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Pokegama Lake and the Battle of Pokegama

Privacy Level: Public (Green)
Date: 1816 to 1847
Location: Pine County, Minnesotamap
Surnames/tags: Laprairie La Prairie Pokegama
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The Duchene/Laprairie family lived many years near the Presbyterian mission at Pokegama Lake in what is now Pine County, Minnesota. Here are excerpts which shine some light on the family's experiences.

Fifty years in the Northwest

From Folsom's Fifty years in the Northwest:[1]


This beautiful lake lies in township 39, range 22. It is about five miles in length by one in breadth and finds an outlet in Kanabee river. It is celebrated for its historical associations. Thomas Conner, an old trader, informed the writer of these sketches in 1847, that he had had a trading post on the banks of this lake thirty years before, or about the year 1816. This was before Fort Snelling was built. Mr. Conner said that there was

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a French trading post at Pokegama long before he went there. It was in the spring of 1847, after a wearisome day's tramp, that I made his acquaintance and shared his unstinted hospitality. His post, at that time, was located at the mouth of Goose creek, Chicago county, on the banks of the St. Croix. His rude, portable house was built of bark, subdivided with mats and skins into different apartments. Although at an advanced period in life, his mind was clear and he conversed with a degree of intelligence which caused me to ask him why he lived thus secluded, away from all the privileges of a civilized life. His reasons, some of them, were forcible; he liked the quiet of the wilderness, away from the turmoils of the envious white race. I learned from him many interesting facts connected with travelers, traders and explorers of our St. Croix valley. This was the last season he spent on the river.
In 1847, when I visited Pokegama, Jeremiah Russell, an Indian farmer, had a very pretty farm on a point of land on the southwest side of the lake, and between the lake and the river. A Frenchman, Jarvis, lived a short distance from Russell. Across the lake from Russell's were the neat and tasteful log buildings and gardens of the Presbyterian mission. The mission was established in the spring of 1836, by Rev. Frederic Ayer and his associates, under the auspicies of the American Board of Foreign Missions. Mr. Ayer had been laboring at Yellow Lake mission, but, owing to the growing unfriendliness of the Indians, had been removed to Pokegama. Much pertaining to the mission work, both at Pokegama and elsewhere, will be found in the biographies of the principal missionaries. We mention here only such incidents as may be of more general interest. For many of these incidents we are indebted to Mrs. Elisabeth J. Ayer, of Belle Prairie, the widow of Rev. Frederick Ayer, for a long time missionary to the Ojibways. This estimable lady has passed her eighty-fifth year, but her mind is still clear and her hand steady, her manuscript having the appearance of the work of a precise young schoolmistress. She mentions old Canadian, who had been in the country sixty years, and for seven or eight years had been entirely blind. He was known as Mush-de-winini (The-old-blind-prairie-man), also the old trader, Thomas Conner, the remains of whose mud chimney and foundation of the old trading house may still be seen on the southern shore of the lake.

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Franklin Steele was the first white man to visit the mission. In the spring of 1837 the mission aided three or four families in building. February, 1837, Rev. Mr. Hall, of the La Pointe mission, visited Pokegama, and organized a church of seven members,--three of whom were natives,--administered the ordinance of baptism to eight persons, and solemnized two marriages, probably the first in the valley of the St. Croix. Revs. Boutwell and Ely came to the mission in 1837. A school had been opened, some Indian houses built, and gardens enlarged, and the future of the mission seemed assured. Mrs. Ayer relates the following account of the
In 1841 the Sioux selected this settlement as the place to avenge the wrongs of the Ojibways--some of recent date; the principal of which was the Killing of two sons of Little Crow (done in self defense) between Pokegama and the falls of the St. Croix. The Sioux arrived at Pokegama in the night, and stopped on the opposite side of the lake, two miles from the mission. The main body went to the main settlement, and after examining the ground where they intended to operate, hid among the trees and brush back of the Indian gardens, with orders that all keep quiet on both sides of the lake till a given signal, when the Indians were busy in their gardens, and then make quick work. But their plans failed. Most of the Ojibways of the settlement had, from fear of the Sioux, slept on an island half a mile out in the lake (I mean the women and children), and were late to their gardens. In the meantime a loaded canoe was nearing the opposite shore and the few Sioux who had remained there to dispatch any who, in time of battle, might attempt to escape by crossing over, fired prematurely. This gave the alarm, and saved the Ojibways. The chief ran to Mr. Ayer's door and said, expressively: "The Sioux are upon us," and was off. The Indians seemed at once to understand that the main body of the enemy was at hand. The missionaries stepped out of the door and had just time to see a great splashing of water across the lake when bullets came whizzing about their ears, and they went in. The Sioux had left their hiding place and the battle commenced in earnest. Most of the women and children of the settlement were yet on the island. The house of the chief was well barricaded

