Crow Wing Village



Interpretive signs mark the former village of Crow Wing at the state park. Clement Beaulieu was the driving force behind the village, which grew around his fur trading post.

But long before the railroad decided to cross the Mississippi at a certain point and build a city to be called Brainerd, there was a little hamlet called Crow Wing at a point about 10 miles below, known for many years by the English speaking people as Crow Wing, and before by the French traders and French mixed bloods as L'Allie du Corbeau.

And this by the way is the translation of the Chippewa name of the Crow Wing river which the little village took its name.

The Indians called the river Kah-Kah-gi-wi-givan-isepi, literally Raven's Wing River. The English translations made both linguistic and poetic errors in translating the Indian term into Crow Wing. ...

The crow is not admired of men, particularly the farmer, but he has an association now through wrong translation with a river, a village and a county.

And it may be added that the Chippewa will laugh in his sleeve when mention is made of the locality as Crow Wing, when from the time running back ward into pre-history, the tribe knew it as "Neen-gi-tah-witi-gway-yang, or "the place of separation." The Crow Wing Flows into the Mississippi River with two mouths.

The old American Fur Co.'s trading post was located a little distance below the lower mouth at the site afterwards known by those of Crow Wing as "Morrisons."

The site was chosen wisely, for being below both mouths of the Crow Wing River and upon the eastern bank of the Mississippi River, the post could, like a spider waiting for a fly, catch the fur-bringing Indian coming down the rivers, and him from Gull Lake, Rabbit Lake, Mille Lac, from the north and east inland.

Mr. C. H. Beaulieu I was at one time the agent in charge of the Fond du Lac department of the American Fur Co. (Astor) with headquarters at Fond du Lac, a village now known to Duluthians as an historic place.

Fond du Lac boasts of a ruin, one log building abandoned with others when the American Fur Co. decided to make Crow Wing its headquarters for the Minnesota Chippewa Indian trade and this by the way was about the time Wisconsin organized as a state and left certain parts of its old territory, "No Man's Land."

Then Minnesota found itself by the nameless territorial's organizing as a government and calling the new territory with the permission of the federal government, Minnesota.

The writer was a wee lad when his father, C. H. Beaulieu I, was told by his superiors to depart into a new land and there make his home.

The Fur Co. had always outfitted its northern Minnesota posts from Fond du Lac, to which place was sent by schooner and Mackinaw battenux all the supplies of merchandise for the territory we now know as northern Minnesota.

The government had decided to erect a military post in the upper regions of Minnesota and did so, building a fort on the western bank of the Mississippi River opposite the mouth of the Nokay River flowing into the Mississippi. The fort was at first called Fort Gaines, afterwards Fort Ripley.

A military reservation was established on both sides of the Mississippi, on the eastern side extending far enough north to include the site of the American Fur. Co. trading Post and beyond slightly to a point where unseeded Chippewa lands began.

Mr. Beaulieu decided to locate off the military reservation so as to be independent of military regulations. It is necessary to state that shortly after his arrival at Crow Wing, the American Fur Trading Co. disposed of its trade to the Pierre Chonteau Co. of St. Louis, a firm then doing business throughout the regions vaguely known as the Northwest, and thus including the Missouri as well as the Mississippi regions.

The place selected by Mr. Beaulieu was on the eastern bank of the Mississippi opposite the upper mouth of the Crow Wing and with a large force of loggers, sawyers and carpenters he erected his cluster of post buildings, one of which was a large two-storied log building clap boarded outside and celled within and designed for his residence.

At Long Prairie, Todd County, a band of Winnebago Indians removed from Wisconsin had been located, and an agency established under the charge of Major Lowrie.

The Pierre Chonteau Co. established a trading post there and this was included within Mr. Beaulieu's jurisdiction and Mr. Robert Fairbanks placed in charge. This company in taking over the American Fur Co.'s trade had established a Minnesota head at St. Paul and Dr. Borup formerly of LaPointe, was placed in charge.

