Highway 55 and the Camp Coldwater Settlement: An Independent Investigation
1. Camp Coldwater and the Highway
The Camp Coldwater area is a large indentation in the high bank of the Mississippi River north and west of Fort Snelling. A kind of natural amphitheater, it faces east and stretches around three-quarters of a mile from north to south and a third of a mile from east to west at its widest point. It consists of a series of irregularly-shaped terraces descending from a high prairie down to the river. In 1837 this area was fed by two streams of water, one through the center, from Coldwater Spring and the other along the southernmost edge below a steep bluff. Soldiers camped here during the construction of Fort Snelling in 1820. Later, beginning in the late 1820s, settlers came here to live, building houses on the descending terraces from the prairie to the river bank. The families of former fur traders and immigrants from the Red River Colony in Canada were drawn to live here. Benjamin F. Baker's stone house, built at the same time or before the house of Henry H. Sibley in Mendota, became a nucleus for the settlement. Camp Coldwater (or Baker's as it was sometimes called) was the direct predecessor of the settlement downstream first known as Pig's Eye and later St. Paul. Camp Coldwater was perhaps the first settlement of European-Americans in Minnesota which was not primarily a fur trading post, fort, or mission (White and White 1998; Williams 1983: 58-63; Fudally 1998?)
Like much of the area around Fort Snelling in the 1830s, the Camp Coldwater settlement contained a rich mixture of whites and Indian people, intermarrying and living peacefully together. Writing on June 14, 1838, Rev. Alfred Brunson, who was seeking to build a mission house and school on the Fort Snelling reservation, described civilian residents of the area, including Camp Coldwater:
The situation of these citizens is simply this. The traders licenced by the authorities of the Gen. Gov. [general or federal government] built their residences & trading houses within these limits [of the Fort Snelling military reservation], but without the ground fenced in & occupied by the Garrison. These traders brought into the country with them men of different bloods, some white, some half & some quarter bloods, some French & some Americans &c. The most of these men married women of whole, half & quarter blood Indians of the Sioux & Chippewa nations. These men wished for & obtained leave from the commanding officers at different times to build houses for their families, on the reservation, & near the trading houses while they were out in the employ of the traders. Subsequently some of these men left the service of the traders . . . & became farmers & mechanics. One of these traders the American Fur Co. is located south of the St. Peter's River & the other Mr. Baker, is north of it & a mile north of the garrison, both being on the west bank of the Mississippi connected with both of them are some 4 or 500 souls, the children of whom, or at least most of them, speak Sioux, Chippewa, French & English (White and White 1998: 164).
Traditional accounts of the Camp Coldwater settlement suggest that it was abandoned in 1840 after removal of its residents by the government (Williams 1983: 100). In fact the area continued to be inhabited by civilians well into the 1840s. The commandant of Fort Snelling in 1842 wrote that at that date there were "some dozen houses . . . occupied by about the same number of families" (Dearborn 1842). After that, Baker's stone house was used as a hotel until it was destroyed in a fire. In the 20th century the area was used for many other purposes, including as the route of railroad and streetcar lines and most recently as the site of a VA laundry facility and a Bureau of Mines research facility. Despite these many re-uses, however, there continues to be high potential for archaeological study of the area simply because of until recent years construction projects tended to build over previous surfaces rather than to remove evidence of them entirely (Clouse 2000).
The plans for the construction of Highway 55, designed to provide a quicker route between downtown Minneapolis and the airport by means of the highway and an adjacent LRT line, have been controversial from its inception in the 1960s. In recent years the most disputed portion of the highway has been the section through Minnehaha Park and the area to the south, including areas sacred to Dakota people and the historic Camp Coldwater settlement. Though an environmental impact statement was completed for the highway corridor in the early 1980s, this included little or nothing about the southern portion of the highway around the historic Camp Coldwater settlement. In 1998-99, in part as a result of protests and legal action by the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota, archaeological shovel-testing was conducted along the edge of the Camp Coldwater settlement (Hawley 1997; Brandt 1999). This work was done without a thorough examination of the Smith map and without an attempt to recover evidence of the settlement.
The continuing neglect of the historic Camp Coldwater settlement despite many opportunities may be due to a variety of factors. It appears that those who planned the highway knew very little about the history of this important settlement and did not seek to learn more. They also did not realize the extent to which the highway would affect it. The discovery of the importance of the Smith map reveals what it was highway planners missed.
2. Why the Map Matters
The reason that this evidence about the location of Highway 55 in relation to the Camp Coldwater settlement is important is that throughout the long planning stage of the highway, its potential effect on the remains of this important settlement has either been downplayed or missed completely.
