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Digging into Wadena's history

University of Minnesota Archaeology students participate in a field school program at the Joseph Réaume's Trading Post site in Wadena in 2012. (Submitted photo)

Railroads and farming may be what most people think of when it comes to the economic history of the Wadena area, but before those industries took hold the fur trade played an active role in the area. Wadena county has three archaeological dig sites, two of which folks can visit, and numerous artifacts on display at the Wadena Historical Society for folks to peruse and learn about this time in history.

Lina Belar, interim executive director at the Wadena Historical Society, said when she arrived four years ago she was amazed at how much archaeology had been done in this area.

"You really only have a one time chance to really gather the evidence. You can't reexamine it after it's been gone through," she said. "So it's very fortunate when places are found that haven't been disturbed."

The three locations, Joseph Réaume's Trading Post, the Cadotte Post and the Little Round Hill Trading Site were all first visited in 1972 by Douglas Birk, according to Mnopedica.org. A state surveyor described an old fortification he had discovered on the Leaf River in 1869, (the Joseph Réaume's Trading Post) and a century later, Douglas Birk and Douglas George, both archaeologists for the Minnesota Historical Society, visited the location.

Two of the three sites, Cadotte Trading Post and Little Round Hill Trading Site, are in Old Wadena County Park, and are open to the public. The Joseph Réaume's Trading Post is on private property and is not open to the public.

The three locations were found based on historical documents and oral traditions from the Ojibwe. They identified Little Round Hill, a small elevation on the banks of the Crow Wing River, as the location of a late-1700s French trading fort. In 1852, historian William Warren related the story of a leader of the Ojibwe band of Pillagers. 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.

The Cadotte Post was a fur trade encampment in the late eighteenth century. It stood just north of the Crow Wing River on its east bank. Between 1848 and 1849, historian William Warren collected oral histories from Ojibwe elders that were published in his History of the Ojibway People.

All of these accounts made finding the locations and the excavations possible. The most recent excavations were done between 2009 and 2011, with numerous items found by Dr. Katherine Hayes and students from the University of Minnesota.

"The University processed and analyzed the items they found, and after I had been here a few years they came to me and returned some of the items," Belar said. "They told me we were a good enough archive to keep some of the artifacts."

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