There is no question that Native Americans were the original stewards of this great land long before the European migration. As further validation, the U.S. Department of the Interior recently named the Kimball Village Site in northwest Iowa a National Historic Landmark—the first designation of its kind in Plymouth County.
Matt Anderson, curator of history at the Sioux City Public Museum, said: “It’s a fairly big deal around here.” In 2010, the site also garnered attention when it was named to the National Register of Historic Places.
The Office of the Iowa State Archaeologist claims the 1.9-acre area is one of 35 known permanent settlements in the Mill Creek Culture whose inhabitants lived along the Big Sioux and Little Sioux Rivers about 800 years ago, between 1100 and 1250 A.D.
Anderson said archaeologists discovered a better-known site called Broken Kettle Creek in the early 19th century. However, many early settlers homesteaded that area, and between the farm animals and souvenir hunters trampling the site, it compromised the first extensive archaeological study and therefore, not much could be learned about the Mill Creek people.
The Kimball Village Site, on the other hand, is nearly perfectly preserved. While historians and scientists continue to explore and study this historic landmark to learn how early indigenous people lived, worked and played there, here are some facts we already know about this new national landmark:
First discovered in the late 1930s. The first professional archaeological dig of the Kimball Village Site was from 1936 to 1939, according to Sioux City Public Museum records. Even with four more expeditions following that original dig, a U.S. Department of the Interior report states that more than 97 percent of the site remains untouched by archaeological excavation.
Which tribes lived there? Anderson says it is difficult to know exactly which tribes lived in Kimball Village and formed the Mill Creek Culture along the Missouri River in northwestern Iowa, as those people eventually disappeared. He says many archaeologists support the theory that the Sioux-speaking Mandan and Hidatsa tribes developed from the Mill Creek people, who later migrated up the Missouri River.
What artifacts have been found? The site has proven to be a virtual treasure trove, with more than 9,000 artifacts discovered during excavations in the 1930s, according to the National Park Service. Items found include pottery chards, stone tools, such as grooved axes, matting needles and a range of tools made from bone. Many of these artifacts have been sent to the state office at the University of Iowa, and some are currently on display at the Sioux City Public Museum.
Why is the Kimball Village Site unique? Due to the high level of preservation, this site is an extremely valuable resource to archaeologists. Radar and satellite imaging show post holes where timber-framed buildings once stood, as well as a palisade or protective wall. Anderson said there is quite a bit of evidence that the Kimball Village people were farmers who raised corn, and hunted bison and deer. What’s more, he said there is sufficient evidence that the Mill Creek people traded extensively, long distance, with other indigenous people, specifically those in the Cahokia settlement near what is now St. Louis.
You will probably never find it. The Kimball Village Site is located on now private farmland, and its exact location is a well-kept secret. Archaeological digs of this site are very low-key, Anderson said, to keep visitors and treasure hunters away, and to protect the historical integrity of the site.
Lynn Armitage is a contributing writer and enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.