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Notes from the Paynesville Historical Society. . .

Indians were first inhabitants of the region
By Char Peltz

Paynesville will hold an Ethnic Festival on Saturday, Aug. 18. In preparation for this fun event, this column will focus on the specific ethnic groups in Paynesville's history. Paynesville has a rich diversity of people making up the town and surrounding community.

This week the focus will be on the first inhabitants of our area...the Indians.

History - based on documents, pictures, and written communication - doesn't shed much light on the lives of the Indians before the arrival of white explorers, traders, and settlers. However, the presence of Indian burial mounds in the area point to at least semi-permanent Indian settlements around the lakes and rivers dating back a thousand years. Archaelologists believe the Indian burial mounds were built during the Middle Woodland period, and the Indians who built them spent summers on the lake and wintered in Iowa or further south.

The numerous mounds found in the Paynesville area indicate a large number of Indians visited here for many years.

When white settlers arrived in Minnesota, two tribes of Indians lived in the Paynesville areaŠthe Dakota (also known as the Sioux) and the Objibwa.

The first European power to claim the land that became Minnesota was France, and the Indians traded furs with the French trappers, who were the first white people in the Paynesville area. Later the Indians traded with the English at posts established along the river systems.

Indians were very conservative in using the land. They killed animals for the hide, for meat, and the fur for trading. Plants were used for food, medicine, and for dyes. The Indians made their own teepees, clothing, and canoes. They also used beads for intricate designs in decorating what they made.

When settlers arrived in the Paynesville area, the Indians were already living in reservations established by the government along the Minnesota and Yellow rivers.

In 1862, though, as Paynesville was in its infancy, the Sioux Indians left their reservation and tried to regain their land in the Great Sioux Uprising of 1862. Five whites were murdered in Acton Township, Meeker County during the uprising.

One of the Indian names we often hear in this area is Little Crow, a leader of the Indian uprising. His leadership was responsible for the Indian war in our area that temporarily drove out many settlers around Paynesville. It is said people from the area knew him, as he visited Paynesville on several occasions. He died in an encounter with two men, Chauncy and Nathan Lamson, in Ellsworth Township, Meeker County.

The Indians have taught us to respect the land and use it wisely. We are amazed at their skill and bravery and understand how they must have loved our Paynesville area and did not want to leave it. As you enjoy the lakes and the area around Paynesville, remember the first inhabitants and their role in our community's history.

We also encourage you to come to the museum and see the Indian artifacts to better understand Indian culture. An Indian dance group is scheduled to perform at the Ethnic Festival.