The implication in a great deal of what has been written about Highway 55 is that although the highway would pass close to the remnants of the Camp Coldwater settlement, it would not pass over any actual remains of buildings. Steve Brandt, in an article in the Star Tribune on May 8, 1999, wrote that the highway would "slice just west" of the settlement, "arguably the birthplace of Minnesota." Mn/DOT, in answer to a series of questions on its website stated that "the new roadway will not impact the Camp Coldwater site" (Mn/DOT 1999, Aug. 20), although Mn/DOT may have been referring only to the spring or a possible prehistoric settlement there and not to the remains of the historic settlement.
Among those who appear to have been misled or simply confused about the route of the highway in relation to historic Camp Coldwater settlement was State District Court Judge H. Peter Albrecht, who showed evidence of his misunderstanding in one of his rulings in the highway lawsuit filed by the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota and others against Mn/DOT at the end of 1998. In a memorandum attached to his order of January 19, 1999, Albrecht stated that the "path of the project is near the Fort Snelling Historic District and the Camp Coldwater Historic Site," an area "rich in Native American and European American history and artifacts, but the Project's path does not directly pass through these established historical areas."
On the other hand some state officials appear to have known or suspected for some time that the highway would affect the settlement. In a December 29, 1997, article based on interviews with State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) staff, Pioneer Press reporter David Hawley wrote that "the Hiawatha reroute will pass through part of the old Coldwater settlement," although he gave no indication of what part of the Coldwater settlement the highway would touch. He wrote that, as to this routing through a historic area, "state experts don't necessarily agree . . . that the results would be disastrous." SHPO staff members were quoted in the article stating that the area through which the highway would pass "has historical significance, but probably not much integrity." SHPO staff, including Dr. Scott Anfinson, National Register archaeologist, were more concerned with the effect of the highway on the Coldwater Spring outlet, to the east of the highway corridor. As will be shown this belief that the remains of the Camp Coldwater settlement have historical significance but not much integrity is not documented in any of the archaeological or historical studies of the highway corridor.
Where the highway will pass in relation to the historic Camp Coldwater settlement and why the potential effect of the highway on the settlement was not documented in any of the Mn/DOT surveys are puzzling questions.
3. Lt. Ephraim Kirby Smith's 1837 Map
A key document that could provide a clearer picture of the location of the Highway 55 corridor in relation to the Camp Coldwater settlement was not thoroughly studied in the historical and archaeological studies of the route. This document is a map drawn in October 1837 by Lieutenant Ephraim Kirby Smith, the commanding officer of Company A, one of four companies then stationed at Fort Snelling. Smith drew it at the time the commandant of the Fort, Major Joseph Plympton, sought to delineate the boundaries of the Fort Snelling military reservation and to remove non-military inhabitants from within those boundaries. The approximately two-foot-by-three-foot map, scaled one inch to 400 feet, covers the entire Fort Snelling area from Mendota to just east of Minnehaha Falls. On its left side, Smith showed the houses, gardens, barns and other buildings belonging to at least 82 inhabitants of the Camp Coldwater area. Upon its completion Smith presented it to his commanding officer along with a letter dated October 19, 1837, describing the population living around the fort (U. S. House of Representatives 1869-70).
Major Plympton, in turn, sent Smith's map on to Brigadier General R. Jones, Adjutant General of the United States. In his accompanying letter Plympton described the instructions he had given to Smith, noting that on his arrival at the fort in August 1837, he had found many places around the fort occupied by the settlers "which you will find indicated on the enclosed map, which I directed Lieutenant Smith to make from an actual survey, and which from its topographical correctness, entitles him to much credit." In reply to this letter, General J. N. Macomb of the Adjutant General's Office in Washington stated that his superior officer, the Adjutant General "agrees with you in commending Lieut. Smith for the able manner in which that duty has been performed" (Bloom 1969: 874).
A negative photostatic print of the Smith map was obtained for the Minnesota Historical Society in July 1918, from the original in the records of the old War Department in Washington. This was done before the records of the agency were placed in the National Archives (Minnesota Historical Society 1921, Buck 1918, Mereness 1918). In 1969 an attempt was made to find the original of the map in the archives but it could not be located (Minnesota Historical Society 1969). As it stands now the copy in the historical society collections is the best copy available.
The map was not used during the preparation of the Environmental Impact Statement for the Hiawatha Corridor project in the 1980s. Nor is the Smith map mentioned in the recent report of Mn/DOT contractor Berger & Associates in April 1999, examining additional aspects of the corridor's cultural and environmental significance. The archaeological study by another Mn/DOT contractor BRW, Inc., in March 1999 (BRW 1999: 18), does mention the Smith map, stating unclearly that "the location of Survey Areas 4 and 5 [including a portion of the highway route south of 54th St. and north of Highway 62] has no buildings or facilities present." This statement suggests strongly that no attempt was made to match the features of the map to the current landscape and that the map did not guide BRW's archaeological survey.
