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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 5, No. 4
December, 1927
AN IMPORTANT ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL DISCOVERY

Joseph B. Thoburn

Page 407

During the last three days of August, Curator Joseph B. Thoburn, of the Oklahoma Historical Society, attended an archaeological conference at Pecos, New Mexico. While enroute home, a few days later, he learned of a recent archaeological discovery in Rice County, Kansas, which was believed to be representative of Caddoan culture. On account of his connection with the investigations of early Caddoan cultural remains in Eastern Oklahoma and with those of a more recent period in the northern part of the state, he decided to visit this field before completing his homeward journey. The results of this side trip are described in the following letter, written a few days afterward:—J. Y. B.

Oklahoma City, Okla, Sept. 8, 1927.

Dear Doctor Kidder :—

I arrived home from the archaeological conference at your Pecos camp, in New Mexico, yesterday afternoon—a day and a half behind my schedule. I had stopped enroute at Wichita, Kansas, Monday morning, intending to spend the day there. While there, the managing editor of the Wichita Daily Beacon called by attention to the recent discovery of what was believed to be an important archaeological field in Rice County, Kansas, distant seventy-five to ninety miles northwest from Wichita. From the limited information which he had been able to secure, I surmised that a personal visit for the purpose of making a first-hand examination of the field would be fully justified. Reasoning that I was then 150 miles nearer to it than I would be after returning home, I hastily decided to take the back track to Rice County with that end in view. Taking a traction car to Hutchinson that evening, I went thence by rail the next morning, to Sterling, whence I took a motor bus to Lyons, the county seat of Rice County, which is located almost on, the edge of the field which I planned to visit.

Immediately upon my arrival at Lyons, I called upon Mr. Paul Jones, editor and publisher of the Lyons News, who, with his brother, Mr. Horace Jones, has been largely responsible for the discovery of the field. Although born and reared in that community, Mr. Jones informed me that he and his brother had had only the ordinary school boy interest in seeking and finding arrow points of chipped chert or flint until within the past three months, when the fact sud-

Page 408

denly dawned upon their minds that there was a vast store of prehistoric material almost at their feet and that the field might prove to be of far-reaching scientific and. historical interest.

In the immediate vicinity of Lyons, and surrounding it in all directions, westward, northwestward, northward, northeastward and eastward, scattered over a number of townships on or near the headwaters of Cow Creek and of the Little Arkansas River, are the sites of a succession of Caddoan villages, locally reputed to have been built and occupied by Wichita people, though I personally incline to the opinion that they were of Kitkehahki Pawnee origin. Most of the domiciles in these villages seem to have been of the light timber-framed, dome-shaped, grass-thatched type, though occasionally one of the heavy timber-framed, dome-shaped, earth-covered type is represented by a low, circular tumulus. There is abundant evidence that the closely related Wichita (Paniouassa) and Pawnee (Panimaha) of that period both used both types of these dome-shaped, timber-framed huts or lodges, though, in more recent times, the former discarded the use of the earth-covered domicile, while the latter discontinued the construction and use of the grass-thatched habitation. The determination of tribal identity in this particular instance must therefore be based upon, some other evidence, since both peoples were originally of the same stock. For this reason it would seem that the question of such identity is of secondary importance as compared with the size of the area throughout which these village sites extend almost continuously and the abundance of the vestigia which may be unearthed therefrom.

Practically all of the lands of the northern part of Rice County were taken up under the provisions of the Homestead Law, fifty to fifty-six years ago, and much of those which had been included within these village sites had therefore been in cultivation for a full half century. Odd as it may seem, however, the world of anthropological science has had no hint of this interesting field and its abundant antiquities until within the past few weeks. Here and there, a farmer has gathered and saved a few specimens of chipped flint, or, more likely, has permitted them to be carried away by the idly curious visitor. More frequently, however, no attention

Page 409

has been paid to the flaked chert, the potsherd’s and the splintered, decaying bone, until, through the processes of soil tillage, many if not most of them have disappeared, either by attrition or deeper burial in the soil.

