CARVER’S OLD FORTIFICATIONS. In the year 1766 Captain Jonathan Carver visited what is now Minnesota. Carver was plainly an adventurer, but.
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CARVER’S OLD FORTIFICATIONS In the year 1766 Captain Jonathan Carver visited what is now Minnesota. Carver was plainly an adventurer, but he was also an interested observer of the natives of the vast unknown country west and north of the colonies. When, some twelve years after his visit, he published his Travels, he devoted over two-thirds of the volume to the Indian tribes he had visited and the natural history of the region they Inhabited. Historians have pointed out that the information Carver gives on these subjects is not all strictly original. There is, however, an Interesting exception to this criticism. At a date when practically nothing was known about such earthworks. Carver described what he believed were ancient fortifications near the foot of Lake Pepin.^ Carver was one of the first explorers to draw the attention of antiquaries to the Mississippi River basin. He shares with John and William Bartram pioneer honors in the field of American archaeology. Mounds first attracted attention to American antiquities, and no descriptions of earthworks earlier than those of Carver and the Bartrams have been encountered.^ Whether or not what Carver saw ^ For Carver’s description, see his Travels through the Interior Parts of North-America, in the Years 1766. 1767, and 1768, 56-59 (London, 1778). This familiar account was briefly paraphrased by Samuel R. Brown, in the Western Gazetteer, 266 (Auburn, New York, 1817), and is quoted in Benjamin S. Barton’s Observations on Some Parts of Natural History, 1: 12-14 (London, 1787); Henry R. Schoolcraft’srative Journal of Travels, 332 (Albany, 1821) ; George W. Featherstonhaugh’s Report of a Geological Reconnaissance Made in 1835, 129 n., 130 n. (24 Congress, 1 session. Senate Documents, no. 333 Š serial 282), and A Canoe Voyage Up the Minnay Sotor, 1:241 n., 242 n. (London, 1847); and elsewhere. ” See Samuel F. Haven’s Archaeology of the United States, 20 (Smithsonian Institution, Contributions to Knowledge, vol. 8 Š Washington, 1856) ; and Daniel S. Durrie’s article on ” Captain Jonathan Carver, and ‘ Carver’s Grant,'” in Wisconsin Historical Collections, 6: 227 152
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1935 CARVER’S OLD FORTIFICATIONS 153 at the foot of Lake Pepin was actually artificial earthworks is beside the point, which Is that Carver gave an initial impetus to American archaeology. The fact that he mentions the subject at so early a date supports the belief that he actually saw what he described, though he has been doubted on just this point. But aside from Carver’s historical position, what is the significance of the Information Itself? Were there ever any such earthworks as those he describes on Lake Pepin? There are, clearly, but two possible answers: either Carver described authentic earthworks, or he described what he believed were authentic earthworks. Now the ideal way to judge the correctness of the interpretations of an archaeologist, as of a historian, is to go back to original sources. But this is impossible in the present case; the site, no doubt, has long since been destroyed by the plow or by the river. If we can no longer consult the original sources, the earthworks, we must do the best we can with secondary sources, the documents. Any solution, if one can be found, of the problem whether Carver’s fortifications were real or Imagined will doubtless come by reason rather than by visible proof. The important points in Carver’s brief description follow. He found one day, apparently quite by chance, ” some miles below Lake Pepin” and only a short distance from the river upon an otherwise level plain, a slight elevation which appeared to be an ” intrenchment” or fortification. Though it was grass-covered. It appeared to have once been (Madison, 1872). It may be noted that a plan of the works at Circle-ville, Ohio, was published anonymously in the Royal Americanzine, edited by Isaiah Thomas at Boston, in January, 1775. Carver was at that time in London, but he may have seen the account, which is the earliest reference to Mississippi Valley earthworks known to the writer. The Reverend David Jones of Freehold, New Jersey, had visited the Old Chillicothe (now Frankfort), Ohio, works, and he may have sent the contribution to Thomas. See David Jones, A Journal of Two Visits Made to Some Nations of Indians on the West Side of the River Ohio, in the Years 1772 and 1773, 56 (New York, 1865).
