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Old Mendota (Sibley House/American Fur Company)  
Site Number(s):   21DK31  
County:   Dakota, MN  
City Township:   Mendota  
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Old Mendota Sketch
Mendota in the 1840s, adapted from a view by Seth Eastman. An original pencil sketch is in the Peabody Museum, Harvard University, and an oil version is in the Gilcrease Institute, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

No site in the Twin Cities area shows more clearly the continuity and long span of the archaeological record than Old Mendota. A Dakota Indian tradition preserved among members of the Mdewakanton Band says that their people originated here. There is material evidence that these terraces rising at the junction of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers have been home to human communities since Paleo-Indian times.


Sibley and Faribault Houses
The Sibley House (center) and the Jean Baptiste Faribault House (right) as they appear today. Photo by Robert Clouse.

The first archaeological record here was made by Theodore H. Lewis in 1882 during his work for the Northwestern Archaeological Survey. He mapped eight conical earthen mounds along the upper terrace in what is now the main business district of Mendota. One of them was nearly a hundred feet in diameter. On the high ridge to the south were ten more mounds. Nearly all have since been destroyed.


In 1986 archaeology sponsored by the Sibley House Association was conducted around a small building thought to have served as both a carriage house and an ice house. Clear indications of Archaic, Middle Woodland and Late Woodland habitation were found then as well as during all later archaeological work in the vicinity.


By the 1780s the island opposite Mendota, now known as Pike Island, had become a meeting place for Dakota Indians and traders coming up the Mississippi from the settlement at Prairie du Chien. In the 1820s the American Fur Company established a post at Mendota, well above the high waters that occasionally flooded the island.

Henry Sibley arrived in 1834 as a new agent for the company, and at once he planned the construction of more permanent buildings. His own limestone house was erected in 1837-38. Today it remains the oldest private residence in Minnesota.

Sibley Portrait
Henry H. Sibley, who became the first state governor of Minnesota and led troops against the Dakota in the Conflict of 1862. Minnesota Historical Society.



1993 Excavation photo
Excavations in 1993 were conducted beside a brick building (at left) that was probably built by Sibley to serve his expanded house as a summer kitchen and laundry.

drawing of corner-notched point
This broken corner-notched point, probably dating from Middle Woodland times, was found during exacavations beside the Sibley House summer kitchen in 1993. Drawing by Douglas Birk.


In 1843 Sibley married Sarah Jane Steele, sister of the Fort Snelling sutler, and shortly thereafter he began a series of improvements and additions that changed his house from a combination of business office and batchelor residence into a gracious Victorian family home. The shift in lifestyle can be clearly seen in the nature of objects recovered at different levels.


In 1996 and 1997 extensive archaeological work was done by the Minnesota Historical Society around the foundations of the Sibley House itself, mainly to determine its original configuration and the sequence of additions and alterations over the years. In the course of these excavations a number of additional features were found, along with clear evidence of Paleo-Indian presence at the lowest level of the site.

1993 Excavation
This buried limestone paving was the main large feature found beside the summer kitchen. Photos by Douglas Birk.


Information on these recent investigations can be found at the Sibley House site by the Minnesota Archaeological Research Program (MARP).



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Updated 28 Jun 1999