by Joni Astrup
Two hundred and forty years ago, the Ojibwe and Dakota clashed in two battles in the vicinity of Bailey Point — a boot-shaped peninsula that the city of Elk River recently acquired as a nature preserve-type park.
Students from St. Cloud State University (SCSU) have researched those battles and other facets of the history of the Bailey Point area and proposed trail markers for the new park. They presented their ideas Monday, Dec. 10, to a joint meeting of the Elk River Parks and Recreation Commission and the Elk River Heritage Preservation Commission.
The proposed design for the sign about the Ojibwe-Dakota battles featured background colors of black, red and yellow. The three students who researched the battles chose those colors because they were the primary war paint colors used by the tribes when they were preparing for battles. Red signified blood, strength and power. Yellow stood for the willingness of a warrior to fight to the death. A declaration of aggression and intended victory was conveyed by a warrior wearing black paint, the students said.
The Bailey Point area, where the Elk River meets the Mississippi River, was the site of 1772 and 1773 battles between the Dakota and Ojibwe.
Here is a recap of the events, according to the SCSU students, whose research included William Warren’s book “History of the Ojibway people.”
In 1772, the Ojibwe traveled on the Mississippi River to battle the Dakota. They were led by Ke-che-waub-ish-ashe (Great Marten).
He sent a canoe of warriors ahead to see if the enemy was near. As the warriors approached the mouth of the Elk River they heard voices, and turned back to warn the others of the danger ahead.
The Ojibwe then raced towards the Dakota. A battle ensued. Warriers leaped continually from side to side to prevent their enemies from taking a good aim.
The Dakota eventually fled and met up with more of their people. “The battle turned as the Ojibwe were now outnumbered,” the students reported. “Trying a new tactic, the Dakota lit the prairie grass on fire, causing the Ojibwe to flee into the water for safety.”
In 1773, another battle occurred on the same site when the Ojibwe came down the Mississippi to meet the Dakota.
Because two battles were fought in such a close time period on the point of land between the Elk and Mississippi rivers, the Ojibwe named the area Me-gaud-e-win-ing or “Battle Ground.”
Other teams from Chuks Ugochukwu’s class researched and designed signs about Bailey Point’s history with the Sherburne County Fairgrounds, a football field, Elk River’s milling district and an oxcart trail crossing. Ugochukwu is an assistant professor of planning and community development in the SCSU’s Department of Geography and Planning.
Oxcarts carried goods between present-day Winnipeg and St. Paul from the 1820s to the 1870s, when the railroads came through. An oxcart trail ran through the Elk River area, and there is a site at Bailey Point believed to be where the trail crossed the river.
The team that researched the oxcart trail crossing said the dominant traders at the time were half-Ojibwe and half-French, traveling in trains that could number more than 100 oxcarts. The wooden oxcarts squeaked and could be heard for miles away.
The team studying the Sherburne County Fairgrounds at Bailey Point said there was a pavilion on the fairgrounds there. “Families enjoyed that,” one of the students said. Vegetables, crafts, 4-H exhibits and Grange displays were all shown in the pavilion. It also was used as a roller skating rink.
Bailey Point also was once home to the Elk River football field. The students who researched that talked about the Elk River Quarterback Club, which was established in 1958, and the contributions of Robert Handke, who came to Elk River in 1927 and was the superintendent of schools.
The team that researched the milling district in the area said Ard Godfrey was the main figure who started the district. He built both the original dam and the first sawmill in 1851. In 1912 the dam was destroyed by high waters and the milling district never fully recovered. A few years later, Elk River Power and Light Company generated hydropower from a newly constructed dam, giving Elk River its first electric power, according to the students’ research.
The students envisioned a “You Are Here”-type marker detailing some of the milling history.