakes and with few streams, but with frequent muskeg swamps of varying character, containing growths of tamarack, cedar, spruce, moss, and grass. The area south of the glacial shoreline is more elevated, much rougher, traversed by moraines, cut by streams and spangled with lakes. It was once covered with a heavy forest.

Today a Continental Divide marker is located twelve miles north of Bemidji in Beltrami County. The signboard indicates that from this point, at an elevation of 1,397 feet, lakes and streams flow north 3,200 miles to the Hudson Bay, and south 1,800 miles into the Gulf of Mexico.

Artificial earth mounds and primitive village sites along lakes and streams show that for a long period, this region was occupied by an aboriginal people. Several of the mounds, large in size, were scattered along a portage from Lake Irving to the Mississippi River. Camp sites have been found at the south end of Lake Bemidji and several mounds are within the limits of the city of Bemidji. There is evidence of an aboriginal portage from the north end of Lake Bemidji to Turtle River. Camp sites, mounds and stone dams from the outlet of Lake Bemidji to Tascodias Lake (now called Wolf Lake) show further evidence of an early people. A camp site at the mouth of the Turtle River is at a place where ancient man portaged north to Red Lake on south to Leech Lake. Village sites and mounds have also been found at Lake Andrusia and at Cass Lake.

About the middle of the eighteenth century, the Chippewa, pushing their way westward from the Lake Superior Region, drove the Sioux from their villages and hunting grounds in northern Minnesota. The Sioux made their last stand at Leech Lake, Finally, perhaps about 1748, they decided to abandon that lake also.

The Chippewa of the Mississippi ceded a large tract of this land to the United States in 1855. In 1863, the Red Lake and Pembina Bands of the Chippewa also ceded a large tract. Other treaties in 1864, 1867, and 1889 finally reduced the Red Lake Reservation to 663,452 acres. The reservation land outside this area was opened to settlement in 1896. The Red Lake Reservation was further reduced to its present size in 1902, approximately 1,250 square miles.

In 1873, the Red Lake Indian Agency was established with 17140 Indians on the Reservation. In 1939, there were 2,192 Indians enrolled at the Red Lake agency and in 1971, the number had grown to 3,100.

Fur traders established posts in the area of this county in the later part of the eighteenth century. Before 1784, James Grant occupied a post on the northeast shore of Upper Red Lake. About 1785, there seems to have been a post on the east side of Lake Bemidji. In 1832, a post was situated on the west bank, somewhat north of the entrance of the Mississippi River. French fur traders called Lake Bemidji "Lac Traverse", meaning "easy traveling", because of the sand bar across it. Jean Baptiste Cadotte spent the winter of 1794-95 on the eastern shore of Red Lake, where an early British post was located. The Northwest Company had a post somewhere on the east shore of Upper or Lower Red Lake about 1790. By 1826, the American Fur Company had established a post.

One of the earliest explorers of the region was David Thompson, a surveyor and astronomer. In 1797, he set out on a tour of the Northwest Company's posts, traveling from Winnipeg to the site of Thief River Falls, then down the Clearwater and Red Lake Rivers to Red Lake, thence by Turtle Lake River to Cass Lake and down the Mississippi. William Morrison passed through the area at various times from 1802 to 1812 and visited Lac La Biche (Elk Lake), now Itasca, in 1804. Cass Lake was the terminus of Zebulon Pike's journey in 1806. In 1820, Lewis Cass reached the same lake which he, like Pike, thought was the source of the Mississippi River. Cass crossed the lake to the entrance of Turtle River.

Giacomo Constantino Beltrami, an Italian explorer, passed through this country in 1823. At Fort Snelling, he had joined a military expedition and traveled up the Minnesota River and down the Red River. Leaving his companions at Pembina, he struck through the wilderness to the southeast accompanied by a half-breed interpreter and two Chippewa Indians. From the confluence of the Thief River and Red Lake River he reached Red Lake by way of the latter stream.

Proceeding southeast from there, he passed through Mud (Puposky) Lake and them reached Lake Julia, which he named and which he thought was the source of the Mississippi River. From Lake Julia, Beltrami reached Cass Lake by way of Turtle Lake and River, and them proceeded down the Mississippi River to Fort Snelling.

In 1832, Henry R. Schoolcraft, who had been with Cass in 1820, was sent to the region to bring peace between the Sioux and Chippewa. At Cass Lake, Chief Ozawindib (Yellowhead) offered to guide him to the headwaters of the Mississippi, A party of sixteen persons and five canoes left Cass Lake and came to a body of water which Schoolcraft named Lake Andrusia. They came next to Wolf (Pamitascodia) Lake and them to Lake Bemidji, called Pemidjigamaug by the Indians, but named Queen Ann's Lake by Schoolcraft. The expedition crossed Lake Bemidji and Lake Irving and ascended a fork of the Mississippi, now known as Schoolcraft or Yellowhead River. Two lakes, Marquette and LaSalle, were reached before coming to Kubba-Kunna, which Schoolcraft called Lake Plantagenet. A portage of six miles from the head of the Yellowhead brought the party to Lake Omushkos, the Chippewa name of Elk. Schoolcraft called it Itasca. Four years later, in 1836, Joseph N. Nicollet examined the sources of the Mississippi.

A mission station and school were opened at Red Lake in 1843 under the auspices of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions. Sponsorship was soon transferred to the American Missionary Association, a Congregational organization. In 1858, a Catholic mission, now known as St. Mary's, was established at Red Lake.

Permanent settlement did not begin in what is now Beltrami County until late in the 1880's and early 1890's. M. E. and G. E. Carson came to Lake Bemidji in the spring of 1888, and Freeman Doud and Thomas Joy in 1890. Others moved in about 1893. About thirty families, mostly Scandinavians, settled in the eastern part of Bemidji Township. Other families settled around Lake Bemidji and along the Mississippi River. From this nucleus the settlers spread northward.

Beltrami County was created by an act of the Legislature on February 28, 1866. It included, in general, the southern two-thirds of the present county of Beltrami and part of the present county of Clearwater.

Territory north of this area to the Canadian border was added in 1879. Government survey lines moved the boundary south from the Mississippi River in 1889. In 1896, a number of townships were taken from the northern part of Beltrami County and added to Roseau County. The next change was in 1902, when thirty townships were taken out of Beltrami to form the new county of Clearwater. And, in 1921, the northern part of the county was established as Lake of the Woods County.

Beltrami County was attached to Becker for record and judicial purposes for many years. It existed in a semi-organized state until May 17, 1897, when the first full list of county officers was appointed. On July 10, 1900, five commissioner districts were created and five commissioners took their seats on January 8, 1901.

In 1897, the board of county commissioners located the county seat at Bemidji. Beltrami County has a land area of 1,608,518.71 acres or, 3,055 square miles. There are more than 150 lakes of twenty acres or larger, and Upper and Lower Red Lakes are the largest inland bodies of water wholly within any one state ( 440 square miles).

 
 
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