Maps | Excavation Images
|1. What is the site?
|The Fort Des Moines
site (officially called the Fort Des Moines No. 2 site, 13PK61)
was a U. S. military post from 1843-1846. This fort was the core
from which modern Des Moines grew. Over the years, the site has
been covered by flood deposits from the Des Moines River and historic
landfill, which is why the site is now located under the current
ground surface. The area being excavated was the center of the fort,
the officers’ quarters extended to the north along Water Street,
and the enlisted men’s quarters extended to the west along
Elm Street. In the excavation area several fort buildings once stood.
View west on south side of Elm showing
current levee to be removed
2. Why is the site being excavated?
The Fort Des Moines site will be impacted
by a new road and bridge that will connect Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway
with the east side of Des Moines. Archaeologists are excavating the
site to investigate the impacts and save information about the people
who once lived here.
|3. Who are the archaeologists?
|The University of
Iowa’s Office of the State Archaeologist (OSA) was selected
by the City of Des Moines to conduct the archaeological investigation
of the Fort Des Moines Site. The supervisors and crew members are
highly qualified archaeologists with extensive previous experience
throughout the U.S., especially in Iowa and the Midwest.
View east from west side of SW 2nd
St. showing the 13PK61 mitigation area
|4. How was the site
View east showing current levee
to be removed and historic cabin to be preserved in place
|Fort Des Moines has
always been known to exist in this general area, but the exact location
was not discovered until archaeological excavations encountered
fort foundations. Other portions of the fort were excavated by the
firm Brice, Petrides and Associates in 1985 and by Louis Berger
Associates in 2001 during other city projects.
5. What happened at Fort Des Moines?
Founded in 1843 by the First U.S. Dragoons
led by Captain James Allen, the fort was established to oversee the
westward expansion of Euroamerican settlement. The fort was comparatively
small and was never stockaded, consisting of five officers’ quarters
along the west side of modern First Street and an undetermined number
of soldiers’ barracks to the west, which was called Raccoon Row.
Other features of the fort were guard houses, stables, pastures, a hospital,
and a well. The fort was abandoned by the Army in 1846, when the area
was fully settled by Euroamericans and the Indians removed. The fort
buildings were immediately taken over by settlers.
|6. What are the archaeologists
|They are trying to
find remains of foundations, cellars, fireplaces, refuse pits, tools,
and food debris left by the fort’s occupants and the residents
of the early town of Fort Des Moines, as well as earlier Indian
people that may have lived in the area.
Project Archaeologist Bill Whittaker
with ground-penetrating radar at 13PK61 prior to archaeological
|7. Why is this site
Crew Chief Carrie Christman with
ground-penetrating radar at 13PK61 prior to archaeological investigation
|The Fort Des Moines site was occupied
during a period of great change in the American frontier. The system
of long-distance trade and exchange established by Indians and traders
was rapidly disappearing, as was the traditional Indian life of
farming and hunting. Indians were being pushed out of the Midwest,
to make way for Euroamerican settlers. Soldiers brought new technologies,
goods, and ways of living, but their presence was short-lived, and
is poorly understood. The modern city of Des Moines emerged from
this fort, but we know very little about these early days.
8. Are there any human remains?
No human remains were found during previous
investigations of the Fort Des Moines site, and none are anticipated
during these excavations. The City of Des Moines the OSA, and Iowa’s
Indian community have procedures in place in the unlikely event that
any human remains are found. Iowa's burial site protection and reburial
program has been a national model for more than 25 years.
9. What happens to the excavated objects?Click here to see more images of the Fort Des Moines Site excavation.
All artifacts collected will be cleaned
and studied at the University of Iowa. These materials will be retained
in secure and climate controlled storage for future research. A public
exhibit of some of the more interesting artifacts is being planned for
Des Moines. Archaeologists will complete reports on the site in compliance
with State and Federal laws and provide updates to the community. The
knowledge gained from the archaeological work being conducted at this
site will help increase the understanding and appreciation of the lives
of Des Moines’ early inhabitants.
|For more information
City of Des Moines
John F. Doershuk, Ph.D.
Office of the State Archaeologist
University of Iowa
here for larger and more detailed maps of the site.
here to view a printable pdf file of information on
the Fort Des Moines Archaeology Site Excavations.
Maps | Excavation Images
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Mary De La Garza, Web Master
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