During the summer of 1882, Chief Little Shell III was angered by white settlers seeking to encroach upon his lands in the Turtle Mountains and infuriated at a tax collector who thought that he had the right to collect duty from the Ojibwe and Metis followers of Little Shell who freely crossed back and forth across the newly-created US/Canadian border. Little Shell’s territory crossed the white man’s border, and he made it known that any attempt to collect payment from his people on their own land would be dealt with in the harshest terms.
Little Shell had been away in Canada hunting with about 500 Metis followers (at Wood Mountain), and while he was away sub-chief Kaeespah had taken it upon himself to welcome white settlers to select land east of the Turtle Mountains, near St. John, North Dakota. Kaeespah felt that treating the white settlers with kindness would result in him being given his own reservation, so he allowed the settlers to cut trees and start building cabins for their families. Little Shell soon received word of what was happening and he rushed back to the Turtle Mountains to drive away the settlers from his land.
After threatening the settlers, who quickly left north towards Winnipeg, Little Shell demanded that a public notice be written on birch bark scrolls and nailed to trees in conspicuous places on the east side of the Turtle Mountains. The public notice read as follows:
“PUBLIC NOTICE: It is hereby forbidden to any white man to encroach upon this Indian land by settlement upon it before a treaty being made with the American government. July 1st, 1882.”
As punishment for allowing the white men to settle, Little Shell forced Kaeespah and his lieutenants to sign the notice.
At the same time he had driven the settlers from the Turtle Mountains, Little Shell made it clear to the customs collector that, in no uncertain terms, would he or his Metis followers pay duty when they crossed back and forth across the border. The collector had wanted $2,000 (about $50,000 in today’s dollars) from Little Shell and his men. Kaeespah paid about $200 from tribal funds and that is all that Little Shell allowed him to pay.
As punishment for his acts, President Chester A. Arthur signed an Executive Order on December 1, 1882, creating the Turtle Mountain Reservation. He hoped that by signing the order he could freely settle whites east of the reservation, under the pretense that they were not technically encroaching on Little Shell’s land. This led to further protests by Little Shell and culminated in further punishment of the Turtle Mountain people through the withholding and short-changing of annuities due to them, leading to mass starvation in 1887-1888, and the eventual signing of the 1892 McCumber Agreement (under duress).
SOURCE: July 28, 1882 (page 1 of 8). (1882, Jul 28). The Minneapolis Tribune (1877-1882).
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities