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Otter Tail County Minnesota

Leaf Lake Township





From Trygg Historical Maps, Trygg Land Office, Ely, MN www.trygglandoffice.com/maps.html
b=bottom land, m=marsh, p=prairie, s=swamp

 Basic Facts:

Township N134, Range W38
British Trading Post 1792
Government survey 1858
First Settled 1878
Organized 1879
Railroad Arrived 1902


[Copied by Lory Brasel, lbrasel@leagent.net, from the book "History of Otter Tail County" Volume I - 1916 by John W. Mason]


The first effort of the citizens of Leaf Lake township (township 134, range 38) to organize a civil township was made March 19, 1879. At that date C. D. C. Williams and others presented a petition before the county commissioners asking for the organization of a civil township with the above described limits. It was refused by the board because the signatures all appeared in the same handwriting. William appeared before the board on July 22, 1879, with a petition properly signed, and, upon the representation that there were at least twenty-five legal voters in the township, the commissioners granted the petition. The first election was at the house of C. D. C: Williams on the ninth of the following month.

The petition asking for the organization of the township carried the following names: C. D. C. Williams, Joseph Dickerson, William Hostetler, Daniel Hochstetler, Edward F. Curry, John W. Dickerson, John McCool, W. C. Curry, Thomas Elliott, William Elliott, Frank Elliott, Knud Anderson, Christian Haugen, Edward C. Oppegaard, Erick O. Haukedahl, Nils Rino, Martin Erickson, Joseph Hart, P. Brown and Frederic Clayton.

This township has two large lakes. East and West Leaf lakes, which extend nearly across the township from east to west about the center of the township. Other lakes to be found are Grass, Gaard and Portage, all three lying in the central western part of the township. Two streams, Leaf river and Willow creek, flow into East Leaf lake from the north and south respectively. The greater portion of the township is a level prairie with enough slope to admit of drainage and accordingly most of the land is rendered tillable.

The history of this township, if more or less obscure records are to be relied upon, antedates that of any other part of the county. An article in the Fergus Falls Journal, June 21, 1878, tells of the ruins on the shores of Leaf Lake of a British trading post established about one hundred years ago. This trading post was maintained by the British Northwest Trading Company in what is now known as Otter Tail county, and dates back as far as 1812. The writer of the article says “In our recent trip to Deer Creek there was pointed out to us in the thick woods along the north shore of Leaf Lake some overgrown mounds, partially covering tolerably well preserved chimney stacks, which marked the site of this former trading post. On the spot where once stood houses now stand trees eight to ten inches in diameter.

“Our first definte information in regard to this post was obtained from Donald McDonald of Otter Tail City. He says that about 1812 Colonel Dixon of the British Army had charge of this trading post at Leaf Lake. The portage from Otter Tail lake to Leaf lake is only about half a mile, and was one of the favorite portages from the waters of the Red river to those of the Mississippi.”

It is known that the Otter Tail and Crow Wing trail was first opened for the passage of Red River carts some eighty years ago. This led east from Otter Tail City past the site of the old post on the north side of Leaf lake, on through the present townships of Deer Creek, Compton and Wadena to Crow Wing. There are reasons for the conjecture that a trail for carts may have extended to the Leaf lake post from Selcurks in Dixon’s time.

McDonald also speaks in this article of a division line which was established in the early day, known by Indians then living, which led up to Crow Wing and Leaf river, thence by the Leaf lakes to Otter Tail.

These were the days when the Sioux and Chippewas disputed the occupancy of the region. Beautiful Battle lake took its name from a desperate contest in which twenty-six Ojibways, all that were engaged, were cut down by a much larger party of Sioux.

McDonald, the authority quoted above, says that he subsequently knew Colonel Dixon at Montreal. He describes him as a large man of full face, tall and commanding. It is also recorded of him that although engaged in inciting the northwestern Indians against the Limited States in the War of 1812, he was humane to prisoners and rescued many from the Indians. In connection with the article referred to, Rev. E. D. Neill, who was regarded as the best historical authority on early events in Minnesota, has the following to say of Col. Robert Dixon and the Leaf lake trading post:

“At the commencement of the last century the leading spirit of the fur traders of the region west of Lake Superior was an Englishman named Robert Dixon. He came to this region about 1790, and had supervision of the trading posts at Cass, or Red Cedar, and Leach lakes. In December, 1805, Lieutenant Pike of the United States army, while in camp at the rapids below Swan River, was visited by Dixon, who assured him that no liquor was sold to the Indians at any of the trading posts under his direction and Pike in his report writes, “he seemed to be a gentleman of general knowledge and in possession of much geographical information of the western county, of open frank manners.

‘‘In 1811 Dixon was the British agent and superintendent of the west­ern Indians, and was active in his opposition to the United States in the War of 1812. In February, 1814, he was at Green Bay influencing the Indians to support the British flag, and in the summer of that year he was at Fort McKay, the British post at Prairie du Chien.”

