Reminiscences of Archaeology in Texas: 1947-1968

Article excerpt

In January 1942, shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, I dropped out of The University of Texas at Austin (UT), where I was a premed student, and signed on as a medical corpsman in the Navy. After boot camp and brief training at Mare Island Hospital in California, that fall I found myself working as an operating room technician in a Navy field hospital on Guadalcanal, an experience that soured me on a career in medicine.

At the end of the war, I mustered out of the Navy and reentered UT for the spring semester of 1946. By then I was married with a baby a few months old, and I wanted to take advantage of the GI. Bill to get a college degree in the shortest possible time and then get a job. I chose a B.A. in English literature as the quickest way to a degree, English having been my minor as a pre-med. Needing a minor for the English major, I decided on anthropology after taking an introductory course from George Engerrand. By the time I had completed the B. A., the archaeology courses I had taken from Tom Campbell and J. Charles Kelley for the anthropology minor had sealed my fate. So, hooked on archaeology, I postponed full-time gainful employment and, with the support of my wife, Judy, started working on a M.A. in anthropology. The decision to give up a medical career in favor of a lifetime of digging holes in the ground did not find favor with my parents and other family members, but Judy and I took the plunge anyhow and now can look back on the past half century with no regrets about our decision.

By the fall of 1949,1 had completed the requirements for the M.A. except for a thesis. At that time Bob Stephenson, director of the Smithsonian's River Basin Surveys (RBS) program in Texas, hired me as his assistant. I had become acquainted with Bob while doing research for my thesis in the archaeology lab at UT, where both the university's archaeological collections and the RBS office and laboratory were housed.

Stephenson had been scrimping along with virtually no funds for fieldwork since taking over the RBS operation from Joe Ben Wheat in 1947. But despite that handicap he managed to conduct preliminary surveys at several of the larger reservoir projects that were just getting underway, economizing by using his family car for transportation, camping at car side wherever he happened to be at the end of a day, cooking over a campfire instead of eating at restaurants, and the like.

Early in 1950 Stephenson joyfully received the first allocation of RBS funds substantial enough to finance serious excavations, so in March we set out with great expectations and enthusiasm for Whitney Reservoir on the Brazos where I got my first professional fieldwork at three rockshelters (Figure 1), an open prehistoric site, and a large lateeighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century Indian village, the Stansbury site (Figure 2), containing a lot of European trade materials (Stephenson 1970; Jelks 1970). In July we moved to Lavon Reservoir on the East Fork of the Trinity River where, by October when the money ran out, we had excavated a large part of the Hogge Bridge site, type site of the Wylie focus.

In June 1951 Stephenson left for graduate studies at the University of Michigan, and I took over as director of the RBS program in Texas. For the next 17 years I continued directing salvage archaeology at reservoir projects in Texas and Louisiana with several changes in institutional affiliation.

In 1953 the National Park Service (NPS) took over administration of the Texas RBS program from the Smithsonian, giving me a new boss, Erik Reed, in Santa Fe in place of Frank Roberts in Washington. From October 1954 to July 1956, the Texas RBS office was closed temporarily when funds were cut off, and I was transferred to Colonial National Historical Park in Virginia, where I directed exploratory excavations at Yorktown Battlefield and served as John Cotter's assistant for extensive exploration of the site of colonial Jamestown. …