The Grand Portage Story
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A cedar picket stockade on the shore of Lake Superior is the first sight that draws a visitor's attention at Grand Portage National Monument. It surrounds a reconstruction of the depot that stood there in the late 1700s during the heyday of the North American fur trade. But the greatest historic legacy at this place is the 8.5-mile portage route winding from the stockade through the forest to join the Pigeon River above the falls and rapids that make the river's lower 22 miles impassable. This trail is the Kitchi Onigaming or Grand Portage, the vital link that Indians and voyageurs followed when traveling between the lake and the interior.

The Grand Portage area has been a crossroads of cultures for hundreds of years. It has been a site of continuous Indian settlement, with one group displacing another at times of war or shifts in population. It hosted a complex trading alliance between Indians and Europeans when it served as the geographical center of a vast commercial network. People who lived there or merely traveled through left invaluable records of the personalities and events that characterized Grand Portage at different times.

Recognizing the importance of this story, the National Park Service approached the Minnesota Historical Society for help in producing a comprehensive handbook on the site. For several decades the Society and the National Park Service sponsored archaeological work on the fur trade era at Grand Portage, and the reference collections at the Society include a rich variety of material on Indian history and the fur trade. Alan R. Woolworth, formerly chief archaeologist and now a research fellow on the staff of the Minnesota Historical Society, generously provided information from files that he assembled during eight summers of work at Grand Portage. Carolyn Gilman, who has conducted extensive research into the fur trade and into contact between Indian and non-Indian cultures, carried out further research and wrote the narrative. The National Park Service provided funds to help support the project.

Others who merit thanks for their help in this effort include Jennifer S. H. Brown, Jean Morrison, Ellen B. Olson, Margaret Plummer-Steen, Curtis L. Roy, and Erwin N. Thompson. Site interpreters Don Carney and Karen Evens at the National Monument and Bill Corcoran and Rick Novitsky at the Grand Portage Reservation provided advice and assistance. Participating staff members at the Society included Ruth Bauer, Patricia Harole. Steven Nielsen, and Alissa Rosenberg of the Reference Department; Margaret Robertson of the Acquisitions and Curatorial Department; Charles O. Diesen of Museum Collections; and Elaine H. Carte, Anne R. Kaplan, Alan Ominsky, Ann Regan, Sarah P. Rubinstein, Deborah Swanson, and Marilyn F. Ziebarth of the MHS Press.

We hope that this book will give readers a glimpse into the lives and traditions of the people who shaped the history of Grand Portage.


Grand Portage National Monument

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Last Updated: 15-Jul-2009