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and most of the men gathered in there. The remainder took refuge in a house more exposed, at the other end of the village. The enemy drew up very near and fired in at the window. One gun was made useless, being indented by a ball. The owner retired to a corner and spent the time in prayer. The mother of the house, with her small children, was on her way to the island under a shower of bullets, calling aloud on God for help.
The missionaries seeing from their windows quantities of bloody flesh upon stumps in the battle field, thought surely that several of their friends had fallen. It proved to be a cow and calf of an Ojibway. The mission children were much frightened and asked many questions, and for apparent safety went up stairs and were put behind some well filled barrels. In the heat of battle two Ojibways came from the island and landed in front of Mr. Ayer's house. They drew their canoe ashore and secreted themselves as well as the surroundings would permit. Not long after three Sioux ran down the hill and toward the canoe. They wore fired upon and one fell dead. The other two ran for help but before they could return the Ojibways were on the way back to the island. Not having time to take the scalp of their enemy, they hastily cut the powder horn strap from his breast, dripping with blood, as a trophy of victory. The Sioux drew the dead body up the hill and back to the place of fighting. The noise ceased. The battle was over. The missionaries soon heard the joyful words, quietly spoken: "We still live." Not a warrior had fallen. The two school girls who were in the canoe at the first firing in the morning were the only ones killed, though half the men and boys in the fight were wounded. The Sioux women and boys who had come with their warriors to carry away the spoils had the chagrin of returning as empty as they came.
The Ojibways were careful that no canoe should be left within reach of the Sioux. From necessity they took a canoe, made by Mr. Ely, and removed their dead two miles up the river, dressed them (seemingly) in the best the party could furnish, with each a double barreled gun, a tomahawk and scalping knife, set them up against some large trees and went on their way. Some of these articles, including their head-dresses, were sent to the museum of the American board, in Boston.

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In the closing scene the missionaries had the opportunity of seeing the difference between those Indians who had listened to instruction and those who had not. The second day after the battle the pagan party brought back to the island the dead bodies of their enemies, cut in pieces, and distributed parts to such Ojibways as had at any time lost friends by the hands of the Sioux. One woman, whose daughter was killed and mutilated on that memorable morning, when she saw the canoes coming, with a head raised high in the air on a long pole, waded out into the water, grabbed it like a hungry dog and dashed it repeatedly on the stones with savage fierceness. Others of the pagans conducted themselves in a similar manner. They even cooked some of the flesh that night in their kettles of rice. Eunice (as she was named at her baptism) was offered an arm. At first she hesitated; but for reasons, sufficient in her own mind, thought best to take it. Her daughter-in-law, widow of her son who had recently been killed and chopped into pieces by the Sioux, took another, and they went into their lodge. Eunice said: "My daughter, we must not do as some of our friends are doing. We have been taught better," and taking some white cloths from her sack they wrapped the arms in them, offered a prayer, and gave them a decent burial.

