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The Discovery of Lewis and Clark’s Long-Lost Outpost of Fort Kaskaskia, Illinois

Led by Mark J. Wagner, Director, Center for Archaeological Investigations, Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

In this talk, Dr. Wagner will share the exciting discovery of the original American Fort Kaskaskia revealed in field work in Illinois by his team from SIUC. Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark recruited eleven men from the garrison of Fort Kaskaskia (1803-1807) in Randolph County, Illinois, in 1803, to join their famous expedition to explore the American West.

The 1803-1807 American Army outpost of Ft. Kaskaskia, Illinois,  visited by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in late 1803 has long been believed to have been located in the same spot as an earlier colonial French fort of the same name. Indeed, a historical marker erected inside the French fort during the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial commemoration confidently identifies it as such.  Archaeological investigation of the French fort by the SIU Carbondale archaeological field school in 2017, however, revealed that it was just that: a French fort.

So where was the American Army Ft. Kaskaskia?

The archaeological field school investigation discovered its previously unknown remains located approximately 100 yards north of the French fort on the same ridge top. Although damaged by the 1940s construction of a park road and cemetery parking lot, large sections of the fort appear to remain intact. Subsequent hand excavation and ground penetrating radar (GPR) investigation of this “new” fort by the SIU field school in 2018-2020 is slowly starting to unravel its history through the recovery of U.S. Army artifacts, a possible cellar dug by the soldiers,  and the location of its stockade walls.

Because the fort was occupied for such a short period of time, the artifacts and food remains recovered from Ft. Kaskaskia represent a “window in time” that provide detailed information regarding the equipment and daily lives of U.S. Army soldiers such as Sgt. Patrick and others that Lewis and Clark recruited at Ft. Kaskaskia to join their expedition to explore the American West.

Mark Wagner, PhD is Associate Professor in Anthropology and the Director of the Center for Archaeological Investigations at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC), where he also received his PhD in Anthropology. His current research interests include the Native American rock art of Illinois; late eighteenth/early nineteenth century culture contact between Native American peoples and Euro-American settlers along the Illinois frontier; Diaspora archaeology; the Cherokee Trail of Tears in Illinois; Civil War archaeology and French and American colonial and military archaeology in Illinois.


November 5
7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
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2nd Floor Meeting Room