Highway 55 and the

Camp Coldwater Settlement:

An Independent Investigation

Bruce M. White, PhD

February 2000

Turnstone Historical Research

St. Paul, MN

Return to Camp Coldwater exhibit

Update--October 30, 2000

Mn/DOT's April archaeological survey:

What was found and how the results were concealed

The major finding of my February 2000 report was that the Minnesota Department of Transportation had not done adequate archaeology to study the historic resources of the highway corridor. After this report was published, the agencies involved universally denied the validity of these findings. Yet in early March 2000, secret plans were formulated by these same agencies to do a new archaeological survey, disguised as "archaeological monitoring."

The Mn/DOT survey, which took place in early April, was designed specifically to respond to the criticisms made in the February report in such a way that it would not endanger the plan to build the highway. The survey archaeologists, working for the Louis Berger Group, Inc., made use of the Smith 1837 map, though with little explanation about what was done to locate the historic structures shown on the map. Perhaps the reason for this lack of explanation was that the survey was rushed, timed to be completed before a court date at the end of April, when the agencies involved were due to appear to defend against a motion by the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota to stop the highway construction pending an adequate archaeological survey. After less than two weeks of archaeological work, during which Mn/DOT's contractors found the largest collection of artifacts yet uncovered relating to the early history of Camp Coldwater, "the birthplace of Minnesota," the survey was over. Some of the results of the survey were disclosed in court at the end of April. At that time Mn/DOT had the support of the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office, the same agency that protected Mn/DOT from having to deal in 1999 with the information in the Smith map, as documented in the report below. The judge in the case, H. Peter Albrecht, chose to accept the evaluation of SHPO when he rejected the motion in a June ruling.

Unknown to the judge at the time of his ruling in June and at the time he threw the case out of court in October, was the fact that the most important find relating to Camp Coldwater was never disclosed by Mn/DOT in court. This was a collection of artifacts found in a wooded area adjacent to the entrance to the Bureau of Mines site, now designated as Site 21HE309. This location is sandwiched between the highway and the bike path now under construction. A few tantalizing details about what was found there were only revealed in August when Mn/DOT, as a result of a request I made under the Minnesota Data Practices Act, released a draft report from Berger & Associates.

This is how Christopher Shoen of The Louis Berger Group, Inc. described the find of artifacts in Site 21HE309, a site located within inches of Highway 55:

"The wooded parcel east of the highway corridor right-of-way does include artifacts which, with two exceptions, date from 1820 to 1870 and can be attributed to the Camp Coldwater settlement. The concentration of artifacts that forms Site 21HE309 includes transfer-printed, shell-edge, and hand-painted whiteware sherds, thin window glass and bottle glass fragments, square nails, a brass side plate, a brass crucifix, cermaic pipe stem and bowl fragments, bone and metal buttons, a buckle, and some shell and bone framents. The brass crucifix is from a rosary and appears to be of eighteenth century French origin (Stone 1974; Neumann and Kravic 1989). The serpent or dragon side piece is probably from a pistol or fowling piece and is likely British or American in origian. The plate was manufactured between 1700 and 1785."

Why was this information not disclosed by the state to Judge Albrecht in April 2001?

In the future I will place on this website further information on what is known to this date of the findings of the Berger archaeologists in their survey. I will also discuss the highly debatable conclusion of Berger archaeologist Christopher Shoen that what was found "has limited potential for answering important questions about early Minnesota history" and that "no further work is recommended at this site."

The original report below was released on February 7, 2000. The text here is the same as the printed version of the report, except for a few corrections of typographical errors. Other corrections and additions to this report and to the website will be made in the future. To make comments or suggest changes, write to the author at: white067@tc.umn.edu

For discussion of a variety of issues related to the protection of historic Camp Coldwater, see www. preservecampcoldwater.org


To read the section, click on the section heading.

