Driving by the site of the Battle of Wood Lake in Yellow Medicine County one would have little idea a battle even took place there.
The land, which looks just like the rest of the countryside, does not at first glance give one any indication of its historic significance.
Members of the Wood Lake Battlefield Preservation Association (WLBPA) want to take another, closer look at the site in order to see just how much of the event can be discovered, and it hopes to do that by conducting an archeological survey.
According to Tom Hosier, WLBPA president, they talked about the possibility of conducting a survey at the group’s annual meeting Feb. 16, which was held at the Pizza Ranch in Redwood Falls.
“We have submitted an application to the American Battlefield Protection Program,” Hosier told those who attended the meeting.
Hosier, who said he is optimistic about the application, said initial word should come in April with final confirmation coming in June or July.
The request of $49,500 would allow for 23 acres of the 54-acre site to be surveyed, with the plan to conduct the survey on the west side of the delineated battlefield boundary.
According to Hosier, the survey would be conducted to provide context to the battlefield – to help with historic interpretation of the event.
“The physical evidence does not lie,” said Hosier, adding the survey could help determine where different aspects of the battle occurred and if some of the later accounts are true. “This survey would allow us to be as objective as we can in telling the story of the battle.”
As future interpretation and signage of the site is conducted, having an idea of where things took place would have an impact on where any trails may be developed and what parts of the landscape must be preserved. Hosier said, for example, there are stories of a bridge that existed at the site, and the survey could help determine for sure where that bridge was and if it did exist.
The survey would only take place on land that has been acquired, but Hosier believes that allows for plenty of history to be uncovered.
One of the logistical challenges for the WLBPA is dealing with two sites – the actual battlefield and the site of the historic monument erected in the area. Hosier said the monument site, which was erected in 1910 tells the story of the battle but it is not on the actual site.
So, what goes into an archeological survey on a site of this nature?
Douglas George, an archeologist with the Minnesota Historical Society, was on hand at the annual meeting to talk about the recent archeological survey conducted on the Fort Ridgely site.
Page 2 of 2 - During the process of renovating the state park’s golf course, an archeological survey was conducted to determine where development could and could not occur.
A variety of tools are used, said George, who was involved in the work, to determine what is and is not historically significant. Whether it is an electromagnet or resistivity probes, the work conducted covered a significant portion of the site and made some very interesting discoveries. While the typical items one might expect, such as lead balls, nails and pottery were found, George said one of the unique discoveries was a fire ring they believe was on the site 3,000 years ago.
That prehistoric site, said George helps one discover just how long people have been in the area, as well as what they were doing.
The battlefield site itself included many digs where items, such as buckles and buttons that indicated specific military units who were there had been found.
George also said they found what seems to be a cook site where bones of animals, including pigs were discovered. There were a variety of nails discovered there, which George said indicates the food eaten by the soldiers likely came in crates that had to be opened.
Nails found at the sites where buildings once stood provide an indication of how big the building would have been, as the size of a hand-forged nail indicates how big the boards were they were using to erect the buildings.
There were eating utensils, rivets, a piece of a stove grate and bands from barrels discovered at the site, said George, and he said the discovery of these items did help to corroborate much of the historic documentation that had been written about the site and the U.S.-Dakota Conflict battle which took place there.
George said after the holes were dug and items were discovered, the majority of them were put back in their location. However, each of those discoveries was catalogued and its GPS coordinates recorded. A few of the items were kept to help provide confirmation on a big picture scale of what was found during the survey.
Hosier said the intent would be to retain most of the items where they were found, but he said some of them could be donated to area museums for display.
More about the WLBPA and its work, including how one can become a member of the group, can be found at its Web site at woodlakebattlefield.com.