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Little Round Hill Trading Site

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Wadena County Historical Society
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Site map of Little Round Hill, 1992.

The Little Round Hill site, surface features, and IMA 1992 excavations. Printed in Douglas A. Birk’s “A Preliminary Study of the Little Round Hill Site, Old Wadena Park, Wadena County, Minnesota. Institute for Minnesota Archaeology.”

Ojibwe oral tradition identifies Little Round Hill, a small elevation on the banks of the Crow Wing River, as the location of a late-1700s French trading fort and a skirmish between Ojibwe hunter-traders and Dakota warriors. Located in Old Wadena County Park at the confluence of the Partridge and Crow Wing Rivers, it was the site of the first intensive archaeological excavation within Wadena County.

Wadena is an Ojibwe word meaning "little round hill." During the eighteenth century, this area was just north of a contested zone between Ojibwe and Dakota territories. For this reason, it was a risky area for travelers to pass through. However, the presence of fur-bearing animals and the many Ojibwe people in the area made it appealing to eighteenth-century fur traders, especially independent ones.

In 1852, historian William Warren related the story of a leader of the Ojibwe band of Pillagers. The leader, whose name was Eshkibagikoonzh (Flat Mouth), said that when he was a child he had been at a trading house when it was attacked by a large party of Dakotas. The trading house was occupied by an independent French fur trader known to the Ojibwe as Awashtoyaa (the blacksmith) who traveled with several traders and ten-to-fifteen Ojibwe hunters and their families.

Wadena County bought the Little Round Hill property in 1968, and archaeologist Douglas Birk first visited it in 1972. Based on his observations, the site was nominated for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Sites. There were two other known archaeological properties in the area, including another fur trade site, the winter encampment of Jean-Baptiste Cadotte.

The first excavations were done by Douglas Birk and the Institute for Minnesota Archaeology in 1992. The materials they discovered supported the idea that the site might be related to the story of Awashtoyaa.

In that excavation, a number of historic artifacts were found. They included two small white glass seed beads, which were popular trade items, and a small piece of ferrous sheet metal that appeared to have been reworked to form a hair pipe. Also found were a small piece of mirror glass, a small misshapen lead musket ball, and a modern 22-caliber shell casing.

Some of the most important materials discovered through excavation were animal bones indicating a place where food had been prepared and consumed by a large number of people. Most of the identified bones were from white-tailed deer and elk.

Birk concluded that enough artifacts had been found to give some preliminary ideas about the content, preservation, and internal structure of the site. There were identifiable ancient American Indian components. The collections of raw bone and historic materials he found seemed to support the idea of an occupation, such as the one described at Awashtoyaa’s winter camp. In Birk's opinion, nothing was found that refuted the story. Further excavations were recommended.

In addition, years earlier, a number of artifacts had been found at Little Round Hill by a relic hunter using a metal detector. They included an iron ferule, a piece of fire steel, a rosehead nail, a fragment from the bottom of a kettle, and an axe head.

In 2009 and 2010, another series of excavations were carried out at the request of the Wadena County Historical Society. This time, Dr. Katherine Hayes and students from the University of Minnesota spent two years studying two historic sites at Old Wadena County Park: the Little Round Hill site and the trading post of Jean-Baptiste Cadotte.

The Little Round Hill site showed evidence of pit-style dwelling depressions and an activity area centered between the dwellings which comprised a hearth feature. There were also many artifacts, including faunal materials, lithic debris, and European trade items such as musket balls, glass beads, pipe fragments, and a small number of imported ceramic sherds.

Some of the items found during the excavations were displayed as part of a First Contacts exhibit at the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum in 2011. Items included knives, rings, trading beads, and other artifacts that had been retrieved from the site.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
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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.

Birk, Douglas A. “A Preliminary Study of the Little Round Hill Site, Old Wadena Park, Wadena County, Minnesota. Institute for Minnesota Archaeology.” Reports of Investigation no. 214, 1992.

Hayes, Katherine. 2014 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.

Old Wadena Historic District. Minnesota National Register Properties Database. Minnesota Historical Society.
http://www.mnhs.org/nrhp

Warren, William W. History of the Ojibway People. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1984 [1885].

Zeik, Susan, and Douglas George. "National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form: Old Wadena Site." National Park Service, April 20, 1973.

Related Images

Site map of Little Round Hill, 1992.
Site map of Little Round Hill, 1992.
Site map of Little Round Hill, 2104.
Site map of Little Round Hill, 2104.
Sketch showing the approximate boundaries of the contested zone between the Ojibwe and the Dakota in the late 1700s.
Sketch showing the approximate boundaries of the contested zone between the Ojibwe and the Dakota in the late 1700s.
Color image of artifacts metal detected by a relic collector prior to 1972 and identified as an iron ferule, a piece of fire steel, a rosehead nail, a fragment from the bottom of a kettle, and an axe head.
Color image of artifacts metal detected by a relic collector prior to 1972 and identified as an iron ferule, a piece of fire steel, a rosehead nail, a fragment from the bottom of a kettle, and an axe head.
Color image of four small beads from 2009 excavation and one larger bead from 2010.
Color image of four small beads from 2009 excavation and one larger bead from 2010.

Turning Point

Working for the Institute for Minnesota Archaeology, Douglas Birk returns to Little Round Hill in 1991 and 1992 to conduct a field study of the site and determine its potential for more intensive archaeological study.

Chronology

1783

A French fur trader known to the Ojibwe as Awashtoyaa (the blacksmith) builds a trading house at the confluence of the Crow Wing and Partridge Rivers.

1852

Historian William Warren records an Ojibwe oral tradition about a battle that took place at Awashtoyaa’s trading fort.

1968

Wadena County acquires the property known as the "Old Wadena Historic District."

Prior to 1972

A relic hunter using a metal detector removes several artifacts from the site.

1972

Archaeologist Douglas Birk visits the site to survey it for the state historical society as a potential National Register property in the Mississippi Headwaters Region.

1973

The "Old Wadena Historic District" is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for having state-level significance in the themes of agriculture, non-aboriginal archaeology, and transportation.

1991

Working for the Institute for Minnesota Archaeology, Birk returns with members of the Wadena County Historical Society and local newspaper reporters to survey the site.

1992

Birk concludes a field study of the site that includes mapping of visible features and a field excavation to recover a sample of artifacts to determine its potential for more intensive archaeological study and interpretation in the future.

2009 and 2010

Surveys and excavations are conducted by Dr. Katherine Hayes with students from the University of Minnesota.

2011

The University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum displays artifacts excavated from Little Round Hill, including knives, rings, and trading beads, as part of its First Contacts exhibit.