Mille Lacs County, Minnesota

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County History

Mille Lacs County History (1920)
Minnesota Historical Society Collections, Vol. 17, Minnesota State Historical Society (1920) Submitted by Brenda Wiesner

This county, established May 23, 1857, was named for the large lake, called Mille Lacs, meaning a thousand lakes, which is crossed by the north boundary of the county. It was named Lac Buade by Hennepin in 1680, for the family name of Count Frontenac. By the Sioux it was called Mde Wakan, that is, Wonderful lake or Spirit lake. Le Sueur's journal, written in 1700 and 1701 and transcribed by La Harpe, states that the large part of the Sioux who lived there received from this lake their distinctive tribal name, spelled, by La Harpe, Mendeouacantons. The same name, with better spelling, was given by Keating in 1823, and the lake, on the map accompanying his Narrative, is named Spirit lake; but this group of the Sioux, the Mdewakantons, had before that time been driven from the Mille Lacs region by the Ojibways, and then lived along the Mississippi.

Wakan island, noted on a following page for the present village of Wahkon, was the source of the name Mde Wakan, given to the lake and to this great subtribe of the Siouan people, and was also accountable, by a punning translation, for the Rum river, the outlet of this lake.

The Ojibway name of the lake, as given by Nicollet, is Minsi-sagaigon, which is also applied to the adjoining country, "from minsi, all sorts, or everywhere, etc., sagaigon, lake." He adds that the first is an obsolete word, "pronounced mist or mm." Gilfillan gave the meaning of the Ojibway name as "Everywhere lake or Great lake." This name, spelled Mississacaigan, appeared on Delisle's map in 1703. It is evidently of the same etymology as Mississippi (great river).

The French voyageurs and traders, as Nicollet states, following their usual practice of translating the Indian name, called the country, having "all sorts of lakes," the Mille Lacs [Thousand Lakes]region; whence this name came to be applied more particularly to this largest lake of the region. It was used by Pike, in application to the lake, being well known at the time of his expedition in 1805; and Carver learned much earlier, in 1766, of the name, but supposed it to refer to "a great number of small lakes, none of which are more than ten miles in circumference, that are called the Thousand Lakes."

Dr. Elliott Coues discussed this name somewhat lengthily in his edition of Pike (vol. I, pp. 311-314).

Mille Lacs has an area of about 200 square miles, slightly exceeding Leech and Winnebagoshish lakes, but much surpassed by Red lake. It is shallow near the shore, and there it is often made muddy by the waves of storms; but its large central part is always clear water, varying mainly from 20 to 50 feet in depth, with a maximum depth of 84 feet.

Townships And Villages.

Information of geographic names has been received from "History of the Upper Mississippi Valley," 1881, having pages 663-680 for Mille Lacs county; "Memoirs of Explorations in the Basin of the Mississippi," by Hon. J. V. Brower, vol. Ill, Mille Lac, 1900, pages 140, and vol. IV, Kathio, 1901, pages 136, each having maps and many other illustrations; and from Hon. Robert C. Dunn, Judge Charles Keith, and Joseph C. Borden, deputy county treasurer, each being interviewed during a visit at Princeton, the county seat, in October, 1916.

Bock, the railway village of Borgholm, was named by officers of the Great Northern railway company.

Bogus Brook township bears the name of its large eastern tributary of Rum river, derived from the early Maine lumbermen; but the reason for the adoption of this name, meaning spurious and originally referring to counterfeit money, remains to be learned.

Borgholm township has the name of a seaport of Sweden, on the island of Oeland, whence some if its settlers came.

Brickton, a railway village about two miles north of Princeton, has several brickyards, making excellent cream-colored bricks.

Dailey township was named in honor of Asa R. Dailey, an early settler there, who removed to Montana.

East Side township adjoins the east shore of Mille Lacs.

Foreston, a railway village about three miles west of Milaca, is partly surrounded by a hardwood forest.

Greenbush township, settled in 1856, organized in 1869, was named for the township of Greenbush adjoining the east side of Penobscot river in Maine. Many of the settlers in this county, both for its pine lumbering and for farming, came from that "Pine Tree State," being therefore commonly called "Mainites."

Hayland township was named for the natural meadows on its several brooks, supplying hay for oxen and horses of winter logging camps.

