They called it Chan SanSan – the Native Americans living on the banks of the beautiful James River. The earliest people who may have lived here 2,000 years ago were mound-building Mayans from South America scattered throughout what is now the United States. Later residents belonged to the Great Sioux Nation whose territory once stretched from Minnesota to Wyoming. It is believed those who lived in the James River Valley were Isanti Sioux, called the Yanktonaise (the French name of the Isanti Dakotas). They were the 13th and last tribe to join the Dakota nation of allied tribes, the “people at the other end of the circle of teepees” who settled below Jamestown. Archeologists have verified a Plains Woodland village existed in the area, along with burial mounds, and pottery fragments. Oral traditions recounted the valley where Jamestown now stands was “heap water,” where they traveled in canoes from what’s now Capitol Hill to the State Hospital bluffs, when the valley was filled like a lake. Driven out of the area, they moved to the mouth of the Cannon Ball River in 1863.
When the Chan SanSan Byway begins south of Jamestown, the road descends into the James River Valley where a panorama of the river snaking through the gorgeous valley carved more than 12,000 years ago by glacial meltwater, punctuated by tall grass prairie and wildflowers, splays out at your feet. From rare pony truss bridges on the James near Adrian, to the early architecture of settlements along the SOO Line, you’ll discover the story of each of the charming towns along the way. Native American sites, bright barn quilts, antique farm equipment, and quiet places to picnic, along with 12 interpretive panels that reveal the story of the region unfold as you explore the scenic beauty. The natural areas surrounding Lake LaMoure, the LaMoure Dam, Twin Lake, Limesand-Seefeldt Dam and Heinrich-Martin Dam are peaceful natural settings. Most of the route is on gravel roads, but don’t let that deter you. The breathtaking scenery is well worth the drive.