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154 G. HUBERT SMITH JUNE a breastwork about four feet high and ” extending the best part of a mile,” probably in circumference. It was large enough to hold five thousand persons, was roughly circular In outhne, and its “flanks,” or sides, reached to the river. Though badly weathered, the “angles” were distinguishable, and Carver says that the work was as regular as if it had been planned by Vauban himself. The ditch was not plainly marked, but he believed that there had once been one; and, judging from the situation as well as from the shape of the work. Carver was convinced that it had been intended as a fortification. It fronted the country, the rear being protected by the river, and there was no higher ground in the vicinity to command It. Near at hand were some oak trees, and elk and deer had in several places worn paths across the embankments. The amount of earth accumulated upon the work indicated to Carver its great antiquity. He carefully examined the angles and every part of the fortification, he says, and he later regretted that he had not encamped at the site or made drawings of it. After Carver returned to the colonies he learned that a M. St. Pierre Š probably Jacques le Gardeur de St. Pierre, who was commandant at Lake Pepin and the ruins of whose fort Carver says he saw Š and several traders had noticed similar works, and that their opinions generally agreed with his. He hoped that his mention of the work would induce others to make a more thorough examination, and to later explorers he left the problem whether It was of natural or artificial origin. He had dlfliculty in explaining such a work in the light of Indian knowledge of warfare, and he proposed the idea that this region had not always been inhabited by tribes of savages. Such is the Information that was printed in Carver’s Travels of 1778. His manuscript journal contains no mention of the site or of his examination of It. It has been suggested that there is no reason to doubt that Carver described what he saw at this place simply because he does not mention it In his journal; It is prob-
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1935 CARVER’S OLD FORTIFICATIONS 155 able that he added much from memory when he published the book.^ Carver does not state which bank of the river Is concerned In his account, but there seems to be no reason to doubt that he is speaking of the right, or Minnesota bank. Neither does he give the exact location of the site, but he says only that the works were “some miles below Lake Pepin.” Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike, in his tour of 1805-06, stopped during his descent of the Mississippi at a prairie on the right bank about nine miles below Lake Pepin. There he saw some hills ” which had the appearance of the old fortifications spoken of,” according to his own statement, in which he undoubtedly refers to Carver’s notes. Pike promised to describe the hills more fully at another time, but he does not appear to have done so. It may be noted that he mentions separately the “Grand Encampment,” which he locates between the mouths of the Buffalo and Chippewa rivers. Henry R. Schoolcraft, although Interested, did not visit the site during his voyage of 1820; he says, however, that the existence of the fortifications was confirmed by a trader, Harman V. Hart of Albany, who spent five years in the Sioux country and frequently visited the site described by Carver as well as others on the St. Peter’s or Minnesota River which were reported to demonstrate ” an Intimate acquaintance with geometrical solids.” * Soon after Schoolcraft’s visit, Stephen H. Long made his ” The Carver manuscripts which are now in the British Museum do not coincide with the printed volume of travels. Photostats of the manuscripts are in the possession of the Minnesota Historical Society. Oliver W. Holmes, in a manuscript account of ” Jonathan Carver’s Original Journals,” owned by the society, on page 28 has made the suggestion concerning the absence of mention of the earthworks in the manuscript journal. The printed description reads very much as though it had been written in reminiscence. ‘Zebulon M. Pike, Expeditions to Headwaters of the Mississippi River, 1:205 (Coues edition. New York, 1895); Schoolcraft, Narrative Journal. 312, 331-334. Harman V. Hart was alderman in Albany in 1825, and is listed in the city directories from 1816 to 1845, but no further information concerning him is known to the present writer.
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156 G. HUBERT SMITH JUNE second trip to the upper Mississippi, and his enthusiastic party endeavored to reinvestigate the matter. He was not so fortunate as Schoolcraft in finding someone who could speak of the works from personal knowledge. ” We spoke with the oldest traders in the country; with those who had been all their lifetime in the habit of encamping in that vicinity, but met with none who had ever seen them or heard of them.” Joseph Rolette, Sr., of the American Fur Company suggested that the most likely place was a well-known trading site called the Grand Encampment, a few miles south of Lake Pepin. Although he had frequently camped there, Rolette had never observed anything like fortifications. With this questionably useful suggestion, the party set out on its survey. Long and Colhoun, the astronomer, having gone from Fort Crawford to Fort Snelling by land. As the members of the river party neared the shore at the Grand Encampment they thought they saw Carver’s works in a regular elevation paralleling the river bank, but closer examination showed this to be merely a natural elevation, in no way resembling an artificial earthwork.* The travelers questioned whether or not they had seen what Carver had seen, and whether what Carver had described was actually artificial earthworks. Thomas Say, the distinguished naturalist of the party, and Lieutenant Martin Scott, commanding the military escort from Fort Crawford, thought that there could be no doubt that they were where Carver had been, and that since it would be impossible to overlook a work covering a mile on a prairie not more than two and a half miles wide. Carver must have mistaken a natural for an artificial elevation. In their opinion the strongest argument in favor of the existence of an artificial earthwork was the many mounds observed by Long and Colhoun between Wabasha’s village, on the present site of Winona, and the St. Peter’s, many of which were near the ° William H. Keating, Narrative of an Expedition to the Source of the St. Peter’s River, 1:276-278 (Philadelphia, 1824).
