Archaeologists say they have found traces of one of the earliest French encampments in Wisconsin in Perrot State Park, north of La Crosse along the Mississippi River.
While artifacts uncovered by the group are still being cleaned and examined, experts are certain the gun flints, glass beads and other artifacts date back at least 250 years and perhaps more than 300.
The artifacts were found at the site by an archaeology field school consisting largely of public school teachers and high school students, co-led by Rollie Rodell, an archaeologist with the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Perrot State Park lies on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi, where historians say Nicholas Perrot, an early French trader, established one of the first European footholds in the Upper Mississippi Valley. Until now, archaeologists have been uncertain of the exact location of Perrot's encampment.
About a hundred years ago, archaeologists reported finding artifacts in the area from an early French camp, including a pistol, a musket ball and gun flints as well as various animal bones. However, most of those artifacts have since disappeared.
This summer, the second year of excavations at the site, the La Crosse archaeologists struck pay dirt when they chanced on a bone midden, an ancient garbage dump that included the flints and beads as well as animal bones.
According to archaeologist Robert Boszhardt, the other co-leader of the dig, animals represented in the bone dump included bear, deer, buffalo, elk and raccoon. Because the site was merely a winter camp, he said, there were few traces of dwellings. However, the group did find the remains of an oak post that once may have been part of a wooden palisade.
What is still unclear, Boszhardt said, is whether the site is Perrot's camp or that of a subsequent French explorer named Rene Godefroy Sieur de Linctot.
Perrot came to the site in 1685, moving eastward across what is now Wisconsin and spent the winter there before moving on to Fort St. Antoine near Lake Pepin. That was the last occupation of the bluff until 1731, when Linctot returned to the site with a small garrison of soldiers and stayed until 1735.
Boszhardt called the park "a critical site in that it represents the period of time when the French were first beginning to make claims and develop trading relationships with Native American groups." Also, Rodell said he hopes information from the current dig will provide greater historical insight into the French occupation and its niche in the long-term history of the site. Rodell noted that there is evidence of native occupation going back thousands of years, yet the land appears to have been vacated for about 100 years before the French arrived.
The prominent bluff, Rodell said, "was known to Native Americans as a place of social interactions for centuries. I wouldn't be surprised if the Winnebago who led Perrot may have made reference to it. But why weren't people living there any more?"
"French camp found in state park .Traces of a camp where a French explorer had stayed have been found by archaeologist in Perrot State Park along the Mississippi River."
Copyright 1996 Journal Sentinel Inc.Reprinted by permission of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Page created 10/3/97