Resisting Removal: Petitions Against Removal

Resisting Removal: Petitions Against Removal

In February 1850, Indian sub-agent John Livermore held a council with the La Pointe Ojibwe to inform them of the possibility of removal from their homes.  According to Livermore’s account of the council, “they were indeed considerably excited, and said that the man who came here to make the treaty (in 1842), told them that they would not probably be required to remove for many years” (White, The Regional Context, 175).  Despite promises such as these the Ojibwe were told that if they wished to receive their annual payment, which was normally given at La Pointe, they would instead have to travel to Sandy Lake, Minnesota.

Over the next few years, the Ojibwe faced continued pressure from government agents to move from their homes and into Minnesota Territory.  But the Ojibwe resisted by filing numerous petitions against removal. Their efforts were supported by local white residents who also filed numerous petitions in favor of the Ojibwe’s right to remain living at La Pointe.  

Petition of Cyrus Mendenhall May 9, 1850. From the Wisconsin Historical Society United States Bureau of Indian Affairs Documents.

One such petition was made by Cyrus Mendenhall, a mining entrepreneur associated with the Methodist Episcopal Mission Society and a “respected citizen” (Cleland, Preliminary Report, 65).  Mendenhall rallied support from local ministers, physicians, officials, merchants, mine foreman, lumbermen, and other influential citizens. The petition stated that removal was “wholly uncalled for by any interest of the Government or people of the United States.”  The petitioners ended by stating that, “We therefore…feel ourselves compelled solely by sentiments of humanity and justice, earnestly to remonstrate against a measure fraught with so many evil consequences as the proposed removal.”

This petition by the local white community was forwarded to President Millard Fillmore on July 30, 1850.  It was then forwarded to the Secretary of the Interior who sent it to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs Luke Lea for a report.  No action was taken as a result of the petition, and a report by Lea was not made until June the following year.

Journey of the La Pointe Delegation to Washington in 1852.

Another petition among numerous others, was written by the La Pointe Ojibwe and carried with them as they traveled to Washington in 1852.  As the delegation traveled by canoe across Lake Superior, they stopped at the mining and trading communities of Ontonagon, Portage Lake, Houghton, Hancock, and Sault Ste. Marie.  There they obtained signatures for their petition from businessmen, traders, and miners who were sympathetic to their cause. Once they arrived in Washington, the petition was personally delivered to President Millard Fillmore who recognized several of the signatures.  According to the memoir of Benjamin Armstrong, an interpreter who traveled with the delegation, after meeting the Ojibwe and seeing their petition, Fillmore agreed to countermand the removal order and reinstate annuity payments at La Pointe, which is exactly what the Ojibwe had worked so hard to achieve.    

Read the petition of Cyrus Mendenhall and others. 

See this blog post on YouTube.


Bruce White, “The Regional Context of the Removal Order of 1850,” in Fish in the Lakes, Wild Rice, and Game in Abundance: Testimony on Behalf of Mille Lacs Ojibwe Hunting and Fishing Rights, Compiled by James M. McClurken, (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2000), 141–328.

Charles E. Cleland, “Preliminary Report of the Ethnohistorical Basis of the Hunting, Fishing, and Gathering Rights of the Mille Lacs Chippewa,” Fish in the Lakes, Wild Rice, and Game in Abundance: Testimony on Behalf of Mille Lacs Ojibwe Hunting and Fishing Rights,” Compiled by James M. McClurken, (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2000), 1–140.

Ronald N. Satz, “Chippewa Treaty Rights: The Reserved Rights of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Indians in Historical Perspective,” in Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, “Transactions,” Vol. 79, No. 1, (1991).  

“Turning Points in Wisconsin History,” Wisconsin Historical Society, United States Bureau of Indian Affairs, http://content.wisconsinhistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/tp/id/62186. 

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