For several years, Indian agent John Watrous attempted to force the removal of the Ojibwe people from their homes along the southern shore of gichi-gami (Lake Superior), a plan that resulted in the death of 400 Ojibwe at Sandy Lake, Minnesota in late 1850. Two years after the tragedy at Sandy Lake, in an effort to continue their forced removal, John Watrous moved the La Pointe Band of Ojibwe’s agency from La Pointe, Wisconsin, to Crow Wing on the Mississippi river in Minnesota Territory. The Ojibwe were told that if they wished to receive their promised annuity payments, they must travel to Crow Wing in order to receive it. The Ojibwe were unwilling to travel such a long distance so late in the season and with obvious reason—the Sandy Lake Tragedy was fresh in their memories.
Because the Lake Superior Ojibwe were not there to receive the goods and monies promised them in their treaty, Agent Watrous stored their annuities in an agency building at Crow Wing. Learning their goods awaited them, a group of Lake Superior Ojibwe made the long trek to Crow Wing in early 1852 to collect their belongings. However, when they arrived, they found that an arsonist had burned down the building, destroying everything inside.
Benjamin Armstrong, a white man who lived at La Pointe and married an Ojibwe woman, had apparently traveled to Crow Wing with this group of Ojibwe because he recorded the event in his memoir, Early Life Among the Indians. According to Armstrong, after searching through the ash and debris left behind by the fire, the only thing of value that the Ojibwe recovered were two fifty-cent silver pieces.
In the novel Resisting Removal, agent John Watrous plays the role of the antagonist, or villain, of the Sandy Lake Tragedy and the years that followed. Benjamin Armstrong is the first-person narrator and plays the role of a flawed protagonist. While the author, Colin Mustful, relied on real historical documentation to recreate the people and events of this time in history, some scenes, like the one at the burned down storehouse in Crow Wing, were largely fictionalized. In the following audio excerpt, the villain Watrous and the hero Armstrong face off in a heated discussion. In reality, the meeting likely never took place. But in the novel, it serves as a critical climax when right and wrong, past and future, collide, and force readers to consider the truth of history.
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