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Pigeon Lake Archaeological Study

Chequamegon & Nicolet National Forests, Wisconsin, 1996
by Dianne Polaske, PIT Volunteer

FS archaeologists led a group of PIT volunteers and Nicolet College students through swarms of mosquitoes to the poison-ivy-covered PIT project area in the Chequamegon National Forest. For most of us, the University of Wisconsin Pigeon Lake Field Station soothed body and soul. They provided coffee at 7:00 a.m., three hearty meals a day, hot showers, and shelter in dormitory-style cabins on the lake. It was great!

The 100-m2 site on the south shore had been home to George H. McLeod (the first G. McLeod to live on the site), his wife Charlotte (an Ojibwa woman who died ca. 1906 and who is buried on the site), and his second wife, Elizabeth (also presumed to be Ojibwa).

During the first week, Nicolet College students found rusty cans, metal barrel hoops, wire, window glass, broken ceramic vessels, and a snuff jar on the surface. They tested the west side of the site and found little left of the McLeods’ cabins. The cabins had been burned and bulldozed in the 1960s.

However, on the east side of the site, two older building foundations remained. These 80-cm-wide earthen bermed foundations were surrounded by pits created when dirt was borrowed to build the berms along the bottom sill logs. A deep depression or root cellar within the larger foundation indicated a wooden floor. McLeod had also referenced an old Indian village and Catholic mission on the site. But after excavation, it seemed the foundations were the remains of a Euroamerican residence dating as early as 1860 and no later than 1930. Aerial survey photos taken in 1938 included the buildings on the west side, but the older east-side buildings were gone by then.

A series of 1-m2 test units put in by the archaeological crew inside the dwelling produced toys, including a small pewter teacup, a porcelain doll’s arm, and a brown-glazed clay marble. Also found were a blue seed bead (trade bead), a bone button (1830–1860), and square-cut and round nails. The test unit within the smaller foundation or shed produced more cut and wire nails, small wooden bottle stoppers, and brown bottle glass from the late 1800s.

During the second week, we continued testing the east side. A test unit in the well turned up little artifactual evidence. We found more cut and wire nails in the bermed buildings and in the privy. The privy test unit also produced a long-handled steel spoon. Test units in the shed produced a metal pan, wire, and more nails (some imbedded in wood). Later testing indicated that the dwelling and the shed had been built of white pine. The test units in the dwelling produced more seed beads in the doorway, pieces of white, sandy chinking or mortar, and metal from a washboard in the root cellar. We took soil samples every 3 cm from the privy and root cellar for flotation testing in hopes of determining diet from seeds present in the soil.

While testing the site, we also uncovered a prehistoric component. We found a reduction flake in the cabin that had been made from Penokee Range quartzite. Quartz, chert, jasper taconite, and siltstone flakes and shatter turned up across the site. Unfortunately, nothing was found in place in the ground, as the area has been disturbed by homesteading, bulldozing, and looting activities.

Late in the second week, Arnie Carlson, an 87-year-old local resident from the town of Drummond, gave his interpretation of the site. According to Carlson, the bermed house was still standing in deteriorating condition when he was a boy of 11 in 1922. It was the Glencross cabin.

Jack (John M.) Glencross, a timber cruiser for the Rust-Owen Lumber Company, was married to a half-Indian woman named Annie. Annie tanned deer hides, made moccasins, and was very proficient at beadwork. She did a lot of this type of work for the people of Drummond. They lived in a cabin with a gabled roof covered with 2–3-foot-long tamarack shakes. 

They had a four-paned casement window on the east and south walls and a plank-floored porch facing the lake. There was an outhouse and a sand point well. Carlson said they had a pony and a wagon. The shed, he said, was piled high in the back with split wood, and the front held tools. They used a cast-iron stove in the cabin, which was divided into two rooms with a curtain. Another visitor to the area, James Woodington, remembers that the Glencrosses talked about a daughter who had died, so the toys were most likely hers.

Jack died in 1941, and in 1947 Annie remarried, coincidentally to a George V. McLeod, apparently no relation to the first G. McLeod who lived in the 1860s. There is an early photo of Annie Glencross in the Drummond museum showing her in a beaded, blanket-type dress.

It was exciting piecing together the intriguing history of this site and to have some of it verified by local informants. However, many of the pieces are still missing. Bulldozers, looters, and encroaching vegetation have erased much of this northern Wisconsin homestead. We hope the McLeod site will be considered eligible for inclusion in the NRHP and that more of its secrets will be revealed in the future.
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