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1 December 2010

In the fall of 1850, representatives from 19 Ojibwe Bands started the arduous journey to the shores of Sandy Lake (Gaa-mitaawangaagamaag), where they had been told to gather by late October by officials of the Zachary Taylor administration and MN Territory. The Sandy Lake Tragedy is the culmination of this series of events, which resulted in the deaths of several hundred Lake Superior Chippewa.

The goal was relocation of several bands of the tribe to areas west of the Mississippi River. By changing the location for fall annuity payments, officials intended the Chippewa to stay there for the winter and lower their resistance to relocation. Delayed and inadequate payments of annuities and lack of promised supplies led to the death of about 400 Ojibwe, mostly men, (12% of the tribe) from disease, starvation, and freezing.

Nearly 3,000 Ojibwe men waited there for several weeks before a government agent arrived, only then informing them that the government had been unable to send the money and supplies. It was early December before a fraction of the payment and only small portion of supplies, much of the food already spoiled. By this time about 150 Ojibwe had already died of dysentery, measles, starvation, or freezing. They returned to their home territories under peril: aside from being weak from sickness and hunger, the Ojibwe had not expected to have to make such a winter journey. As a result, 200-230 more died before reaching their homes by the following January.

As a result of this tragedy, the Lake Superior Chippewa bands under the leadership of Chief Buffalo of La Pointe, pressed President Millard Fillmore to cancel the removal order. Many of the United States public were outraged about the government’s treatment of the Ojibwe and supported the end of removal. Chief Buffalo called on Wisconsin residents to support them in their effort to stay in the territory. Not wanting to live with Indians among them, European Americans encouraged the establishment of Indian Reservations.

On October 12, 2000, the US erected a memorial commemorating the Sandy Lake Tragedy at the United States Army Corps of Engineers Sandy Lake Dam Campgrounds. In addition, the state created a rest area with a view of Sandy Lake along Minnesota State Highway 65. A Historical Marker plaque memorializes the Sandy Lake Tragedy.

Content adapted from information available  at

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