The Struggle for Self-Determination: History of the Menominee Indians since 1854

By David R. M. Beck | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
The Pivotal Divide of 1871

The modern divergence between Menominee solutions and federal solutions to Menominee problems began, at least symbolically, in 1871. These solutions centered around the forest resource, of which the Menominee steadfastly refused to let outsiders gain control, despite attempts by some powerful interests to do so. Three events in 1871 stand out above all others: the efforts by the U.S. Congress to open six townships of Menominee land (60 percent) for sale; the attempts by Congressman Philetus Sawyer of Wisconsin to pass a law opening the pines on the Menominee lands for sale to white loggers; and the Menominee’s decision instead to harvest their own timber. The commercial timber harvest opened the doors—heavy, at times almost unyielding, doors— to the industry that would sustain the tribe into the twenty-first century.


THE BATTLE FOR MENOMINEE TIMBER

The Menominee had recognized the commercial and utilitarian value of their timber since the early treaty years, long before the establishment of the reservation. As farming continually failed, the Green Bay agents also increasingly recognized the value of Menominee pine timber in their reports. They did not view it as a substitute for farming, however. At least initially, they envisioned the timber primarily as useful for reservation projects. In 1855, at the start of the reservation era, the United States set up a sawmill and immediately began to distribute lumber to Menominees for houses. This mill could process some twelve thousand feet of pine per day and was used to supply lumber for government and farm buildings as well. By 1862 more log and frame houses than wigwams served as dwellings for Menominees.1

Loggers had their own hopes for the tribal forest. They cautiously eyed Menominee pine as a potential source of profit. The Menominee had waged a battle for several decades to end continual depredations of their timber by small-scale thieving entrepreneurs who viewed tribal lands as a free source of lumber for the lucrative Great Lakes and Mississippi River markets.2 Depre-

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