Resources on Native American Culture in Southwest Minnesota

February 18, 2009

Southwest Minnesota has a rich heritage reaching back centuries before statehood.  Respect for our natural environment and those who lived here before us is an important part of Scouting.  With a little thought, we can help our Scouts discover the fascinating heritage of Native American culture in our part of the world.

Coteau des Prairies, or Buffalo Ridge

There is archeological evidence of human habitation along the Coteau des Prairies reaching back thousands of years.  On Minnesota’s leading edge of the Coteau, also known as Buffalo Ridge, Jeffers Petroglyphs State Historic Site is located three miles east of US71 in Cottonwood County.  This site preserves ancient art carved in red rock outcroppings, some of which may date 5,000 years into the past, on easily accessible walking paths.  The Minnesota State Historical Society has a small museum with interpretive programs during the summer.  (The multi-media program has loud noises that might scare younger Cubs.)  Blue Mounds State Park north of Luverne also shows evidence of pre-historic use.  Blue Mound has natural prairie trails and a modern campground-the trails can be muddy when wet-along with a nearby herd of roaming bison.

The Cheyenne and the Ioway tribes lived in the area around the quarries at Pipestone and along the Des Moines River when the first first Europeans and Anglo-Americans traveled across the Ridge.  Eventually, eastern settlement pushed tribes further west.  The Ashinabe (Ojibwa or Chippewa) gained control of northern Minnesota, pushing the Sioux Nation south and west into this area.  Two hundred years ago, fur traders established posts at the Great Oasis in Murray County and later at what is now Camden State Park along the Redwood River in Lyon County.  For added interest in this era, Lake Benton hosts an annual Mountain Man Rendezvous at Hole in the Mountain County Park each August.

Depot Pipestone

The quarries at Pipestone National Monument are mined to this day for the namestake stone.  According to the Monument, “carvers prized this durable yet relatively soft stone, which ranged from mottled pink to brick red.”  The monument has an nature trail to the waterfall which is an easy hike in most any weather except when icy.  The museum has somewhat dated displays;  however, with advance notice rangers or volunteers will provide first-hand accounts and hands-on demonstrations for youth visitors.  The Keepers of the Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers organization also has a museum in an old train depot between the Monument and downtown, offering a variety of programs throughout the year.

It can be misleading to refer to a singular “Sioux Nation.”  They are a group of related tribes who speak related languages.  One could say this is similar to the Scandinavians, composed of several nations which have changed and grown unique identities over time.  The Lakota moved farthest west and were among the first tribes to adopt the horse culture following the herds of bison on the Great Plains.  Nakota-Yanktons and Yankoni-occupied the plains on the western edge of the Buffalo Ridge up into the Red River Valley.   The Dakota, or Santee were the last of the Sioux to leave northern Minnesota, and lived along the Minnesota River Valley when the United States negotiated treaties to open lands for settlement.

Cabin at Shetek State Park

In the 1850s, the Dakota were left with small reservations on either side of the Minnesota River Valley.  Lower Sioux Agency was established south of what is now Redwood Falls, and Upper Sioux Agency was established near Granite Falls.  As the United States entered the Civil War, a combination of crop failure, broken promises and misunderstandings lead to the Dakota Conflict of 1862 (also known as the US-Dakota War).  Lakota warriors led by Chief Little Crow attacked the Agencies and settlers in the area, including at Lake Shetek in Murray County.  After several weeks of fighting, the conflict ended with mass arrests and deportation of most Dakota to reservations in South Dakota and Nebraska.  The Lower Sioux Community was later established with lands purchased by tribal members who returned to the area.  The Minnesota Historical Society has a modern museum at the Lower Sioux Agency site with hands-on displays appropriate for young Scouts.  There are interpretive tours of the site during the summer, including a restored stone warehouse.

Local Resources

These are just a few of the many local resources for Cub Scout leaders to help our Scouts understand the people who lived here before us.  Check your local library for books that can show Native American history visually.  For example, Eyewitness North American Indian from DK Publishing, is often available at the Scout Shop.  Also, Charles Eastman, a Dakota Indian from Lower Sioux Agency, wrote first hand accounts of his life for Boys Life 100 years ago.  His books, such as Indian Scout Craft and Lore, would be of interest to older Scouts.

In addition to books, parks and museums, be sure to ask people in your own community.  For example, a long-time Lakota resident of Marshall has offered to talk to Scout groups about the tribes, their history and customs.  Who knows, one of your own Scout parents may be your best resource, so be sure to ask.


Minnesota DNR
Blue Mounds State Park:
Camden State Park:
Shetek State Park:

Minnesota Historical Society
Jeffers Petroglyphs:
Lower Sioux Agency:
Pipestone National Monument:
Junior Ranger Program:

John Shepard, Wood Badge Ticket, August 2008


3 Responses to “Resources on Native American Culture in Southwest Minnesota”

  1. […] month I posted a fact sheet on resources to learn about Native American history and culture in Southwest Minnesota, which I wrote for one of my Wood Badge Tickets.  One of those resources is the Minnesota […]

  2. […] More sites would see access and hours cut back, including Jeffers Petroglyphs near Comfrey, MN, which I recently wrote about on JohnScout blog. […]

  3. […] Historical Society is planning to close Jeffers Petroglyphs except on the weekends, which I previously suggested as a Cub Scout destination to learn more about Native American history and culture.  Today I […]

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