1938-1939 Wpa Excavations at the Hatchel Site (41Bw3) on the Red River in Bowie County, Texas

By Perttula, Timothy K. | Southeastern Archaeology, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

1938-1939 Wpa Excavations at the Hatchel Site (41Bw3) on the Red River in Bowie County, Texas


Perttula, Timothy K., Southeastern Archaeology


The 1938-39 excavations in the village areas at the Hatchel site (41BW3) along the Red River in northeastern Texas have not been previously published or the findings made widely available to the archaeological community. This work exposed large blocks in Late Caddoan period, Texarkana phase (ca. A.D. 1400-1700) archaeological deposits in the Nasoni Caddo village. There were hundreds of post holes, structures, midden deposits, and burials in these village areas that appear to be part of individual Caddo farm compounds.

Works Program Administration (WPA) archaeological work in the 1930s and early 1940s in the Southeastern United States revolutionized the understanding of the prehistory and early history of much of the Southeast, including the Caddoan area of northeastern Texas, northwestern Louisiana, southwestern Arkansas, and southeastern Oklahoma (see Lyons 1996:196-200). The first true synthesis of Southeastern prehistory by James A. Ford and Gordon R. Willey (1941) was "the direct result of archeological researches undertaken [in the last ten years] by several federal agencies and by universities or other institutions in nearly every one of the states" (Ford and Willey 1941:325).

In northeastern Texas, WPA archaeological investigations between 1938 and 1941 were conducted at two Caddo sites on the Red River: the Hatchel site (41BW3) and the nearby Mitchell site (41BW4) (Guy 1990:40-44 and Table 4; Lyons 1996:120). The work at these two major Caddo sites has never been published. Other prehistoric sites excavated by the WPA in the Caddoan archaeological area includes the Early Caddoan period George C. Davis mound center (41CE19) (Newell and Krieger 1949), the Yarbrough site (41VN6) (Johnson 1962), and the Joslin site (41VN3); the Joslin site excavations have also never been published.

When Ford and Willey's (1941:353) summarized the late prehistory of the Caddoan area, they relied on preWPA archaeological work done by Harrington (1920), Lemley (1936), and Dickinson (1936) rather than any of the WPA findings from work in Texas Caddo sites. Since the WPA archaeological work at the Hatchel and Mitchell sites had only ended in 1939, and excavations at George C. Davis continued until 1941 (Guy 1990:42), it is not surprising that none of the results of that work were included in Ford and Willey (1941). Of course, the George C. Davis site investigations were eventually published by the Society for American Archaeology in the now-classic 1949 monograph by H. Perry Newell and Alex D. Krieger.

Unfortunately, the WPA archaeological work at Hatchel has never been brought to complete and final publication. A very short summary of the WPA mound excavations by Krieger (1946), some bioarchaeological studies of burials at the Hatchel site (Lippert 1997; Lee 1997), and an overview of the archaeological work written by Creel (1996) constitute the published record concerning the sum total of the WPA work. Creel (1996:505) has noted that "the quantity of data gathered from this site complex is so great that it has prevented full analysis and publication." Recently, in conjunction with an archaeological study of parts of the Hatchel site done in collaboration with the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma (Perttula 2003; Perttula and Nelson 2003), I had an opportunity to examine the extensive original notes, records, files, and artifacts from the 1938-39 WPA excavations in village areas at Hatchel. I came away convinced that it is vital that the extensive village excavations be fully analyzed, reported, and published finally to put on record the significant archaeological data already recovered-in the form of several structures, midden features, cemetery areas, and an extensive material culture assemblage-from this earlier work at the Hatchel site. The WPA Hatchel village excavations are one of the very few broad-scale excavations of Caddo habitation areas ever done in northeastern Texas.

I begin the documentation by summarizing the WPA excavations in the village areas at the Hatchel site. …

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1938-1939 Wpa Excavations at the Hatchel Site (41Bw3) on the Red River in Bowie County, Texas
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