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The Stone Cairns of Red Wing         
County:   Goodhue, MN  
City Township:   Red Wing  




One of the most distinctive Native American mound types at Red Wing are the 'stone cairns' that occur on the bluffs overlooking Spring Creek. Cairns of this type appear to be unique in the Midwestern United States, although low stone mounds have been reported from the Ohio River Valley and other areas in the southeastern U.S.

Stone Cairn in Red Wing
Stone Cairn, Photo courtesy Goodhue County Historical Society.

 

Although these cairns have never been investigated by scientifically trained archaeologists, there are several accounts that describe them. The earliest of these is a letter from Mr. J.F. Aiton to the Rev. E.D. Neil in St. Paul, MN. on January 17, 1852:     See: The 1852 Aiton Letter.

"In 1848 I first heard of stone heaps, on the hill tops, back from Red Wing. . . I ascended the first hill that I reached. . . There, on the brow of the hill, which was about 200 feet high, was a heap of stones. It is about twelve feet in diameter and six in height. The perfect confusion of the stones, and yet the entireness of the heap, and the denuded rocks all around, convinced me that the heap had been formed from stones lying around, picked up by the hand of man."(Aiton,1862)

"From this point, there is a fine view southward. The valleys and hills are delightful . . . I now started eastward to visit a conical appearing hill, distant about a mile and a half. I easily descended the hill, [which] proved to be a ridge, with several stone heaps on the summit. I then descended northward about 200 feet, crossed a valley, past some earth mounds, and ascended another hill, and there found several more stone heaps similar to the others."(J.F. Aiton, 1862)

By the time the next traveller, Dr. W.M. Sweney, recorded these cairns, many had been destroyed. Today, the cairns of Red Wing have completely disappeared, the stone used for building or removed prior to plowing the fields. Our only record of these important Native American structures remains in the words of 19th century visitors to the area.   See: The 1869 Sweney Address.

"On the sharp hill points in the vicinity of Cannon River and Spring Creek, were a number of cairns or stone mounds. These were on the highest points, where shelly rock outcropped, and always overlooked the lower plateaus or valleys on which were situated large groups of earthen tumult . . . These rock structures appear to be peculiar to that portion of our county lying between Hay Creek and Cannon River, and distant but two or three miles from the Mississippi River. In no other portion of our county or state have I observed remains of a similar character . . ." (Sweney, 1869)

"The cairns were of various sizes, ranging from six feet in diameter to twelve at the base. Their shape was conical, and some in the best state of preservation had an elevation of from eight to ten feet. The base was on the bed rock and all the loose stones in the vicinity had evidently been gathered to aid to the completion of the structure. The first layer was in the form of a circle, and by in lapping toward the center in every succeeding layer, an apex was finally reached." (Sweney, 1869)

 
 


 

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Updated 30 Jun 1999