On February 16, 1818, the United States Indian agent at Prairie du Chien wrote to the governor of Illinois: “A courier who arrived a few days since confirmed the belief that Dixon is endeavoring to secure to the British government the affection of the Sioux. Dixon, as I have before observed, is situated near the head of the St. Peters, to which place he transports his goods from Selcurks Red river establish­ment in carts made for the purpose. The trip is performed in five days, sometimes less. He is directed to build a fort in the highest land between Lac du Travers and Red river (perhaps Otter Tail lake), which he supposes will be the established line between the two countries. This fort will be defended by twenty men with two small pieces of artillery.’’

Early in January, 1822, Dixon arrived from Selcurk’s settlement at Fort Snelling, accompanied by Alex Bailley, who is subsequent years lived at Wabshaw shore, below Lake Pepin and was a member of the Minnesota Legislature.

In 1824 Major Talliaferro went from Fort Snelling to Washington with a delegation of Chippewas and Dakotas. On their return they visited New York City and William Dixon, a half-breed son of Robert Dixon, took the Dakotas to see the Rev. Samuel Peters. The latter gave to Little Crow, the grandfather of the Sioux Chief who led the Indians in the massacre of the whites of the Minnesota valley, a new gun in consideration of the signing of a certain paper by which the heirs of Jonathan Carger hoped to attain from Congress the land upon which St. Paul and Minneapolis is built.

The next year there arrived in a keel boat at Fort Snelling a box marked “Col. Robert Dixon,’’ which was found to contain a few presents from Bishop Peters to Dixon’s Indian wife, and a long letter and a copy of Carter’s alleged grant of land from the Sioux, written on parchment. Colonel Dixon died at Queenstown, Canada. The wife of Joseph LaFramboise, an old settler of the Minnesota valley, was a granddaughter of Dixon.

Leaf Lake township was without a railroad until 1902, when the Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie railroad was built through the county. This road crosses the southwestern corner of the township, but so far there is not a station in the township. In fact, there has never been a village within the limits of the township, although a summer resort was platted in section 25 in 1906. This plat, known as Leaf Side, is located on the south side of East Leaf lake and was laid out by O. H. Molden for A. D. and Mary E. Peck.

The present township officers are as follows Supervisors, Olaf Ter­vola, D. Grefe and John Sume; clerk. G. H. Miller; treasurer. Ole Haugan; assessor, H. Anderson; justices, H. Anderson and Nels Ring constables, P. Jaijala and H. Matti.


Population totals in state and federal census summaries.

   Leaf Lake
 1880  159
 1885  493
 1890  640
 1895  734
 1900  713
 1905  696
 1910  694
 1920  826
 1930  650
 1940  658
 1950  508
 1960  341
 1970  295

Places of birth for Leaf Lake Township in the 1905 state census.

 Native (USA)  50   7%
 Minnesota  399   57%
 Foreign  247   35%
     Germany  44   18%
     Sweden  28   11%
     Norway  40   16%
     Canada  0   0%
     Ireland  0   0%
     Denmark  0   0%
     England  1   0%
     Poland  0   0%
     Finland  134   54%
     Russia  0   0%
     Scotland  0   0%
     Other  0   0%

Land Maps


The following names have been extracted from original land records (by John Nelson) and Mason's History (by Karen Terry). Allensen , Ole ; Antler , Jacob ; Bullock , Abraham L , George L , Sarah ; Clark , Reuben M ; Cordes , Hermann ; Cox , Samuel E ; Dibb , Phineas ; Dickerson , Joseph ; Ellingson , Fredrick N ; Fiskari , Henrik ; Grover , Thomas J ; Hanson , Elis , John ; Hart , Joseph ; Haugen , Christian ; Holmen , Knud O ; Hostetler , William ; Hyttja , Jaakob ; Jackson , Philip ; Jacobson , Jacob W , Martin ; Johaneson , Mathis ; Johansen , Isak V ; Johnson , August ; Kauppi , Gustaf ; Kivijarvi , Andrew ; Koljonen , Anders ; Lapinaja , Michael ; Luders , Hermann H ; Lunt , Isak C ; Matti , Hendrick ; Mcdonald , Thomas ; Mursu , Johan ; Neklass , Swenborg ; Nichols , Sam H ; Oppegaard , Edward C ; Pedersen , Andreas ; Rasmusson , Nils P ; Reynolds , R ; Richardson , John W ; Ring , Nels ; Ront , Erik ; Siderborg , Magnus ; Sprague , Elisha C ; Steensland , Halle ; Strolberg , Nils F ; Taylor , James ; Tervala , Olof ; Thompson , Ninian E ; Traver , John , William L ; Vandyke , Lewis ; Wilkins , Amos W ; Williams , Charles D ; York , Frank W

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