A PIONEER OF Harmonious Coexistence

A PIONEER OF Harmonious Coexistence




In the heart of central Minnesota, on the picturesque Mille Lacs Lake, nestled within the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Reservation, a unique story is revealed. This story is about Martin Kegg, a man whose modest cabin, constructed from logs harvested on Shawbushkung Point in the 1930s, bore witness to the ever-evolving landscape of human relationships and the quest for survival.

Shawbushkung Point, a land rich in history and culture, is on the homeland of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. But it has not always been an easy journey. It is named after Chief Shawbushkung. Shawbushkung became chief of the Mille Lacs Band in 1854 after the death of Chief Nayquonabe, who was a signatory on the Treaty of 1837, which protects the fish, wild rice and trees in a large area from the western border of Michigan to the Mississippi River.

Shawbushkung was a very young man at that time and he went on to become one of the most influential and colorful leaders in Mille Lacs Band history. When he was young, U.S. government workers came to his home while surveying the land to report back to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Historians tell the story that Shawbushkung knew the men were hungry and invited them for a meal. But he had his wife prepare one meal for him and his family. As they sat inside his home eating, he made the surveyors sit outside and wait. When Shawbushkung and his family finished eating, he asked his wife to prepare another meal for the surveyors.

He said to the men, “You might find it strange that I make you wait to eat, but when I was in Washington, they told me I should live and do as white men do. I saw white man had everything and people of a different color had little. People of different color were made to wait outside and could not come inside to eat. So here I have everything, and you have nothing. You are a different color, so I should not let you in my house.”

Then he let his wife feed them.

Whether that is part of the reason the 80 acres of land at Shawbushkung Point was once surveyed as agricultural/farm land or not, we are not certain.


In 1855, another important treaty was signed between the Mille Lacs Band and the United States of America, laying the foundation for the Band’s enduring presence in the region. But this story is not about treaties or Chief Shawbushkung; it’s about a man who carved out a unique place for himself in history.

Martin Kegg’s cabin on Shawbushkung Point was far from grand. It was a simple abode, where just a few rooms separated the adults from their 13 children. Martin and his wife, Maude Kegg, were dedicated parents, raising their large family in this rustic setting. While Maude’s name has become known in Minnesota state history for her linguistic work with the Minnesota Historical Society, her exquisite woodlands beadwork and birchbark baskets, and her work at the local trading post, Martin’s contributions have remained relatively obscure.

As we mentioned earlier, the land where the Keggs built their home was once recorded as farmland. Martin and Maude were not actually farmers, as history sometimes says, although they did have a garden containing vegetables, berries and cultural medicines. As a young girl, Maude spent each winter living in a farmhouse and attending school. But she spent the rest of the year following the traditional Ojibwe seasonal cycles. In the spring, she and her family moved to a sugar bush camp along the shores of Mille Lacs Lake. There, they harvested sap from maple trees and processed it into maple sugar. They also returned to their farmhouse to plant gardens and harvest berries. In 1917, she met Martin at a Midewiwin ceremony. She married him in 1920 in a traditional Ojibwe ceremony; two years later, the couple had a Christian church wedding.

They moved to Shawbushkung Point in 1942, and Martin began his career. Martin’s connection to the land and the lake ran deep. He set up a guided resort-style fishing business, and it’s here that his true legacy begins to emerge. Today, the Shawbushkung Point area reveals the history of his enterprise. This spot was carved out through centuries of ice movement during the spring thaw and winds. Now it hosts a modern powwow arena, in front of what was once Martin’s unnoticed access point to the lake.

Martin established his own access to the lake, located conveniently close to the cabin. Receipts, still preserved, tell the tale of a unique arrangement. Handwritten documents from the Mille Lacs Reservation Business Committee (RBC) indicate that Martin paid $4 a month to the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe to operate his business on land held in trust for the tribe. The Band is referred to as the Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa Indians in these records. That was considered a lot of money in those days, but records indicate that he never missed a payment.

His fishing business was a lifeline for nontribal members, including the local farmers and those who traveled from the Twin Cities area seeking solace and adventure on Mille Lacs Lake. For a mere 50 cents, they could park their cars in Martin’s yard and pay $2 per person to use a boat, which he would then tow out into the lake. Martin often strung several boats together, each set to be dropped off in different fishing spots. After four hours of angling, he’d return to gather the boats like a train, towing them back to shore. The men from the city would deposit their catch in barrels of ice brought from home, ready to transport their bounty back to the urban bustle.

Often, in the off seasons when food would become scarce for the local farmers and they had depleted their winter stash but fields were not ready for planting, Martin would sell fish to them.

Martin was no stranger to showcasing his three methods of fishing: spearing, angling and netting. His fishing nets hung neatly on the exterior wall of his cabin, his spears displayed proudly on nails on other walls, and a magnificent set of moose horns adorned the gable peak of his humble home. The city fishermen recognized that Martin had been there long before they arrived, but there was a mutual understanding between these two worlds — a harmony based on survival and respect for each other’s methods.

Martin Kegg, an unassuming figure in history, played a vital role in bridging the gap between cultures, making way for a peaceful coexistence between the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and the city dwellers who sought adventure on the lake. His legacy lives on, not just in the records of the past, but in the very fabric of Shaw-bush-kung Point, where tradition and enterprise found common ground, creating a space where “we all need to survive” was a way of life.