The Little Elk Heritage Preserve (LEHP) is an archaeological site at the confluence of the Little Elk and Mississippi Rivers in Morrison County, MN. It contains multiple important sites, including the MO20 fort, the remains of Hole in the Day I’s cabin, a Methodist-Episcopal mission site, explorer Joseph Nicollet’s camp site, Major Ashley Morrill’s barn site, an 1850s-era quarry, and a milling site.
Much of this history was uncovered by archaeologist Doug Birk through the Institute for Minnesota Archaeology (IMA), which at one time owned the 93-acre property. Doug and another archaeologist paid a visit to Executive Director Jan Warner at the Morrison County Historical Society (MCHS) prior to 1975, when MCHS was still located in the basement of Morrison County’s Historic Courthouse. Doug was looking for the mission site and needed MCHS’s help in locating it.
Thus began a long partnership between Doug Birk, MCHS, and the IMA, with Jan serving as one of the founding members of the IMA.
As Doug and the IMA continued their work on LEHP, Doug envisioned creating an archaeological preserve that could potentially serve as “an outdoor museum, nature preserve and public park, regional interpretive center, archaeological and bio-cultural research center, and tourist attraction” due to its densely-pack history and beautiful location. Doug often expressed his wish that MCHS move to the site to operate it.
When the IMA was dissolved, the organization passed a resolution in 2005 to transfer ownership of the Little Elk archaeological collections and records to MCHS.
Because Doug was still working with the collection, it remained with him until his death in March 2017. Prior to Doug’s death, he had begun work with Associate Professor of Anthropology Rob Mann of St. Cloud State University to continue excavations at LEHP.
As Lynda Weiss, Doug’s life partner and executor, managed his estate, she had to decide what to do with his vast research library and collections. She wanted his research materials to remain in one place and have scholarship on them continue. Ideally, that one place would be the Department of Anthropology at St. Cloud State University (SCSU).
Because MCHS also wants to see scholarship on Doug’s work continue, particularly his work on LEHP, which is so important to Morrison County’s history, we are setting up a permanent loan agreement with SCSU to house and care for the LEHP collection, which will join the rest of The Douglas A. Birk Collection. With the expertise of SCSU’s Department of Anthropology, the LEHP collection will be processed and studied, both for its intrinsic value and in relation to further work that is done at the site. In addition, MCHS has offered to partner with SCSU on public programming related to LEHP, thus maintaining our long association with the site.
On February 15, 2019, during the Council for Minnesota Archaeology’s conference at SCSU, Lynda Weiss was presented a plaque for her contribution of The Douglas A. Birk Collection to the Department of Anthropology and MCHS received a plaque for its support of this collection through our permanent loan of the LEHP collection.
As SCSU and MCHS develop partnership activities related to LEHP, we will keep the public informed.
~ Mary Warner
This article originally appeared in the Morrison County Historical Society newsletter, Vol. 32, No. 1, 2019.