Try to imagine this Kandiyohi Lakes area as a “hunter’s paradise.” That would mean that this is the way it was up until some years after what is now Minnesota became a state. Imagine deer, elk, even caribou, bears, wolves, coyotes, beaver, mink, raccoons, buffalo, otter, bears, birds and fish all to be found right here and with no regulations changing this in any way. It’s no wonder that this was Governor Henry Sibley’s favorite hunting grounds.
Until the mid-1850s very few white hunters or trappers came to this area, even though the Kandiyohi Lakes were well known around the territory.
Before that time only the Dakota Indians lived here because this was their hunting ground and they were willing to fight off bands from other tribes which came here as trespassers on their lands. While they believed that all the land belonged to all people jointly, they still regarded themselves as the guardians of “their land” and its occupants — given to them to use and care for by the One Great One, and they took that responsibility very seriously.
Hunting was a religious matter. Before they would shoot any creature they would pray to its spirit, telling it how each part of its carcass would be used. Then and only then would they let arrows fly. They lived to conserve the wild creatures around them. Those would be the source of their own livelihood as long as they lived.
Contrast this concern and care with the attitude of the white hunters who began to infiltrate these Indian lands in the early 1800s. Farther north along today’s U.S.-Canadian border the trappers went in to trap beaver which was much in demand in eastern America and in England. Hundreds of thousands of beaver were trapped in the great Northwest which extended as far north as the Arctic Circle. The fur buyers, representing firms in the New York area built trading posts in the wilderness, bribed the Indians of that part of the country into selling beaver pelts to them in exchange, originally, for beads and the like, but the competition among the traders was so fierce they began offering more and better merchandise in exchange for beaver pelts. Thousands of those pelts were shipped back east to the owners of the great fur companies.
To the south and west other hunters were hunting buffalo, killing thousands for their hides and leaving the rest of the carcasses on the open prairie to rot.
There weren’t enough buffalo in this part of the country to cause great “kills” such as were found in the Dakotas and further west. That’s where and how “Buffalo Bill” Cody got his name. We’ll never know how many thousands of bison he killed.
Here the white hunters had to be content with smaller game than buffalo, and there were enough deer, elk and other smaller big game to keep them happy.
Early hunters in this area reported pigeons flying over in tremendous flocks — large enough to turn day light into dark as they passed. There are pictures taken around here in the late 1800s of wagons fitted with grain boxes just filled with pigeons which had been shot that day. Fishermen would pose for pictures of their large catches hung on ropes stretching from tree to tree.
Photographer Henry Jones ran a stage route between Atwater and Bird Island, making two round trips a week. His hunting instincts and his skill as a hunter led to some kills which would set records today along his route. Apparently his passengers didn’t mind in the least. There were others, too, all of whom produced such huge kills that people came to the Kandiyohi lakes to hunt and fish — they might be considered this area’s first tourists.
Sibley was no slouch, either. It was reported that in one sixmonth period, before he became Minnesota’s first governor, he racked up a total of 2,000 deer and 1,800 ducks along with some other kills.
He liked the land west of where New London now stands as a hunting ground and spent so much time in that area that, when a state park was established there, it was named after him.
As governor he sent a three-man search party out on horseback to locate the very best site for the capital of the new state. They were gone 13 days, camped on Lake Kasota for 10 of them, then went back to report that they could not find a better place in the new state for its capital.
The last wild bear seen around here showed up 30 or 40 years ago when implement dealer Jack Quinn swapped some machinery with a farmer for a bear cub the man had captured. Jack made a cage for it and kept it in front of his place of business for quite a while. It proved to be a great attraction. People came for miles to see the bear. When it grew too big for its cage jack had it put down, made a rug from the hide and invited some of his customers in for a bear dinner.
Wildlife is making a comeback around here. Sixty years ago a pheasant was a rarity. More recently flocks of geese are growing by leaps and bounds. Our national bird has been seen nesting in the area. Once in a while a cougar is reported, foxes are seen more often, and coyotes are becoming a nuisance.
Hunting will never again be as good as it was around 150 years ago when a black bear was spotted northeast of New London, but for the wild life population we do have, we have to thank a lot of local citizens.