Detroit settlement and fort in 1764, from  and 1764 Detroit from atlas by Jacques Nicolas Bellin, Yale University Map Collection

How Not to be an Amateur Archaeologist: Early 20th Century Detroit Edition

Image: map of Detroit’s settlement and French fortification, 1764. Jacques Nicolas Bellin, “Petit Atlas Maritime – Riviere du Detroit,” Yale University Map Collection.

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Ancient artifacts have always been things of curiosity and wonder for those who discover them, including Ex-Lieutenant Lamb of the United States Army. In the period preceding 1921, Franklin Lamb uncovered a burial mound that was near Fort Wayne that he thought to be “peculiar looking”. He had been the quartermaster of the fort when he noticed the mound, and his curiosity could not be sated until he knew what was causing the earthen irregularity. He ordered the mound to be opened, and discovered that buried beneath the dirt were “perfect specimens of Indian pottery, weapons, and all sorts of utensils.” He then decided to show these artifacts to the United States War Department as pieces of proud discovery, but instead of being rewarded, Lamb was instead found to be in violation of an old treaty between the Native American tribes and the United States government. He was ordered to replace the items in their original state in the ground, and to “restore the mound to its original condition.”

An article from 1921 that details the discovery of a Native American burial mound at Fort Wayne

An article from the Detroit Free Press in 1921 detailing the discovery of a Native American burial mound at Fort Wayne, and describing the ruling that the artifacts must remain in place.

To shed some light on this situation, it is necessary to first ask why the burial mound was located where Lamb encountered it. As a possible answer, we can look to the French past of the city of Detroit and Fort Wayne. In 1710, Antoine Cadillac, the founder of Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit, invited four Native American tribes to the area of Detroit to aid the French in the fur trade business (a booming economy at this period of the Great Lakes region). The four invited tribes included the Potawatomi tribe, who were given the rights to settle near the fort to be under the protection of the French during their trapping season (this establishment is illustrated in the Bellin map, featured above, which includes a Potawatomi label in the area of the fort as well as “ecores de sable,” or sand bluffs/burial mounds). This invitation also included an inherent treaty between the Potawatomi and the militia which gave the Native Americans protection against destruction of their burials and living encampment. When the British took over the area after 1760, the Potawatomi made the decision to leave their village for a site further along the Detroit River, and left their village and burial ground area to Robert Navarre, a former French official. The remains of the Potawatomi habitation in the area are the most likely source of the burial mound that was dug up by Ex-Lieutenant Lamb in 1921.

  • “Pact Forbids Delving into Indian Mound: Ex-Lieut. Lamb Finds Treaty with Aborigines is Respected by U.S.,”Detroit, MI Free Press, March 19, 1921, 1.
  • Historic Fort Wayne Coalition, “Why Detroit’s Fort Wayne is Important to Native Americans,” Historic Fort Wayne. Coalition, http://www.historicfortwaynecoalition.com/NAConway.html (accessed March 24, 2014).

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