Indians are known to have lived along the Red River Valleylong before the advent of White Man. How long, however, is not known. But evidence found at the Old Salt Hill indicates that a large permanentvillage flourished here.
A member of the University of Minnesota Archeological Societyonce said that the shape and crudeness of the arrowheads from the Salt Poolindicate an age of 1,000 to 2,000 years old. This fact does not mean thata large permanent village had existed here since the birth of Christ; Otherfactors must enter in when speaking of age. For instance, most authoritiesnow agree that Lake Agassiz occupied this area within the last 1,000 years. Therefore Indians could not have lived in Kittson County before the year1,000 A.D.
More factors must be considered before an actual age canbe determined. It is known that the arrowheads which are found in KittsonCounty have come from as far away as West Virginia. In fact many authoritiesbelieve that the Indians who occupied the Red River Valley did not evenmake their own arrowheads, but merely found them or traded for them fromIndians from other areas. This theory could account for the old age ofthe arrowheads. In fact, "Reports of early explorers who visit-edthe Chippewas, Sioux and other Northwestern tribes, questioned nearly 300years ago, knew nothing about the artifacts." More substantiationof this theory is the fact that flint, quartz, chert, and other hard rockswhich are used to make arrowheads are not found naturally in Kittson Countyor any nearby counties. Therefore the Indians must have either carriedthe rock or the Arrowheads themselves from other parts of the country.
Evidence indicates that they did both. Some days, whenthe conditions are right, farmers have found pounds of chips (flakes ofrock) from flint and other hard rocks. These chips indicate that the Indianshad worked on them, discarded them, and even made implements from them. Some examples of arrowheads that were never completed have been found amongthe relics.
From the evidence gathered, the Salt Pool Civilizationcould be as much as 600 years old. Though no one has really substantiatedthis figure by a radio-carbon dating on a relic it is altogether possiblethat it is that old or even older.
"The first tribe of Indians definitely known to havelived in Kittson County were the Cree." Although the Cree were independentof the Chippewa, their language and customs were very similar to the Objibwa(a separation from the Chippewa) who lived in Northern Minnesota when thewhites came. The Cree who lived in Kittson County withdrew into Canadafollowing the belief that an evil spirit lurked where large numbers of thetribe had died. They hoped to escape the curse of smallpox by moving awayfrom it.
Some time after the Cree had left, the Sioux were knownto have entered this area. Eventually they reigned over the whole area whichis now North Central Minnesota, from the Red River to Lake Superior. Itbecame inevitable that they should come in contact with the Chippewa orrather Ojibwa tribe. But when they did come in contact, it was not a friendlymeeting. Instead it was a conflict. of hatred and bitter revenge. Thestruggle left the Ojibwa trapped on Madeliene Island on Lake Superior for120 years, until they secured rifles from the Whites. Then they drove theSioux from Northern Minnesota. By 1750 the Sioux domination had been shattered. The coming of the Whites meant an end to the Indian Civilizations alongthe Red. The Whites bought the Indian's land, furs, and skins and paidthem with "fire water" and other worthless items. The Salt PoolCivilization, like the others, went for ever.
As has often been noted, North American Indian civilizationshave differed from every other civilization in a great many respects. Butit is also noteworthy that each tribe and each specific area differs incustom and culture from most other tribes and areas.
The Salt Pool Village is a model amongst the Indian civilizationsin the Red River Valley. It possesses the characteristics of a true Indianvillage. The village extends over an area of ground close to hunting grounds,water and other necessities of life. Its habitat insured permanence toits inhabitants. Evidence of large amounts of clay pottery indicate thatthose Indians used berries, which can be found in the nearby bushes andshrubs, for food. Large quantities of all kinds of bones and teeth canbe found near the area where the encampment was located. These bones indicatethe use of wild game for food, clothing, and shelter.
Most authorities on Indian culture in the Red River Valleybelieve that the Indians used Knickanick or, as we know it, "red willow"for making the shafts for their bows. They also used Knickanick branchesas ribs for their canoes. These ribs were covered with moose hide to makea small but necessary water vehicle that could not travel rough coursesof the river. Though no one is sure, authorities believe that the Indiansbow is made from the branches of the ash tree and other trees that growalong the River.
No one is certain of the exact type of shelter that theRed River Indians used, but many types have been suggested. Some authoritiesinsist that the Indians built double wigwams with fur on both the interiorand the exterior with an air space between. This has nearly the same affectas insulation. Other authorities believe the homes were made of bark andbrush plus skins hanging in the interior. Perhaps each idea holds a greatdeal of truth, but it is interesting to note that along the Red River nearSt. Vincent, Minnesota, there were a great number of holes dug into theground along the second bank of the river. Early inhabitants from the areabelieved that they were cellars from Indian shelters made of brush and sod. Perhaps each village or each tribe differed from its neighbors.