In the earlier regime, the Sioux trade had been in charge of H. H. Sibley with headquarters at Mendota. Mr. Sibley soon gave up trade, went into politics, became first territorial congressman, afterwards became first governor of the state of Minnesota and later during the Sioux outbreak, became a brigadier general.

After the Chonteau's assumed charge, all merchandise came direct from New York and England to St. Paul and Mr. Beaulieu obtained his stock from St. Paul. All had to be transported from St. Paul by team.

He had early interested himself in real estate in the vicinity of Belle Prairie and colonized a large number of Canadian French people there and from this colony he obtained his teams and teamsters. In the very early days there the French colony was more an adjunct of the Chonteau Fur Co. than agriculturists.

Mr. Beaulieu himself became something of a farmer, for he started 160 acres under cultivation at Belle Prairie raising only oats which he readily contracted to the authorities at Fort Ripley.

He also leased 80 acres upon the military reservation near what then began to be known as Crow Wing Lake simply from association with the Crow Wing villagers who made this spot their rendezvous for social sports and a resort for fishing excursions.

This little lake is midway between Crow Wing and to leave out mention of the 'lake' would be like putting on the play of Hamlet without Ophelia for Crow Wing and the lake were one. The lake too was a common possession of both Crow Wing and Fort Ripley, there the soldiers of the fort would fish and partake surreptitiously of the whiskey obtained of Louis Myrand then living near Big Bend just as a tailor, but really living though gains as a bling-pigger.

At the lake, too, would gather the Crow Wingites to fish and drink the whiskey the blind pigger Donald McDonald ... served to the pioneer thirsty ones.

Those days of simple joys and artificial ones, and they form an important part of Old Crow Wing. Military law and the Indian intercourse law were strict in language but law in effect was not severe, the main thing was to not carry your whiskey bottle in open hand, or in your hip pocket when your coat was off and like sin in general in human opinion, everything seemed all right if you didn't give yourself away by overt act or shameless inebriety.

Crow Wing and Fort Riley were frontier outposts and therefore like all frontier places had their sins and yet had their heroics in good deeds and simple life, so we of modern days must praise as well as blame. This moral or immoral history is perhaps a little ahead of actual times for early Crow Wing was simple and orderly in daily action.

While it is true that Mac dispensed spirits sub rosa, the village folk were not patrons to any extent and maintained sobriety. Mac's real patrons were the Indian visitors who bartered furs for whiskey and with their possessions of fire water quietly and soberly left for their distant homes.

The villagers were all faithful in attendance to the little log church which the venerable and saintly Father Pierz erected about the year 1850.

The church is now a waste and only recognizable by the graves which were made on the he eastern side of the little temple. Some years after a little Episcopal church was erected, b but this was only when the village had been platted and organized and added to slightly in population.

Speaking truthfully, for many years Crow Wing was a sort of Sleepy Hollow, the only business enterprise was the fur trade and controlled entirely by the Chonteau Co., every male was an employee or a superannuated derelict of the old Fur Co., men who lived mainly in the past when Astor was the absentee landlord.

Their wives fished by net in the river or Crow Wing lake, and in seasons went to old haunts to make rice or maple sugar. Their industry in this respect was remarkable and their endurance immeasurably beyond that of their descendants whose contact with civilization has cultivated both mind and body, the latter into physical weakness.

The village then worked commercially and in primitive pursuits of fishing and hunting. On Sundays they worshipped and listened to the simple preaching of a well-beloved priest and pastor, a man who was from a far-distant country across the waters, had come in early manhood and given his entire life for the conversion of the Chippewa Indians.

About the year 1855, Mr. Beaulieu purchased the interests of the Chonteau Co. in northern Minnesota, and association with him Mr. Fairbanks and conducted the business under the firm name Beaulieu and Fairbanks.

About the year 1856, Mr. Beaulieu wrote to the Hon. H.M. Rice who has succeeded Mr. Sibley as delegate to Congress, asking that a bill be introduced into Congress to create a highway between St. Paul and St. Vincent on the northern boundary of the territory and to pass through Crow Wing. In effect this would have been only an improvement of the old Pembina trail.

