Listen to the Weekly Radio Readings by Sheila Winstead, RCHS Board Member
Recorded November 2021
November 7, 2021:
Today I’ll continue reading from a document from the Roseau County Museum, which is titled “A Study of Three Chippewa Families at Warroad, Minnesota and their Historical and Cultural Contributions”. It was a thesis by Grace Landin in 1972, a copy of which was later donated by Kelly Falk. Many of the people I’ve been reading about can be seen in photographs included in Mrs. Landin’s document at the Roseau County Museum. Many of their artworks and examples of their skillful craftsmanship are also shown as well as the documents mentioned in these stories.
The Thunder family played an important part in the early history of the Warroad area. There have been five chiefs in their family in the past one hundred years. In addition to this, they were involved in the first industry of the state of Minnesota, the fur trade. These two contributions will be treated separately; one, The Era of the Chiefs; the other, The Era of the Fur Trading.
Jim Thunder, present hereditary chief of the nearly thirty-member Buffalo Point Indian tribe, is the fifth member of his family to head this tribe. The chief and his father Tom Thunder live in Warroad where they were both born. The Thunder family has had a chief in its history since the signing of the treaty with the nine chiefs on Lake of the Woods on October 3, 1873.
Ay-Ash-a-Wash, Tom’s great grandfather, had become chief of the Buffalo Point tribe in 1867, and it was his signature that appears on this treaty. When Ay-Ash-a-Wash became chief, the tribe was located at Warroad, and for years did not know the white man. At this time the Chippewa tribe was fighting against the Sioux who were raiding their villages and taking over their hunting grounds.
Tom Thunder remembers his grandparents telling stories that had been handed down from the old chief. One such incident is how Ay-Ash-a-Wash, a strong warrior, and his band had cornered a party of Sioux in the bend of the Warroad River. They killed all but one of the Sioux, hoping that this one would go back and tell the rest …listen for the rest of the story.
November 14, 2021:
Last week I read about the Thunder family of Warroad from a thesis by Grace Landin in 1972. Today I’ll continue reading from that document, this time about the era of fur trading.
In the early history of Minnesota, the Indians trapped beaver and other fur-bearing animals and sold them to the white men who traveled into Indian territory. These hardy men who dared to go into the wilderness in search of furs were known as the voyageurs. They paddled and portaged upstream to Lake of the Woods to spend the winter among the Indians. The voyageurs and the Indians were the working men of the fur trade. When the white men came, the Indians no longer hunted for fur alone, but for furs to be exchanged for the white man’s goods. The area around Warroad made the fur trading industry thrive because of the woods, lakes, and rivers. It provided abundant pelts of fur-bearing animals.
Tom Thunder was a lifelong trapper, hunter, and fur trader.
Tom’s first hunting experience began when he killed his first wolf with a bow and arrow. He doesn’t remember just how old he was, but he does recall that the wolf was too heavy for him to carry home. Taking the strings off his bow, he tied the wolf’s legs together so he could carry it around his neck. It was still too heavy to lift, so he dragged it nearly a mile to his home. When his mother saw him, she was more than surprised, but skinned it properly and prepared the fur for sale.
Tom remembers that as a young boy he did not live in a very well-built home. Their family traveled around the lake in the wintertime, looking for furs. Their home often was no more than a simple bark wigwam, built with eight sticks and sewed securely together. They slept with fur underneath and a blanket of fur on top of them. Tom says they were never too cold, and he does not remember being sick.
Life was relatively simple and uncomplicated for Tom in the early trapping days. He could take a piece of pemmican for food and survive all day long traveling from place to place on his trap line. The pemmican …listen for the rest of the story.
November 21, 2021:
In the Roseau County Museum collection, I came across a small book called “On Golden Plain”, by Les
Kletke with John Vasichek. It’s about innovators and influencers in the agriculture industry of the
Northern Plains. One of the people interviewed was our county’s, Bob Bergland. Here’s the chapter they
wrote about him during the time he was still living on his farm.
Ask Bob Bergland about a turning point in his more than six decades in agriculture and he answers
thoughtfully, “Getting into grass seed production in the early 1950s. It saved the farm after a couple of
disastrous wet years.” He says this with the same conviction he has applied to everything in life. And he
still lives on the farm that he began near Roseau after marrying Helen Grahn in 1950. He remembers a
phone call way back then to a Dr. Thomas, who had been his agronomy instructor at the University of
Minnesota. I had an instructor who told us we should be growing grass in this area. I called him and
asked him if grass still made sense here, and his reply was, ‘More than ever!’. So we got into forage
grass seed production and that allowed us to save the farm because our cereal grains had drowned out
for the past two years.”
Bergland was part of a group of about ten farmers who formed a co-op to clean and market their
production, which was primarily Kentucky bluegrass. One member of the group …listen for the rest of the story.
November 28, 2021:
Last week I started reading from a book called “On Golden Plain”, a book I saw when I was looking at the
collection of the Roseau County Museum. It’s written about the innovators and influencers in the ag
industry of the Northern Plains. I was reading from a chapter in which Bob Bergland is interviewed,
called “Follow the Science”. At the end of last week’s story, Bob had just won an election in 1970,
defeating Odin Langen to serve in the House of Representatives. He had spent the previous two years
driving around the state campaigning and was appreciative of the support of his family. His story went
on from there and I’ll read more today.
Bergland laments that politics has become a rich man’s game. “Today you couldn’t do what I did. We
didn’t buy any TV [ads] and very little newspaper; we did it by meeting people and attending events.” He
says the media image of politicians has changed, as well as the electorate’s expectations. “They want a
quick fix. They want to know what you are going to do to fix the country’s ills overnight.”
Bob Bergland won the successive elections by comfortable margins and was content to serve his term in
the 95th Congress when he got the call from Walter Mondale. Says Bergland, “He asked me if I would
consider being the Secretary of Agriculture, and I said I had not thought about it. He told me to start
thinking about it, because I was being nominated!” Mondale and Bergland…listen for the rest of the story.
Thank you to for letting us share the history of our county with your listeners.