From Minnesota Place Names
By Warren Upham
Information From The Minnesota Historical Society

Mahnomen County Courthouse, Mahnomen. 1972

This county, established December 27, 1906, was previously the east part of Norman County. It comprises half the area of the White Earth Reservation, which also extends south into Becker County and east into Clearwater County, the name of the reservation as noted in the chapter for Becker County, being derived from White Earth Lake. The south line of Mahnomen County crosses the north end of this lake, and its outlet, the White Earth River, flows through the south half of this county to the Wild Rice River.

The county seat of Mahnomen County has the same name, which was given to this railway village before the county was established. Its spelling here adopted is similar to Mahnomonee, written by Henry W. Longfellow in The Song of Hiawatha.


Information From The Minnesota Historical Society

NOTE: Information of the origins and meanings of names in this county was received from Alfred Aamoth, auditor, and Arthur J. Andersen, treasurer, during a visit at Mahnomen, the county seat, in September 1909; and from John W. Carl, auditor, and Martin M. Bowman, clerk of the court, in a second visit there in September 1916.

BEAULIEU Township and village were named for Henry and John Beaulieu, who served in the Civil War and afterward owned farms here. The village in section 31 was first established with the trading post of John H. Beaulieu in 1868; the post office began in 1891 with Lizzie Beaulieu, postmaster, changing to a rural route in 1960 and discontinuing in 1968. John Beaulieu was during many years the village postmaster. Records of the Beaulieu family and allied families, prominent in the history of the Ojibwe in this state, descendants of a French fur trader, Bazille Beaulieu, and his Ojibwe wife, Queen of the Skies, are given by Winchell in The Aborigines of Minnesota, page 722. During the 1890s a government boarding school for Indian children was built, closing in 1912.

Webmaster's Note: Regarding the surname Beaulieu, I searched a French/English dictionary and there was no match for "Beaulieu." I divided the word in half, and found that "Beau" means "handsome" and "lieu" means "place."

BEJOU Township and its railway village received this name, changed in pronunciation and spelling, from the French words Bon jour ("Good day") of the former fur traders and voyageurs. It is the common Ojibwe salutation on meeting friends or even strangers, used like the familiar English and American greeting, "How do you do?" The city in sections 22, 23, 26, and 27, incorporated as a village on January 13, 1921, was created by the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railroad (Soo Line) in 1904 as a railroad village; its post office began in 1906.

CHIEF Township was named in honor of May-sha-ke-ge-shig (also spelled Me-sha-ki-gi-zhig), a leader of the Ojibwe on the White Earth Reservation, described by Winchell as "a man revered for many noble qualities and for his distinguished presence." He died "nearly 100 years old," August 29, 1919, at the Old Folks Home in Beaulieu; he had lived as a farmer on this reservation since 1868.

CLOVER Township, T. 145N, R. 39W.

GREGORY was named for Joseph Gregory, an early farmer, who was one of the first taking an allotment of land in this township.

HEIER Township commemorates Frank Heier, who was teacher of an Ojibwe school in this township and later was superintendent of the government school at Pine Point, Becker County, near the southeast corner of the White Earth Reservation.

ISLAND LAKE Township has a large lake of this name, containing an island of many acres.

LAGARDE Township was named for Moses Lagarde, who served in the Civil War, received a farm allotment here, and was owner of a hotel in Beaulieu village.

LAKE GROVE Township is mostly a broadly undulating and rolling prairie but has several small lakes bordered with groves. A post office was located there, 1914-16.

LITTLE ELBOW LAKE Township, also known as Little Elbow Township (T. 143N, R. 39W), dissolved in 1950, becoming part of the Unorganized Territory of Southeast Mahnomen.

MAH KONCE, a village in sections 3 and 4 of Twin Lakes Township, which had a post office, 1924-30.

MAHNOMEN, a city in Pembina Township, sections 2 and 11, and the county seat, is north of the Wild Rice River, whence came this Ojibwe name, later given to the county; it was incorporated as a village on March 21, 1905. One of the government buildings of the Pembina Mission (Wild Rice Church) was the site of the first post office in February 1904, named Perrault with Lawrence W. Pettijohn, postmaster; the post office name was changed to Mahnomen in December 1904 and moved to the Olson Hardware Store with Sigurd Bernard Olson, postmaster; Olson was born in Gaylord in 1877 and died at Mahnomen in 1962.

SOUTHEAST MAHNOMEN, Unorganized Territory of, includes former Little Elbow Lake Township (T. 143N, R. 39W) and Twin Lakes Township (T. 144N, R. 39W).

MARSH CREEK Township bears the name of the creek flowing across it.

NAY-TAH-WAUSH, a village located in Twin Lakes Township, section 28, was first known by the name Twin Lakes; the name changed in 1906 to Nay-tah-wash, which means "smooth sailing." The site had several sawmills, stores, and government offices; its post office began in 1907 with Star Bad Boy, postmaster.

OAKLAND Township, T. 143N, R. 40W.

PEMBINA Township, like Pembina River and County in North Dakota, is named from the bush cranberry, excellent for making sauce and pies, called by the Ojibwe nepin ninan, "summer berry." The Ojibwe words were transformed into this name by the French voyageurs and traders.

POPPLE GROVE Township has mainly a prairie surface, interspersed with occasional groves of the common small poplar, often mispronounced as in this name.

ROSEDALE Township, consisting partly of prairie and partly of woodland, was named for its plentiful wild roses.

SNIDER LAKE was possibly an early name for Little Elbow Township. It has a lake of this name, beside which Frank Schneider, a German married to an Ojibwe, formerly lived as a farmer but later removed to Waubun village.

TWIN LAKES Township (T. 144N, R. 39W) is named for its two lakes, separated by a narrow strip of land with a road. It dissolved as a township in 1950, becoming part of Unorganized Territory of Southeast Mahnomen.

WAUBUN, a city in section 24 of Popple Grove Township, has an Ojibwe name, meaning "the east," "the morning," and "the twilight of dawn." It is spelled waban in Baraga's Dictionary, and wabun by Longfellow in The Song of Hiawatha, with definition as the east wind. Another spelling of this name is borne by Waupun, a city in eastern Wisconsin. The city was incorporated as a village on December 18, 1907. When the Soo Line built through the county in 1903-4, the general manager, Pennington, and his chief engineer, Thomas Green, named the stations as they moved the line north; all towns on the reservation had to have Indian names. The post office for this community was established in 1905 as Bement, changing to Waubun in 1906.

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