Summary of the Report

Author's Note

1. Camp Coldwater and the Highway

2. Why the Map Matters

3. Lt. Ephraim Kirby Smiths's 1837 Map

4. An Analysis of the Smith Map

5. Archaeological and Historical Surveys of the Highway 55 Corridor

6. The State Historic Preservation Office and Its Archaeologist

7. How the Section 106 Process Works

8. What Should Happen Now?

9. Sources

10. About the Author


Summary of the Report

Evidence shows that the route of the controversial Highway 55 passes through the location of Minnesota's first European-American settlement. A map copied for the Minnesota Historical Society in 1918, the importance of which was missed in the archaeological or historical studies of the highway, indicates that the highway route will go through the remnants of Camp Coldwater, sometimes described as the "birthplace of Minnesota," adjacent to what one archaeologist has called the "best preserved pre-territorial white settlement archaeological site in Minnesota." This is contrary to the official descriptions of the highway, including that of State District Court Judge H. Peter Albrecht, who appears to have made an important ruling concerning the highway based on the belief that the road would not touch the settlement.

This important map—unmatched in its detail and coverage of the Camp Coldwater area—was done in 1837 by Lt. E. K. Smith, an officer at Fort Snelling, from what his superior officer called "an actual survey." The superior officer praised the map for "its topographical correctness and neatness," entitling Smith to "much credit." However, despite the value that the officer attached to it, and despite the fact that the Minnesota Historical Society obtained its copy of the map from the old War Department in 1918, the importance of this map was missed in the work of Mn/DOT (Minnesota Department of Transportation) archaeologists and was not used to guide their surveys.

Had the map been studied it would have shown that the highway will pass near the possible remains of the house of settler Joseph Buisson (or Bisson), across a fenced field where he raised cattle and made charcoal that he sold to traders and to other settlers. Also in the path of the highway will be any remnants of the homes of settlers Antoine Pepin and Oliver Cratte, who sometimes worked as blacksmiths for the Indian agency at Fort Snelling. The home of a settler named Le Rage was also nearby, as was that of Benjamin F. Baker, who lived in a stone house that may have been built before the historic Henry H. Sibley House in Mendota. These people, though pioneers of European ancestry, also had ties to the local Indian community, through blood and marriage.

Because of the map and because of the many other sources of information about its residents, the Camp Coldwater settlement is in many ways a dream archaeological site. The people who lived in the Camp Coldwater settlement were well-known settlers and pioneers, though they were ordinary people without great wealth. Their lives are told in some of the earliest history books published in Minnesota. They are mentioned in early letters. What they ate and how they dressed are listed in old account books and their families are listed in early censuses. In some cases we know what their houses looked like. But the archaeological study of the area could teach a great deal more about how these pioneers lived their lives, through the study of the things the residents left in the ground.

In doing their survey of the highway corridor in 1998-99, contracting archaeologists BRW, Inc. and Berger & Associates, working for Mn/DOT, appear to have had no inkling that the remnants of the historic community could be in the route of the highway. The methods employed in the survey more or less insured that they would not find any. For example, as is typical of many historic archaeological sites, layers of fill have been placed over the original surface of the land in the area of the highway, from one to four meters (3.28 ft-13.12 feet) thick in many places. Little of the Mn/DOT "shovel testing," the process through which archaeologists look for archaeological evidence in locations they know little about, went deeper than half a meter (1.64 feet). Further, the archaeological testing was done in small test sites at 15-meter intervals or around 50 feet. Probably any of the houses present in the Camp Coldwater area in 1837 could have fit between these test sites, making them easy to miss.

Although the archaeologists working for Mn/DOT found very little in their surveys, even when something of potential importance was found it was not studied in more detail. For example, a geologist working for Mn/DOT did a core samples at the north end of the Camp Coldwater settlement, finding cinders at the likely surface of the soil in 1837, around one meter (3.28 feet) down. This is important evidence because of the number of houses and blacksmith shops in the area, and because of the fact that the nearest settler, Joseph Buisson made charcoal that he sold to other settlers. The cinders could have led to other important finds, but BRW archaeologists did no digging at the location of this core sample.

