A Late Prehistoric Bison Processing Camp in the Central Plains: Montana Creek East (14JW46)

Article excerpt

Bison utilization during the Late Prehistoric period in the central Plains varied from the diffuse pattern that characterizes the Central Plains tradition to the focal pattern of the westernmost Oneota. Both patterns are represented at sites in the Lovewell locality on White Rock Creek, a tributary of the lower Republican River in north-central Kansas. Intensive bison exploitation is also represented at the Montana Creek East (14JW46) site within this locality. Abundant faunal remains indicative of marrow and bone grease processing are associated with the varied, if modest, lithic and ceramic assemblages. These do not suggest use by Oneota or Central Plains tradition peoples although a date fits the Late Prehistoric period. A buried Plains Woodland component, previously undocumented at Lovewell, indicates earlier evidence of bison hunting. Together the remains at this and certain other sites at Lovewell indicate extensive use of bison by different groups.

Keywords: Late Prehistoric, central Plains, marrow extraction, bone grease, Lovewell

Archaeological sites containing bison re- mains are not unusual on the Great Plains indicat- ing frequent use of this abundant resource over thousands of years. Despite the long-held popular image of Plains Indians as mobile hunters focused on the ever-present bison, much variation exists in the extent to which native peoples utilized this animal. This is especially evident in the central Plains during the Late Prehistoric period (ca. A.D. 1000-1500). During this period, Central Plains tradition (CPt) peoples in Nebraska, northern Kan- sas, and adjacent areas of Iowa and Missouri har- vested a wide variety of plants and animals avail- able to them in their stream valley habitats. Al- though these often include bison, usually limited quantities and variety of bison elements are present in CPt assemblages. Rather than focusing on bison hunting, many CPt groups pursued a dif- fuse hunter-gatherer-gardener adaptation using a multiplicity of resources. By the middle of the Late Prehistoric period new populations arrived in the region displacing certain CPt households. These newcomers focused their subsistence ac- tivities on bison hunting supplemented with gar- dening, perhaps in response to climatic change (the Late Medieval Warm period). Archaeologi- cal remains tie them to the Oneota tradition, more extensively represented in the Midwest. Oneota sites in the central Plains (White Rock phase) commonly contain numerous bison bones to the near exclusion of those from other animals (Lo- gan 1995, 1998a, 1998b). Canid remains are gen- erally the next most abundant suggesting an im- portant role for dogs. Focal bison hunting allowed Oneota migrants to obtain abundant meat, marrow and fat for food, as well as hides and bones (e.g., scapulae) for tools for their direct use and for exchange with others (Ritterbush 2002).

Archaeological investigations of both CPt and White Rock Oneota sites in the Lovewell locality of north-central Kansas have confirmed these findings. One recently analyzed site, Montana Creek East (14JW46), provides additional evidence of late prehistoric bison hunting. However, questions are raised about the identity of these hunters. The purpose of this article is to describe the assemblage from Montana Creek East and consider its meaning in light of available information for the region.


Much has been learned about Oneota migrants to the central Plains and their indigenous predecessors through investigations of the Lovewell locality. This study area includes present-day Lovewell Reservoir and surrounding lands in Jewell County, north-central Kansas (Figure 1). The archaeological potential of this area was first noted in the 1930s when George Lamb, Paul Cooper, and A. T. Hill of the Nebraska State Historical Society investigated the White Rock site (14JW1) (Rusco 1960). Other sites were recorded nearby when Frank Fenenga (1951) completed a Smithsonian Institution River Basin Survey (SIRBS) project in anticipation of impoundment of White Rock Creek. …