French Heritage Educational Event
Held Saturday, June 28, 2014 • 12:00 – 3:30 PM
The Provence Room • Salut Bar Americain
917 Grand Avenue • St. Paul, MN
click Attached pdf file for pictures of the June 28th Event.
Speaker: Dr. Greg Brick, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Minnesota will discuss the discovery of French saltpeter caves along the Minnesota shore of Lake Pepin by Pierre-Charles Le Sueur in 1700. These caves have recently been located and were the subject of his doctoral research at the University of Minnesota.
In a study lasting a decade, the caves described by French fur-trader Pierre-Charles Le Sueur (1657-1704) were found in rocky outcrops just east of here. Dr. Greg Brick, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Minnesota, was the author of the study.
Le Sueur has given his name to several Minnesota place names, and while ascending the Mississippi River in the year 1700, reported saltpeter caves in his Journal, which previous researchers had interpreted as being vaguely located along the west side of Lake Pepin, in Minnesota. However, no one had made a serious attempt to put the clues together and actually seek out the caves until this study.
Saltpeter is the most important constituent in gunpowder, and was often obtained from cave sediments by a simple process. The usual assumption is that European explorers brought their gunpowder with them, which is probably true in most cases. But it was also known that the French manufactured gunpowder in Missouri in the 1720s, as did American fur traders in the early 1800s. The Minnesota reference in Le Sueur’s Journal is the earliest mention of cave saltpeter in the Americas. The cave saltpeter business reached its peak during the American Civil War, when caves in the Deep South, worked by slave labor, supplied the desperate Confederate armies with this vital raw material.
“It’s one of the most significant historical finds in Goodhue County in many years,” Brick said in one interview. Brick’s study was funded by grants from the Cave Research Foundation and the National Speleological Foundation. Final results of the study were published in THE MINNESOTA ARCHAEOLOGIST (2012) and in a 175-page doctoral dissertation supervised by Professor Calvin Alexander of the University of Minnesota.