While the importance of the map was missed by Mn/DOT archaeologists, Scott Anfinson, an archaeologist in the State Historic Preservation Office in the Minnesota Historical Society, says that he did look at this evidence in the spring of 1999. The State Historic Preservation Office is the primary agency responsible for attesting to the adequacy of Mn/DOT's archaeological surveys. Anfinson states that his own examination of the map showed that the highway would pass through the area of the historic Camp Coldwater settlement. He maintains that the area in question does not have any "historical integrity," that is, that it is not likely to provide significant archaeological evidence, although he cannot point to any documentation of this statement. Anfinson suggests that Mn/DOT archaeologists should have used the map to guide their surveys and should have mentioned the Smith map in detail in their reports but he does not appear to have shared his own conclusions about the map with the agency. The effect of this SHPO official's actions was to let Mn/DOT off easy, shifting the consideration of an important and controversial aspect of the corridor's history to himself and saving the agency the trouble of having to deal with it publicly, as required by law.

Federal regulations indicate that the process used in examination of historical resources such as the Camp Coldwater settlement--the Section 106 process--must be thorough, completely documented, and open to the public so that all concerned can participate in important decisions about their cultural heritage. The lack of consideration given to the Smith map by MnDOT and the undocumented and unpublicized look at it by the SHPO archaeologist indicates that the survey process in the Highway 55 corridor violated the required standards.

To remedy this neglect of the federal compliance standards, before Highway 55 can be built a complete and thorough archaeological and historical re-survey of the highway corridor from 54th street to Highway 62 must be done, making use of this important new evidence. Because both Mn/DOT and SHPO have so clearly failed in their duty to examine the corridor, despite many opportunities, this new survey must be done by independent experts having no association with these agencies. This is the only way that Minnesotans can be assured that their cultural heritage has been adequately studied and protected.

In addition to a new survey of the Highway 55 corridor, it is important that the Camp Coldwater area, including all the various portions under the management of the Minnesota Historical Society, the Bureau of Mines and the Department of Natural Resources, be protected and managed in such a way that it can be appreciated. One possibility would be for the Camp Coldwater area to be enfolded along with many other parts of the Fort Snelling area into a single entity, possibly managed by a state commission comparable to the Mackinac State Parks commission in Michigan. Included would be the Sibley House, Fort Snelling, Camp Coldwater and a variety of other areas of sacred and historical importance. All of these locations were, in the 19th century, part of what was essentially the birthplace of Minnesota, a rich, culturally diverse area in which Indian people, whites, fur traders, missionaries, soldiers, and settlers came together to create the basis for the state as it is today. It was the scene of many triumphs and also tragedies, all of which are important for Minnesotans to remember if their history is to have any meaning at all. Whatever the final outcome, perhaps the Highway 55 controversy will provide the motivation for this aspect of Minnesota's common history to be preserved and commemorated so that it will not be forgotten.

Author's Note

The information in this report is the result of an independent investigation of Camp Coldwater and Highway 55. The research was not funded by any agency, group, or individual opposing or supporting the construction of the highway. In working on the report I received documentation and suggestions from a wide variety of individuals on both sides of the issue, with no assurance on my part that I would come to any particular conclusions one way or the other. Among those who first asked me, in July 1999, to look into the Highway 55 matter were Dr. Janet Spector, my former graduate-school advisor and an archaeologist with an expertise in Dakota ethnohistory, who thought that it was important for there to be an independent evaluation of the Highway 55 surveys, and Linda Brown of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota, who asked me to look through the survey reports to see if the Mendota community's issues relating to the highway had been dealt with fairly in the process. In addition, there were others with contrasting viewpoints on Highway 55 who spoke to me about the issues, but preferred not to be named in this report. On the record, however, were conversations with Dr. Scott Anfinson and Dr. Robert Clouse of the Minnesota Historical Society, arranged through Timothy Glines, assistant to the director, in January 2000. These conversations concerned the preliminary version of Sections 1-4 of this report and resulted in the writing of Sections 6-7. Subsequently Anfinson and Glines also saw preliminary versions of Sections 6-7, but declined to comment on them. In writing this report I was motivated by a desire to see the Camp Coldwater area become better known, appreciated, and protected and to understand the way in which the history and cultural resources of the area were dealt with in the process leading up to the construction of the highway. I have sought to avoid ascribing particular motives to any of those involved in the process. I have attempted to make this report as accurate as I can. If there are errors as to the facts, please let me know so that with proper documentation I can correct any mistakes.

Bruce White, February 2000


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