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Northern Headwaters Region








The Old Agency Site         
Site Number(s):    
County:   Cass, MN  
City Township:    
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Old Agency location map
The Old Agency site is located in the
western section of the Leech Lake Reservoir.

In the mid-1800s the United States government established several Indian agencies to manage its affairs with Ojibwe (Anishinaabeg) people living west of Lake Superior. The agencies included schools, blacksmith shops, and farms, and they provided places to distribute annuity payments to the Ojibwe for the sale of their lands. Despite their obvious importance, the agency sites have been largely ignored by historians and archaeologists and some have been heavily impacted by modern land-use.

One agency, at Leech Lake, was opened after the Ojibwe ceded a large area of northern Minnesota in the Treaty of 1855. The work began that year when Ojibwe laborers built a wagon road connecting Leech Lake with Crow Wing, a frontier settlement lying about 65 miles due south on the Mississippi River. It was one of the first roads in the region. Prior to that time the area was usually accessed by canoe or, during winters, through the use of snowshoes or dogsleds.


Old Agency Map in 1866
A map of Old Agency in 1866.

Funds for the new agency were appropriated by Congress in 1856. The missionary in charge of the operation was to buy land for the agency and prepare acreage for agriculture. He initiated the construction of several log buildings, including a mission house and blacksmith shop. The Ojibwe had mixed feelings about these intrusions, and some sought to drive the outsiders away.


A council meeting was held at the agency in 1858 to air grievances and select a site for a new steam-powered sawmill. Government relations did not improve during the period of the American Civil War, when the Leech Lake Ojibwe again forced an evacuation. By 1865, however, the sawmill was up and running and more land was being cleared. Later, additional buildings were also erected as the Leech Lake Agency grew in size and importance.

Photo of the Old Agency
Old Agency is located on the Leech Lake Reservation.


Meanwhile, illegal timber sales, the construction of reservoir dams, the questionable taking of Indian lands, inept administration, heavy-handed law enforcement, and other issues continued to alienate the Ojibwe. Matters came to a head in 1898, when government troops were sent in to make arrests and restore order. The troops occupied the agency grounds and later exchanged gunfire with Ojibwe at Sugar Point (Battle Point) on the east side of Leech Lake. About the same time, a new agency was opened within view of the first, just across the bay. The abandoned "Old Agency" saw continued use as a farming and residential area. Today, as in the 1850s, it lies within the boundaries of the Leech Lake Indian Reservation.

The story of the Old Agency is now being reconstructed through the study of historical records and photographs by researchers at the Institute for Minnesota Archaeology. The archaeologist who heads the project is creating a series of base maps and supplemental histories to show the nature and extent of cultural developments at the Old Agency over time. In addition to determining where buildings were located and how and when they were used, the project is also delineating other cultural properties, including burial plots. These data can guide future field investigations and onsite interviews with local residents. Ultimately, the findings should help to preserve and interpret cultural properties at Old Agency. They should also enhance our understanding of day-to-day activities there and events like the Battle of Sugar Point.



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Updated 27 Jun 1999