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1935 CARVER’S OLD FORTIFICATIONS 157 southern end of Lake Pepin. Although they did not see any earthworks with parapets, such as Carver’s work was said to have, the works of this nature on the Wisconsin River appeared to corroborate his description. The conclusion of William H. Keating, the historiographer of the expedition, was that Carver had seen what he had described, artificial earthworks, but that they were not to be found at the Grand Encampment. At another place higher up the river, which also appeared to correspond with his description, the party again tried to locate the earthworks, once more without success. Elliott Coues, In one of the lively footnotes to his edition of Pike’s Expeditions, charges Keating with faulty logic. The upshot of Keating’s examination, that Carver saw what he claimed to have seen but that the works were not at the Grand Encampment, is, Coues says, ” clearly a non sequitur, or a lucus a non, or a petitio principii, or an argumentum ad hominem, or whatever may be the logical definition of an illogical syllogism. It misses the point. The question Is not one of Identifying Carver’s locality; the question is whether what he saw there was an artificial work or a natural formation.” ^ One cannot help feeling that Coues himself somehow missed the point. Keating was certainly not in a position to say that Carver had seen what he described, since Keating could not be sure that he had examined what Carver previously had examined. Keating’s statement is, however, sufficient authority for assuming that the earthworks were not at the Grand Encampment, where Coues supposed they must have been. At least Keating Is sure that there were none there when he examined the site, and only river floods could have materially changed the appearance of the site between Carver’s time and Keating’s visit. It will be noted later that the earthworks may have been genuine. This possibility obviates Coues’s objection that Keating did not say that Carver had seen genuine earth-‘ Coues, in Pike, Expeditions, 1: 59 n.
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1935 CARVER’S OLD FORTIFICATIONS 159 It Is clear from this passage that as early as 1817 Long had examined with some care, as a likely site for an army post, the whole of this area, including the Grand Encampment. It is hardly credible that he would have missed any old earthwork there. Coues believed that Carver had mistaken natural for artificial works, as, apparently, William Clark did some years later on the Missouri. This view may be correct, but one wishes that Coues had made a personal survey of the locality, which would doubtless have been thorough and final. We come now to the year 1835, exactly a century ago, when there journeyed to Minnesota Its first professional geologist, George W. Featherstonhaugh. As United States geologist, he was accompanied by a young officer of the army. Lieutenant William W. Mather, later state geologist of Ohio. These men also were very much interested in finding Carver’s site. Featherstonhaugh found that an extensive prairie, about halfway between the site of Wabasha’s village Š that is, the upper village, said to be on the Grand Encampment Š and Lake Pepin, was bordered with cedar trees. The prairie was ” about eight miles S. E. of Roque’s trading-house, near the entrance of Lake Pepin,” and was, of course, in the general area mentioned in earlier accounts. On climbing the bank where he saw the trees, he found, according to his narrative, a broad, smooth prairie. Toward the south, not more than two miles away, he noticed some unusual elevations and immediately concluded that he had found Carver’s work; on going closer he was sure that he had done so. It was, he felt, sufljclently remarkable to justify Carver’s description.* The elevation had, according to Featherstonhaugh, the appearance of an ancient military work In ruin. There ap-‘ Featherstonhaugh, Report, 129-132. The whereabouts of the papers of Featherstonhaugh and Mather is not known. Mather’s own report was submitted directly to the war department, where it remained until 1851. In that year Mather was invited to become an honorary member of the Minnesota Historical Society, and in accepting the honor he re-
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160 G. HUBERT SMITH JUNE peared to have been a ditch outside the walls, filled in places with drifted sand; there was a slope of about twenty yards ” from what might be supposed the walls of the work to the ditch.” Within the walls was a great open space; there were irregular salient angles, and at three different places were the more regular remains of something like bastions. This enclosed area was seventy yards in diameter in a northwest-southeast direction, including the ruins of several “terraces,” by which the writer may mean artificial mounds. The circumference of this work. Including the angles, was four hundred and twenty-four yards. Seven hundred yards south-southeast of this work was another which resembled the first in form and size, and at a similar distance east-southeast from the last was a still larger work, eleven hundred yards In circumference, with similar remnants of bastions. Featherstonhaugh estimated that this enclosure would easily contain a thousand persons. Its walls, if they could be called such, were lofty, he says; on the south side of the work was a deep ditch. In the area to the south of these works he counted six more elevations, each rudely resembling the other, with what appeared to be a defense work connecting them. At the northern end of the group everything bore evidence of rude artificial work; at the southern end, and not far from the river, the works passed gradually into an Irregular surface, a mere ” confused intermixing of cavities and knolls, that might be satisfactorily attributed to the blowing of sand.” The writer states that the prairie is a sand prairie, covered with a foot or two of vegetable matter, and he confirms Carver’s statement that the southern end of the works was overgrown by oaks. All the angles and bastions were very much worn away by erosion, and some of the outer slopes consisted of wind-blown sand. Featherstonhaugh was, finally, not satisfied as to ferred to the report and offered to recover the manuscript for the society. A short time later the war department did return the document to him, but he died soon thereafter and the subsequent history of his report is unknown.
