Native Americans on the Askew homestead

This is the second of two Thanksgiving-themed posts for today. I’ve transcribed an article from the 1938 Wadena Pioneer Journal that documents interactions between Col. Joseph Askew’s children and the local Native Americans who passed by his homestead while Isabelle (born 1868) and Wilfred (born 1873) were still in their school years (approximately 1875–1886).

Native Americans in that area travelled on the Otter Tail trail—part of the Red River trail system of old ox cart trails and trading routes winding from Winnipeg, Canada, to the Mississippi river at St. Paul, MN—which passed through the old Joseph Askew homestead, just yards from the front door of their house. Joseph Askew’s daughter Isabelle “Belle” Askew (later Belle Spencer) told about her encounters with Native Americans in the article (the Askew-related portions are in blue).

From the Wadena Pioneer Journal, February 10, 1938:

Farmer Finds Historic Bayonet

Did It Mark Site of Early Day Battle?

An interesting old weapon was brought into the Pioneer Journal office last week by Merritt Wells, a farmer living near Verndale, who discovered it on a farm in Wing River township near the old Otter Tail Trail.

While doing soil conservation work last fall a sharp metal point sticking out of the ground attracted his attention. Loosening up the dirt he unearthed a sort of dagger ten inches long.

A slot in the end of the five inch handle indicates the dagger served as a bayonet on an old gun, possibly an army rifle. The blade five inches long and one inch wide is rusty but otherwise in good condition.

May Have Been Indiana

There are many possibilities as to how the knife came to be in Wing River township. By the middle of the eighteenth century Ojibway (we call them Chippewa) Indians, armed with steel knives and white men’s guns, had pushed into the Mississippi valley. The knife may have belonged to some Chippewa Indian, driving back the Sioux, who had held Minnesota as a hunting ground for centuries.

Traded With Whites

In spite of the constant warfare between the Sioux and the Chippewa Indians, white men were welcomed into Minnesota as friends. Fur traders established pleasant relations by bringing blankets to the Indians in exchange for furs. Wrapped in warm blankets by day and covered with them at night, the Indians were more comfortable than they had ever been before the coming of the white traders.

Early settlers in Wadena county found the Chippewa Indians friendly.

The first winter (1873) Mrs. Maria Fuller Jones lived on the farm west of the fair grounds, 40 Indians camped in the timber back of the house. Here they found red willow bark to smoke and tamarack roots with which to sew their birch bark canoes.

Saw Many Indians

Mrs. Belle Spencer says Indians passed the Askew farm east of Wadena on their way to a trading post on the Otter Tail trail. Frequently Indians stopped at their house.

The Askew children soon learned to say “Good morning” in Indian and Mrs. Spencer said that they used to greet Indians in their own language when they met them on the road on their way to school.

One Indian boy came to the Askew farm every spring for years. He would stay a number of days teaching the children to ride his pony.

Each summer white settlers and Indians went blueberrying together. The Indians generously showed their new friends where berries grew thickest.

They Were Hungry

One afternoon when the Askew children were at school and Mrs. [Jane] Askew was alone at the farm house, five Indians came to the door, gesturing to empty mouths. Mrs. Askew seldom turned anyone away without a meal but it was time to prepare something hot for her children to eat when they came home from school. Mrs. Askew shook an empty flour sack to signify she had no flour. One Indian grunted understanding, went to his sled and returned with a full 50 pound sack of flour.

When Isabelle (Mrs. Spencer), Wilfred and Henrietta (Mrs. Wilkins) came home, five Indians sat around the table eating fried potatoes, meat, hot biscuits, cake and cause which which Mrs. Askew had prepared for them.

The Women Worked

Mrs. Marh Hinds recalls Indians passing their farm near Hubbard on their way to town. The women carried the teepees on their backs and children and dogs straggled behind. The men swung along empty handed.

Mrs. Hines said they never locked their doors as the Indians seemed to resent it. One could never be sure just when an Indian or a number of Indians would walk in, sit down, say nothing and sit in silence until ready to leave, which might be anywhere from minutes to hours.

Indians were grateful for any favors and liked to repay kindness. When a settler fed an Indian he might find some fish in his wagon when he went to Balmeral to the flour mill.

By I.H.M.

The sign above is a commemorative trail marker for the trail. This marker was erected on the north side of the road that forms the northern boundary of the 1875 Joseph Askew homestead.

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