Fur Trade

A Day in the Summer of Michilimackinac 300

I am the Curator of Archaeology for Mackinac State Historic Parks, and my primary responsibility in the summer is to direct the archaeological excavation at Michilimackinac.  This is the third year we have participated in Day of Archaeology, and we are still excavating at the same site, a fur traders’ house at Michilimackinac.  The house is one unit of a five unit rowhouse, built in the 1730s, rebuilt in the 1760s and demolished in 1781.  It was lived in by fur traders, first a French-Canadian, Charles Gonneville, and later an English fur trader, name as yet unknown.

Two of us were working on postmolds from the 1760s south wall of the house today.

Two postmolds are visible in this image.  The top one still has some wood visible in it.

Two postmolds are visible in this image. The top one still has some wood visible in it.

The other feature we were excavating today was much more recent, two concrete piers from old-fashioned stocks that were an interactive display inside the walls of Fort Michilimackinac in 1960-1961.

These two concrete piers are the remains of stocks from a c.1960 display of colonial punishment devices.

These two concrete piers are the remains of stocks from a c.1960 display of colonial punishment devices.

Our site is in the middle of Colonial Michilimackinac State Historic Park and we are surrounded by live interpretive programming every day.  This summer we are celebrating the tricentennial of Michilimackinac with a series of themed weekends.  This weekend’s theme is Robert Rogers of the Rangers.  As part of the celebration, our regular interpretive staff was joined by re-enactors from Jaeger’s Battalion of Rogers’ Rangers and the Massachusetts Provincial Battalion.

French and Indian War-era re-enactors participating in the opening color ceremony.

French and Indian War-era re-enactors participating in the opening color ceremony.

A Day at Michilimackinac

My primary responsibility this time of year is to direct the excavation at Colonial Michilimackinac State Historic Park.  Fort Michilimackinac was established by the French around 1715, taken over by the British in 1761, and dismantled and moved to Mackinac Island with the establishment of Fort Mackinac in 1781.  Archaeological excavation has taken place at Michilimackinac every summer since 1959 and provided the foundation of the reconstruction of about half of this fortified fur trading outpost.  We are currently excavating a fur trader’s house.


NPS Fort Vancouver Public Archaeology Field School 2011

This is the last day at the 10th National Parks Service (NPS) Fort Vancouver Public Archaeology Field School  based in Vancouver, Washington. Over the past 7 weeks the 18 students from Washington State University Vancouver, Portland State University and a few graduate students from all over the United States have come together to excavate a multicultural village, called Kanaka Village by the Americans due to the large Hawaiian population brought in by the English traders, that served to support the Hudson’s Bay Company trading post on the Columbia River in the 1830s and 40s.  We have been well trained in field techniques and methodology while investigating the purpose of a fenced-in open area in the middle of the village. We have also been interacting with the public on a daily basis. Interpretative training is a part of our curriculum and an essential part of our mission to raise awareness and foster public involvement in the history of the Columbia River and the Oregon-Washington coast. In addition to all this we have been attending regular lectures from visiting archaeologists on topics ranging from Saloon Archaeology to Fur Trade Archaeology in the Great Lakes region, and race and ethnicity in a constructed landscape in the American South.

The Hudson’s Bay Company Village was built along side the fort in the late 1820s as a place for non-officers or ranking company officials to live. The population dwarfed the fort population at its smallest with around 250 inhabitants and could swell into the thousands during the brigade season. It was the most culturally diverse area of the Western coast of North America for a significant portion of the 19th century with workers being brought in from across the globe by the Hudson’s Bay Company trading and interacting with over 30 distinct Native American  tribes at a major trading hub along the Columbia River. Most of the historic record of this era concerns itself with the lives and dealings of the officers and officials of the company and their perspectives of the villagers. Almost nothing is known about the daily lives of the villagers that is not revealed to us through archaeology.

Each of our trenches were investigating a different aspect of the open area in the village and students were rotated from trench to trench and would hone their interpretive skills informing any visitors who came to see what we were finding. Many times we would learn more from the public than they did from us but this is part of the beauty of Public Archaeology, each party walks away with a new outlook on the site.

This last week in our field school has been spent working on survey techniques. We have been camping at the Yeon Property, a new Parks Service acquisition by the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park on the Oregon Coast. New properties must be first archaeologically surveyed in order to identify any sites of significance in the area and to set up an archaeological baseline to protect and preserve any cultural resources on the property. We have been split into three groups of 5 or 6 each and over the past few days have rotated between digging 1m deep shovel probes at regular 30m intervals, conducting pedestrian surveys through the woods and sea grass to the ocean, and mapping the property with hand held GPS devices and today is no different.  It will be sad to say goodbye to all of our new friends and the Fort and its Village which we’ve all come to know and love but this will be tempered by the knowledge that we got to participate in something special – a uniquely designed Public Archaeology endeavor that involves and educates the public and trains all of us students to enter the field as well-rounded professionals and future leaders in archaeology.


If you’re ever in the Vancouver/Portland area please come and visit the Fort and experience part of the rich colonial and frontier history of the Hudson’s Bay Company and US Army eras on the West coast of the Oregon Territory, you won’t be disappointed. For more information about the field school, Fort Vancouver, or Kanaka Village, please visit our website.