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1935 CARVER’S OLD FORTIFICATIONS 161 whether the work was artificial or natural. If, when it became better known and studied, Indian artifacts should be found near the site, the question of whether the works were artificial would, he thought, be finally settled; if any artifacts were there, however, they would probably be buried too deep for the passing traveler to find them. He adds that he brought nothing away except a plan of the general appearance of the site and one or two of the principal elevations. If these are still in existence, search has failed to reveal their whereabouts. Featherstonhaugh in his volume entitled A Canoeage Up the Minnay Sotor, which was published in 1847, gives a few more data from his survey of the formation. He appears to have been directed to the place by Louis L’Amirant, one of his voyageurs. The explorer states here that the prairie was quite level from the river to the elevations, the surface ” completely composed of dusty sand, covering a black alluvial mould.” A ditch surrounded the first work, ” whether made by men or the wind “; to the northeast was a terrace eight paces broad. Standing at the highest point, he could observe a line of elevations extending for at least four miles. The author seems to have had serious doubts about the origin of the work, just as did later geologists. It was possible, he thought, that the formation had been caused by the wind, but he was by no means certain. In one part all was an even prairie, in another were many structures resembling works of an artificial nature. But If the works were fortifications, what were they Intended to defend? And Carver had certainly spoken somewhat extravagantly when he said that they were fashioned with the skill of a Vauban. In telling of his return trip from the upper Minnesota, Featherstonhaugh again mentions the earthworks. On October 24 his party landed at ” Cedar Prairie, where Carver’s fortifications are.” He had previously visited them on September 8, and he now made a circuit of them Š a distance of about four miles Š “and
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162 G. HUBERT SMITH JUNE ascertained that they do not come to the river, some bottom land intercepting them.” He again refers to the apparent artificiality of the northern end. “The high mounds are all hollow inside,” he says, probably referring to the previously mentioned ” terraces,” which, from this description, resemble the remains of earth lodges. Again he leaves unsettled the question of the origin of the works.® There Is now a gap in the evidence from 1835 to 1884. In the course of mound surveys in the latter year, Theodore H. Lewis visited “Sand Prairie” and surveyed what had been reported to him as ” Carver’s Fort.” The difficulties that he encountered are described in a letter to his patron, Alfred J. Hill, dated at Wabasha, August 8, 1884, in which Lewis mentions having thoroughly explored Sand Prairie without having discovered a single mound or artificial work. “Those who were hunting for Carvers fort,” he writes, ” ought to have known that sand ridges from 6 to 20 ft high was not a work 4 ft high and that Sand prairie Is not a ‘ fine level open plain’ but the greater portion of It is rolling & rough.” He reports a conversation with Francis Talbot of Wabasha, who had furnished data to the compiler of a History of Wabasha County published in the same year. Lewis assured Talbot that what he called “Carver’s Fort” was only a firebreak; “he said well he was on record as the discoverer of It & as next year it would be destroyed as it Is being grubbed no one could dispute It.” Lewis Immediately took the cue and surveyed the site, an operation which, he remarked, “has taken the backbone” out of Talbot. Talbot probably was the source for the vague statement made on page 581 of the History that Carver’s fortification ” was undoubtedly below Wabasha, at what Is now called Sand Prairie, also a part of the ‘ Grand Encampment,’ where mounds and relics of the prehistoric age have been found, many of which are traceable and easily seen.” When Professor Newton H. Winchell came to pub-Ł Featherstonhaugh, Canoe Voyage, 1:241-245; 2:19.
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