Native American Era

We know that Native American tribes may have influenced habitat and fish Native American Campabundance.  In the Ojibwe language, Namekagon means“place of the sturgeon.”  Near the mouth of the Namekagon River, a fish dam was built on the St. Croix River by people that predated the Ojibwe.  The Ojibwe tribes would return to the fish dam every May to capture sturgeon swimming upstream.  The fish dam was built in the shape of a V with large boulders blocking sturgeon passage so that they would swim into the center where fishermen speared the fish as they swam into large baskets.  The existence of the fish dam is confirmed in the journals of Joseph Nicollet.  Log drives destroyed the remnants of the fish dam in the mid 1800’s, but descriptions of the annual tribal migration to the sturgeon fishing grounds survived.

In addition to fishing and hunting, the Ojibwe used the river as a primary transportation route.  European explorers and fur traders noted that there were several heavily-used portage trails between water bodies in northern Wisconsin.  There was a portage trail between the Lac Courte Oreilles lakes and the river at Hayward.  A portage trail also connected the Namekagon River to Lake Owen near where the river turns south at Cable.  Pictographs drawn on trees along the river provided travelers with information on species in the area; Henry Schoolcraft described these billboards for waterway travel.  We know that large wood and debris inhibited travel along the Brule River into Lake Superior.  Although there are no records of wood inhibiting early travel along the Namekagon, we cannot discount the possibility that the Namekagon was similar to the Brule.  It is also possible that travelers along these routes could manipulate and remove woody debris within the river to ease the passage of birch-bark canoes, just as people do today. 

On the Upper Namekagon River, early explorers noted an Ojibwe village on Lake Pacwawong where wild rice provided a reliable annual crop.  In addition to the wild rice, the villagers also subsisted on crops of corn, potatoes, pumpkins, beans, as well as abundant wild blueberries along the banks of the river. The village likely had an impact on local water quality, evidenced by the eight large, permanent lodges and cultivation. 

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