Mr. Rice has visions for his old friend, and instead, succeeded in getting legislation for the building of a railroad and it was incorporated as the St. Paul and St. Vincent Railroad and worded as to secure to Crow Wing the passage of the proposed railroad through its site.

Mr. Beaulieu then began a dream of future wealth. He had secured of the 80 acres near Crow Wing lake, in the railroad he saw the means of transportation for his products and a real town. Under the Indian treaty he had become the beneficiary to a land scrip of 80 acres. He located this on the old village site and posts adjacent called in a surveyor and soon had a lovely town on paper.

There were streets and avenues and I believe, a park. Then he began to sell lots. He secured the setting aside of a part of Morrison County as Crow Wing County with Crow Wing as the county seat. Many lots were sold, some to distant living investors. Some to men who did settle and begin to build stores and houses.

There was a slight fever and then it began to subside and Mr. Beaulieu's real estate business became in effect moribund. But this did not trouble him, he had a prosperous trade in furs and by means of inland posts he controlled the whole of the country as far north as Red Lake and upper Mississippi and eastwardly to Mille Lac. About the year 1851, an agency had been established down the Crow Wing River some five miles away by land and the cash annuities paid, added thousands of dollars to his trade.

He had become something of a politician too and influenced the voting from St. Anthony northward and practically had the Benton county vote in his pocket. This county by the way, in earlier days extended from Sauk Rapids indefinitely northward. Perhaps some of the readers are old enough to remember the ancient term "moccasin democracy."

Mr. Beaulieu, the late Commodore Kittson in early days a Pembina fur trader, and Charles Vavalier of Pembina, also the famous Joe Totelle, the man who robbed St. Peter of the honor of becoming capital of the state, were bosses of the party of northern Minnesota.

Hon. H. H. Sibley and H.M. Rice were the political guns in St. Paul and Hon. C. M. Flandrau (afterwards a judge of the supreme court) controlled Sioux country.

Mr. Beaulieu, father and proprietor of Crow Wing, was in the zenith of his glory, for politically an commercially he could say "Sic Volo, sic jubeo." But when he established his town he self-sheared himself of some of his glory both commercially and politically in Crow Wing county politics.

And it may be said here that the lower county was beginning to be settled rapidly and took upon itself here and there political activities and this the march of time was also had somewhat overthrown Mr. Beaulieu as a political boss.

When Crow Wing County was created, politics and county finances became strong elements in a force. The county did not immediately settle up, the village in fact, constituted the life, for the residents of the county practically all lived in the village.

County officials had been duly elected and the only busy ones were the county commissioners and the register of deeds. The latter had recorded the town plat of Crow Wing, and records of a few transfers in the county. The registers library consisted of but one book I believe, in church was recorded every paper that smelled earthy.

The county commissioners met at stated times to smoke and chat and draw their individual slips of county scrip. Scrip was issued as freely as is the proffer of the Gospel, and mainly for salaries. It had intrinsic value only for the payment of county taxes and it was hardly of value even for the purchase of tobacco and whiskey.

And by the way, whiskey selling became a great industry, several saloons came into existence that they prospered is an evidence that the Indians from all pints became patrons and readily succumbed to the white man's evil temptation to come and buy perdition of soul and abuse the body.

The saloon keeper was not disrespectful, he lived, moved and had his being as proudly as any other man. He sold to the Indians, not over the counter but at the back door by bottle, jug and even five-gallon keg.

He sold to those who needed in liberal manner, for naturally, where so many saloons existed intemperance grew.

Crow Wing was the jumping off place for the lumbermen who were logging extensively on the Upper Mississippi and the Crow Wing River. To this point their supplies were transported from St. Paul by team, and from here by boat to camps and in the winter by tote teams.

The village had its every day celebrations in a way but when the red shirts appeared on their way to the woods, they painted the sky red to preserved the harmonies of attire and vast expanse.

And in the spring the orgies were repeated and more prolongedly for the men were inordinately thirsty by reason of the long winter's abstinence. But it was the season the drive that capped the climax. The men drank, they swore and fought among themselves and with the young villagers.

Page updated Aug. 06, 2005