Bemidji, The First
City on the Mississippi, Minnesota USA
|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. The signboard indicates that from this
point, at an elevation of 1,397 feet, lakes and streams flow north 1,900
miles to the
Hudson Bay, and south 3,200 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 or 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 17,140 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 on the Clearwater and Red
Lake Rivers to Red Lake, thence by Turtle Lake River and other rivers to Cass Lake and
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
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 then proceeded down the Mississippi River to Fort Snelling.
|n 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 Bemidjigamaug 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 explored 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).