|Indian History on Pelican Lake
The location and names of the Pelican Lake band have frequently been confused by modern scholars.
Historical ducuments have referred to this band as "Le Lac", "The Lakes", and "Pelican Lake", while the
Chippewa called the Pelican Lake band "Ke-chi-waub-i-jish". Pelican Lake was the farthest of all interior
district bands from Lac Du Flambeau, at least five days travel away. The best maps which supporting
the location and status of the Pelican Lake band are "Lac Du Flambeau District Map" and the trip ticket
"Eastern Route to the Wisconsin River". Scant historical documentation supports the Pelican Lake
band's past, due to the isolated area this band occupied and its long distance from major settlements.
No existing document indicates the precise location of the Pelican Lake band, although white settlers in
the 1880's noted a village of Potawatomi Indians on the peninsula in the northeast corner of Pelican
Lake. Bob Gough, a scholar researching the nearby Mole Lake (Sokoagan) band of the Chippewa,
suggests that the Potawatomi and Chippewa occasionally mixed their membership in Indian
settlements. Potawatomi and Chippewa tribes share a common heritage and similar language, allowing
for relative ease when intermixing. It is possible that the Potawatomi who occupied the northeastern
peninsula of Pelican Lake inhabited the traditional site of the Chippewa due to an earlier common
The band required about two days to travel from Pelican Lake to the Wisconsin River. The advantage of
the Pelican Lake location was its close proximity to the Wolf River. On the east end of Pelican Lake
there was a 3.5 mile portage to the Wolf River. This portage crossed the divide of these two important
watersheds which both supplied valuable natural resources to the Chippewa.
The Pelican Lake band was fluid, constantly traveling to both watersheds to gather natural resources on
which their subistence depended. In 1839, the La Pointe Indian Agency questioned the chief of the
Pelican Lake band about an incident of Chippewa killing livestock near Plover Portage (Stevens Point).
The chief indicated that his band was in the area but did not participate in that illegal act, he put the
blame on members of the Wisconsin River band. Many historical documents confuse the Pelican Lake
band and the Wisconsin River band. The Indian Agency source indicates that the Pelican Lake band
was traveling hundreds of miles along the Wisconsin River in their nomadic cycle. In 1804, Malhiot, a
North West Trader, also showed that the Chippewa of "The Lakes" (Pelican Lake) traveled to Lac Du
Flambeau to participate in the fur trade. Indication the extensive nomadic range of the Pelican Lake
band and suggesting that this band traveled more broadly than any other of the Lac Du Blambeau
Unfortunately, little information has been found indicating the Pelican Lake band's activities on the Wolf
River. Warren, a native Chippewa historian, mentions that the members of the Pelican Lake band did
migrate from the Green Bay area prior to establishing their residence on Pelican Lake. It is likely that
the Pelican Lake band did interact with the Mole Lake band to the east. The Mole Lake band was the
closest Chippewa settlement to the Pelican Lake band; Mole Lake was also famous for its large wildrice
fields. The Pelican Lake band may have occasionally followed the Mole Lake band to the Peshtigo River
for fall hunts and for establishing winter camps, rather than traveling twice the distance to the
A questionable source, an historical marker on the Mole Lake Reservation, claims that in 1806, a large
battle was fought between the Chippewa and Dakota for the wildrice fields of Mole Lake. Documents
listed the casualties for the Dakota at this monumental battle at 500; if the battle was a fraction of this
proportion the Mole Lake band would have needed massive Chippewa support. It would have been
logical for the Pelican Lake band to support the Mole Lake band due to their close proximity and
probable dependence on common resources.
Most subsistence resources used by the Pelican Lake band were located between the Wisconsin River
and Wolf River basins. Pelican lake had wildrice along much of its shores prior to the establishment of a
dam which increased the water levels and destroyed that delicate crop. Other area lakes and rivers
contained an abundant supply of this important storable food. A sugar camp was located at the village
site in the norteast corner of Pelican Lake; in the 1920's John Artus, a local resident, observed old
abandoned birchbark sugar containers grown into maple trees throughout the peninsula. Although no
records exist, gardens along Pelican Lake would have been established on the islands and peninsulas
on the lake to protect the crops from early frosts.
The federal government, in an 1843 census, enumerated the Pelican Lake band at 134 Chippewa Indians
and half-breeds, in 38 families. In 1837, the Pelican Lake band did not sign the Chippewa treaty with the
United States Government and so had to petition late for their annuities, privileges, and services. After
1848, Warren noted, disease nearly destroyed the Pelican Lake band: "They have since nearly been cut
off by the smallpox, and other diseases introduced among them by the white population, which has
spread over this portion of their former country.