The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely 1833-1849

From The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely 1833-1849:[2]

Note: The journals document that Sekasige, aka the Sun beam, and Simon are brothers, sons of Baiejik; also Louis, Baptiste, and Julius are brothers, sons of Joseph Laprairie (368-9).

p. 350

Monday, 10 oclk A.M. May 24. While I now write, the noise of the battle rages without. Our settlement is attacked by a large party of Sioux.32 Nearly two hours since the terrible scene commenced. The attack first commenced on the other shore of the sand point.
32The Sioux were retaliating for the recent deaths of Kai-bo-kah and his son near Fort Snelling and for two sons of Big Thunder at St. Croix Falls. Pond, "Indian Warfare in Minnesota," 133-34.

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Three young men started for Mille Lake this morning to carry the news of Julius & Uezhema's being killed at the Falls of St. Croix, and when near were fired upon by the Sioux.33 We saw a great splashing in the water, as though they were chasing, without doubt those in the canoe were all killed. Joseph & Baptists family sprang to their canoes. The Sioux fired upon them but none killed. Two little girls that took those young men to the sand point were killed & scalped & beheaded. The Sioux fired about 2 hours upon Josep[h]s and Baiejik's houses, but none killed. Joseph is wounded in his arm. Baiejiks son, the Sun beam, in the head & Simon on the collarbone. There was about 111 Sioux and 6 or seven women, and a few boys came for the plunder. They undoubtedly thought to cut off all the Chipeways at this place.
The Sioux came in on The Knife Lake Road which terminates in the bay S. of the sand point on the W. shore.
33.On May 11, Julius and Uezhema, sent on an errand to St. Croix Falls, had come upon the two sons of the Kaposia chief and killed them. The Sioux then returned and killed Julius, but Uezhema was unhurt. Pond, "Indian Warfare in Minnesota," 134; Ayer to Grenne, August 1841. Papers of the ABCFM, ABC 18:3:7. (Reel 766).

p. 352

Some twenty or more continued up the W. shore, the larger party turning S. around the S. end. The women, boys, elder men & some others remaining in Mr R's field, witnessing the attack.
Yesterday P.M. there was a smart shower, & the weather heavy & damp. They must have arrived in sight of the lake during the P.M., discovered the position of our neighbors & concerted their plans. The appearance of the canoe placed the party on the opposite shore under the necessity of firing upon them or being discovered, but they probably supposed their fellows ready for the attack upon our settlement. The attack commenced between 8 & 9. I was in Br. Ayers house, when John (Maiians) came running to the door with his gun in hand crying out "Ninisigonan Buanun" "We are killed by the Sioux." I had not before noticed the firing on the opposite shore. We could distinctly see the splashing of water caused by the escaping of the young men & the Sioux killing the children. We however had not, a thought that one of them could escape, from the number of Sioux as they stood in a line on the sand beach. Within two or three minutes a volley was fired at or near Joseph's (S. of us). I started towards my house, & saw Joseph's &

