Map of tribe borders 1825

Map shows the boundaries between the Sioux, Chippewa, Winnebago, Menominee, Ioway, and the Chippewa-Ottawa-Potawatomi as per 1825 Treaty of Prairie du Chien. Due to uncertainty of Menominee and Ioway boundaries, the parties agreed to adjustments to the 1825-established Prairie du Chien Line once the Menominee and Ioway had determined their boundaries. The adjustment lines are shown as dashed boundaries.

Long before white settlers ever stepped foot in the region to become McLeod County, the area was inhabited by Native Americans. During a long stretch of history, prior to the 19th century, the area was within the realm of both the Cheyenne and Iowa nations. Then in the late 18th century, a new people entered the landscape. They were the Dakota — the eastern population of the great Sioux nation that extended west into the Dakotas. They came from the Mille Lacs region, driven south by their Ojibwa enemy, and looked to create a new homeland.

The Dakota and Ojibwa had been fierce enemies for as long as time could remember. They were two powerful nations that vied for control of the vast northern forests. For much of their history, the two jockeyed for power in the region, but by the mid-18th century, due to a trade relationship with the British in Canada, the Ojibwa gained the upper hand through the aid of British firearms. This forced the Dakota to flee their ancestral lands into lower Minnesota, where the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers converged. As a result, the powerful Dakota drove the Cheyenne and Iowa out of their own ancestral homelands and became the new owners of Minnesota’s prairie regions.

Though the Dakota frequently visited the region that would become McLeod County, and often made temporary campsites, the closest Dakota settlements were the villages of Chaska and Shakopee, 30 miles east of present-day Glencoe. Shakopee’s band was the most frequent visitor to the region, coming often to hunt both before and after white settlers. The band was part of the Mdewakanton Dakota, one of the largest and most prominent bands of the Dakota.

One hundred miles north of the region, the Ojibwa found themselves settling into the ancestral lands of the Dakota at Mille Lacs. Though their closest village was 100 miles north of the McLeod region, they still occasionally passed through, either going to or returning from hostile expeditions against their enemies, who in turn would travel north for those same reasons.

Quarrels between the two tribes were frequent and hostile enough that it gained the attention of the United States government. In 1825 the two tribes entered into an agreement brokered by the federal government that established a paper border between them. The agreement was known thereafter as the Treaty of Prairie du Chien. The border began at the Red River and extended southeast to the Mississippi along the Minnesota/Wisconsin border. North of the line was Ojibwa country and south was Dakota. Though a border was officially set, it meant little to the two tribes who continued to make war on one another.

In 1846, a battle took place near present day Bergen Township in McLeod County. Sleepy Eye, a Dakota leader, had his village at Swan Lake in what is now Nicollet County. A war party of Ojibwa were heading south with the intent to attack the village, but Sleepy Eye’s men learned of the foray well before the Ojibwa could surprise them. Dakota warriors assembled a war party and headed north to meet the Ojibwa and ambush them.

The Ojibwa were surprised and driven back by the Dakota. Ojibwa warriors fled north toward what is now Lester Prairie. Upon crossing the Crow River, it was said that the Ojibwa unloaded one of their dead to keep the Dakota from scalping it. It was also said that two Ojibwa warriors were left behind and buried on the south bank of the Crow at a place that the early white settlers referred to as "the old Indian grave.”

Skirmishes between the Dakota and Ojibwa carried on for several more years, even after the Dakota sold the bulk of their land to the United States in 1851. Accounts from white settlers often remarked on seeing war parties of both tribes either heading north or south, and some accounts speak of dreadful events taking place in the region. The fighting ceased, however, in 1862 when a large faction of Dakota took to raiding white settlements and killing white settlers — an act that ended with the expulsion of the Dakota from Minnesota. It marked the end to the long history of the Dakota in Minnesota, as well as the war between them and the Ojibwa that engulfed much of Minnesota’s early history.

Brian Haines is executive director of the McLeod County Historical Society and Museum, 380 School Road N.W., Hutchinson. The museum is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 1-4 p.m. Saturday and by appointment. Admission is free. For more information, call the museum at 320-587-2109.