Osakis Area Heritage
The Osakis area is rich in Indian lore. The discovery of the remains
of the Sauk Valley Man in 1938* indicates that the big game
hunters found their way into this region. The remains were found in the gravel pit along
the banks of the Sauk River just east of Osakis in West Union township. These remains
along with those of the Minnesota Women and the Browns Valley Man substantiate the belief
that people lived in or at least visited the west central area of Minnesota eight to
twelve thousand years ago.
Archaic Indians who date from the time before Christ also lived in or visited this
area. A copper spear point and other artifacts found in sites along the shores of the Lake
and in other sites near the lake substantiate that claim.
The Lake Osakis area was home to the Dakota Indians as early as seven to eight hundred
years ago. Evidence of village sites have been found at many sites around the lake.
When the Chippewas or Ojibwe Indians moved into Minnesota from the east they too, found
Lake Osakis and its environs to their liking. Since Osakis lies right on the demarcation
line between Dakota and Ojibwe territory, it became a battle ground between the two
tribes. Skirmishes between the two tribes happened whenever the tribes met. One such
skirmish is remembered by local people and gives rise to an interesting but false legend.
A small party of Ojibwe Indians were preparing supper on the point of land which we now
know as Battle Point when they were surprised by a party of Sioux (Dakota). The Ojibwe
were tomahawked and driven into the lake where all but one drowned. This brave swam the
narrows of the Lake to Buck Point where he sought help from a white settler, John Rock.
This part of the legend is true. Someone, however, gave a romantic twist to the story by
having the Brave throw his hands into the air when he reached the Buck Point side of the
lake and shouting Oh-sa-kis which supposedly meant, "Oh, save us!", which gave
rise to the legend of naming the lake.
The naming of Osakis has always been a matter of controversy among local
people. Some subscribe to the story of the Indian brave who swam the narrows of the Lake
shouting "Oh save us!" Others point to a camp of an Indian scout. He called his
camp Sakis meaning place of danger. This, many claim, is the source of the naming Osakis.
The Dakota called the lake by the name, O-Za-Tee meaning fork in the road or river. The
Ojibwe called the Lake Oh-za-kees which means "place of the Sauk". The Sauk
Indians roamed the area for a short time. When they left the Sauk Valley, five renegades
were left behind on what is now known as Didier's Corner. These people were often visited
by the Ojibwe band from Pillagar, MN. On one visit, the five Sauk were murdered,
apparently by the Dakota. All of this happened before the white settlement.
In the early 1800's, the upper Mississippi river basin was explored by Nicolous
Nicollet, a French geographer. When his map was published in 1843, the lake and the rivers
leading into and out of the lake were labeled "Osakis".
Another controversial fact of Osakis history is that of the Vikings. According to
believers, the Vikings were in central Minnesota some 500 years before the first
settlement. They point to the Kensington Runestone, the Viking Alters Rock and many
mooring stones as evidence of Viking exploration. Non-believers counter these arguments
with those of their own. It would appear that Viking exploration is a distinct possibility
but definite proof remains to be found. The Kensington Runestone is still considered a
hoax by many.
Not until 500 years after the Vikings were supposed to have come, did the first
settlers arrive in Osakis, Minnesota. The first recorded white settlements is that of Mary
Gordon and her family. She and her family settled on the Didier Corner in 1857. The family
built a two story log house which served as an inn for other settlers who were in search
of land. Legend has it that Mr. Gordon, the father, was tomahawked to death by an Indian
as he stood in the yard of the inn. It was not long before the settlers followed Mrs.
Gordon into the Osakis area. John Potter took a claim which eventually became the city of
Osakis. The Gordon place became a stage stop on the military road from St. Paul to Fort
Abercrombie. A blacksmith shop and a small store opened up near Mary Gordon's place. Other
settlers began to occupy land around the Gordon settlement.
In 1862, the Indian troubles began and the area cleared of white settlers. People fled
to Sauk Centre and St. Cloud.
When the Indian troubles were finally over settlers began to drift back into the Osakis
area. Donald Stevenson acquired the original Potter claim. He opened a grist mill,
operated a freight line that ran from St. Cloud to Fort Abercrombie, had the village
platted, and helped organized Douglas County. He was the first postmaster at Osakis and
served on the first board of trustees of the Methodist Church. Stevenson did not stay in
Osakis long. He moved on to Dakota territory where he continued his whirlwind activities
in getting that territory settled.
The Stevenson grist mill was replaced by a roller mill which in its
hay-day milled as much as 400 barrels of flour per day. Oh-Sa-Kiss flour was shipped to
the east coast and some into Europe.
The Mill furnished electricity to the City from the late 1800's until 1920 when
Northern Electric put lines through the area.
When the Minneapolis milling companies became so strong that small mills could no
longer compete, the Osakis Milling company ceased flour milling and milled only cattle
The railroad came to Osakis in 1878. Thereafter, Osakis farmers had a way of getting
their wheat, potatoes, and livestock to market. The railroad lost its importance to the
area with the advent of trucking which continues to be the major method of transporting
goods to market today.
Just as in other small communities in
Central Minnesota, the church and school were the first public buildings erected. In the
early years in Scandinavian settlements, one building served both purposes. School was
held for a part of the year and bible school for the rest of the time. Today, none of the
rural schools exist. The educational needs of the area are met by the Osakis Public School
and St. Agnes Parochial School.
Six rural churches and five city churches continue to serve the religious needs of the
people of the area.
In the early days, Osakis was a thriving trade center serving the rural farm
communities. With the coming of the automobile and hard roads, the business center of
Osakis has declined. Some successful businesses continue and a few new operations open
from time to time.
Tourism has always been a major industry in Osakis and that continues to flourish.
Efforts to curb pollution of the Lake are underway and efforts are being made to restore
the lake to its original condition.
Osakis, which is the second largest city in Douglas County, lies partially in Todd
County. The population of the area nearly triples with the influx of tourists during the
The entire Osakis area is made up of friendly caring people. It is a
great place to visit and even greater place in which to live
& Wilford. Discover of Sauk Valley Man of MN. Texas Archeological and Palenontologist
Society. Abilene, Texas. Sept., 1938.