A Piece of Whitefish History: The American Indian Battle on Cross Lake

This map shows where the 1800 Cross Lake Indian battle took place. Marker A shows where the Sioux likely approached from across the bay. Markers B and C are the site of Chief Hole In The Day's village and two possible positions of the North West Co. fur trade post, respectively. Photo courtesy of A Taste of History and the Crosslake Historical Society

It was springtime, but the ice wasn't out yet. Most historians say the year was 1800, and it was a day when the ice turned red with blood.

The Ojibwe had set up camp at a sugar bush (a stand of maples) in the early spring where they would make maple syrup, just west of what is today known as Moonlite Bay. As the story goes, the Ojibwe set up eight large double wigwams plus a number of smaller ones. These held more than 200 men, women and children. Some of that group of 200 were "Mille Lacs Lakers," a band of Ojibwe from the Mille Lacs area, who helped set up and then made their way back to that big lake.

One morning as the camp awoke, a group of women left camp with a heavy load of meat and provisions, which they cached at a place where a caravan would later move through. Some of the men went on an early-morning hunt.

The men of the hunting party reached the lake shore on the southern edge of a point only to look out onto the ice and see a pack of wolves sitting and watching them. As the men went to check out the wolves, the "wolves" stood up on two legs and took off for the woods.

It turned out that these were not wolves at all, but Sioux warriors under wolf pelts! The Sioux and the Ojibwe were enemies. The Sioux had been watching the Ojibwe for weaknesses, and after the Mille Lacs Lakers left, they saw an opportunity. The Ojibwe, on the other hand, had believed themselves deep enough in their own territory to be safe, and the customary season of warfare had not yet started.

The Ojibwe hunters raced back to warn their tribe, but they did not have adequate time to prepare for the attack. The Sioux, however, were prepared and ready to fight, and they came out of the woods in hordes. They were so confident, in fact, that they didn't even hurry as they approached the Ojibwe camp.

The story says that as the Sioux slowly approached the Ojibwe, the Ojibwe wondered if their slow advance indicated they wanted to make peace. Two Ojibwe warriors went out on the ice to meet the Sioux, but were met only with arrows. Soon a full-out battle was raging.

The Ojibwe were severely outnumbered by the 300 approaching Sioux, and were surrounded and defeated in a matter of minutes. Only a handful of Ojibwe survived: seven men, four women, and three captured children. Three of the women who survived were those who had brought provisions to the cache. The fourth was a maiden who climbed a pine tree and, though she remained hidden, watched the bloodbath unfold. She lived to tell the tale.

It is said that the ice was so stained with blood that day that it formed puddles on the melting ice.

Native people have been present on the Whitefish Chain for thousands of years. Some burial sites from the Woodland Indians are still intact south of the chain. They are more than 2,000 years old. Numerous artifacts have been found around the chain, including arrowheads, grinding rocks, pots and more.

The information for this story came from A Taste of History, a book on Crosslake's history compiled and published by the Crosslake Historical Society. Purchase your own copy of the fascinating, comprehensive book at Judy's House of Gifts in Crosslake.

Comments are closed.