The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

July 13, 2008

River crossing drew humans

By Tim Krohn

Free Press Staff Writer

ST. PETER — When some of the very first humans in southern Minnesota wandered the area, they found their way to a shallow, hard-bottom crossing of the Minnesota River on the north end of St. Peter.

During the next 10,000 years, Traverse des Sioux would be a gathering point, crossing and trading center for Indians and European settlers.

“I tell kids that the river was the Highway 169 of its day and Traverse des Sioux was the on/off ramp,” said Ben Leonard, director of the Nicollet County Historical Society.

A few years ago, when state archaeologists combed the area, they found a trove of artifacts — 10,000 objects in all, with the oldest being projectile points dated 9,000 to 10,000 years old.

“There were people coming here as long as there’s been humans here,” Leonard said.

Last year, Leonard and his son, while walking sand bars in the area, made a discovery of their own. They found more than 100 bones from bison, horses and cattle, many believed to be 150 years old or older.

Leonard said state archaeologists speculate the bones were washed out of a ravine that was used as a trash pit by Indians and early settlers who dumped animal carcasses.

Traverse des Sioux was home to one of the most important treaty-signing ceremonies in U.S. history, opening millions of acres of land to settlers and setting the stage for bloody conflicts to come.

The Dakota Indians called this place Oiyuwege, meaning “the place of crossing.” French explorers called it Traverse des Sioux, or “crossing place of the Sioux.”

Today the area is home to the Nicollet County Treaty Site History Center, just off Highway 169.

The actual site of the village of Traverse des Sioux is just north of the center and is owned and operated by the state as a historic site, featuring restored native prairie plants and walking trails.

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