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Baptistes families, & Gakinuakazi & Sophia - all the women & children in that quarter in two canoes a few rods from the shore, paddling for the island, crying. The shots were fired at the canoes, but without effect. Within a minute or two more, the houses of Baiejik & Buanes were attacked above us.34 A heavy fire was kept up - in fact the strength of the party was here. These two houses had fortifications around the doors. Baiejik's especially was well fortified. The party attacking Buanens took position behind the body of Shagobe's house, directly beyond, & thus cutting off retreat in that quarter. There were several canoes on the shore, & as if anticipating that the women & children would retreat to the island, a party was stationed under the hill. Perhaps I am mistaken concerning this party since they may have been those back of Shagobe's, although I should doubt it. As soon as the canoe on the sand point was fired upon, the air rung with wail from the island, and as soon as it was perceived that the enemy was on this side, the fathers of the two children (killed) Ishkibugikozh (father of Jane) and Nigibuan (father of the elder girl & one of the young men who escaped) came over to defend the canoes on our shore, lest the Sioux should take them & attempt to come to the island. They were probably observed by the Sioux. it was soon that we heard firing under the hill (on the shore). Ishkibugikozh shot one through the breast. it became necessary for them to retreat, but having no paddles at hand, the former sprang into a canoe & paddled with one hand, lying down, while the latter swam & towed it. An incessant fire was kept up upon them. I stood in my door watching with intense interest to result of every discharge - the balls glancing on the water, and (sight being quicker than the ball) they dodging their heads. it seemed to me that they moved at a snail's pace, impatient as I was to see them out of danger. When they were about two thirds across, a canoe came off from the island & helped them out of danger.
Jonh's family had gone to the islands the night before. He himself therefore fled into Baiejik's house. There were then 5 to defend the house - John, Baiejik, Asinibuan, Sekasige & Simon. The firing ceased for a few moments, & Simon & Sekasige incautiously ventured out around
34There were at this time besides the missionaries' houses, at least five Indian houses all built since Ayer moved there in 1836. Baiejik, Buanens, Shagobe, and probably Maiingans each had a house, as did the mixed-blood Joseph La Prairie.


the corner of the house seeking for a lurking Sioux when a rifle ball struck Simon in the shoulder above the collar bone, & passing through struck his brother in the side of the head. Had not the force of the ball been spent Sekasige must have been instantly killed. They were not so seriously injured as to prevent them from walking about. One Sioux was shot through the breast by Asinibuan. I saw him borne off across our field, & the savages retreated. As soon as it was know[n] on the island, all the men then came over & with them the mother & grandmother of one of the girls killed, the one armed with a spear, the other with a tomahawk, looking as if they were ready for single combat.
In about half an hour Messrs Coe, Kirtland & myself went across to the sand point to bring the remains of the two girls. We found the bodies lying at the waters edge, decapitated, the heads lying together on the sand at a little distance from the bodies. The entire scalps taken off, and a tomahawk, buried to the handle in each skull. A piece of the skull on one was cut off from the side of the head, hanging by a small portion, & a few inches of scarlet riband wound round a wisp of dry green grass stuck into the brain. They were evidently killed in the water, hauled out by hair or arm & beheaded, as no blood of consequence was seen on the sand, except a little from neck. The right arm of Nigibuan's daughter was taken off at the elbow - we made considerable search for it. It was carried to Mr. Russell's, hanging at the muzzle of a gun. It was horribly mangled & thrown into his garden. John Garmon afterwards buried it. An arrow stuck in the hip & a broken lance lay by the side of Nigibuan's daughter. I believe it is a custom to leave the weapons used in killing their enemies in or by the bodies. Their gun was also left. The coats of the young men, blankets & all their things - powder horn of one of them - all remained. Their canoe was taken by the Sioux to carry off one of their number wounded in the knee by the young men. They could not have fired less than two rounds, & yet only one of the young men was touched - Mozomane, brother of Nizhema was struck in the hand, shattering the thumb bone next to the wrist. The children were pierced th[r]ough & through the vitals with balls & lances. We drew hatchets from their skulls, washed off the already dried sand from the faces, spread a blanket in our canoe, laid in the bodies, placing the heads in their proper places, & covered them with another blanket, brought them to the island,


