Historical Land Use of the Nottawa Creek Drainage Area, Michigan
Andrew John Robinson
Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project: Using Community Service Learning to Investigate Lifeways at an 18th century Fur Trade Outpost
Andrew John Robinson
With ancient fortifications, Native Americans’ occupied the Nottawa Creek drainage, in what is now Southwest Michigan. Native occupation persisted on the now defunct Nottawa-Seepe reservation after the first Europeans’ began to settle and change the landscape of the area. Native Americans, fur trappers, homesteaders, and modern Americans have all shaped the land use of the drainage. One such example, the Olney-Feek family has owned the same properties along the Nottawa Creek for over a hundred and forty years. Samples of the entire properties were surveyed (over one hundred and twenty acres), yet, the combined archaeological remains, which span from precontact to today, come from less than one acre of that land. This paper examines the historical and archaeological significance of this forgotten area, evaluates land use of the Olney-Feek properties to provide insight into the lifestyles of the inhabitants, and connect them to the rest of the township’s land-use patterns.
Figure 1: Map of the archaeological project area in Leonidas Township, Michigan.
Figure 2: Western Michigan University graduate students examining the ground for artifacts.
Andrew Robinson is a graduate student completing his Masters degree in Anthropology at Western Michigan University.
Established in the 1680s as a French Jesuit mission before becoming a French military garrison and fur trading outpost in 1691, Fort St. Joseph served as an important cultural center and trade hub for nearly 100 years in what is now the city of Niles in southwest Michigan. After falling under British occupation during the French and Indian War in 1761, the fortÂ was attacked during Pontiac’s Rebellion in 1763 and the British were forced from the area. French traders continued to occupy the area until a group of French soldiers and Native Americans supported by the Spanish Governor of St. Louis raided the fort in 1781, claiming it for Spain despite staying only a day.
The fort and its location were soon lost to history until a group of archaeologists from Western Michigan University under the direction of Dr. Michael Nassaney began to search for the fort in 1998. Since the initial survey in 1998 that pinpointed the fort's location, excavations have taken place at the site in 2002, 2004, and every year since 2006, in conjunction with Western Michigan University's annual archaeological field school under the auspices of the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project.
The Fort St. Joseph ArchaeologicalProject has continued to host one of the nation’s longest running Archaeological Field Schools and is committed to public archaeology including summer camps, community outreach events, and an annual open house event in Niles, MI.Since 2004, the Fort St. Joseph Archaeology Open House has been the culmination of Western Michigan University's field school, and the showpiece of its public education and outreach initiative. The public is invited to view ongoing excavations and to interact with the student archaeologists.
Figure 1: Map showing the location of Fort St. Joseph in relation to contemporary sites.
Figure 2: Students from Western Michigan University excavating 1x2m units at Fort St. Joseph
David Lang earned his B.A. in Anthropology from Western Michigan University in 2010.
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