Although Lt. Smith was an 1826 graduate of West Point (Heitman 1903) and may have been trained in military map-making, his 1837 map does not completely meet modern standards. It is however more accurate than many done by other military officers at the time. It is also a more detailed and accurate representation of the landscape of the Camp Coldwater area than any other map of the period, including one Smith did in 1838, which covers a much wider area.
Despite inaccuracies, historical maps are a very important resource for historians, archaeologists, and geographers. Many such maps, with labels indicating the probable location of modern features, were used in both the BRW and Berger & Associates studies but Smith's 1837 map was not among them. Instead the studies relied on historic maps showing the larger area around Camp Coldwater to show that the route of the highway did not touch the historic community and to show the landscape around the four contested oak trees. For example, the Berger & Associates report (1999, April: 10, 12) refers to and reproduces a portion of Lt. Smith's map of 1838, without using his more detailed map from the year before. While the maps used in the BRW and Berger reports may be accurate in many specifics they do not show the same kind of details and land forms shown on Smith's 1837 map.
Lt. E. K. Smith's map of October 1837 as reproduced in a report by Robert Clouse and Elizabeth Steiner (1996). The actual map, which shows a small additional portion of the Mississippi River to the right, was copied by the Minnesota Historical Society in 1918 from the records of the War Department. The original of the map has not been seen since that date.
In none of the studies of the Highway 55 corridor was there any attempt to locate the specific features delineated on Smith's 1837 map onto modern maps or onto the modern landscape. Because the map shows the contours of the land, and the location of particular houses, one worthwhile way to use the map would be to do a complete archaeological survey of the area, matching it to current land forms--insofar as they may be similar to those present in 1837--and possible surviving ruins in the ground of specific buildings. Such a study using the Smith map has never been done by the agencies responsible for complying with federal historical preservation laws or by the archaeologists they employed.
4. An Analysis of the Smith Map
All maps are imperfect two-dimensional representations of a three-dimensional world. The study of historical maps has been a developing field in the last twenty years. Such maps are no longer considered to be merely erroneous depictions of places but are now viewed as valuable sources of information. The key to making use of the information contained in a historic map is to understand the context in which the map was created, the process through which it was made and the conventional symbols used in the map. Canadian map historian Conrad Heidenreich, in a study of 17th-century French maps written in 1978, stated:
There are no standard procedures for analyzing the content of historical maps, although a thorough knowledge of the historical events of a period is a prerequisite for any map interpretation. As a general rule, interpretation should proceed from the well-known readily identifiable areas of a map to the less-known poorly depicted areas. Interpretation should also proceed from the permanent feature of the landscape to the more transitory man-made features.
In the case of the Smith map, it should be obvious that there have been many changes in both the man-made and natural landscapes since 1837. The river is a particular problem. The shoreline and topography of the river itself has changed from year to year. When the river was low sand bars might become islands to be seen by mapmakers who did not see them in other years. In September 1838, for example, according to Indian agent Lawrence Taliaferro, the river was so low as to greatly inhibit navigation of the Mississippi below the fort (Taliaferro 1838, Sept. 16). A description of the level of the river in 1837 has not been found. Given all that has been done to the Mississippi River since 1837, however, it is clear that any attempt to match anything but the river's general course would be difficult.
Another important point has to do with the orientation of the Smith map. As the map historian Conrad Heidenreich wrote: "A note of caution: the map interpreter must keep scale variation and errors in compass orientation in mind throughout his analysis of content." Smith's use of the compass to draw the map resulted in a significant error in his map, but it is at least a consistent one that can be accommodated in an analysis of the document.
Mapmakers of Smith's time and for a long time after used the compass as a primary tool of mapmaking. Compasses do not point to true north, but rather are affected by a variety of factors including the difference between the locations of true north and magnetic north. Usually mapmakers corrected for this magnetic declination or "variation" of their location, a difference that changed perceptibly over time. For the area of southern Minnesota in the 1830s and 1840s, the magnetic declination was slightly over eleven degrees east (Cary 1927: 46). Some maps from the period done at Fort Snelling record an eleven-degree variation, as do the notes of later surveyors (Thompson 1839; Abert 1853). Smith's map from April 1838 included this correction, but his map from October 1837 did not. Any attempt to match the features on the 1837 map to the modern landscape must take into account the eleven-degree error in his delineation of the area. Thus it is necessary to rotate the map eleven degrees to the right to get the proper orientation for matching its features to the modern landscape. Historical archaeologists interviewed during the course of this research make clear that this procedure is standard practice for identifying the locations of historic places using maps.
