Window into yesterday - Indian Island

by David Kess for the Ely-Winton Historical Society

“Artifacts from the Boshey Family on Indian Island, Burntside”

Early native cultures on Burntside Lake appear to go back into prehistory. The earliest known artifacts were stone points from the Paleo-Indian culture which ended about 5000 B.C. For the 4000 years that followed this same land was inhabited by peoples from the copper culture. Pottery and burial mounds from the Woodland Culture that came later show it to have been here until about 1650 A.D.
The Dakota or Sioux were next but were “replaced” by the Ojibwe in the early 1700s.
It seems likely that Ojibwe traversed the portage from Shagawa to Burntside and also lived on the lake from about the mid 1800s. What became known as Indian Island just off the shore of what is now Burntside Lodge was established as a burial ground.
In 1896 a Mr. C. C. Pope from Superior, WI, visited the island summer home of Martin Pattison on Burntside Lake. He noted the number of white flags floating on poles on a nearby island (Indian Island) and remarked these marked the presence of graves. Graves were also marked by spirit houses— first made of twigs and branches but later constructed with boards.
Since the 1880s or perhaps earlier there was a summer village on the west side of Indian Island. The primary residents were the extended family of Chief Joe Boshey (Ay-wim-ah-je-way-aush) and his wife Mary (Maish-kah-wah-ne-nah-doke). Their family of six included Tom, Maggie, Emma, Jim, Edward, and Rose. (Each of course also had Ojibwe names.) There were three buildings and a horse barn on the island. Winter camps were on Lake Vermilion or Big Lake.
Martin Pattison, a fee holder in the Pioneer Mine, built a log summer home on a nearby Burntside island. Some of the Boshey women were employed by Grace Pattison who in turn taught them and their children English and some basic skills.
One November day Martin Pattison, his brother-in-law Jack West, and several others were fishing on the lake when somehow their canoe overturned. Chief Boshey happened to not be too far away and was able to rescue Mr. Pattison but not Mr. West. To reward Joe Boshey, Martin Pattison not only purchased Indian Island but also legally stipulated that the Boshey family could occupy the island as long as Chief Boshey lived. He died in 1951 at the age of 100 according to tribal records. The Bois Forte band is now in possession of Indian Island.
The Bosheys made frequent trips to town often being transported to and from town by another guide and Burntside Lodge employee Harry Lindsay. Harry had his own lakeshore cabin and became a good and generous friend during lean times. In turn the Bosheys gifted him with handcrafted items made of buckskin, moose hide, birch bark, and quill and beadwork. Various pieces were dyed with natural dyes. Two rare items were a birch bark birdhouse and a beaded and quilled bag.
By the early 1960s the Bosheys had vacated Indian Island. Harry eventually became arthritic and too infirm to use his cabin so he sold it and the contents to Donald Kess of Ely. Knowing that these handcrafted items were invaluable Donald chose to loan them to the Ely-Winton Historical Society for safekeeping and to be shared with visitors to the museum.
The items on display include the birch bark bird house, the beaded and quilled bag, a deerskin pouch, moccasins, moosehide choppers, and other beadwork.
Much credit for the history of Indian Island and the Boshey family must be given to the late Milt Stenlund and his book Burntside Lake-The Early Years. Additional information also came from Lee Brownell’s Pioneer Life in Ely.
These items will be on display in the Fine Arts lobby of Vermilion Community College until the first week of July. It will then be moved to the Ely public library and following that it will be returned for display in the museum itself. For questions or comments call (218) 365 – 3226.