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    Special 2022 archaeological survey at Fort McCoy focuses on ‘tent’ time between world wars

    Special 2022 archaeological survey at Fort McCoy focuses on ‘tent’ time between world wars

    Photo By Scott Sturkol | An artifact found by the Fort McCoy archaeology team members with the Colorado State...... read more read more

    For several weeks in July, archaeological team members with the Fort McCoy Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch and the Colorado State University’s (CSU) Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands held a special archaeological survey and dig on South Post.

    The team did their survey in the South Post Housing Area, which also happens to be the oldest areas of the installation’s origins where Camp Robinson and Camp Emery-Upton once were located. In the actual location of the survey, however, the team was looking at areas around old concrete tent pads that were once part of Camp Robinson, said CSU Archaeologist Bill Thompson.

    “We believe these pads were put in probably between 1925 and 1939,” Thompson said. “Through this survey we are trying to figure out exactly when they were put in. Through the artifacts we are finding, it shows us that this does seem to be fitting into the time period that we believe it fits.”

    Ryan J. Howell, Fort McCoy’s cultural resource manager and garrison archaeologist, said they wanted to complete the archaeological work on South Post in part because of a planned construction project to building 6158 in 2023.

    “The area that is South Post Family Housing on today’s Fort McCoy sits on the original pre-World War II Camp McCoy and the even earlier pre-1926 Camp Robinson,” Howell said. “While documentary evidence in the form of early post maps and old photographs of these earlier military installations are available today, most of the actual physical remains of these camps have been removed by later construction.

    “One exception to this pattern is the area around the current family housing headquarters in building 6158, which was originally constructed as an instructor’s building in 1931,” Howell said. “This building and the surrounding tent pads to the east, along with some remnant foundations in the surrounding woods represents some of the last, most intact physical remnants of early World War I-era and Interwar-era — 1914 to 1940 — of Camp Robinson and Camp McCoy.

    “A proposed Americans with Disabilities Act modification project to building 6158 is planned for 2023,” Howell said. “This project will regrade much of the area surrounding the building and will remove or bury some of the tent pads in the park lands to the east of the building. While the tent pads in and of themselves are not historically important, an associated archaeological dig — this dig — is being conducted to better document and understand them and salvage any artifacts left by the Soldiers, Civilian Conservation Corp members and Civilian Military Training Program participants who would have used the area during the early parts of the 20th century.
    Recovering these artifacts will hopefully provide a better understanding of the early period of use of Camp McCoy and the ‘field lives’ of the early Soldiers and civilians who trained and worked here in the early days of Fort McCoy’s service to the nation.”

    Thompson described some of the artifacts they were finding through metal detecting.

    “We were finding (rank) insignia, such as officer insignia,” Thompson said. “We were finding old .45 (cal.) slugs. We were also finding rope tensioners for tents that were out here on these pads. We found old coins, including a dime that dated to 1923, a penny that dated to 1913 I believe. We even found a handmade tent stake maybe about 70 years old. But probably the oldest artifacts we may have found were those rope tensioners that could date as far back as the Spanish-American War time frame to maybe World War I when the Army used those items.”

    At one time, it’s believed there were more than 800 concrete tent pads located all throughout the area that is now South Post Housing at Fort McCoy, Thompson said. As most people think about Fort McCoy today in the context of the cantonment area that was established in 1942, few might remember the main part of the installation, including camp headquarters, once was near where the archaeological dig took place.

    “It’s amazing how different it looked 80 to 100 years ago, especially when it was Camp Robinson,” Thompson said. “Through this work we’re looking back at the time when General McCoy may have been walking through here.” The “General McCoy” who Thompson refers to of course is Maj. Gen. Robert Bruce McCoy for whom Fort McCoy is named after.

    Looking back to 1909, per Fort McCoy’s documented history, “negotiations were concluded, and the Sparta Maneuver Tract became a reality in 1909 on what is known today as ‘South Post.’ The total parcel was divided approximately in half by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. Situated north of the tracks was a maneuver camp named Camp Emory-Upton. An artillery camp known as Camp Robinson went up to the south of the tracks. Temporary galvanized buildings were constructed in the summer of 1909, and training began. The railroad provided an unloading sidetrack near the artillery camp and ran a spur into the maneuver camp.

    “On Nov. 19, 1926, the reservation officially was designated as Camp McCoy in honor of Maj. Gen. Robert B. McCoy, who had died in January,” the history further states. “The War Department once again regained control of the camp as it settled down to improving buildings and roads. Summer artillery training was conducted from 1926 to 1933 by units from Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa.”

    CSU Archaeologist Tyler Olsen also worked extensively on the 2022 dig on South Post. When he was sifting through dirt July 14 while working a shaker box full of dirt, he explained some of the things he looks for in artifacts.

    “Obviously at this location we are chasing just Fort McCoy history, and that only goes back just over 110 years,” Olsen said. “But specifically, this area, we have a strong inclination that what we are going to find items that date to sometime between 1926 and 1940. So, if we can find little materials we are looking to see if they fit into that category. Even after we’re done where we have to look up something online or in old journals like the Society for Historical Archaeology, we’ll have to probably look at a lot of online material guides that help us narrow down timelines.

    “We can also look at things like Coke bottles that have very narrow windows of production,” Olsen said. “So, if you can find a specific kind of Coke bottle that will tell you (a date) … or sometimes you’ll get lucky and you’ll find some military button that when you do the research it’ll tell you it was on a (special) uniform for a period of maybe six months. So, all of these little pieces are really helpful, but it’s just a matter of finding them. They’re buried below the ground surface … and we don’t know this great history until we actually dig it up.”

    And according to Howell, from this current dig and from other historical documents and research he’s done about South Post since his arrival in the past couple years, he and the rest of the Fort McCoy archaeology team are building a stronger historical record of the installation as it was prior to World War II.

    “We found some amazing items in this year’s effort,” Howell said. “As we learn more through research and further study, I believe we’ll be able to build a better understanding of Fort McCoy’s vital role in our nation’s military.”

    Decades of archaeology work at Fort McCoy has generated tens of thousands of artifacts — some of which are displayed at the Fort McCoy History Center, building 902, in the Commemorative Area. Others are cared for by the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

    Learn more about Fort McCoy online at, on the Defense Visual Information Distribution System at, on Facebook by searching “ftmccoy,” and on Twitter by searching “usagmccoy.”

    Also try downloading the Digital Garrison app to your smartphone and set “Fort McCoy” or another installation as your preferred base.



    Date Taken: 08.26.2022
    Date Posted: 08.26.2022 13:05
    Story ID: 428130
    Location: FORT MCCOY, WI, US 

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