Minn. historical site shows evidence of pit housesWADENA - Kat Hayes, assistant professor of anthropology, gave a glimpse two centuries into the past of the Old Wadena County Park site where little boys used to hunt for arrow heads and fishing enthusiasts still enjoy hooking a catch.
By: Sara Hacking, Wadena Pioneer Journal, Worthington Daily Globe
WADENA - Kat Hayes, assistant professor of anthropology, gave a glimpse two centuries into the past of the Old Wadena County Park site where little boys used to hunt for arrow heads and fishing enthusiasts still enjoy hooking a catch.
Trade beads, copper pieces, musket balls, an arrowhead and evidence of semi-subterranean pit houses were all discovered during a dig conducted by University of Minnesota students last summer at the Little Round Hill. The area, located where the Partridge River joins the Crow Wing River, is known for a legendary battle between Dakota warriors and a French fur trader and Ojibway encampment.
Hayes shared the findings at the Old Wadena Society’s spring program in Staples Sunday.
While the battle on the river is part of local lore, Hayes said she was most interested in seeing what a winter settlement with a French fur trader living in close quarters with Ojibway families looked like.
The historic material represents only a small percentage of what they found, Hayes said. Bone was predominately what students came across in the dig. But the European-originated material in particular helps to tie the site to a particular time period.
“I do believe there was an occupation in the period of interest to us, which would be the late 18th century, possibly early 19th century,” Hayes said.
She believes there are at least three possible dwellings located on the site, although they weren’t very substantial and she hasn’t seen any defensive structures out there yet, she said. According to the William Warren account, the encampment refortified after the Dakota attack.
Another interesting finding is that the site is actually oriented toward the smaller river, the Partridge, rather than the Crow Wing River as was first thought, Hayes said.
A big question still remains, she said, and that is who actually occupied the site. There is a mixture of material culture manufactured by both Europeans and American Indians. The issue of trade is one factor that makes it difficult to form a direct link between the cultural groups in possession of the items and those who made them.
There is also a lot of deer bone at the site and the question is who was eating it, Hayes said. It could have been Ojibway, French or people who did not identify themselves with either group.
Certain subtleties in material culture such as dress, food traditions and dwelling style may help her to understand who the people in the encampment were a little better, Hayes said.
She does want to suggest that if there were both French and Ojibway encamped together at the site, there were bidirectional influences.
“A lot of people talk about the Indians being inculturated by the Europeans,” she said. “At a site like this I would like us to think about how French or British or Americans — anybody — is being inculturated by Indian practices. Because there are a lot of survival techniques ... that they need to adopt.”
Hayes was very excited to research the site when she got in contact with Richard Paper of the Wadena County Historical Society, she said. It fits really well into her research interests. Hayes said Richard White’s 1991 book “The Middle Ground” theorizes that colonial relations between Europeans and American Indians didn’t always involve Indians inevitably coming out on the bottom end, particularly in the Great Lakes region.
“French and Algonquins were actually able to find ways of culturally interacting with one another, negotiating with one another, based on a newly shared understanding of things like kinship, reciprocity and trade,” she said.
White suggested this was the situation for as long as the French were the dominant European settlers or traders, she said.
The study of the Little Round Hill site isn’t over, Hayes said. They took material from the field back to the University for identification. The Little Round Hill project has generated a lot of interest with students, she said. And many are doing directed research with the different types of material culture.
A field school is returning this summer for more research at the Little Round Hill site and to begin a survey of the Cadotte trading site on the other side of the Crow Wing River, she said.
“If that turns out to be a promising site, we will have a really exciting set of comparisons to look at,” Hayes said.