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Old Logging Camp to be Excavated in the Chippewa National Forest

Sean Dunham is Archaeologist and Heritage Program Manager for the Chippewa National Forest. This summer Sean will be assisting St Cloud State graduate student Andrew Domine in exploring and excavating a turn-of-the 20th-century logging camp located near the Norway Beach campground. According to Sean, the site is currently being called the Wanaki (wa-NAH-key) Camp.

The site first showed up on an Army Corps of Engineers map in 1900, when the Corps was looking at the lake levels. “There was just a little annotation that said ‘logging camp’,” Sean explained. “But we don’t have any more specific information about this site.” Because the site was always government owned, there is a mystery about why there ever was a camp there. This project hopes to unearth more historical information. 

There is a lot to learn about old logging camps, and excavations at other sites have dispelled some commonly held notions – such as loggers eating a lot of beans off of tin plates. Sean explained, “In the UP we found that they were actually using hotel-ware china; not really fine china but still ironstone-type china. And they were eating fresh beef and other things which were contradicting what the popular histories would say…We found an inverse relationship between the presence of patent medicine and alcohol bottles. In camps where you found patent medicine bottles you didn’t find alcohol bottles, and if you found alcohol bottles you typically didn’t find patent medicine. A lot of logging camps were dry…and I think in those camps they got ahold of patent medicine through the infirmary because those had all sorts of additives like alcohol and opiates and things like that.”

Originally the project had been slated as a 2-week Passport in Time project. Passport in Time is a national forest program that would have allowed lay people to help with the excavation. That project has been postponed until fall due to the pandemic, and could potentially be postponed further as circumstances dictate.

There is more info about archaeology in the Chippewa National Forest, an upcoming project in collaboration with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe about the intentional use of fire on Star Island (also postponed due to Covid-19), more on logging camps, and a great explanation of the difference between the studies of archaeology and history in the interview below.