The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

December 18, 2006

Historic river crossing rediscovered

Traverse de Sioux is no longer in river

ST PETER — For centuries, possibly longer, Dakota Indians forded the Minnesota River at a place they called Oiyuwege, a shallow crossing near modern-day St. Peter.

When French explorers arrived in the area to trade and trap furs, they named it Traverse des Sioux, or “crossing place of the Sioux.”

After 1851, when the Dakota signed a treaty with the U.S. government allowing white settlers into their territory, a village called Traverse des Sioux sprang up and thrived for several decades. It was later annexed into St. Peter.

“The crossing, that’s why we’re all here,” said Ben Leonard, Nicollet County Historical Society director. “This place has been a gateway and a gathering place for thousands of years.

“It’s the most important historical fact of St. Peter, of Nicollet County.”

Sometime in the last 200 years, as the river shifted its course and bridges replaced fords, the location of the crossing was forgotten. But through historical documents and modern surveying technology, Traverse des Sioux has been rediscovered.

Perfect match

Bob Sandeen, historical society research coordinator, said the actual site of the crossing long had been the subject of rumor and speculation. Many claimed to have learned the location from a grandparent or local old-timer, but the stories often conflicted.

“Since this was oral tradition and not based on any documentary evidence to back it up, we were naturally somewhat suspicious of these stories,” Sandeen said.

The key was found in “Old Traverse des Sioux,” an account of the village published in 1929 by historian Thomas Hughes. In addition to recording eyewitness accounts of the crossing, Hughes included a small map that showed its exact location.

“(Hughes) was doing the book at a time when there still would have been physical evidence,” Leonard said.

After finding the map, the historical society brought in Dick Gardner, a surveyor for engineering firm Bolton and Menk. In 2000, Gardner was contracted by the Minnesota Historical Society to map the remains of the village of Traverse des Sioux.

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