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Morrison County Historical Society offers tours of archeological site near Royalton

The Morrison County Historical Society is offering tours of the St. Cloud State University archaeological survey of the William Warren Two Rivers house site and Peter MacDougall farmstead near Royalton on Thursday, June 9, and Friday, and June 16 and 17.

People perform archeological work near the barn on Peter MacDougall's farmstead.
Those affiliated with St. Cloud State State University perform archeological work near the barn on Peter MacDougall's farmstead near Royalton in Morrison County.
Contributed / Morrison County Historical Society
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ROYALTON — Indiana Jones-wannabes or those simply interested in local history can join new tours offered this month by the Morrison County Historical Society.

The Little Falls-based nonprofit is offering tours of the St. Cloud State University archaeological survey of the William Warren Two Rivers house site and Peter MacDougall farmstead near Royalton at 1 p.m. Thursday, June 9, and Friday; and June 16 and 17.

“William Warren was a Native American trader here in Morrison County,” said Amy Mann, collections assistant at the historical society.

Rob Mann, Amy Mann’s husband, is also an associate professor of anthropology at St. Cloud State and an archeologist. He said he will be contributing information given on the free tours of the Warren-MacDougall property.

“He wrote what became one of the first histories of the Ojibwe written from an indigenous perspective,” Rob Mann said of Warren. “Since he was part Ojibwe, he had access to native peoples in some ways that a white author might not.”

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Peter MacDougall barn exterior
The barn on the Peter MacDougall farmstead near Royalton in Morrison County, circa 1990.
Contributed / Morrison County Historical Society

The MacDougalls were four brothers who migrated here from Canada and set up a farmstead just outside of Royalton they called ‘Two Rivers,’ Amy Mann said.

The Warren-MacDougall Homestead — the name it bears today — is situated on a stretch of land bordered on the west by the Mississippi River and on the east by what was once the old ox cart trail, according to a Morrison County Historical Society article. Ox cart trails were early transportation routes connecting communities from St. Paul to the Canadian border where goods and people traveled.

Peter and Martha MacDougall arrived from Canada in 1873. The MacDougall family arrived in the general location as Warren about the same time he passed away, according to Rob Mann.

“It is somewhat off the beaten path, I guess you would say, and so I don't think a lot of people know that it’s there and that the Department of Natural Resources actually owns the site now,” Amy Mann said.

Historic pieces from the time period may help visitors envision life in Minnesota in the 1800s.

“Peter MacDougall's farmstead — some of it is still standing, so there's an English-style barn that is still standing out there,” Amy Mann said. “There was a blacksmith shop, a chicken coop, a machine shed — everything that you would find on a farm during the mid- to late-1800s.”

The Morrison County Historical Society is devoted to preserving artifacts and historical information regarding the county, and to educating the public about the history of the county. The Morrison County Historical Society owns and operates The Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum in Little Falls, which includes the Z.N. Barnes Exhibit Room that displays various aspects of business and industry in the county, such as agriculture.

“They were an important farming family to Morrison County,” she said of the MacDougalls, which included brothers Donald, Duncan, James and Peter.

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Rob Mann said, “William Warren's cabin and the Peter MacDougal farmstead are now on a Minnesota wildlife management area, and we’re here doing some archeological research to see if we can't pinpoint the exact location of William Warren's cabin.”

MacDougall Homestead tract sign
A sign by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources informs visitors of the former Peter MacDougall farmstead in Morrison County.
Contributed / Morrison County Historical Society

A depression in the farmyard, overgrown with grass, marks the general vicinity of Warren’s cabin, according to the Morrison County Historical Society.

“We did a geophysical survey, and what that means is we used some very sophisticated equipment to kind of look below the ground surface without having to dig. … And that work was done through a grant with the Minnesota Historical Society,” Rob Mann said.

Warren was an eloquent and fluent speaker of both Ojibwe and English, and served as an interpreter for the Treaty of Fond du Lac in 1847. In 1851, he took his seat in the House of Representatives in the Minnesota Territorial Legislature but died when he was only 28.

Warren was in the process of seeking funds to have his manuscript published when he died at his sister’s home in St. Paul, according to the Morrison County Historical Society, so his once-promising life was cut short, but his accomplishments for one so young can be inspiring. The work at the site connects that legacy and Morrison County’s history with current university students.

“I have students from St. Cloud State University here with me,” Rob Mann said from the DNR-owned property. “They're learning how to do archaeological work … and that involves excavating … to look to see what the geoarchaeologists thought they saw underground.”

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Geoarchaeologists use principles and methods from the earth sciences (geology, geography, geomorphology, geophysics, geochemistry) to understand the formational history of archaeological sites, according to the University of Wollongong in Australia.

The tours not only provide a glimpse at Minnesota’s history and the lives of people who made their homes here, they show how science can uncover those details.

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“A lot of people are interested in archaeology but they don't really understand the mechanics of it,” Rob Mann said. “How do we dig, what kind of tools do we use, what kind of things will we find, what is it we're looking for?’ We're often asked those kinds of questions.”

To join one of the four tours, call the Morrison County Historical Society at 320-632-4007 or send an email to mocohistory@gmail.com to reserve a spot. Tours are by reservation only.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddi

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write articles for the Wadena Pioneer Journal weekly newspaper owned by Forum Communications Co.
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