Dr. Mark Wagner takes us along on SIUC Field School discovery
~ report by Deb Stelton ~
George Rogers Clark was a frontier military leader in the American Revolution whose dramatic successes were factors in the award of the Old Northwest to the United States. Trained by his grandfather, Clark engaged in surveying along the Ohio River in the mid-1770s. His historical importance leads us to an interest in Fort Kaskaskia.
Dr. Mark Wagner’s presentation on Sunday, April 28 dwelt primarily with the rediscovery of Fort Kaskaskia. Before Mark started working at the suggested site it never had been surveyed. The fort remains were on Garrison Hill on bluffs overlooking the town of Kaskaskia which overlooks the Mississippi. In 1759 it was occupied by the French who began to build the walls of the fort. It was never completed after they lost the French and Indian War in 1763. All possessions east of the Mississippi were given over to Great Britain with the Treaty of Paris. The people of Kaskaskia did not like the idea of the Brits moving into the fort, so they burned it. Consequently, the Brits moved into the town itself, providing an example of unintended consequences.
In 1780s, a “war lord,” John Dodge, occupied the area and terrorized the town, but in 1787 he was forced to flee to Missouri. In 1778 Clark surprised the British and captured the fort. It may have been a front-line century ago, but modern history has eclipsed its earlier importance. Clark captured the final British force. But for Clark, the entire Old Northwest might well be part of Canada.
The U.S. Army came to occupy the area to keep Kaskaskia safe from other foreign incursions. 120 soldiers came from Pittsburg in 1802, and in 1803, William Clark and Meriwether Lewis arrived. Lewis wrote that 120 pounds of gunpowder were stored at the fort. Clark recruited 11 or 12 soldiers from the fort to join the important Lewis and Clark expedition. But documentation is sparse. The fort seemed to be abandoned.
When Mark Wagner began excavating, he found little evidence of U.S. occupation. Then a sink hole was discovered away from the fort. Mark began to think that the American fort was elsewhere. Non-invasive scanning equipment was brought in for investigation. Patterns of green and red showed up, but you must excavate to find out what these colors mean. Available LiDAR was also very useful.
Eventually we learned that there were two forts referred to as Fort Kaskaskia. Uniform buttons, parts of muskets and other artifacts have shown us that the second fort is the one where Lewis and Clark stopped at before their momentous journey.
There is more to be learned in future digs and you can contact Dr. Wagner if you wish to participate. Shawnee teenagers are helpers as well. Archaeology students from the SIUC field school will return to the Ft. Kaskaskia and Miller Grove sites this coming summer (2019).
In doing further research for this summary, I found references to the Treaty of Paris finally having the British signing over this area to the U.S. with the idea of receiving benefits from trading.