Isle, a railway village and port of Mille Lacs, and its Isle Harbor township, are named from their excellent harbor, partly inclosed and sheltered in storms by Great or Big island.

Izatys, a lakeside village of summer homes in South Harbor township, has the name given by Du Luth in the report of his service to France, writing of his first visit to the Sioux at Mille Lacs: "On the 2d of July, 1679, I had the honor to plant his Majesty's arms in the great village of the Nadouecioux, called Izatys, where never had a Frenchman been." It is a variation of Issati or Isanti, noting this division of the Sioux.

Kathio township, adjoining the southwest shore of Mille Lacs and including its outlet, Rum river, here flowing through three small lakes, bears an erroneously transcribed form of the foregoing name, Izatys, published by Brodhead in 1855 (Documents relating to the Colonial History of New York, vol. IX, page 795). In the original manuscript of Du Luth's report, before cited, Brodhead copied Iz of Izatys as "K," and ys as "hio," giving to that name a quite new form, Kathio, which error was followed by Neill, Winchell, Hill, Brower, Coues, and others. It has been so much used, indeed, that it will be always retained as a synonym of Izatys or Isanti. (Minnesota Historical Society Collections, vol. X, Part II, 1905, page 531.)

Long Siding, a railway village about four miles north of Princeton, was named for Edgar C. Long, a lumberman and landowner.

Milaca village and railway junction, at first called Oak City, and Milaca township, organized after the village was platted, have a shortened and changed name derived from Mille Lacs.

Milo township, settled in 1856 and organized in 1869, received its name from a township and its manufacturing village in the central part of Maine, on the Sebec river.

Mudgett township, organized in 1916, was named in honor of Isaiah S. Mudgett, who was born in Penobscot county, Maine, June 7, 1839, came to Minnesota in 1858, settled at Princeton in 1865, and was during several years the county auditor. His son, Harold Mudgett, is a farmer in section 30 of this township.

Onamia township bears the name given on the government survey plats by Oscar E. Garrison, surveyor, to the third and largest of the three lakes through which Rum river flows next below the mouth of Mille Lacs. A railway village on the south side of Onamia lake also has this name. It was received from the Ojibways, but its meaning is uncertain, unless it be like Onamani, noted in Baraga's Dictionary, whence Vermilion lake in St. Louis county is a translation.

Opstead is the name of a post office and a hamlet of Swedish settlers in East Side township.

Page township was named in honor of Charles H. and Edwin S. Page, lumbermen there, who came from Maine.

Pease, a railway village in section 13, Milo, was named by officers of the Great Northern railway company.

Princeton village, the county seat, which received its first permanent settlers in 1854, was named in honor of John S. Prince, of St. Paul, who with others platted this village in the fall or winter of 1855, the plat being recorded April 19, 1856. He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, May 7, 1821; came to St. Paul in 1854 as agent of the Chouteau Fur Company; afterward engaged in insurance, real estate, and banking; was a member of the constitutional convention of Minnesota, 1857; mayor of St. Paul, 1860-2 and 1865-6; was president of the Savings Bank of St. Paul for many years; and died in that city, September 4, 1895. Princeton township was organized in 1857, and the village was incorporated March 3, 1877.

South Harbor township was named for its good harbor on the south side of Mille Lacs.

Vineland, a village and port of Mille Lacs near its outlet, in Kathio, was named for the early Norse settlement on the northeast coast of North America in the year 1000, visited by numerous later voyages, which was called in the Icelandic language Vinland, meaning Wineland, from grapes found there.

Wahkon, a railway village and port in Isle Harbor township, bears the Sioux or Dakota name of Mille Lacs, spelled wakan in the Dakota Dictionary by Riggs, defined as "spiritual, sacred, consecrated, wonderful, incomprehensible." The Sioux applied this name especially to a very remarkable but small island far out in the lake, about seven miles northwest from Wahkon, consisting of rock, granitic boulders piled by the ice of the lake to a height of nearly 20 feet, a noted resort of gulls and pelicans, called on maps Spirit island or Pelican island. Only one or two feet below the lake level, and visible under the water for 100 feet or more to the north and east, is a ledge of the bedrock, described by David I. Bushnell in Brower's memoir of Mille Lac (page 121, with a picture, on page 118, of the heaped rock masses forming the island.) Wonderful as the island is, it was the origin of the Sioux name of the lake, of this village, and, by a punning perversion noted on a later page, the name of Rum river.

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