The People of the Land

Adapted from Alan Woolworth's introduction to Kevin Callahan's
The Jeffers Petroglyphs

      Apart from their petroglyphs and artifacts, we really know very little of the people who lived here before Europeans came to write down their observations. The "Traditions" and "Phases" listed below do not reflect what people of the time may have called themselves, it's merely the name used to generally describe a group of people with similar characteristics living in one area at one time.


Paleolndian Tradition (10,000 - 6,000 B.C.)
      The Ice Age was ending, and warmer and drier climates favored the growth of tall grass prairies and forests that followed the retreating glaciers northward. Small bands of Indians, armed with spears tipped with fluted Clovis and Folsom projectile points, hunted large game animals. Minnesota's Brown's Valley site, between lakes Big Stone and Traverse, later yielded several large, distinctive spear points, dating back to 7,000 B.C., that were used to hunt bison and other large animals.

Prairie Archaic Tradition (5,500 - 3,000 B.C.)
      The climate was dryer, so most of this region was covered with grasslands. Bison hunting and gathering of wild-plant foods were major subsistence activities, but small mammals, fish, and waterfowl were also pursued. Hunters used the atlatl and its darts to kill large game. Small hunting bands camped at favored localities with wood, water, and food sources.


Mountain Lake Phase (3,000 - 200 B.C.)
      The climate now became cooler and moister. Large bison herds shifted westward, and aquatic food resources were more heavily utilized by the people of the region. The Mountain Lake site, about 14 miles south of the Jeffers site, was inhabited intermittently from Archaic times to roughly 1650 A.D, a period of about 4,000 years. Indians farther eastward now began to live in small and more permanent villages, to make pottery, and to domesticate plants that had rich nutritious seeds. With more stable food supplies, populations increased.

Fox Lake Phase (200 B.C. - 700 A.D.)
      The Fox Lake site in Murray County is the type-site for the initial phase of the Woodland Culture in the Prairie Lake Region. It is on an island in Fox Lake, as are many other such sites. Many varieties of Middle Woodland Era ceramics were found there; two groups of small burial mounds were nearby. A considerable variety of animal, fish, and waterfowl bones have been found in Fox Lake sites. Many aquatic plant foods appear to have been harvested.

Lake Benton Phase (700 -1200 A.D.)
      Native populations appear to have increased considerably during this era, as there are many more known village sites in the Prairie Lake Region. These sites are located in a virtually identical region as that of the Fox Lake people. More highly decorated ceramics are common, as are more burial mounds. The bow and arrow were clearly in use at these sites for hunting game and warfare. Subsistence patterns are very similar to those of the Fox Lake sites.


Great Oasis Phase (900 - 1200 A.D.)
      Great Oasis is one of the earliest and most widespread Plains Village phases. It is ancestral to the Initial Middle Missouri variant that was widespread along the Middle Missouri River in South Dakota. Subsistence in southwestern Minnesota appears to be based on bison, but smaller mammals and fish were also utilized. These horticulturists had large gardens where they raised corn, squash, and sunflowers. Surplus foods were stored in underground bell shaped cache pits.

Cambria Phase (1000 - 1350 A. D.)
      The Price, Jones, and Cambria sites are all located on terraces set back from the Minnesota River on small streams. Bell-shaped storage pits are common at the Cambria focus sites. Little bison bone was found there. There are hints of more of a riverine subsistence base with beaver, turtles, fish, deer, etc., being important. The Cambria site was the largest and first one occupied, dating from about 1050 to 1250 A.D., contemporaneous with the Stirling Phase at the great Cahokia site near St. Louis, Missouri. The Price site dates from ca. 1100 A.D. The Jones site was the last one occupied and dates from about 1350 A.D., perhaps under drought conditions.

Big Stone Phase (1100 - 1300 A.D)
      A series of small fortified Plains villages are on high promontories overlooking Big Stone and Lake Traverse at the upper end of the Minnesota River Valley. A portion of the ceramics resemble those from Cambria, and many lithic materials are of Knife River Flint from central North Dakota. Bison were a major subsistence resource, but some corn may have been also grown.

Blue Earth Phase (1000 -1650 A.D.)
      The Blue Earth Phase of the Oneota Tradition is well known in southern Minnesota. There are at least three large Oneota sites along the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers in eastern Minnesota and adjacent Wisconsin. Many other Oneota village sites are present southwest of the Minnesota River and close to the Blue Earth River in southwestern Minnesota. The many carbon 14 dates for these sites range from 1000 to 1510 A.D.
      Blue Earth ceramics are shell-tempered, smooth-surfaced, round-bottomed globular jars; the shoulders are decorated with trailed lines, tooled marks, and punctuates. Subsistence activities were heavily based on horticulture with corn, beans and sunflower being raised. Many small mammal species were used as foods with beaver, dog, deer, and elk most common.

MODERN PERIOD (1650 - 1850 A.D.)

      For many years, Plains archeologists have correlated the Oneota materials with the historic Iowa, Oto, Missouri, and Winnebago (Ho Chunk) groups of Siouan-speaking Indians. Ethnohistorical research shows that Algonquian speaking Indians, apparently of the Illinois Confederacy, were driven out of southwestern Minnesota in the late 17th century when the Teton Lakota and Yankton Nakota Siouans expanded into the region. The Iowa and Oto tribes were also forced out of southwestern Minnesota, moving west to join the Omaha tribe near the Missouri River ca. 1700 A.D.
      Since this area was a wide prairie with no natural boundaires (other than rivers) inhabited by largely nomadic groups, it is hard to say exactly who lived here at any given time. By the 1800s, the Jeffers Petroglyphs area was inhabited mainly by the Dakota, but other tribes in Minnesota at the time (according to Access Genealogy) include the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Foxes, Iowa, Missouri, Ojibwe, Omaha, Oto, Ottawa, Ponca, Sauk, Winnebago, and Wyandot. Whether they were ever actually at the Petroglyphs site is unknown.

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