Photo courtesy of Iowa Dept. of Cultural Affairs

An archaeological dig in northwest Iowa at the site of what’s known as the Spirit Lake Massacre of 1857 has uncovered an item potentially used during the battle.

State Archaeological John Doershuk, who is also a University of Iowa professor, supervised a four-week long Archaeological Field School in Spirit Lake this summer for students from Iowa colleges and universities.

“We got very lucky. We found a gun flint the second to last day from a buried, secure context,” he says. “That is exactly the type of weaponry that both the native peoples and the settlers coming into this area would have been using in this area at that time.”

About three dozen European settlers were killed in the battle with members of the Dakota tribe. Abbie Gardner was taken captive and released for a ransom a few months later. Three decades later, Gardner published a memoir about her experience and in 1891 she purchased her family’s cabin. Most of the items uncovered this summer date from 1891 to 1921 “which was the return of Abbie Gardner Sharp to purchase the property, set up a tourism business,” Doershuk says, “and the majority of what we found corresponds to that, including a trash dump, which was just chock-a-block full.”

A student uncovered a silver dime minted in 1899.

“A real nice time marker,” he says. “That is what I think Abbie was charging at that time — a dime to get into the show.”

And it was another one of Doershuk’s students who found the gun flint. Doershuk is planning to return to the site next year for another four-week dig for students. He’s hoping to find evidence of Native American deposits from the 1840s, including the Dakota village that’s been referenced in historic documents from that era.

(Reporting by George Bower, KICD, Spencer)