The Leech Lake area was originally settled by the Sioux Indians, who were driven out of the territory by the Chippewa (Ojibwe) in the 1700’s. The first Europeans to settle in the area were French fur traders. The Northwest Company established trading posts on Ottertail Point and Oak Point in 1785 and started an influx of settlers to the area in the 1800’s.
The Army Corps of Engineers built Federal Dam on the Leech River in 1882. It was originally built to control river flows at the lumber and flour mills in Minneapolis. The dam was only the second one built in the federal system and is also has the longest span in the system at 3500 feet bank to bank. The dam raised the water level on the lake approximately four feet and made for easier navigation into Walker Bay. This was also beneficial for floating logs to the railroad in Walker.
The Battle of Sugar Point in 1898 between U.S. Federal troops and the resident Chippewa (Ojibwe) Indians was the last true Indian battle in the United States. This is largely ignored in history, quite likely because the Indians won the battle. The battle began a chain of events that eventually led to government control of national forest lands and the creation of the Chippewa National Forest.
The town of Walker was founded in 1896 after the railroad came to Leech Lake from Brainerd. Walker then supported a booming logging industry until 1925. Hotels were also built when the railroad came to town and camping facilities and a public launching area were provided in 1909. The early 1900’s saw the beginning of tourism in the area. The early resorts and cabins that were built laid the foundation for the tourism industry that still flourishes today, with many generations of visitors continuing to make Leech Lake an annual destination.
Leech Lake’s prominence as a premier vacation destination was highlighted in its hosting of the annual Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener in 1968 and 2007.