On February 6, 1850, President Zachary Taylor signed an executive order revoking the usufructuary rights of the Lake Superior Ojibwe under the treaties of 1837 and 1842 and ordering the removal of the Ojibwe from the ceded territory. The usufructuary rights included those of hunting, fishing, and gathering wild rice. The land ceded, were those lands west of the Mississippi River and south of Lake Superior that had previously been sold by treaty.
The origins of the removal order can be traced back to the year 1830 when President Andrew Jackson issued the Indian Removal Act authorizing American officials to negotiate with Indian tribes for their removal west of the Mississippi River. At the time, the Lake Superior region was almost completely unsettled by white populations and so officials saw no reason to ask the Lake Superior Ojibwe to remove. Rather, the Indian Removal Act had a much greater impact on those tribes living throughout the southern half of the United States. One notable outcome was the Cherokee Trail of Tears in 1835.
In 1842, the Lake Superior Ojibwe signed a treaty in which they agreed to sell the mineral rights to their lands. However, according to the treaty, they maintained the right to hunt, fish, and gather upon the ceded lands. The Ojibwe signed the treaty because of the promise of treaty commissioner Robert Stuart who said that they would not be asked to remove from their homes for fifty to one hundred years.
A few years later, politicians began to pressure for the removal of the Lake Superior Ojibwe from the ceded land to the unceded land in Minnesota Territory. The major impetus for this was benefit that removal would have on the politicians, traders, businessmen, and contractors of Minnesota. If the annuity were paid in Minnesota, it would provide Indian patronage jobs and it would bring money into the territory that would benefit merchant suppliers and traders. It would also lead to new Indian agencies and the building of schools, farms, blacksmith shops and the employment of skilled workers to staff such facilities.
Trader Henry M. Rice openly advocated for the Ojibwe removal in a letter to Territorial Governor Alexander Ramsey writing, “They should be removed from the ceded lands–they should receive their annuities on the Mississippi River…This would better accommodate the whole tribe–and Minnesota would reap the benefit–whereas now their annuities pass via Detroit and not one dollar do our inhabitants get” (Clifton, Preliminary Report, 61).
Ramsey was apparently of the same mind because, in September 1849, he urged the Territorial Assembly to write a memorial to Congress for the Ojibwe removal. The Territorial Assembly agreed and on October 11, 1849, they approved a resolution for the removal of the Ojibwe from the ceded territory. The resolution was sent to Congress who then forwarded it to the President. As a result, the Removal Order of 1850 was signed and all rights granted the Ojibwe in the treaties of 1837 and 1842 were cancelled. Less than a year later, the forced removal to Minnesota Territory resulted in the death of four hundred Ojibwe at Sandy Lake.
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.
James A. Clifton, “Wisconsin Death March: Explaining the Extremes in Old Northwest Indian Removal,” in Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, Vol. 75, (1987): 1–40.