Since shortly after Lake Agassiz receded at the close of the last ice age, humans inhabited this lowland. All successful inhabitants have been hunters and gatherers and most recently, loggers. The one attempt in 7000 years to remake the bog failed. After the bog opened for homesteading, a massive drainage program was initiated in 1908 to convert it to farmland. Ditching and drainage discontinued after 20 years, when the program failed to produce arable land and local taxpayers failed to support the huge debt incurred.
Today, agricultural use of nearby lowland areas is primarily wild rice farming.
Prior to this time, Woodland Indians occupied the region. The campground at the mouth of the Tamarack River is a prehistoric settlement and burial ground. Indians used the river to reach the Sturgeon, Big Fork and Rainy Rivers, to the north. This area may also have been a refuge site for the Dakota Sioux when the Ojibwe pushed them from the region. It is thought that the Dakota camped here.
The Ojibwe people used over 150 plant species as medicines. Plant preparation depended upon the ailment it treated. Peatland plants with medicinal value included cranberry, dogwood, yellow lady-slipper, blue flag, labrador tea, and pitcher plants.
Europeans first entered the area in 1634, when Nicollet, a French explorer, traveled into the Lake of the Woods. During the flourishing French fur trade that followed, the Rainy River became the main route into the mid-continent and trading posts and forts appeared in the region. An early British fur trading post was located near the mouth of the Tamarack River. In 1966 a historic-site archeologist from the Minnesota Historical concluded that the most appropriate spot for the post was on the north side of the river, where the state fish hatchery is now located.
Logging operation records from the Red Lake area outside of the natural marsh peat bog indicate the volume of timber cut near the turn of the century. In the peak year of 1891, 50-million board feet of lumber were produced, and this was just one of many logging operations active at that time. Many earlier settlers worked the logging camps to support their families. A few women found employment in the camps as cooks.
Commercial fishing in Red Lake took hold in the 1920s supplementing incomes of local white and American Indian families. A fish processing plant was erected in Redby. Tourism and sport fishing followed as the walleye fishery gained notoriety and resorts sprang up along the lakeshore and Tamarack River. During its “hay day,” all private and public campgrounds were full to overflowing. Joseph Hudec, Don Hudec’s grandfather, opened Hudec’s Resort for business in 1938. Ed Hudec, Don’s father took the reins in 1964. Don is continuing the family tradition and will soon be adding his bit of history to Hudec’s Resort.
Walleyes were captured as they entered the Tamarack River and their eggs stripped and hatched in the hatchery. The offspring of Red Lake walleye stocked many regional lakes.
The Red Lake Fisheries Board suspended commercial fishing in April 1997 after a crash in the walleye population. The MN DNR suspended Walleye sport fishing in the spring of 1999.
A cooperative restocking effort is currently under way, which began in the spring of 1999 with stocking of over 41 million walleye fry in both state and tribal waters in the Upper and Lower Red Lakes. If efforts are successful, anticipated recovery of the fishery is estimated to take about 10 years.
Don’t forget to visit the towns of Waskish and Kelliher when you stop up. There are many charms to be discovered in each location. Stop in and ask us where to find the best shops and places of historical interest. We’ll be happy to help you out.