On the Western Periphery of the Plains, for 50± Years

Article excerpt

Although my Plains archaeology associations have primarily involved activities on the western periphery of the Plains, I have had the opportunity to participate in a variety of projects that have enabled me to not only gain experience but to make some contributions that otherwise might have gone by the boards.

I was born in Nebraska and raised until age eight in Gothenburg. I have vague recollections of accounts of farmers and "collectors" finding arrowheads in fields. My actual "formal" association with archaeology was through the Colorado Archaeological Society (CAS). As a junior in high school in 1947,1 became a charter member of the Denver Chapter of the CAS.

During a six-week period in the summer of 1950,1 assisted Amy Withers, University of Denver, with his continuing archaeological survey in southeastern Colorado, initiating the excavation of the Woodland occupation of the Bellwood site. Final excavation of the Woodland dwelling was achieved the following year (Figure 1), and subsequently I was able to finance a C-14 evaluation for the structure that produced a date of A.D. 450 (Breternitz 1969b:118). This date was later adjusted to A.D. 540, and the site was documented by Hunt (1975).

A spring weekend in 1951 exposed me to my first taste of Paleoindian archaeology. It seems that an amateur archaeologist, who was also a farmer, had been dropping down from his fields to plow a bone bed on a low terrace just above the Upper Republican River in eastern Colorado. Over the years a sizable collection of "Yurna Points" that's what we called them in those days-had been recovered. The site was finally made known and was to be inundated by the construction of the Bonny Reservoir.

A field crew was assembled (I am not certain who was "in charge") that consisted of the following: Arny Withers, University of Denver; Bob Lister, University of Colorado; Herb Dick, University of Colorado Museum; Hal Maulde, U.S.GS; and me. The expedition got off to a bad start, due primarily to the fact that Herb and I were assigned the task of food acquisition; we "forgot" to buy any beer, and, upon arriving at the site, Arny Withers and Bob Lister made a 70-mile round trip to St. Francis, Kansas, to buy 3.2 percent beer at the exorbitant price of $7.00 a case. Then it turned out that the plowing of the bison bone bed had effectively recovered all of the lithic materials and reduced the bone bed to fragments no larger than about 5 cm in length and basically unidentifiable (Figure 2).

This expedition did produce a nickname for Herb, who is best known for his seminal work at Bat Cave, New Mexico. Herb spotted two snapping turtles copulating in a muddy pool left when the spring high water of the Upper Republican receded; he wanted to collect the turtles for the University Museum and asked me to wade into the pool to retrieve these active creatures. I hesitated. Herb waded into the pool, with muddy water flowing into the tops of his field boots. As the two turtles sank below the muddy surface, he reached down and grasped the superior turtle. As he lifted the angry snapping turtle from the water, it reached back and almost took offHerb's thumb. The turtle, covered with slime and leeches, was boxed and taken back to Boulder, and subsequently Herb was known to many as "Snapper Dick."

During the summer of 1951, I worked for Wes Hurt at Scalp Creek and Ellis Creek in South Dakota (Hurt, this volume) (Figure 3). Because I had just completed a night course at the University of Denver in photography, Wes hired me as project photographer. Upon my arrival at the Scalp Creek camp, Wes gave me the project 35mm camera. In those days, there was a "bulb" switch for use with flash bulbs; I switched it to "on." Wes didn't want to spend the 10-15 cents it cost then to get a roll of film developed into negatives but waited until he got back to Vermillion so he could do it himself. This is when he found out that not a single official photograph I took produced an image! …