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With over 2,000 lakes within 50 miles of town, the Ely area boasts the world’s greatest concentration of aquatic pockets for freshwater fun…and stories! Enjoy their history, mystery & intrigue in this new blog by Wintergreen co-founder Paul Schurke. And enjoy your own Northwoods adventures with our Wintergreen “Made in the Boundary Waters” clothing and dogsledding fun.
Anthropologists estimate that about 5 million people were living in North America when Columbus ‘discovered’ it in 1492. Even our ‘untrammeled” Boundary Waters is thought to have been a seasonal home to about 5,000 natives. Lots of folks, lots of graves! Until a few thousand years ago, many burials took place in earthen mounds, especially here in the Midwest. Early surveys found over 20,000 mounds in Wisconsin & over 10,000 in Minnesota. An early settlement was named after them (Mound, MN).
Most were in areas of glacial till that lent itself to earthen structures. But Minnesota’s largest is in the Northwoods. The Grand Mound near Big Fork is 140’ wide, 25’ high. However, the rocky terrain of canoe country –from Rainy Lake to Lake Superior—is devoid of burial mounds, except one:
Right between the owner’s home & guest lounge at Sand Point Lodge on Canadian shores along Voyageurs National Park is the only known burial mound in the Quetico Superior region. Spanning 30’ wide, 6’ high (& now sprouting a couple pines), its origin is a mystery and its never been excavated. But from others that have been dug into, it’s known that burial mounds often contain many generations of deceased. They’re layered in stone tombs, log slabs or earthen pots along with possessions of spiritual or physical value: carved soapstone animals, obsidian knives, clay pipes & vessels, copper & shell ornaments.
The Sand Point mounds offers evidence of all of these. During the 70 years the lodge has been in operation, artifacts have steadily eroded out of the mound. The owners have carefully collected and protected these and are proud to let visitors view them. Delicately etched pottery shards, an exquisite stone fox, native copper spear points, delicately crafted quarts arrowheads, scraping and cutting tools – over 100 pieces of the past have accrued in their collection. Perhaps 2,000 years of human handiwork.
Proprietors Cindy & Doug Hall hope to showcase the artifacts in displays that include interpretive information about their origin and purpose. “We think our guests will enjoy their stay here even more if we help them appreciate how uniquely historical this spot is,” said Cindy, who moved here with her husband last summer “to enjoy the good life.”
Sand Point lies right on the Northwest Passage of native American lore, the cross-continental link of rivers, lakes & portages that extends from the eastern seaboard to the Pacific coast. Countless canoes passed this way, especially during the 18th century era of the Voyageur Highway when dozens of brigades of fur traders came by here each summer. Later explorers found the shores of these waterways virtually littered with artifacts. A century back, before dams eliminated the huge seasonal flux in water levels, treasure hunters would flock to the lakes during times of low ebb. They’d walk the miles of exposed shoreline collecting packs full of precious objects. Imagine how much history was lost in that age of free-for-all pilfering!
Fortunately more respectful approaches prevail today. The Sand Point mound now remains revered & protected and the artifacts it has yielded may soon be lovingly displayed for others to marvel at and ponder. Sand Point Lodge with it’s 6 lakeshore cabins, dining lodge, dock & guide services is open May to October and is water accessed from Crane Lake, MN. Book a cabin & enjoy the same fabulous views & fishing that have been savored here for hundreds of years.