What I Learned at the National Archives, Chicago


The “Bean” at Millenium Park, Chicago

There was still snow on the ground and ice on the lake in the last week of April when I traveled to Chicago to do some research for my book project. Although I had planned the trip to gather information for that project, I knew it would also be an opportunity to research our family’s history further. The Chicago unit of the National Archives holds records for the midwestern U.S., including Bureau of Indian Affairs records for White Earth and other reservations.

I spent an entire day at the Archives, and was able to access official correspondence to the Indian agent at White Earth as far back as the 1870s. I found the official record showing that Amelia Trotochaud Spry had “proved up” her land on the reservation prior to the allotment era. This process was spelled out in the 1867 treaty, whereby tribal members could claim 40 acres by breaking ground on 10 acres. Up to 160 acres could be claimed this way.  The record book had a total of 71 entries; Amelia’s 160-acre claim was 15th in the list, with the date of August 18, 1878. The location has the same legal description as the allotment she received under the Nelson Act of 1889. (In Amelia’s case the allotment was a formality.)

The Archives have the original receipt book kept by the Indian agent to record annuity goods handed out to tribal members. I found an entry dated August 8, 1874 for receipt of 11 lbs. of pork, 49 lbs. of flour and 10 lbs. of sugar issued to Angelique Blair (Mrs. Pierre Trotochaud). A week later, another entry had 4.5 lbs. of pork and 24.5 lbs. of flour being issued to Mitchell Spry. As these were the only entries in the book for members of our family, it suggests they needed some initial supplies when they got to White Earth. This means the Trotochauds and Sprys at White Earth in late July or early August of 1874. Amelia was about 5 months pregnant with Liza; Frank was 3 years old and Henry about 18 months.

The Archives also hold the original annuity rolls, which were used to record membership in the tribe. The members are listed under their respective chiefs; The Trotochauds and Sprys are listed under “O-muck-kuck-keence”. Interestingly, John Johnson Sr. is listed under the same chief. This could be Enmegabowh, the famous Episcopalian missionary. If so, it begs the question what if any relationship our family may have had with him.

The annuity rolls list all of the eligible children of each tribal member. These records appear to be at least as accurate as the census records in terms of names and ages. However, they reveal the names of additional children born to Amelia and Mitchell. The 1881 roll lists Josephine, born that year. The 1898 roll lists Matilda, age 3 but notes that she died in 1897. I seem to recall seeing a grave marker for her at Calvary Cemetery near the old mission.

The rolls also list Albert, born in 1886. He is listed in all of the rolls I reviewed up to 1898. He is also listed in all the censuses up to 1901, when he would have been 15. Then he disappears. Could he have run away? Or had a tragic accident? I did a search for Albert Spry on newspapers.com and found incidences of that name in papers throughout the country. Many were from the East Coast and were likely associated with the English name Spry. His name does not show up in any Minnesota newspapers. There were several references to an Albert Spry, an electrician in Arizona, who was convicted of larceny. Because other Spry cousins moved to Arizona to work in the mines, this could be a match for our Albert. However, this Albert, while the right age, claimed to have been born in California. Our Albert will remain a mystery, at least for now.

Finally, the Archives provide records of the additional allotments made to tribal members at White Earth as a result of the 1904 Steenerson Act. This act allowed all members who previously had only received 80 acres under the original Nelson Act to obtain another 80. The records show that my great-grandfather Peter, who had 80 acres next to Henry east of Callaway, selected an additional 80 acres about 2 miles east of Waubun. Youngest brother Lawrence selected 80 acres north of Ogema. Sisters Ellen and Madeleine selected land northwest of Ogema. All of these parcels appear to have been prairie that could be converted to farmland. Their sister Amelia received an allotment south of Big Sugarbush Lake. This was likely hardwood forest at the time, although about half of this parcel is now cleared and farmed. The allotment records are numbered, presumably in chronological order. All of these allotments issued to Sprys were numbered between 983 and 990. Because these parcels were far flung from their original allotments, it seems likely the Spry siblings rented them out or sold them.

Oldest sister Eliza, at that time married to Eusebe Bellefeuille, received additional allotment no. 225, which could mean she was in line on the day back 1905 when the government started issuing allotments (see my previous post). This parcel was located northeast of Waubun and was probably a mix of oak woods and prairie. Because these parcels were far flung from their original allotments, it seems likely the Spry siblings rented them out or sold them.

Among the records in the Archives I came across an affadavit signed by Peter (brother Henry was the second witness but his signature is absent) on behalf of “Zephine” Bellefeuille. Presumably this was Zephyr, his brother-in-law.This affadavit verified that Zephyr was a mixed-blood tribal member and was required to be submitted as part of an application for fee-simple patent for his additional allotment.  This was usually a preliminary step to selling the land. Based on the legal description, the additional allotment no. 261 received by Zephyr was located just west of Bad Medicine Lake. This was very likely pine land. Other Bellefeuilles and some Trotochauds also received additional allotments on the pine lands in the eastern part of the reservation.

IMG_0049Finally, I reviewed records associated with the land fraud claims and investigations made at White Earth in the early 1900s. I came across a record (case no. 145) wherein Lawrence Spry mortgaged his additional allotment in 1909 for $800 to the Homestead Real Estate Loan Co. It is not clear whether this was proven to be a case of fraud (Lawrence was 18 or 19 at the time).

My time at the National Archives gave me a glimpse into some details of our family history. The records confirm the Sprys did not benefit from the scandals related to the pine lands. Their focus seemed to be on farming. Nevertheless, they were witness to major changes on the reservation in the late 1800s and early 1900s.