The route of Highway 55 was located on Smith's 1837 map by matching physical features still present today, marked here with arrows. The dotted lines indicate the route of the proposed highway, including ramps and a bike path. The map can only be used to match modern features of the Camp Coldwater area if it is rotated eleven degrees to the right to allow for the magnetic declination for the area at that time.
Ideally, any complete study making use of Smith's 1837 map would involve a re-survey of the entire area, matching landforms and structures to modern landforms and archaeological sites. In the absence of such a study, some preliminary work with Smith's map is still possible. One approach is to match the Smith map to a modern USGS contour map of the Camp Coldwater area, the first necessary step being to match the two in terms of scale and look for similar landforms (USGS 1993). In doing this it is important to note the differences between the way a modern USGS map delineates the contours of the land and the way Smith did so. USGS maps show a series of lines at regular intervals--in this case ten feet--connecting points of identical elevation. Smith used hachures perpendicular to the hills and cliffs and other physical features to indicate changes in elevation. Matching his hachures to the contours is not easy because one cannot be sure where Smith located these lines. It appears that in some cases these hachures do not follow through an entire drop in elevation, nor did Smith appear to have intended to show slight differences in elevation that are noted on the USGS map. It is possible that Smith placed these hachures at the upper edge of a hill, for example, at a point where a flat area begins to drop off. What Smith showed as a wide flat area may appear on a USGS map as an area with many slight shifts in elevation. It is also necessary to remember that within the Camp Coldwater area there have been many changes in landforms, including a railroad embankment now used as a trail that cuts through the area from southeast to northwest.
Given these factors, many features of Smith's map match the modern landscape remarkably well. For the purposes of this preliminary study, transparencies were made by scanning into a computer relevant areas of a modern USGS map and of the Smith map itself, with an attempt to match the maps in terms of scale. After scanning the negative print copy of the Smith map it was possible to reverse the image and adjust the contrast without losing much of the copy's detail. For this reason the scanned version of the print is in many ways more easily read than the original copy.
The transparencies were laid one atop the other, matching some particular prominent landforms in the area, as well as the location of Fort Snelling. Four landforms used to match the two maps were the head of a ravine on the southwest corner of the Camp Coldwater area (at the site of the present-day Whipple Federal Building), a steep bluff that marks the southern end of the Coldwater area, a landing on the river at the north end (below the home of Louis Massey), and a portion of shoreline opposite the north end of Camp Coldwater known later as Rumtown and more recently as the Hidden Falls Park. As the name would indicate Rumtown was a place where alcoholic beverages could be purchased and was a favorite destination of soldiers from Fort Snelling (Goodman and Goodman 1996: 156, 162).
Matching these landforms in a preliminary way allows for the location of other features of the map, notably the fences, houses, barns, and other buildings of the pioneer residents of the Camp Coldwater settlement. Locating their position in relation to the route of the highway is a little more difficult. The various maps and aerial photographs in the reports done for Mn/DOT relating to the archaeology and history of the highway corridor are inconsistent in their location of the highway. They also differ in depicting the width of the highway corridor. However, using maps in the Berger and BRW reports which place the proposed highway on the same USGS map used to match the Smith map and a Mn/DOT map of the highway in the possession of the SHPO office, it is possible to get an approximate location and width of the highway. Once the highway was located on the USGS map it was transferred to the Smith map as shown on the maps included with this report. This last step was done on a computer using Adobe Illustrator, version 8. The resulting maps show clearly that the highway will pass either through or within feet of the locations of a number of structures associated with the historic settlement, including the locations of Joseph Buisson, Antoine Pepin, Le Rage, Oliver Cratte, and Benjamin F. Baker.
It should be pointed out that the suggested route of the highway in relation to the features of the historic Camp Coldwater settlement as given here is preliminary. Only a thorough archaeological survey can give a more definite answer. One way or the other, however, the map is an important piece of evidence that almost any archaeologist would find useful for locating historic features. This importance, however, was missed completely in the archaeological and historical studies of the area.
A detail of Smith's 1837 map, showing the
route of Highway 55 through the western portion of the historic
Camp Coldwater settlement. The dotted lines indicate the route
of the new construction, including ramps and a proposed bike path.
The solid lines indicate the route of the current roads.
The possible remains of historic Camp Coldwater
affected by Highway 55 shown in this detail of Smith's 1837 map
might include the homes of Buisson (Bisson), Le Rage, Pepin (Papin),
Baker, and Cratte (Cratt), as well as a barn, a stable and several
Version: February 7, 2000