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Haywood, Carl N. (ed.) / Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters
volume 75 (1987)

Clifton, James A.
Wisconsin death march: explaining the extremes in old northwest Indian removal,   pp. 1-40 PDF (18.7 MB)


Page 1

Wisconsin Death March: 
Explaining the Extremes 
in Old Northwest Indian Removal1 
James A. Clifton 
Throughout the fall of 1850, four offi- in early October, some four hundred
died cials of Zachary Taylor's administra- before the survivors could make
their way tion conspired to lure the Lake Superior back to their homes by
the following Chippewa Indians away from their lands January.3 
in Northern Wisconsin and Michigan's This incident was demonstrably atypiUpper
Peninsula.2 Two of these officials, cal of the experiences of the two dozen
Secretary of the Interior Thomas Ewing other Indian populations in the Old
and Commissioner of Indian Affairs Northwest who were subject to the Indian
Orlando Brown, provided the initial ap- Removal policy between 1825 and the
proval for the plan, but they did not re- early 1850s.4 On the contrary,
judged by main in office long enough to witness its the degree of physiological
stress and the disastrous results. The others, Minnesota casualty rate suffered
during the relocaTerritory's governor, Alexander Ramsey, tion process, the
Lake Superior Chippewa and Sub-Agent John Watrous, were di- case represents
an extreme. As such, it rectly involved as prime movers from start deserves
special attention, since it and to end. By moving the place for the an- others
like it generated much contemnual annuity payments to a new tern- poraneous
commentary while exposing porary sub-agency at Sandy Lake on the the interests,
aims, and intrigues of the east bank of the upper Mississippi and by diverse
denominational, political, ecostalling the delivery of annuity goods and
nomic, and ethnic interests directly inmoney, they planned to trap the Chip-
volved. Moreover, because it represents pewa by winter weather, thus forcing
one extreme, to be fully understood, this them to remain at this remote,
isolated Chippewa case must be compared with location, other cases of Old
Northwest Indians sub- 
 This scheme, kept secret from both lo- ject to dislocation and resettlement.
By cal Americans and the Chippewa, was de- examining the Lake Superior Chippewa
signed to break the tenacious resistance of case both intensively and comparatively,
these Indians, who had rebuffed earlier we can better appreciate how Old
Northefforts to persuade them to resettle in west Indian communities reacted
renorthwestern Minnesota. The stratagem sourcefully and variously to American
failed. It succeeded only in reinforcing the policy initiatives. In the Chippewa
case opposition of the Chippewa to relocation the Indians drew effectively
on a variety even though it had killed large numbers of of relationships
with and the support of them: of the some three thousand (mostly Wisconsin
citizens to oppose the interadult males) who gathered at Sandy Lake locking
national, regional, and local 
 patronage system which rather than "set- 
James A. Clifton is a Frankenthal Professor of An-           ,, 
thropology and History, University of Wisconsin- tlernent pressure, had fueled
the drive 
Green Bay. for their relocation. 


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