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Notes from the Paynesville Historical Society. . .

Mounds contain samples of Indian life

By Dolores Hislop

Charles Zapf, who was a Paynesville resident, was interested in Indian culture. In information that he compiled in 1925, he writes of mounds located around Lake Koronis, located on the Charles Behr farm, one on the Hammond, Gates, or Henry Deadrick farm, and another in Stearns County and other areas in our vicinity.

He mentions a group from Litchfield and an account of what was unearthed at a Green Lake location on Sept. 4, 1879. The mounds that were found were being farmed and artifacts were in the fields and general area.

He also stated a prehistoric skeleton of a large man was found in 1896 and another man that was eight feet tall and large boned was discovered while working on a highway in the Paynesville area.

When I read through his accounts, I became interested in the history of the Indian and decided to write this article. People often ask what is found in mounds and this will tell you what they were using at the time and these would be found in the mounds.

Archaeologists divide the prehistoric time in Minnesota into various categories. I will use the Early, Middle, and Late Prehistoric times in this article.

The Early Prehistoric time would be before 6,000 B.C. and in our area there are very few if any items found that would be in this classification. Clovis points, which are early arrowheads, have been found in western Minnesota, but very rarely. It appeared the Indian population was not regularly in our state at that time. Although in western Minnesota, the discovery of what is known as the Minnesota Woman (1968) was found near Brown's Valley.

The history of the Indian will begin for this article in the years 6,000 B.C. to 800 B.C. when the people began using different raw materials for food and tools. The arrowheads found in the Paynesville Museum would date to this time frame.

During this time, the people developed techniques for making ground and pecked stone implements and also used the chipped stone tools. They made woodworking tools as axes and gouges, and also began to make tools of copper. The arrowheads, as we usually refer to the projectile points, have stems and are notched. They used scrapers of chipped stone, knives, punches, and had spears and darts as well.

Evidence of roasting pits has been found so we know they used wild plant foods, also.

We have a copper point in the display case and I have been asked about this. Finds of copper tools are most numerous in the east central and northeastern areas of Minnesota. It is unique to the Western Great Lakes region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Upper Michigan, and parts of Manitoba and Ontario. Isolated copper implements are found throughout Minnesota but the greatest concentration is in Wisconsin.

Using copper started as early as 5,000 B.C. and lasted until nearly 1,000 B.C. and provides evidence of the use of metals for tools along with the everyday use of stone. Copper use was merely pounding and heating the nearly pure copper nuggets and did not involve smelting or refining it. Deposits were found on Isle Royale in Lake Superior, also in the Upper Michigan peninsula and a Minnesota source appears to lie near the Upper St. Croix River in basalt, around the Snake and Kettle rivers.

The Woodland tradition begins in Minnesota between 1,000 and 500 B.C. and this would be considered the Middle Prehistoric Period. The population had grown and there was seasonal moving of the Indians to get the natural foods of a region. The appearance of pottery and the making of earthern mounds denote this time period.

The projectile points vary in form and the stemmed point is rare. Now there are side and corner notched points and several varieties. There is still come copper used for awls, piercing tools, and ornaments, but it is diminishing. Ground stone tools were made and the most common one was the grooved maul - a round stone, usually granite, about the size of a softball.

A shallow groove circled the stone and a wooden handle fastened to this groove with a piece of rawhide. It was a multi-purpose tool used to pound dried meat and berries. It is found in prairie zone sites where bison was a staple food and used in food preparation.

Among the earliest Woodland sites in Minnesota are the La Moille Rock Shelter near Winona. These campsites have the earliest pottery in Minnesota, and the pottery was used as bowls placed on hot coals for cooking. Bone and antler tools and ornaments are found in many sites, along with scrapers, awls, punches, and carved dice for games. Whistles made of bird bone and barbed points were found in excavations that were done in the 1930s along with necklaces of animal teeth and claws. This Woodland time frame is what we have in the mounds of our area.

It has been estimated that Minnesota once had some 10,000 burial mounds throughout the state but most evidence of them have disappeared. The burial mound concept took various forms, the most numerous are circular and dome-shaped or conical. Most are quite small about 35 feet in diameter and less than two feet in height, but some are very large. They were built in several stages by adding successive layers of dirt over the years. The Woodland Tradition ends with the introduction of corn farming about 900 A.D. in southern Minnesota but continued on longer in central and northern Minnesota regions.

From 900 A.D. to 1700 A.D., another change occurred in Minnesota, called the Mississippi Tradition, which centered around the forest and tall grass prairies of the east and the timber river bottoms and grasslands of the west. The tradition was based on agriculture the growing of corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers. Villages were large and storage pits were used in the southern Minnesota region to help preserve their crops. Garden plots were developed but also hunting and fishing were done. Bison was used as the staple food. Shells were used as spoons and dippers and also for ornaments. Wild rice was used instead of corn in the northern central Minnesota area.

Well-made arrow points were made side notched and un-notched triangles are common. Large double pointed knives and a trapezoid- shaped hide scraper was used indicating animal skins were used for clothing. Drills and punches, ground-stone tools as ungrooved axes or celts, and small round grinding stones were used often. Arrow shafts were smoothed using sandstone abraders and stone mauls were used. Pipes were well-made from the Pipestone quarry in southeastern Minnesota.

Bone tools were common and hoes fashioned from an elk or bison shoulder blade frequently are found. Awls, fishhooks, and needles were made of bone. These items are still found in the areas where the Indians congregated and are interesting to think about as part of the early Minnesota history of our area.

I know this article is long as it covers a lot of history; however, this should answer some of the questions that people ask when we look at the Indian display and speak of the Indian mounds of our area. The items mentioned in this article are also at the museum for you to view. We also have on file at the museum the articles on the burial mounds and the finding of prehistoric man.

We can thank Mr. Zapf and his family for preserving the artifacts so we can see them and for their interest in our area history. We will be happy to show them to you when you visit.

Information taken from: The Prehistoric Peoples of Minnesota by Elden Johnson and Charles Zapf's collection of articles (1925), and Aborigines of Minnesota, based on collections of Jacob V. Brown and field survey of notes of Alfred J. Hill and Leo H. Lewis, 1911.