laid them out in the same order on the ground & left them amid the heart-rending wail of their relatives.
The attack upon Joseph as related by himself & Louis is substantially this. They & their families were planting by the houses. The attack on the canoe at the sand point drove them to their canoes. As Joseph & Baptiste came up the bank they saw a party of Sioux in the midst of Baptistes garden, advancing up the rise to the houses. Joseph had spent his days in the Indian trade & was known by many of the Sioux. He is a halfbreed, enrolled as a citizen & taxable.35 Knowing something of their language, he hailed them & told them that they were Frenchmen. The Sioux halted a moment, & then pointed at the canoes. Joseph told them they were their families fleeing from fear. The party fired upon the canoes but did no injury. Joseph seeing them leveling at him sprang toward the house, & as he got to the door, one fired & wounded him badly in the arm just below the elbow. Baptiste, who it seems on first alarm had seized his rifle now fired upon the leader & shot him high in the hip - probably mortally. As he fell, they bore him off & Bapt. escaped into Josephs house. Louis was yet out. He had gone back into the woods, & discovering the trail of the main party who had gone to attack the houses N. of us, & also seeing some of their feathers accidentally dropped in the path, knew them to be Sioux & hastened home to embark his mother & family. As he was coming up the rise of ground from the E. (the Sioux came up from the S.) he heard the attack at the house & stopped. Joseph came out & seeing Louis, called him to come in, but seeing his father's arm braced up against his breast & his clothes very bloody, he thought his father was mortally wounded. He said his heart sickened - he thought his father was killed, & said to his father "They have killed you & now they may kill me too." The father explained the nature of his wound & they entered the house together.
Just then the Sioux returned to the attack. Joseph then concluded that he must fight - he took his gun, leveled, but was not able to discharge it, the spring bing stiff, & he so weak. As he held it under his arm a Sioux fired in
35.Joseph was the son of an old trader, Joseph Duchene (LaPrairie) and his Ojibwe wife, Obimegazhigoque. See Birk. John Sayer's Snake River Journal, 28-30. Baptiste and Louis were his sons. In his claim for the mixed-blood payment in 1839, Joseph Jr. stated that he had six children, all of whom drew annuities as Indians. Nevertheless, his son Jean Baptiste, twenty-eight, did enter a claim and was admitted. Chippewa Claims 97 and 179, Lucius Lyon Papers.

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at the window with a rifle. The ball struck his gun barrel near the middle & completely perforated it, 3/16 of an inch in its thickness, & rendered it useless. The grains of powder from the rifle were blown into the gunstock, so near was the discharge. Finding himself unable to take part in the defense, Joseph betook himself to prayer while Baptiste & Louis fired upon the Sioux. They would come up by the side of the house, (they had no fortification), put the muzzle of their guns in at the windows & fire at random, filling the house with smoke. Louis barely escaped one of those shots. I saw from my window a Sioux step up to a post about 15 feet in front of the door, & taking deliberate aim, fire. He endeavored (as it appears) to fire through the clay between the window casing, but he probably failed - several other shots were thrown with the same intention.
As we were on our way to the pointe after the bodies, several shots were discharged from Mr. Russell's point, probably calling the whole together, & was answered from the party on this side whose retreat was slower, having two dead to carry off. They carried their killed & disabled into Mr. Russell's house, 2 of each. A few others were slightly wounded. They killed a cow, sow, & pig - for Mr. R. & Baiejiks cow and calf. They put their dead & disabled into the bark canoe they took at the point & moved off up Snake River. From the appearance of their trail from the scene of action back of us to the lake shore, they without a doubt dragged off their dead on the ground. Four men carrying off the body killed by Baiejiks when I saw them. On our return, the whole party fired a parting salute to Pokegama, of some two hundred guns I should presume, & then commenced their retreat.36
36William Boutwell, who arrived at Lake Pokegama shortly after the Sioux attack, wrote to David Greene: "The third day after the Sioux retreated, the Chipys followed their trail & found the bodies of the two men. They scalped, cut off their heads, & brought home the flesh & made a feast of it. Not many days after this affair (they) fled & hardly an Ind. has been seen at P. since." September 28, 1841, Paper of the ABCFM, ABC 18.3.7. (Reel 766).


  1. Folsom, W. H. C., Edwards, E. E., ed. (1888) Fifty years in the Northwest. With an introduction and appendix containing reminiscences, incidents and notes. [St. Paul Published by Pioneer Press Company] [Pdf] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,
  2. The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely 1833-1849, Edited & with an introduction by Theresa M. Schenck, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London

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