Reconstructing the Genealogical Landscape: Kinship and Settlement along Moccasin and Indian Creeks, Pope County

By Brennan, Mary Z. | The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Reconstructing the Genealogical Landscape: Kinship and Settlement along Moccasin and Indian Creeks, Pope County


Brennan, Mary Z., The Arkansas Historical Quarterly


THE STUDY OF CULTURAL LANDSCAPES has emerged as a central concern in historical archaeology. Archaeological fieldwork has traditionally focused almost exclusively on the discovery and excavation of sites. While site excavations remain of paramount importance, the focus of archaeological research has broadened to include the study of entire landscapes and surface survey in addition to, or instead of, excavation.1

Initially, historically accurate landscape reconstruction began at sites associated with elites, but the field has grown to include landscapes of people who left fewer traces in the documentary record (e.g., women, laborers, immigrants, and disfranchised groups). These studies are premised on the idea that people designed and created landscapes to be seen and experienced by others. Status or other social roles are symbolically communicated by the landscape and its constituent elements. Because social relations are reproduced at multiple scales, there is no single focus of analysis in the examination of cultural landscapes. They include regional, community, and individual studies.2

The landscape that is the focus of this study includes approximately 10,000 acres in the bottoms and watersheds of Moccasin and Indian Creeks in northwest Pope County, up in the Boston Mountains that make up the southern boundary of the Ozark region. Today, almost all of this area is government owned and managed as part of the Ozark National Forest, but, in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, this region was home to kinbased communities whose settlement and subsistence practices shaped the cultural landscape. Remnants of this period occupation are found in the archaeological sites, roads and trails, cemeteries, and place names that constitute that cultural landscape.

The influence of kinship on historic settlement of the Arkansas Ozarks has been described in archaeological literature and regional histories.3 The topography and soil characteristics of the Boston Mountains made raising cash crops difficult, and subsistence agriculture dominated both before and after the Civil War. The open range and woodlands facilitated the raising of cattle and hogs. Many Ozark farmers sold livestock at market but primarily raised stock for their own subsistence.4 Kinship was an integral part of these subsistence strategies. Clearing fields of rock and timber, stacking fences, cultivating and harvesting crops, herding livestock, and other tasks could not be accomplished without abundant labor. Settlement in family groups ensured availability of this labor.

This study reconstructs kin relations between archaeological sites along Moccasin and Indian Creeks, integrating data from diverse sources, including archaeological investigations, documents, genealogical research, and oral accounts. Earlier studies of land choices in Madison and Washington Counties identified kinship, in addition to environmental variables, as an important factor in determining settlement location.5 These earlier studies, however, relied on a more general class of historical documents (e.g., General Land Office [GLO] records) in which surnames were interpreted as proxies for kin relations. They did not reconstruct a specific kinship network based on actual kin relations that could be associated with specific archaeological sites.

Carolyn Earle Billingsley's analysis of the extended Keesee family and their movements across the antebellum South demonstrates the power of kinship and genealogical methodology to address questions about migration, settlement patterns, religion, class structure, and economic and political power in the antebellum South. Her work provides a template for the explanatory power of kinship informed by genealogical methodology.6 The approach taken here similarly combines more traditional methods of historical research with genealogical methods, but with the addition of archaeological investigations.

Documentary sources utilized in this study include census records, tax lists, probate records, newspaper accounts, GLO survey plats and notes, land patents and case entry files, U. …

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