For at least two decades, an intricately beaded Ojibwe bandolier bag greeted visitors in the J.C. Patience exhibit room at The Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum. The label for the bandolier bag read as follows:
This beautifully designed and beaded bag was owned by Mrs. Ralph Hall who lived at Round Lake, Morrison County. The bag was purchased in 1910 at Walker, Minnesota on Leech Lake. It is an excellent example of Ojibwe Indian beadwork.
The bag was taken off exhibit in order to let it rest, but recent interest in the three bandolier bags within the Morrison County Historical Society’s collections has garnered it and the other bags spots within the museum’s new BEAD Exhibit in the east hall.
With the assistance of researcher Sandy MacMillan, who requested to see the bag while it was off exhibit, we have learned quite a bit more about the woman who owned this bag and her family.
Mrs. Ralph Hall was born Ethel Elizabeth Gourd on June 22, 1891, in Nowata, Oklahoma, to Benjamin Franklin Rattling Gourd and Cynthia (Langley) Gourd. According to a 1909 article in the Little Falls Daily Transcript (LDT), Frank Gourd, as he was commonly known, had purchased the farm of Charles Valentine on Round Lake in Clough Township, which would bring him and his family from Oklahoma to Morrison County. While Gourd was invested in oil lands in Oklahoma, he wanted a place to farm. His wife’s sister had “lived in Morrison county for some time and it was while on a visit here that he became interested in Minnesota as a desirable place to make his permanent home.” (LFDT, June 2, 1909)
The Gourd family appears on the 1910 Census in Clough Township, with the Edward Hall family appearing only a couple of entries above the Gourds. Edward’s oldest son was Ralph, who was 18 at the time, the same age as Ethel Gourd. In looking at a Clough Township plat map of the era, it’s not hard to see how Ralph and Ethel got to know each other. Their family farms were kitty-corner from one another. The two were married on November 9, 1910.
What’s interesting about their marriage date is that this was the same year Ethel purchased the bandolier bag.
While Ethel may have been attracted to the bag due to its beauty, she may have felt another connection to it. She and her parents were part of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. Frank enrolled in the tribe in 1880 through the Tahlequah District; Cynthia enrolled the same year in the Delaware District. Ethel was enrolled in the Tahlequah District in 1896. (Cherokee Nation, Cherokee Roll, Field # 6085, Dawes # 14512-14516)
Frank was not a resident of Morrison County for long. On September 17, 1911, after an altercation involving several men during a fishing trip to Budde’s Lake, Frank died. During the fight, Frank hit his brother-in-law, S.S. Durham, with a club. “Gourd then dropped the piece he held in his hands and Durham picked it up and struck Gourd across the head on the right side. Gourd crumpled to the ground without a word. A minute later he became conscious and said, “You better send for a doctor,” He then lapsed into unconsciousness and remained in that state until he died at 7 o’clock Sunday morning.” (LFDT, Sept. 18, 1911)
Several of the men on the fishing trip had been drinking and while most of the newspaper accounts mentioned this fact, The Pierz Journal headline about the incident resorted to a stereotype: “Indian Killed in Drunken Brawl: S.L. Gourd, Wealthy Cherokee Indian, Killed at Randall by His Brother-in-law.” Note that the paper got Gourd’s initials wrong. The article also repeats twice that Gourd was “a full-blood Cherokee Indian” and states that “he is reputed to be very wealthy, receiving a large royalty yearly from oil wells on lands in Oklahoma.” (Pierz Journal, Sept. 21, 1911) It’s an article that implies a number of judgments about Gourd’s character based on his Native background, which indicates the Gourd family may have dealt with racism in Morrison County.
S.S. Durham was found guilty of second degree manslaughter and was sentenced to Stillwater prison for an indeterminate term. (LFDT, Oct. 10, 1911) Within a few months of his sentencing, the jurors in the case signed a petition asking for him to be pardoned and released, saying “he has been punished enough for his act, which was one of carelessness and neglect rather than one of crime.” (LFDT, Jan. 22, 1912)
Frank left behind his wife Cynthia and five children, Ethel, Charles, Lee, Harris, and Stella. Cynthia and Frank had been married 22 years, having wedded in 1889 in Oklahoma. Cynthia would not remarry until November 28, 1928, when she married Sam Chartier in Morrison County. Morrison County Historical Society board president Camille Warzecha has studied the Chartier family extensively as part of her husband’s genealogy. Within her collection is a photo of Cynthia Langley Gourd Chartier with Alphonsine Chartier Moore (Camille’s husband’s grandmother) wearing Sam Chartier’s overalls with pipes in their mouths. Cynthia died in 1939.
As for Ethel, she and Ralph appear on the 1930 Census in the village of Randall. Ralph was running a garage at the time. By 1940, the couple were at home in Little Falls. Ethel died at the age of 62 of a stroke, with her husband and five children surviving her. The date of death was February 12, 1954, which is significant in terms of the Ojibwe bandolier bag that launched this story. On March 26, 1954, around six weeks after Ethel’s death, Ralph donated her bandolier bag to the Morrison County Historical Society. At the time it was donated, it was identified as an “Indian Medicine Man Beaded Apron.” (MCHS Accession Record, # 1954.8)
While we do not yet know the identity of the skilled craftswoman who created Ethel Gourd Hall’s bandolier bag, each time we take an artifact out of the museum’s collections rooms for an exhibit, we learn more of its history. This bag has helped us uncover some of the rich history of the Gourd and Hall families. Perhaps one day we will discover the story behind its creator in the Leech Lake area.
~ Mary Warner
MCHS Executive Director
This article first appeared in the Morrison County Historical Society newsletter, Volume 33, Number 1, 2020.