These village sites were practically all on high ground, with few if any superficial traces of such remains on creek valley lands. On the level prairie uplands, which are still in native grass and now used as pastures, there has been practically no disturbance of the vestigia. Such tracts, which are still numerous and some of which are of more than 100 acres in area, present the most promising fields, for excavation and research, though careful search, even on ground that has long been under cultivation, will yield convincing results in many cases. In walking across one of these village site pastures, there may be found numerous small circular depressions, twenty-two to twenty-six inches in diameter and from two or three to six inches in depth. My first impression was that each of these was a fire pit for the center of a grass-thatched lodge. However, as most of them contained more or less rainwater at the time of my visit, I made no effort to investigate and I shall not be surprised, therefore, if each should prove to be the mouth of a bottle-shaped cache, or storage pit, such as were in common use by some of the Caddoan peoples as late as a century ago. Occasionally some of these depressions are much wider, being as much as six or eight, and even ten feet in diameter and are not infrequently mistaken for buffalo wallows, though their uniformly circular outline and greater depth—six to ten inches—should serve readily to distinguish them from depressions due to bovine earth-pawing propensities. These wider circular depressions are unquestionably the locations of more capacious caches or storage pits of a different type. It is interesting to remark, in this connection, that, in numerous instances wherein the excavation of a well, a basement or a storm cave has been undertaken by the owners of the land, such storage pits have been encountered, with vestigia consisting of fragments of pottery, chipped chert and broken bones being found in the mixed earth and clay with which such pits had been refilled, some of them showing depths of six and seven feet below the surface, thus indicating that such storage receptacles must have been in very common use.

Page 410

One recent visitor had ventured to express an opinion that there were once not less than 25,000 primitive inhabitants in the aggregate population of these several villages. However, when one reflects that twice the aggregate area of these village sites now supports only about half that amount of population under much more favorable living conditions, the accuracy of such a population estimate would seem exceedingly doubtful. Moreover, as Paul Jones pointed out, sanitary considerations alone would have rendered such a density of primitive population impossible. Three thousand to five thousand people, scattered in small bands over the entire area of these village sites would have left a pronounced showing of occupancy, especially if the period thereof extended over a, century and a half or two centuries, which would seem to be not only possible but probable in this instance.

In the midst of one of these unploughed village sites, one may push the blade of a spade down almost anywhere and the first turf lifted will disclose potsherds, broken or splintered bone, flint flakes or chipped chert. Indeed, the abundance of such vestigia is amazing. Many of the artifacts are to be readily and positively identified as of Caddoan origin, though there are a few that may be recognized as representative of other cultures. Several of the latter are unquestionably Athapascan (Apache) and probably represent a pre-Caddoan era of occupancy. Others, again, are plainly Siouan (Kaw) and date from a post-Caddoan period. The mortars, or metates, are typically and distinctly Caddoan. The double-bitted stone hoe, likewise typical and distinctive of Caddoan handiwork, does not materially differ in form from those in use among the Caddoan peoples of Eastern Oklahoma, several centuries earlier. The tobacco pipe, on the other hand, seems to have undergone a great modification in both fabrication and form, having been carved from stone instead of moulded of clay and then burned and that, too, on a model radically different from the original pattern. Oddly enough, these new type pipes seem to be very like those shaped and used by the Tawehash or Taovayas (Wichita) people at Spanish Fort, so called, on the upper Red River, during the first half of the 18th Century, whereas, the pipes in use among the Caddoan engages at the Ferdinandina trad-

Page 411

ing post, on the west bank of the Arkansas River, in Kay County, Oklahoma, at the same period, were of the original early Caddoan model, made of clay and burned. Several of the pipes from the Rice County field were fashioned from a very dark, purplish-red stone, highly polished and somewhat resembling Catlinite, but of unknown origin and name. The "turtle-back" or "snub-nose" skin-dressing pick, which was unknown to the early Caddoan peoples, was in common use in this field, as it also was among the later Caddoans of the Arkansas and Red River valleys.