As is custom with most Indians, the Red River Indians arebelieved to have used nearly all parts of the animal body. The meat wasusually dried, pounded into a coarse powder, and mixed with hot fat to yieldpemmican. The hides were used for shelter and often tanned with the gallsof tree leaves and used as articles of clothing. The bones were used forfish hooks, arrowheads, needles and scrapers which were used in tanninghides. Each article of the large animal's body was extremely useful, butthe scull and horns remained. Evidence of this is the great amount of scullsand horns that were found in the valley when the settlers first moved in. Selling bones was an important business and picking bones was an enormousproject in clearing land. The bones were crushed and used for fertilizerand for processing sugar.
The Indians also found it very important to keep trackof time, because it could affect their lives greatly. Each day was knownas a sun. For each day a man was allowed one sleep. The Indians set acalendar based on different moons and named them on a basis of game availabilityor food availability or weather conditions.
Another important aspect about the Red River Indian's culturewas the sense of justice and regard for law. When a warrior performed acowardly act he was ignored or looked down upon. If a warrior performeda criminal act he could be banished or even sentenced to death. This systemwas quick and just; it served their needs.
Probably the most unique characteristic about the Bed RiverValley Indians is their lack of ceremony. In many areas in North America,people have uncovered Indian relics that indicate that ceremony is a mostimportant aspect of Indian life. Various figures, paintings, jewelry, carvings,and even special ceremonial arrowheads have been found. No relics of thistype have been found in Kittson County whatsoever. The nearest thing toa ceremonial object that can be found in Kittson County is the pipe. Eventhese are very few and not elaborately carved like those found elsewhere. Pipes found in the Valley are simple and made of a soft black stone whichno one has bothered to identify. It is probable the best theory aboutthe lack of ceremony exhibited by the Indians who lived in the Red RiverValley is the idea that those Indians were not as ambitious as other civilizations. Most people think that they merely cared for the necessities of livingand probably did not hold so much power in the Great Spirit and the HappyHunting Grounds.
The artifacts which have been found near the Old Salt Poolshow characteristics of a permanent civilization. Arrowheads differ fromnear perfect symmetry to crude but not useless stones. Other artifactsdiffer from a one inch piece of flint to a solid granite hoe nearly a footin length. These artifacts are clear cut evidence of a thriving communityof Indians that existed near the Old Salt Pool.
The pottery found in the Red River Valley has interestingcharacteristics. Nearly every large piece which has been found displaysa distinct pattern. Yet these patterns are far from perfect. Nearly everypiece exhibits symmetry in pattern, but it would be nearly impossible tomatch pieces because of their imperfections. The pottery itself seems tobe made from red or gray clay mixed with crushed corn stalks which act as glue. Evidence of the corn stalks is the sparkle and spotting which canbe seen in the pottery. When conditions are right it is possible to picka pocket full of this type of pottery from the surface of the soil at SaltHill.
The artifacts which have been found are the positive evidenceof the existence of the Salt Pool Civilization. But no one will ever knowwhat life was really like in the different seasons, the different timesand the different situations. Only by reliving is it possible to capturethe beauty of life as an Indian near the Old Salt Pool.
The Old Salt Pool Village is only one example of a RedRiver Indian civilization. But this lone hill and valley form a picturein my mind's eye that my hand could never even attempt to paint. This imagethat I see in my mind's eye is not a stale picture from an old history booknor a caption from an old movie, but rather a living, walking, loving pictureof human life. A picture of human life that will never be recaptured, butrather trapped somewhere in time's mind.
Bouvette, J. E. & Sons. Fiftieth Anniversary Numberof Kittson County Enterprise. September 11, 1935
Giffen, Don. Interview in Rural Humboldt. February 1,1969
Lemasurier, Mrs. Harvey. Correspondence by Letter. 739East I Street, Ontario, California 91762
Minnesota W.P.A. Writers Project, Minnesota Departmentof Education and Kittson County Historical Society. Kittson County Minnesota1940. Section I-Il
Murray, Stanley Norman. "The Valley Comes of Age". North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies. 1967
Rustad, Alfred. Interview in Home at Humboldt, Minnesotaon January 1969.
he Valley Comes of Age". North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies. 1967
Rustad, Alfred. Interview in Home at Humboldt, Minnesotaon January 1969.