The Prentice Claim (1922)

Kechewaiske, aka Chief Buffalo or Great Buffalo, a leader of the Lake Superior Ojibwe. (Image: Chippewa Valley Museum)

Chief Buffalo, of Ontonagon; D. S. Cash and His Partner, W. W. Spaulding; The Prentiss Claim.-One clause in particular of the Treaty of La Pointe must be referred to, because of its subsequent bearing on Duluth realty. Chief Buffalo, of Ontonagon, secured “a special reservation of four sections of land to be picked out at his leisure, anywhere in the seceded territory and conveyed, under the direction of the President, by the United States to such person or persons as he might direct.” Chief Buffalo, it was stated was “desirous to provide for some of his connections who have rendered his people important services.” It will be noted that D. S. Cash was one of the witnesses to the signing of the treaty. The same Mr. Cash, with his mining partner and nephew, W. W. Spaulding, two years later sent (“fitted out or grubstaked”) some men from Ontonagon “to the head of the lake, about Duluth, to make homesteads or pre-emption claims.” And many years afterwards, W. W. Spaulding himself explained fully and frankly the interest of D. S. Cash in the Buffalo clause of the treaty. He wrote as follows: In September, of 1854, a treaty was held at La Pointe, by commissioners appointed by the General Government, with chiefs of the Chippewa Indians.

… Mr. D. S. Cash was present at the treaty, to try and secure a claim which we had against Benjamin J. Armstrong, a trader at La Pointe, who was married to a daughter of Chief Buffalo. Armstrong had gotten deeply in debt to us for goods which he had furnished to the Indians. Mr. Cash was acquainted with Chief Buffalo, Negaunul, Cundeeun, and many others, and consulted and advised them. The commissioners tried for several days to treat with the Indian chiefs, but could not agree, and were about ready to quit in disgust when Mr. Cash went to them, and disclosed the terms upon which they could agree with the chiefs, and got them to sign it. It was in effect to sign certain reserves to different bands, and one of them at Duluth to Chief Buffalo and his heirs, B. J. Armstrong and his wife Madelaine. We had an agreement with Armstrong to deed to D. S. Cash and Company and’ James H.

Kelly two-thirds of all the land so obtained. This land is what is now known as the 3rd Division of Duluth.

Eventually, the Spaulding hotel was built upon part of the Cash-Spaulding-Kelly interest in the Buffalo-Armstrong land in Duluth, but the third division of that city was destined for many years to keep occupiers of realty thereon in a state of uncertainty, as to title 61and indirectly to reflect detrimentally upon Duluth real estate, as a whole. Indeed, Mr. Spaulding (who lived to follow the intricacies of the case to the end, whereas Mr. Cash died in 1863) must have wondered at times whether he and his partner would benefit at all by the Buffalo clause of the treaty, for it was found subsequently that the Buffalo tract, according to the treaty papers, was well out into Lake Superior. Alfred Merritt, in his autobiography, makes reference to the subject thus:

A man by the name of Burk had a claim shanty (in 1857) just west of Miller’s Creek. Here the rocks came out to the bay, and made a lee on either side of this point of rocks, so that when the wind was from the northwest, or southwest you could lay with your small boat or canoe in perfect safety. I am sure that this is the landmark chosen by Chief Buffalo, at the Indian Treaty, at La Pointe, in the fall of 1854, as the starting point, the line to run one mile north, one mile east, one mile south, and one mile west, back to the point of starting. This would have taken in the old burial ground at the foot of Rice’s Point.

The treaty was tampered with, unquestionably, by interested parties. In fact, when his land was looked up, according to the treaty papers it was found to be located six miles out in Lake Superior. This however was rectified to some extent, and when Chief Buffalo died, his son-in-law, Ben Armstrong, fell heir to Chief Buffalo’s interest, and he sold this interest to W. W. Spaulding, then of Ontonagon, Michigan, later of Duluth; and the Spaulding House stands on some of this land now.

That, however, was not the only difficulty that arose in regard to the third division of Duluth. In the ’90s case after case came into the local courts, instituted in each instance by Frederick D. Prentice of New York, who brought, and for some years continued to bring, suits for ouster and an accounting against holders of property in the Chief-Buffalo tract, Prentice claiming that he owned an undivided one-half interest in/the property, which he had acquired from Armstrong and the latter’s wife in the latter part of 1856, the deeds for which were properly recorded in the county’s books. Prentice did not succeed in any of the cases; indeed, he only appeared to prosecute one, but he nevertheless continued to institute cases for several years, until practically all real estate transactions in that division practically ceased. The Western Land Association was largely interested in real estate in that part of Duluth, and eventually was forced to carry the fight to Prentice, finally securing favorable legal decision. The land they contested Prentice’s right to had been acquired from a certain John M. Gilman, of St. Paul, who had bought the lands from Armstrong in 1864, paying him $500 for land now worth probably more than $25,000,000.

Such has been the development of Duluth in scarcely more than half a century. Probably, the worthy pioneers who will be referred to in the next chapter were never so extravagant in their sane hopes for the city, roseate though their dreams were.

Sources:

  • Van Brunt, Walter, ed. Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota Vols. 1 – 3. The American Historical Society. Chicago: 1922.