Early Peoples of Maplewood

By Bob Jensen, Maplewood Area Historical Society President

Before European and French Canadian settlers arrived in the 1840’s and 1850’s, at least three peoples lived in or near Maplewood.  The first were natives of the Woodland Culture (1000 B.C. – 1100 A.D.) whose broken pottery sherds and stone tool chips have been found at temporary campsites along Fish Creek, on the south side of Kohlman Lake and around Vadnais Lake.  These people were noted for building mounds, growing crops and vegetables, using bows and arrows and making ceramic pots. Their mounds were found in the late 1800’s on the east shore of Keller Lake, at the outlet of Fish Creek and in Mounds Park in St. Paul but the contents have since been lost.  What happened to these people is not known.  Perhaps they moved away, or became assimilated with later peoples.  

The second people were the Dakota Indians who moved their villages from Mille Lacs Lake to the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers no later than 1750 when the Chippewa defeated them in the Battle of Kathio.  Chief Little Crow started his village of Kaposia along the Mississippi River south of St. Paul around this time.  One of their summer encampments was on the east shore of Savage Lake in today’s Little Canada.  This camp was regularly visited by fur traders in the 1830’s.  Other reported temporary Indian campsites were on White Bear Lake and Silver Lake in North St. Paul.  After signing the Treaties of Mendota and Traverse de Sioux in 1852, the Dakota moved to reservations on the upper Minnesota River, although a few families were reported to have stayed in this area.         

The third people were the fur traders who built and lived in trading posts along the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers.  The first were the French (1660 – 1763) who built the nearest post at Prairie Island in 1694.  Later, posts that were closer to Maplewood were built at Pike Island in 1819 and Mendota and Grey Cloud Island in 1836.  In 1838, after the Chippewa and Dakota ceded their lands east of the Mississippi River, fifteen French Canadian voyageurs began squatting on the floodplain near today’s Pig’s Eye Lake and became the first recorded settlers in what later became McLean Township.  When they were not employed by the American Fur Company at Mendota, they built small log cabins and grew vegetable gardens.  

The first French Canadian settler in New Canada Township was Benjamin Gervais who moved to Gervais Creek in today’s Little Canada in 1844 and built a grist mill.  Around 1850, James Bell, Hugh Casey and M. St. Vincent settled along today’s County Road B, and in 1852 Thomas Carver began farming near Carver Lake.