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Collection found at St. Louis County camp may hold arrowheads thousands of years old

A collection of arrowheads discovered at a summer camp on the Iron Range will be given to the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe for permanent display. Submitted photo.

TOWER, Minn. -- A framed collection of centuries-old Native American arrowheads discovered at a summer camp on the Iron Range will be given to the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe for permanent display.

The collection includes 135 arrowheads ranging in size from less than an inch to more than 4.5 inches long, and which appear to date back hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

The collection was discovered at St. Louis County’s Camp Esquagama, south of Biwabik, during recent renovations. It will go to the Bois Forte Heritage Museum on the grounds of the Fortune Bay Resort and Casino on Lake Vermilion near Tower.

“They clearly appear to have come from northern Minnesota. And most, if not all, pre-date Ojibwe occupation, or pre-contact,” said Bill Latady, curator of the museum. “I haven’t had a chance to examine them. But they look like they were used by what we’d call pre-contact people” who lived in the region before Anishinabe (Ojibwe) or European people settled the area.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they came right from that Esquagama area. There was a large Ojibwe settlement there and, before that, a pre-contact settlement,” Latady said, noting the early Indians built burial mounds that can still be seen in the Esquagama area.

Latady said the collection will be a welcome addition to the museum and eventually will be available for public viewing after officials can develop a display “that doesn’t just explain the arrowheads as a curiosity, but tells the story of the people who used them.”

County officials say a small typewritten note taped to the back of the frame says the collection was donated to the camp in 1956 by Mrs. M.B. Elson, but the story behind the collection remains unknown.

County commissioners will officially present the collection to Bois Forte officials Tuesday before the County Board’s regular meeting scheduled for the Gilbert City Hall.

Commissioner Keith Nelson of Fayal Township, who represents the district where the summer camp is located, said the band’s museum would be a more appropriate home for the collection. Nelson raised the issue at the board’s Jan. 14 committee of the whole meeting, and commissioners agreed they should pursue arrangements to make the donation.

“Bois Forte has been a tremendous partner in creating cultural displays which are currently located at Camp Esquagama,” Nelson said in a statement. “So we’re very happy to contribute to the museum in this way.”

Camp Esquagama , formerly called the St. Louis County 4-H Camp , was founded in 1935 after several 4-H clubs across St. Louis County won a national contest sponsored by Sears, Roebuck and Co. that came with a $10,000 prize. That prize money, along with 42 acres of donated land and logs donated by the Oliver Mining Co., spurred construction of the elaborate lodge building that still stands.

The lodge, with a six-sided roofline and massive stone fireplace, is shaped like an arrow — 120 feet long and 80 feet wide. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places. There are five dormitory cabins and several other buildings on the site.

The camp, which will be open for children for the 79th summer starting in June, is operated under contract with the Virginia-based Arrowhead Center.