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Northern Headwaters Region








The Horseshoe Bay Site         
Site Number(s):   21CA201  
County:   Cass, MN  
City Township:   Turtle Lake Twp.  
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The excavations at Horseshoe Bay are the most extensive yet undertaken on a historic site in the Northern Headwaters area. Although it was initially thought to be solely a historic site, field investigations later demonstrated that it is a multicomponent site of considerable importance for its precontact aspects as well as for its historic element.

Preliminary Investigation


Map showing Hosrseshoe Bay
Horseshoe Bay is located in the Leech Lake Reservoir.

The site is on the southwest side of Leech Lake about five miles east of the city of Walker. Archaeologists first learned of it in 1989, when they surveyed a shoreline property that was to pass from federal to private ownership as part of a proposed land exchange.


At the time of the initial survey the site area was densely covered with a mixed hardwood forest and brush. During subsequent investigations, done in 1990, much of the understory vegetation was removed.

Research Design

Since destruction of the site was proposed, and since the nature of the site was still little understood, no comprehensive research plan for Horseshoe Bay was developed. The principal question asked was whether the site had potential to yield significant historical information and might therefore be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).


Field work progressed through three phases. The first was a discovery phase involving shovel testing and surface observation to determine the presence, nature, and extent of cultural remains. The second was an evaluation phase to assess the integrity and significance of the remains. This phase determined that the site was eligible for NRHP listing, and a third phase, data recovery, was implemented, since in situ preservation was not feasible.

Investigating the site
Members of the Leech Lake Heritage Sites Program were involved in the archaeological investigations. One archaeologist (second from left) stands in a depression relating to a house feature.


Excavation and Data Collection


700 excavation units
Over 700 excavation units were investigated at the Horseshoe Bay site.

Together, the three phases of investigation resulted in the study of numerous surface features and the excavation of over 700 square meters, mostly in block excavations. They demonstrated that the Horseshoe Bay site contains a material record of intermittent occupation from late Paleo-Indian to modern times.


Artifacts recovered included Brainerd, Laurel, Blackduck, and Sandy Lake ceramics; projectile points of the Oxbow, Agate Basin, and Scottsbluff types; a tool and an ornament fashioned from bone; and a variety of other objects and materials of precontact origin.

Horseshoe Bay projectile points
A variety of projectile points and lithic tools were excavated from the Horseshoe Bay site.


Fetures revealed during excavation
Features revealed during excavations.

Drawing of gun parts recovered
Drawing of recovered gun parts.


The site's most prominent component is identified with historic habitation and trading activities from the mid-19th century. Found within this component were the remains of two houses, each with a fireplace and each apparently made of horizontal log construction.


Archaeologists excavating a unit at the Horseshoe Bay site.

Ashy deposits in a fire hearth
Ashy deposits present within a fire hearth.


Evidence suggests that the use of both structures may have changed over time. At some point, for example, the north structure was rebuilt and enlarged. Numerous pit features were uncovered in and around the houses. Cultural materials recovered from the same area include a rich assortment of architectural, domestic, hunting, and trade artifacts and quantities of food waste.

Analysis and Conclusions


Fish scales
Numerous fish scales were recovered from the Horseshoe Bay site. The species of fish recovered from this site suggested it was used for fishing during the fall as opposed to the spring fishery at the Third River Bridge West site.

Processing and accessioning of the artifacts from Horseshoe Bay is now complete, and analysis is ongoing. Two reports have been completed on the historic component of the site, one on the animal and bird remains and the other on fish remains. In addition to a data recovery plan, a preliminary report has been written to summarize the methods and results of the field work, to propose contexts for interpretation, and to recommend future research.


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© 1999 The Institute for Minnesota Archaeology
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Updated 28 Jul 1999