Back to top

Joseph Réaume's Trading Post

Creator: 
Contributor: 
Wadena County Historical Society
  • Cite
  • Share
  • Correct
  • Print
Color image of the excavation unit at Réaume site, 2011.

Excavation unit at Réaume site, 2012. Graduate students in archaeology from the University of Minnesota investigated 26 excavation units and over 100 shovel test pits during 2011–2012. Photograph by Amélie Allard.

Wadena County contains three known fur trade sites. One is located on private property along the Leaf River where Joseph Réaume, an independent fur trader, set up a winter camp in the late eighteenth century. Between 2011 and 2012, the University of Minnesota conducted archaeological surveys and excavations at this location. They confirmed a late-eighteenth century occupation, validating its association with Réaume's 1792 wintering activities.

Joseph Réaume was born at a wintering place on the Mississippi River in 1757. He was the son of Jean-Baptiste Réaume, a member of an important trading family. Jean Baptiste’s wife and Joseph’s mother, Marie Joseph, was most likely an American Indian.

Like his father, Joseph became a successful fur trader and married an indigenous woman. The early French fur traders were dependent on American Indians for their help in procuring food and navigating the waterways of Minnesota. A marriage was an important alliance that helped provide access to trade networks.

Réaume had a reputation as a popular and successful trader, particularly among the Ojibwe. In 1792, he and his trading partner, Jean-Baptiste Cadotte, took an exploratory party down the Mississippi in hopes of accessing the pelt-rich areas in a contested zone between Dakota and Ojibwe territories. He selected an area along the Leaf River to establish a wintering place. It was located near a navigable waterway and contained the necessary natural materials with which to build his fort. Most important, it was close to the villages of the people with whom he traded.

In 1869, a state surveyor described an old fortification he had discovered on the Leaf River. One hundred years later, Douglas Birk and Douglas George, both archaeologists for the Minnesota Historical Society, visited the site while doing a statewide survey of archaeological sites. Their 1972 survey noted evidence of a stockade line as well as piles of rocks which were discovered to be collapsed chimneys. Over the next few years, they returned several times to study and survey the area. In 1999, they undertook a remote-sensing survey that indicated the presence of heated sediments and/or iron.

In 2011, Dr. Katherine Hayes and graduate student Amélie Allard began a field school program at the site to introduce University of Minnesota undergraduates to archaeological research. This was the beginning of a three-year archaeological project to study the various relationships between European fur traders and indigenous groups in the area.

The project’s goal was to investigate some of the surface features that Birk had identified during a survey in the 1970s. Surface features included four large stone piles that he had identified as collapsed chimneys, two ditches running almost perpendicular to each other previously identified as a palisade wall, and various pits and depressions.

One of the team’s main accomplishments in the first excavation season was to confirm Douglas Birk’s inference that at least two of the stone piles were collapsed chimneys. They also confirmed the existence of a palisade wall that surrounded the compound.

The second season's goals were to determine the layout of the building or buildings within the palisade walls, investigate an area rich in phosphorous soil, and test the presence of a second bastion on the western side.

In the third season, remote sensing was done at the site to locate the walls. Next, small crews undertook a two-week excavation and were able to confirm the presence of multiple buildings as opposed to one long, barrack-like building.

Architectural evidence and remote sensing surveys pointed to a European-style trading post, with up to four collapsed fireplaces lined with stone, wood and daub; at least two buildings; a stockade wall; and two bastions. The spatial distribution of artifacts suggested that one of the buildings was the store or trading house where the trader in charge lived and kept the trade goods, while another building served as the crew’s living quarters.

  • Cite
  • Share
  • Correct
  • Print
© Minnesota Historical Society
  • Bibliography
  • Related Resources

Allard, Amélie. "Communities on the Move: Practice and Mobility in the Late Eighteenth-Century Western Great Lakes Fur Trade." PhD diss., University of Minnesota, 2016.

—— . Results of Excavation of the Réaume's Leaf River Post (21WD15) Site in Wadena County, Minnesota: Daily Life at a Late 18th-Century Fur Trade Post. Report submitted to the Minnesota Historical Society, 2016.

Birk, Douglas A. "John Sayer and the Fond du Lac Trade: The North West Company in Minnesota." In Rendezvous: Selected Papers of the Fourth North American Fur Trade Conference, 1981, edited by Thomas Buckley, St. Paul: The Conference, 1981.

Garrison, O. E. "The Upper Mississippi Region." In Geological and Natural History Survey of Minnesota. J.K. Moore: St. Peter, MN: 1881.

Hayes, Katherine. "Parameters in the Use of pXRF for Archaeological Site Prospection: A Case Study at the Réaume Fort Site, Central Minnesota." Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (August 2013): 3193—3211.

—— . Results of Survey and Excavation of the Little Round Hill (2WD16) and Cadotte Post (21WD17) Sites in Wadena County, Minnesota: A View of the Fur Trade in the Late Eighteenth Century. Report prepared for the Wadena County Historical Society, 2014.

Maki, David, and Geoffrey Jones. A Geophysical Investigation at Réaume's Leaf River Fort (21WD15). Report for the Institute for Minnesota Archaeology, 1999.

Reaume's Trading Post, National Register of Historic Places Nomination File, State Historic Preservation Office, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
http://www.mnhs.org/preserve/nrhp/NRDetails.cfm-NPSNum=74001042.html

"Register of Baptisms of the Mission of St. Ignace de Michilimackinak." Wisconsin Historical Collections XIX (1910): 48–49.

Related Images

Color image of the excavation unit at Réaume site, 2011.
Color image of the excavation unit at Réaume site, 2011.
Color image of wo metal projectile points from the Réaume site, 2012.
Color image of wo metal projectile points from the Réaume site, 2012.
Color image of a silver cross pendant found at the Réaume site, 2012.
Color image of a silver cross pendant found at the Réaume site, 2012.
Color image of a relatively complete, un-smoked kaolin pipe found during excavations at the Réaume site, 2012.
Color image of a relatively complete, un-smoked kaolin pipe found during excavations at the Réaume site, 2012.

Turning Point

In 1869, O. E. Garrison, a state surveyor and geologist, reports to the Geological and Natural History Survey of Minnesota that he has examined an old fortification on the Leaf River. He believes it is the site of a winter camp of one of the early fur traders of this region.

Chronology

1792

French fur trader Joseph Réaume establishes a wintering place on the Leaf River in order to trade with the local Ojibwe.

1869

O. E. Garrison, a state surveyor and geologist, discovers the remains of an old fortification on the Leaf River.

1901

Archaeologist Jacob Brower visits the location of Garrison's survey.

1972

Douglas Birk and Douglas George, both archaeologists for the Minnesota Historical Society, visit the site while undertaking a statewide survey of archaeological sites.

1999

Archaeologists David Maki and Geoffrey Jones conduct a remote sensing survey at the site and identify a number of anomalies.

2011

Dr. Katherine Hayes and Amélie Allard conduct a field school to investigate the surface features that Birk and his team described.

2012

Allard and University of Minnesota undergraduates investigate the presence of a second bastion on the eastern side of the site.

2013

Allard and a small team of volunteers undertake a remote sensing survey using Ground Penetrating Radar.