Neither burial grounds nor skeletal remains of these people have been found as yet. Inasmuch as there is reason to believe that the villages on these sites date back from two to four centuries, it would seem not improbable that their burials, like those of their ancestors of a century or two earlier, may have been made in the sandy subsoil of their valley land cornfields. It is quite possible, therefore, that these upland villages may have been buffalo hunting outposts for a settlement located along the deeply eroded valley of the Smoky Hill River, to the northward and northeastward, where lowland cornfields could have been much more effectively protected from destruction by the massed advance of big buffalo herds. Hence, it is not unlikely that most of the burials may be expected to be found at considerable distances from the village sites herein described. Whether earthenware vessels were placed with such interments, as was quite generally done by the earlier Caddoan peoples in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri, remains to be determined.

In my brief and hasty survey of a small part of these village sites, I had no time to study the sherds, though, as already stated, they were very numerous. Some were decorated and some indicated vessels of goodly size. There is reason to believe that, with few possible exceptions, these wares were of the conical bottom type, which was typical of the Pawnee culture and which was really a manifest deterioration from the notably large range of forms which distinguished the ceramic art of the forbears of the Pawnee people in the region above mentioned. It is worthy of comment, in this connection, that a few shreds of Pueblo pottery of varying patterns have been picked up on widely separated spots on

Page 412

these village sites. These and the presence of chipped specimens and flakes of obsidian gave evidence of long distance contract and traffic with other primitive peoples.

As yet, there has been no systematic survey of this field, so it is impossible to accurately describe its geographic limits. It is quite possible that it may be found to include not only most if not all of the northern part of Rice County but also portions of the neighboring counties of Barton (on the west), Ellsworth (on the north) and McPherson (on the east). I shall endeavor to secure some further information as to this, though I believe there should be a fairly complete superficial survey, so that the whole group may be accurately mapped.

And now, I am going to ask your indulgence, as I close this hasty, incomplete and very superficial description of this field from an anthropological angle, for the purpose of making a brief approach to it from that of its possible historical significance

In the summer of 1541, Coronado led forth his ambitious expedition, starting from Ciquye (Pecos), in quest of the land of Quivira with its mythical stores of coveted treasure. Those who have made the most careful study of his wanderings, during the season which followed, incline to the belief that he was guided across the Plains to a point on the upper Colorado River of Texas, whence, after having sent the greater part of his forces back to the Rio Grande, he marched northward with a detachment of less than forty men, most of whom were mounted. Following a, course practically due north, across Western Oklahoma and but a few miles east of the 100th Meridian, he entered Kansas and crossed the, River of St. Peter anal St. Paul (Arkansas), near the present town of Kinsley, in that state. Thence he followed the course of that stream in a northeasterly direction to "the great bend," in the present Barton County, a short distance northeast of which he met the first Quivirans, "killing cows" (buffalo) for meat. They informed that their villages were two or three days journey beyond. Pursuing his journey in the same direction, he soon came to the villages of Quivira.

There has been much dispute as to the location of this region which Coronado visited and in which he was so

Page 413

greatly disappointed. J. V. Brower, W. E. Richey and other writers have contended that because plums, grapes and mulberries grew in Quivira, and also nuts, therefore Quivira must have been on the Kaw River, below the confluence of the Republican and Smoky Hill rivers. Yet plums of several species, grapes, the mulberry and the black walnut are all indigenous along the banks of Cow Creek and of the Little Arkansas River. The fact that Coronado met Quivirans just after leaving the great bend of the Arkansas, taken in conjunction with these village sites is significant. Two recent investigators—Secretary William E. Connelley, of the Kansas Historical Society, and Bliss Iseley, of the editorial staff of the Wichita Beacon have held that Quivira must necessarily have been between the great bend of the Arkansas and the Smoky Hill River, on a northeasterly course from the former. Personally, I am inclined to believe that the land of Quivira which was visited by Coronado and his Spanish troopers, 386 years ago, is at last on the eve of identification.

Yours truly,

(Signed) Joseph B. Thoburn.

Dr. A. V. Kidder, Chairman,
Anthropological Section,
National Research Council,
Washington, D. C.

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