By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN The story of the last surviving American Indian in Winsted, named Ponto, is a familiar one to Jack Littfin.
As a young boy, he learned about Ponto and other Native Americans who had settled in Winsted from his grandfather, Leonard Littfin, who once owned and farmed the land on the east side of Winsted Lake a site believed to have once been a Native American settlement or hunting camp.
It’s at this site that many Native American stone tools, points, and spearheads were discovered and donated to the McLeod County Historical Society by the Littfin family.
As part of Minnesota Archeology Week, May 14-22, the McLeod County museum hosted a site walk the afternoon of May 15, on the east side of Winsted Lake, out on Ponto Point (named after the last living American Indian in Winsted), where Jack and Petie Littfin have lived since building their home there in 1967.
Jack Littfin gave the tour.
In addition to the tour, the museum’s executive director, Lori Pickell-Stangel displayed a portion of the large collection of early Native American artifacts found on the site.
Besides the artifacts on display, the Littfin family has donated pottery, and there was a canoe that was dug up and donated to the state historical society.
To talk about some of the pieces in the collection and about Minnesota archeology in general, the museum invited the state historic preservation office archeologist David Mather.
“I am not an expert on this site at all, but I am very interested in the collection,” Mather said.
“Just seeing the volume of the artifacts in the collection from this site, by itself, indicates this is a pretty special place and there was a lot that went on here. It looks like probably thousands of years. So, this is a pretty significant site.”
There were also human remains found on the site.
“Back in the ‘90s, I talked to a man named Earl Sargent,” Gary Lenz, of Winsted, said, “who told me that he reinterred human remains that were found out here because this was listed as a cemetery when it was developed.”
Mather said that Sargent was the cultural research director for the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council for many years.
One very unusual find from this particular site was a bird stone found by Gary Guggemos, a Winsted resident, who said he has been digging around the site area for more than 40 years.
The bird stone Guggemos found about 10 years ago, which is estimated to be between 4,000 and 7,000 years old, is made out of glacial slate. It’s only the second one ever to be found in Minnesota, according to Guggemos.
Guggemos sold it this spring for $2,500.
The tour group was given the opportunity to see the bird stone because its owner brought it to be part of the display from the site.
Although Mather didn’t comment too much about the bird stone, he did ask if he could take a picture of it.
There were many large stone tools in the display, Mather said some of them had probably been used as a hammer and as he looked over another one, he said it could have been used as an axe.
Referring to the axe, Mather said, “This is an interesting artifact. It’s easily hundreds of years old, if not more. It was probably used to cut trees or break through the ice in the winter to fish.”
“There are a number of them found in central and southern Minnesota and it’s hard to tell exactly how old they are. Spearpoints and arrowheads will change in size and shape through different time periods. These things (large stone tools) not so much.”
Mather said stone tools are important to an archeologist, because they do not decompose like other materials.
“Of course, people were using all sorts of different things, like fabric, baskets, leather, and wood, but those typically don’t survive for us. Pottery does and when we are lucky, the animal bone does. So we are working with a very limited picture, but the stone is very helpful.”
American Indians once on Littfin land
In about 1890, Jack Littfin’s grandfather, Leonard Littfin, became owner of 65 acres of land which included the property now known as Winsted on the Lake and Ponto Point.
“When I was a young kid, around 10 years old, my grandpa and I would come out here (Ponto Point) and he used to tell me about where the Native Americans settled,” Jack Littfin said.
One of the reasons Leonard Littfin had learned so much about the Native Americans who had lived on the east side of Winsted Lake, was because of an American Indian named Ponto.
Ponto was the last of the remaining American Indians to live in Winsted, according to Leonard Littfin. He had even been invited to have dinner at the Littfins’ on occasion.
It was through Ponto that the Littfins learned that the settlement in Winsted had included a trading post used by many tribes of Native Americans as far away as the Dakotas.
The Native Americans chose to settle on the east side of Winsted Lake because it offered a better view of storms which normally approached from the west, and it gave them some protection from prairie fires.
The fact that Ponto Point was surrounded by water on three sides and was on a hill was also an advantage to the American Indians because they could see in a number of directions and could watch for invaders.
When Leonard Littfin first started plowing his fields, his son, Ralph, had the job of helping by getting rid of the numerous fire pits on the land.
“When they were plowing he would run into the fire pits which were probably 5 or 6 feet in diameter,” Jack Littfin said.
“They were lined with rock and mud. It was Ralph’s job to go in and bust out those fire pits and get rid of all of the stones, which he would throw over the hill.”
A good time to find artifacts, according to Jack, was on the hillsides after a good rain or when the snow had melted because it would carry them down the hill.
A collection of the Native American artifacts will be on display in the McLeod County Historical Society’s meeting room area until the end of May.