A Quick History of Leech Lake

Such a stunning area wouldn’t exist without an amazing history. Before you could find luxury accommodations at Trapper’s Landing Lodge on the shore… you would have a giant glacier! Here’s a Cliff Notesque version of the area’s history:

Leech Lake: From Glacier to Fishing Hot Spot in only 10,000 years!

Approximately 10,000 years ago, all of northern Minnesota was covered by a big glacier. What remains of that glacier, are the 10,000 lakes that cover the state.

In late 2006, about 50 tool-like artifacts were found near the new Walker Area Community Center, on a southern hillside of Leech Lake. Some archaeologists believe these artifacts show evidence of being between 13,000 and 15,000 years old, which would date them toward the end of the last Ice Age – a time when woolly mammoths, mastodons and giant beavers roamed the continent. How /giant/ exactly were the beavers, you ask? About the size of a large dog.

This also would indicate that humans inhabited Minnesota more than 5000 years earlier than scientists once thought, and that this area was one of the oldest-known sites of human inhabitation in all of North and South America. While that’s not been definitely proven just yet, let’s just accept it as more evidence of how special this area is.

Native American Roots – Dakota and Ojibwe Tribes

What is not in dispute is that the Dakota tribe lived in the Leech Lake area in the 1600s, and Ojibwe (O jib way) settled on small islands on the lake by the 1700s. By 1847, white men got a treaty from these tribes that pushed them into Wisconsin and ceded the Minnesota territory that is now the Ojibwe Leech Lake Reservation.

The first westward-wandering white men established trading posts at Ottertail and Oak Points in the 1780s and lumberjacks came in droves to help harvest the forests. Back in those days there were few white women in these parts, and most of those followed the lumberjacks and worked in the ‘service industry.’

The Leech Lake Dam creates our favorite Summer Vacation Spot

Leech Lake as it exists today was formed deliberately in 1882 when the Army Corps of Engineers started building Leech Lake Dam, and ultimately raised the water level enough (seven feet) to connect about six separate lakes. No time was wasted in making Leech Lake a tourist destination – the first camping facilities and public launch were set up soon after.

The population of the towns surrounding Leech Lake, which support the mill and logging industries, exploded when the first railroad was built through Walker in 1896. The town of Walker is named after T.J. Walker, who owned the local mill which was then located where Walker City Park is now. Some of T.J.’s decedents still live in the area; one is the owner of the restaurant/bar in Walker called Bensen’s.

In the 50’s more Muskies were pulled out of Leech Lake than any other lake in the U.S., which allowed Walker to crown itself, the Muskie Capitol of the Nation.


Efforts by the Department of Natural Resources to restock Leech with millions of walleye fry succeeded in returning Leech Lake to its status as a walleye-catching premiere lake. This was in evidence when the Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener was held on Leech in May of 2007, and Governor Pawlenty and Mrs. Pawlenty both caught several sizable walleye.

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