Researchers host field day at Old Wadena dig
WCHS president Rich Paper welcomed the visitors, mostly members of various historical societies, who came from as far away as Detroit Lakes and Long Prairie, for the event.
The group walked down the paths and across the Partridge River to the site of the dig being conducted by students from the University of Minnesota under supervision of Professor Katherine 'Kat' Hayes.
At the site of the Little Round Hill, located just south of the mouth of the Partridge and within sight of the Crow Wing River, Hayes welcomed the group and recounted the story of the so-called Battle of Little Round Hill between opposing groups of Ojibwe and Dakota warriors. This story was first told in 1850 in a book written by William Warren. It was told to him by an Indian chief named Flatmouth, who as a young boy was present about 1783 when the fight took place.
A French trader only known as blacksmith and his French and Ojibwe companions managed to hold off a much larger group of Dakota, who, after exhausting their supply of arrows, retreated from the scene. Before they left, they cut holes in the ice of the Crow Wing River and pushed the bodies of their dead into the river so their enemies could not find them.
Prof. Hayes said that her focus was not on finding evidence of the battle, but rather on finding items that show the daily life of the people. "We're looking for the kinds of material that shows their culture, what they were eating. That's why we are happy to be invited to excavate at places like this," she said.
Asked how she knows where to dig, Hayes responded partially by the previous dig done in 1992, trying to avoid spots where
the dig done by Doug Birk
took place. She also chose 'hot spots' that were turned
up in a geochemical survey she did prior to starting the dig.
So far, when the students were past their halfway point, the dig had turned up some material that can be dated back to the late 18th Century, Hayes said, including glass trade beads, a knife piece, and pieces of a copper alloy. She explained that they were probably from a copper kettle used by the Europeans or traded to the Native Americans. "The Native Americans often used chopped up copper for arrowheads and had many uses for sharp edges," Hayes said.
Also found in several of the plots was evidence of past fire pits, with the soil much blacker where repeated fires took place. They also found evidence of 'isolated post holes" but not evidence of a log palisade or wall. The students had located in two of their test holes a large deposit of rocks a foot or more below the surface. The rocks, which were not common in any of the excavations, were an attempt to reinforce the post, the researchers believe.
"We've found one arrowhead here while we've been digging," Hayes added, noting they have also found very few pieces of pre-European contact pottery or sherds. That was a disappointment, she said, since Birk in his 1992 dig found numerous pieces of pottery, some dating centuries prior to European contact.
Also being found are numerous pieces of bones, both intact and broken. Much of the bone fragments have been burned and many of the larger appear to be deer, she said.
She's not looking for any human bones, in fact, discovery of any human remains would shut her excavation down completely.
Following the explanation, people had the chance to roam through the dig area and ask questions of Hayes and her eight students involved in the project. They found the dig to be very labor intensive, time consuming and meticulous attention to detail. Just the opposite of the Indiana Jones mystique.
Historical society members from Todd County, Detroit Lakes, England Prairie, Staples, Verndale, Wadena County, Motley and others were present. A noon lunch, provided by the Wadena County Historical Society, was prepared with the help of members of the Old Wadena Society.
The students were scheduled to close down their project this week, with all pits dug to be filled back in. The researchers will be taking all items they found back to the U of M labs for further research. They also have several plastic bags of soil from their dig that will be further sifted for potential finds using lab equipment. A full report on her dig will be prepared by Professor Hayes and available at a later date through the Wadena County Historical Society.