The story of Old Crow Wing is one of rapid rise and fall.
According to a brochure on Crow Wing State Park put out by the Minnesota Department of Conservation, the Indians first used the site, located at the junction of the Mississippi and Crow Wing rivers where an island shaped like a crow's wing lies.
They named it, fought over it, and then lost it at the bargaining table.
The location seemed ideal for a permanent settlement. No one could foresee the changes that the railroad and the relocation of the Indian population would bring.
Indians and Fur Traders There are numerous accounts of wintering or trading at Crow Wing. An unknown Frenchman camped there in 1767. James McGill, a trapper, wintered at the junction of the rivers in 1771, the brochure says.
HUNTERS RELAX--These two hunters are relaxing beside the dam.
Jean Perrault wintered at the mouth of the Crow Wing in 1790. The Indians who traded with these trappers had been in the region for centuries before the arrival of white men.
"We know that the territorial struggle between the Sioux and Chippewa Indians erupted in a violent clash at this place in 1768," the brochure says. The Chippewa rifle pits are still visible on the high river bank where the current sweeps close in toward the shore.
It was at this spot that the Chippewa lay in wait for a Sioux raiding party and opened fire from above while the Chippewa women tipped the raiders' canoes over. The results were devastating for the Sioux.
A trading post was established close to the ambush site in about 1823. The trader was Allan Morrison who joined the Northwest Company in 1821 at Fond Du Lac where his brother William, was in charge.
+ William Morrison, a Scotch-Canadian, left the first white man's dated records in the old village of Crow Wing. He came in 1802 as traveling agent and explorer for the Northwest Pa- per Co. on his way from Le Brande Portage to the upper country (referring to Leech, Cass and Red lakes).|
+ Jean Nicholas Nicollet stopped at the old village of Crow Wing in 1838.
+ In 1867 a stage coach made daily trips from the south to Crow Wing. Most Indians left old village of Crow Wing after the treaty of 1873. They moved to the White Earth Indian Reservation in northwestern Minnesota.
From there he was sent to the Mississippi area to open a new post and built a store, a house and barns, and a small building for a post office. The post office was on the east bank of the Mississippi, opposite the south mouth of the Crow Wing.
The post was known simply as "Morrisons" and became a welcome stopping place for travelers in the area.
Allan Morrison married a mixed blood woman of culture and refinement, the brochure says. One of their children was John G. Morrison, whose son, John D. Morrison, carried a considerable amount of the history of Old Crow Wing down through the years.
In the mid-1820's Benjamin F. (Bluebeard) Baker is said to have set up a fur trading post for the American Fur Company on the western tip of Crow Wing island. The post was called -"Fort Biddle" by Lawrence Taliaferro, the Indian agent at Fort Snelling.
After a battle in 1768 other skirmishes between the Sioux and the Chippewa occurred, and a peace treaty was signed at Prairie Du Chien in 1825, but it did not quiet the Indian unrest.
By the terms of another treaty in 1837, the Chippewa lost a large block of their land between the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers. The removal of the Indians meant fewer pelts for the trading post at Crow Wing.
In 1846 the federal government ceded a reservation to the Winnebago Indians who acted as a buffer between the feuding Sioux and Chippewa, who were removed entirely to the reservation at White Earth.
The half-breeds living at Crow' Wing left with them and the town was badly depopulated.
The Indian fur trade slowly petered out. Their forests had been signed away and they had little more of value to sell. Few settlers listened to those who complained about the Indians' plight. The prospect of owning a piece of the rich land over-shadowed the concern for the Indians.
The 1830's and 1840's marked a stimulus to old Crow Wing's growth. The influx of traders and their employees arrived.
The census of 1840 lists one resident, Donald McDonald, a liquor dealer. William Aitkin's store was the voting place in 1842 and he had at least one employee, John H. Fairbanks.
Two years later, Aitkin is said to have left and the store was taken over by McDonald. The following year, Philip Beaupre who worked for McDonald brought a train of oxcarts to Old Crow Wing.
The oxcarts went over the Red River Trail from Fort Gary through Crow Wing and down to St. Paul.
When the fur trade declined Crow Wing became an outfitting center for the oxcart trains which crossed the Mississippi at the junction of the Crow Wing River and the Mississippi.
In 1846 a partnership was formed by McDonald, Morrison and Henry M. Rice and the three established a store. Rice later became the Governor of Minnesota and a U.S. Senator.
The town reached its peak in the 1860's when the population reached nearly 600, including the many transients, and 30 or more buildings.
Forts Along the Mississippi
When the treaty was signed in 1846, the Winnebago Indians took up an uneasy residence between the Sioux and the Chippewas on what had been Chippewa territory.
This land was west of the Mississippi from the mouth of the Crow Wing River south to Watah River. To keep peace between the tribes, a military garrison was set up on the west side of the Mississippi, seven miles south of the mouth of the Crow Wing in 1848.
The post was named Fort Gaines and renamed Fort Ripley in 1850. In 1857 it was evacuated and permanently abandoned in 1877. By 1880 part of the military reserve had reverted to the public domain.
In the 1850's, and 1860's, Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran missions were established at Old Crow Wing. Dedicated men attempted to teach the Indians farming and handicraft and white man's religion.
In 1852, Father Francis X. Pierz built a Catholic mission in Old Crow Wing. The log structure he built was demolished in 1915. In 1968, a new chapel was constructed on the site.
Another chapel was erected in 1860 by Rev. E. Steele Peak of the Episcopal faith. In 1863, the Rev. Otoomar Cloetter of the Missouri Synod of Lutherans started a mission in Old Crow Wing but all three were discontinued in 1868 when the Indians left.
Logging at Old Crow Wing
The logging era began in 1848, when Daniel Stanchfield and Henry Rice, financed by Franklin Steele, drove logs purchased from the Chippewa and Chief Hole-in-the-Day for 50 cents a tree to Steele's mill in St. Anthony.
The town became the outfitting center and a dispensary of rotgut whiskey. By 1855 there were two churches, three missions and seven grog shops.
Brawling and robbery were common. Unscrupulous individuals acquired large tracts of valuable pine stumpage from the Indians for nearly nothing and hoards of loggers flocked up the tributaries and to the Mississippi River.
Saw mills were built at Little Falls in 1849, Elk River in 1851, Anoka in 1853, Watah in 1854, St. Cloud in 1855, and Clearwater and Sauk Rapids in 1856, The heyday of the logging era lasted from 1870 to 1900.
The Coming of the Railroad
Old Crow Wing acquired a U. S. post office in 1852 and in 1857, the year. of a nation-wide panic, Crow Wing County was established. Then statehood for Minnesota came in 1858.
A district court opened in Old Crow Wing in 1859 but closed the next year. By then the size of Old Crow Wing had been diminished by the departure of the Indians.
Railroad fever ran rampant in Crow Wing during the 1860's and the price of land soared.
In 1871, the Northern Pacific Railroad chose to cross the Mississippi at what is now Brainerd and all hope for any growth of Old Crow Wing was lost. What was left of the population of Old Crow Wing slowly drifted to Brainerd.
In less than six years, the old trading settlement became one of Minnesota's ghost towns.
Crow Wing State Park
Today, Old Crow Wing is preserved as a state park under the administration of the Minnesota Department of Conservation, Division of Parks and Recreation.
Trails lead to such sites as a 1768 Chippewa lookout, the Red River trail Crossing, Aitkins post, the Episcopal mission, school house, Lutheran mission, Brown hotel, Beaulieu mansion, a 1768 Sioux camp, and Morrison's residence, and the Fairbanks store.
Reproduced from the Centennial Edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch (1871-1971).