Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation (North Dakota)

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The Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation is located primarily in the Turtle Mountains, Rolette County, North Dakota.

Established -- 21 December 1882
Agency (BIA) -- Turtle Mountain Agency
Principal tribes -- French, Mixed Bloods, and Pembina Chippewa
Population -- Over 10,000 (2010 census)

History[edit | edit source]

The Turtle Mountain Reservation was established by executive orders, Dec. 21, 1882, Mar. 29 and June 3, 1884 and by an agreement made Oct. 2, 1892, amended by Indian appropriation act approved and ratified Apr. 21, 1904, (XXXIII194) Evidence indicates the Reservation was established before December 21, 1882. On July 11, 1882 chief Little Shell III, who was living near what is now Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan (he also lived near Plentywood, Montana), which is 35 miles directly north of Opheim, Montana, returned to the Turtle Mountain Reservation and warned the whites not to settle on Reservation land. It is strong evidence that the Chippewa Turtle Mountain Reservation is located in Montana and not North Dakota.

The Turtle Mountain Reservation of North Dakota was settled mainly by mixed bloods. In the late 1870s, a group of whites and mixed bloods who had been subjugated by the Chippewa's, requested from the United States for land to establish a white colony. The land was 150 miles in width and 50 miles from north to south. It was located in North Dakota, between where the Pembina River enters Canada, to well west of what is now the Turtle Mountain Reservation of North Dakota. One of their leaders was the Métis leader Louis Riel. At the time, Riel was actively participating in white government office positions and was promoting an expansion of white settlements in both Canada and the United States.

In 1878, Riel was in Minnesota but later moved west. He possibly supported the whites and mixed bloods of North Dakota, to get land. He eventually moved to Montana where he played a role in establishing the white colony near what is now Lewistown, Montana. That is probably what led to chief Little Shell III warning the whites not to settle on Reservation land.

During the War of 1812, the whites launched an invasion into the south of Manitoba. They favored the Red River Valley. Chippewa soldiers led by Cuthbert Grant, defeated the invading whites and subjugated them. Chief Sitting Bull told General Terry at Fort Walsh, Saskatchewan, in 1877, You Have Kept Us And Treated Us Badly For 64 Years. Obviously the Chippewa's were not subjugated by the whites at the time. Mostly likely the statement was made by some of the whites and mixed bloods subjugated by the Chippewa's. 

In the late 1860s, the whites and mixed bloods of southern Manitoba and Minnesota and North Dakota (along the Red River Valley), were liberated from Chippewa rule. It likely occurred not long after the 1862 Minnesota Indian War which was fought to open up the Red River Valley to white settlement.  After 1869, Chippewa soldiers withdrew from the white settlements of southern Manitoba and Minnesota and North Dakota (along the Red River Valley), which allowed the whites to expand more settlements. It was at a slow pace because the Chippewa's were still a major threat.

It was those whites from the Red River Valley who requested for the land including what is now the Turtle Mountain Reservation of North Dakota, to establish a white colony. Some of them even established settlements in Saskatchewan. Louis Riel was one of the principle white leaders who engaged in expanding white settlements (colonies) in Manitoba, North Dakota, Saskatchewan, Montana, and Alberta.

The rest of this will deal with the white and mixed blood Turtle Mountain Reservation of North Dakota, except the information about the 10 cent an acre treaty.  However, the Chippewa's of Montana under the leadership of chief Little Shell III, were granted land allotments in North Dakota. That includes within the Turtle Mountain Reservation of North Dakota. The Montana Chippewa's were relocated to the Turtle Mountain Reservation of North Dakota, after 1904. Many of the Montana Chippewa's were also relocated to northern Minnesota. 

1884 a mission school was opened by the Order of the Sisters of Mercy at Belcourt. In 1907 a fire destroyed t he school.

In 1884, the United States commenced to intrude into the affairs of the whites who lived within the 150 mile by 50 mile land set aside to establish the white colony. The United States had specific reasons for their actions. They wanted the French whites and mixed bloods to assimilate into English culture. The area at the time had very few settlements but that changed after 1885. Within a couple of years after 1885, the number of French white settlements increased dramatically in the area and so did the non French white population. However, little trouble followed because both the Anglo and French whites were alllied.

In 1884, the United States thought the Reservation was too large for the number of Chippewa's (French whites) living there so they reduced the Reservations size to just two townships or a little over 46,000 acres. Then after 1900, the United States became concerned about the large Chippewa population living on the Reservation and the land allotments they planned to hand out. It was really about preparations for the ratification of the infamous 10 cent an acre treaty.

Chief Little Shell III refused to take treaty (the infamous 10 cent an acre treaty) which would greatly reduce the large Turtle Mountain Reservation of Montana. Many present day Turtle Mountain Chippewa's are yet claiming the 10 or 11 million acres. They actually think the land is in North Dakota. It is in Montana. And many Turtle Mountain Chippewa's are angry about the minerals their land conceals. They know the United States is exploiting their land and want compensation.

