History of the Site: 1850 - Present

Some of this information is from Gordon A. Lothson's 1976 book,
The Jeffers Petroglyphs Site: A Survey and Analysis of the Carvings

      Cottonwood county was surveyed in the late 1850s, around the time Minnesota became a state, but the surveyor's field notes do not mention the Red Rock Ridge. In July 1875, however, J. B. Churchill carved his name and the date into the rock, which is the earliest dated carving that appears there. In 1880, Warren Upham visited the ridge and made the first formal written record of it. He also wrote a few notes describing the many petroglyphs pecked into the hard red quartzite.
      During the summer of 1885, a small group of men from New Ulm, Minnesota, travelled by boat on the Cottonwood River from Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, to reach the Red Rock Falls, or Dells, and then went southwest towards the Jeffers Site. Their report describing the findings of the "Mound Creek Exploring Party" was printed in the New Ulm Review on August 12, 1885. This group of six men set out "to examine some Indian [rock] inscriptions" which reportedly existed on a prominent ridge of red quartzite adjacent to the Little Cottonwood River in north-central Cottonwood County (J. Brown, 1916, 1:68; Klammer, 1970:4). There they "discovered the peculiar inscriptions, [hewn] into a hard red-black rock." During their stay at what was known as Red Rock Ridge, the men measured, copied, and recorded 9 figures: 2 turtles, "the picture of a man, his head crowned by what should perhaps present feathers," a circle that "may represent the [sun]," a figure "much resembling a bird," a deer's body with antlers, a "picture closely resembling the much prized 'Indian Potato,'" a "curious figure of geometrical character, closely resembling a kite," and a "portrait of a mink." They also found "an indentation much resembling a buffalo" that was too obscure to measure. All of these symbols were genuine "beyond a doubt," the newspaper reported, leaving no question of their prehistoric origins.
      In 1889, the Red Rock Ridge was visited by Theodore H. Lewis, a young surveyor, who, with Alfred J. Hill, a civil engineer, conducted an amazing archaeological survey of Minnesota and surrounding states from 1881 to 1895. During this project Lewis located, mapped, and made tracings of petroglyphs in Houston, Winona, Nicollet, Traverse, Pipestone, Ramsey, Washington, and Cottonwood counties. At the Red Rock Ridge he traced 30 carvings, 24 of which he found at the Jeffers Petroglyphs site, where he suspected the carvings numbered "at least 200 . . . and they may exceed 500". Based on Lewis' work, Newton H. Winchell concluded that the Jeffers Petroglyphs and others in the region could be attributed to the Eastern and Western Dakota.
      During the early 1920s, a small party from Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, visited the Jeffers Site and local photographer Frank Scobie photographed some glyphs. A poetical account of the place called "Picture Rocks" was published soon after.
      In 1935 the Cottonwood County petroglyphs were visited by Armin Arndt, who set out to preserve the rock carvings by removing them from their original setting. Fortunately his mission was never completed. Other members of the Minnesota Archaeological Society visited the site in the late 1940s and made photographs of many of the petroglyphs.
      Leotta M. Kellet, curator and later director of the Brown County Historical Society in New Ulm, Minnesota, had an important role in arousing public support for the purchase of the Jeffers Site (so named because the property belonged to the Warren Jeffers family, who farmed the area around the rock outcropping). In the fall of 1959, she contacted staff members of the Minnesota Historical Society about the site and took them to it. In 1961 and 1962, she urged National Park Service officials to visit and conducted them around the site. Paul Klammer, also from the Brown County Historical society, showed the site to Russell W. Fridley, Director of the Minnesota Historical Society, in 1962, and Ms. Kellet continued to urge that it be purchased by the state as a historic site. This goal was finally reached in November, 1966.
      In the 1960's, Florence Roefer and her cousin, Wesley Bakker, made many visits to the site to make rubbings and photographs of the petroglyphs. They also wrote or co-wrote many reports about the petroglyphs, as well as encouraging local papers to print articles about it as well. She was selected by the Minnesota Historical Society to be the first site manager, a position she held until 1976.
      Access to the site was from a small gravel road on the northern edge. The walking trail was much shorter and covered less area. Originally there was not even a shelter at the site, so Ms. Roefer moved a chicken brooder house over from her own farm. Later, a tipi-shaped interpretive shelter was built on the northern edge of the site. In 1998, this was replaced by a larger Visitor's Center, and access was changed to come in from County Road 2 (a paved road) on the western side. The parking lot was also expanded.

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