Petroglyphs are images carved on a rock face. The word comes from the Greek petra-, meaning stone and glyphe, meaning carving. Petroglyphs are found world-wide.
For thousands of years, American Indians traveled with buffalo herds, collected plant foods as they ripened, and fished in the rivers and lakes. In time, they lived in hide-covered houses when following the herds of buffalo, and in sturdy bark-and-post structures in their summer planting villages.
Although we don't know which cultural group of American Indians made the earliest carvings thousands of years ago, we do know from historical records which groups inhabited this area during the last 350 years. This region was home to Ioway and Otoe tribes until around 1650. Cheyenne were here until about 1750, when the Dakota began to live in this area. Today, the Dakota live in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Canada. They, along with the loway, Cheyenne and Ojibwe, are helping the Minnesota Historical Society and its visitors understand this sacred place.
In the mid-19th century, European and American settlers arrived, and their farming altered the landscape. Along the northern border of the site is a wagon trail created in the first years of settlement. The settlers plowed the prairies, and introduced exotic plants from Europe, Asia and Africa. The native prairie that surrounds the rock face survived because the soil was too shallow to plow. On the horizon you see the fields, houses, barns and grain silos of contemporary farmers.
In the 1960s, local residents recognized the cultural and environmental value of the site. They cleaned it of fieldstones and refuse, identified and recorded the carvings and plant life, and urged the Minnesota Historical Society to acquire the site. In 1966, the Society purchased the site with the hope of providing knowledge of and appreciation for the history of the rock carvings, the environment in which they are found, and the people who made them.
Rock carvings are among the most enduring forms of human expression. Minnesota’s recorded history begins at Jeffers, where American Indians have been coming for thousands of years to worship and record the story of their lives.