Evidently there was not enough land on the Reservation in Montana, so the United States had to open up public domain lands in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Up to 500,000 or more acres was allotted to over 3,000 Chippewa's. Most of the land allotments were handed out in Montana. Over 130,000 acres was handed out in Williams County, North Dakota. So many Chippewa's lived in Williams County, North Dakota a branch office of the Turtle Mountain Reservation was opened in the Chippewa town of Trenton, North Dakota, to manage the numerous land allotments in not only northwest North Dakota but also northeastern Montana.

Fort Peck Agency also manages some of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa land allotments, as does the Fort Belknap Agency, Rocky Boy Agency, and Northern Cheyenne Agency. The Cheyenne River Agency of South Dakota manages the Turtle Mountain Chippewa land allotments in South Dakota. These land allotments were granted to the Montana Chippewa's from the Chippewa Turtle Mountain Reservation of Montana. It is not the other way around. 

A part of the Turtle Mountain Reservation (land allotments) is located adjacent to the Spirit Lake Reservation. That is Graham Island. The Chippewa's make up about a third of the population of the Spirit Lake Reservation. Another part of the Turtle Mountain Reservation (land allotments) is located a few miles west of the Cheyenne River Reservation. There may be other parts of the Turtle Mountain Reservation (land allotments) a little north of the Pine Ridge Reservation. East of the Crow-Northern Cheyenne Reservation of Montana, is another part of the Turtle Mountain Reservation (land allotments) which originally covered a large area.

According to the book "The History of the Chippewa Cree of Rocky Boy Indian Reservation," around 250 Chippewa's from the Turtle Mountain Reservation were allotted land at the Miles City, Montana land office in 1911. Each allotment averaged 160 acres. That is around 40,000 acres. Many Turtle Mountain Chippewa's would love to know more about that land. A total of 1,700 Turtle Mountain Chippewa's were living in Valley County, Montana in 1911 waiting to receive land allotments. In 1911, Valley County, Montana included what are now Blaine, Daniels, Phillips, Sheridan, and Roosevelt Counties. A very large area of land.

Another 250 Turtle Mountain Chippewa's received land allotments in Blaine, Hill, and Liberty Counties of Montana. Some of the allotments are less than 50 miles from the Blackfeet Reservation. The remaining 1,200 received their land allotments in Daniels, Phillips, Roosevelt, Sheridan, and Valley Counties of Montana. That is 192,000 acres.

However, over 2,000 Turtle Mountain Chippewa's were allotted land in Montana, before 1911 and after 1911. The allotments did not just occur in 1911. Up to 350,000 acres was allotted to the Turtle Mountain Chippewa's in Montana. When including the Williams County, North Dakota Turtle Mountain Chippewa land allotments with the Montana Turtle Mountain Chippewa land allotments, it comes to over 480,000 acres. Another 50,000 to 100,000 acres was allotted in North Dakota and South Dakota.

Most of the land allotments were eventually sold. And it is very difficult to learn exactly how much remains now. Between the Pine Ridge-Rosebud, Crow-Northern Cheyenne, Blackfeet, Rocky Boy, Fort Belknap, Fort Peck, Cheyenne River-Standing Rock, Fort Berthold, and Turtle Mountain Reservations are the remaining Turtle Mountain Reservation Land Allotments. The Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation is actually the largest Indian Reservation when considering the facts. The problem is the Indians of those Reservations except Turtle Mountain, will not accept being Chippewa. Even at Rocky Boy.

What is now the Turtle Mountain Reservation of North Dakota was originally a part of the white colony secretly established in 1878. The reason for the mixed population is the large number of Montana Chippewa's who were granted land allotments in Rolette County, North Dakota. Originally, most of the people accounted for in early census counts, were French whites and mixed bloods. That changed after 1904.

Records[edit | edit source]

Records of many of the Indians who have lived on the Turtle Mountain Reservation are among the records of the Turtle Mountain Agency records, some of which are available at the Central Plains Regional Archives of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Kansas City.[1].

The 1900 federal census included population schedules for the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. The census includes the non-Indian employees of the Turtle Mountain Agency, as well as many pages of Indian Population Schedules for the native population of the Reservation. They are recorded as District 262, Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, in Rolette County, North Dakota.

1900 Federal Census and index of the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, Rolette County, North Dakota by Mary Ann Quirring, Lily B. Zwolle. FHL book 970.1 Q48n 1900 WorldCat

Turtle Mountain Chippewa, Roulette, North Dakota 1900 Census by Gail Morin FHL book 970.3 Oj3n WorldCat

Websites[edit | edit source]


References[edit | edit source]

  1. Guide to Federal Records, Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Record Group 75Available online

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • Confederation of American Indians. Indian Reservations: A State and Federal Handbook. Jefferson, North Caroline: McFarland & Co., c1986. WorldCat 14098308; FHL book 970.1 In2.
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Volume 4 -- History of Indian-White Relations (pub. 1988) -- WorldCat 19331914; FHL book 970.1 H191h v.4.
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Volume 16 -- Not yet published
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Volume 19 -- Not yet published
Volume 20 -- Not yet published
  • Tiller, Veronica E. Velarde. American Indian Reservations and Trust Areas. [Washington, DC]: Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, 1996. WorldCat 35209517; FHL book 970.1 T463a.
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