Ancient America: A Plateau Clovis Cache

As the ice age was ending in North America, a new hunting technology arose. This technology, commonly known as Clovis after a find in New Mexico, is characterized by a finely made stone projectile point with a characteristic flute which helps in attaching the point to an atlatl dart.

One of the principle weapons used by the Clovis hunters was the atlatl. The atlatl is a wooden shaft with a hook at one end and a handle at the other. The butt of the spear is engaged by the hook. Grasping the handle and steadying the spear shaft with the fingers, the spear can be hurled with great force. Archaeologist L.S. Cressman, in his book The Sandal and the Cave: The Indians of Oregon, notes:  “Thus the atlatl was in principle an extension of the arm and, by the added leverage, gave much greater power to the thrust of the spear.”

Archaeologist Sandra Morris, in her M.A. professional paper at the University of Montana, summarizes Clovis this way:  “Clovis represents a terminal ice-age human adaptation characterized by a hunting technology displaying distinctive, fluted spearpoints and carved bone and ivory shafts.”

The Plateau Culture Area is the area between the Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, and Western Montana. In 1987, a number of Clovis points were discovered below the surface in an apple orchard in East Wenatchee, Washington. As in the case of many major archaeological discoveries, these points were discovered accidently by workers installing a new irrigation system. Recognizing that this might be an important find, professional archaeologists were called in.

The land was owned by Mack Richey and the orchard was managed by his brother-in-law Rich Roberts, and thus the site became known as the Richey-Roberts Clovis Site. Excavation rights were sold to the State of Washington. The scientific excavation of the site was observed by members of the Colville Confederated Tribes as well as the news media.

The initial find at the Richey-Roberts site included 29 items, among which were five large stone points and three short bone rods. To discover more about the site and its overall size, the archaeologists brought in ground-penetrating radar. The radar located a cluster of seven large Clovis points. These points were about twice as large as those found in association with animal remains.

Unlike artifact “collectors” (better described as “looters”) who remove artifacts to display them or sell them, archaeologists pay close attention to the context in which the artifacts are found. At the East Wenatchee site, archaeologists noted that the undersides some of the points had sandy crusts. These crusts detracted from the fine flaking of the points, but provided an important dating clue. A geologist, Dr. Nick Foit, identified the silica in the crusts as originating from a Glacier Peak volcanic eruption. This eruption occurred about 13,000 years ago. The Clovis points had lain on top of the ash when it was still fresh enough to crusts on the points. This meant that the site was somewhat younger than 13,000 years.

The blade surfaces were checked for traces of blood or other animal protein and on one large biface researchers found evidence of both bison and deer. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty, in their book Archaeology in Washington, explain the findings:  “This does not necessarily prove hunting. Residual proteins have many sources. They can come from the leather of a storage pouch, the leather protecting the toolmaker’s hands, from sinew used for hafting, or from blood, hair, or hoof glue in the hafting mastic.”

One of the puzzles from the site was the large Clovis points. In terms of size, the only other Clovis points of this large size were found at the Anzick rockshelter site in Montana. The Anzik site was a burial site and the large Clovis points appear to have been grave offerings. At East Wenatchee, there was no burial, but there are traces of red ochre on one of the points. Red ochre was generally used ceremonially and thus one of the questions about these points is: Were these large Clovis points ceremonial offerings?

One of the ways archaeologists study stone tools is with the aid of a scanning electron microscope. This allows them to see the wear patterns on the blade which provides information about how they were used. The large Clovis points, however, show no wear patterns, an indication that they were never used. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty ask:  “Was this a cache intended for later retrieval or were the showy points placed as a ritual offering?”

Use of caches is common among nomadic hunting and gathering people. Since goods and weight are oppressive when you are moving regularly on foot, items which will not be needed at the next resource collection area can be cached and then retrieved when the group returns to the area. Writing in The Oxford Companion to Archaeology, David Meltzer reports:  “Befitting wide-ranging hunter-gatherers who lacked animal transport and were able to carry only limited provisions, they often cached stone for later use.”

With regard to the large size, experimental archaeology has shown that the Clovis points frequently break when they are used. They are then re-flaked into usable points which are smaller than the originals. Instead of ceremonial offerings, it could simply be that the large points are unused points which have not yet been broken and re-flaked.

One of the artifacts uncovered at a number of other Clovis sites are bone rods. At the Richey-Roberts site more than a dozen bone rods were found. There is some speculation that these rods, if fitted with antler tips, could have been used as flaking tools. No antler tips, however, were found with the rods.

Excavation at the Richey-Roberts site stopped in 1990. The location of artifacts was marked with copper cutouts, a sheet of protective geofabric was placed over the site, and it was covered with soil so that the apple trees could be replanted. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty write:  “Without knowing the exact location, no one now would recognize that particular section of the orchard as an important archaeological site.”

The items excavated at the Richey-Roberts site were donated to the Washington State Historical Society.

Shawnee Political Organization

The Shawnee were a confederacy of five autonomous political units: Chillicothe (Chalahgawtha), Hathawekela (also spelled as Thawekila or Thawegila), Kispoko (Kispokotha), Mequachake (Mekoche or Maykujay), and Piqua (Pekowi). Each of these divisions had its own chiefs. Within the Shawnee, however, each of the five had specific responsibilities. The Chillicothe and Thawekila provided tribal leaders and took care of political concerns relating to the whole tribe. The Pekowis were responsible for matters relating to religion and ritual. The Mekochea were concerned with health and medicine and therefore provided healers and counselors. The Kispokos provided war leadership.

With regard to the possible origins of the division among the Shawnee, Colin Calloway, in his book The Shawnees and the War for America, reports: “The Shawnees traditionally comprised five divisions, though it is not certain whether these divisions originally constituted different tribes, which came together to form the Shawnees, or if they developed during their migrations.”

As with many other American Indian nations, the Shawnee had two kinds of chiefs: peace chiefs and war chiefs. The peace chiefs were responsible for domestic order. This was an office which could be inherited. Colin Calloway writes:  “Civil chiefs tended to be mature men who had earned a reputation for good sense and whose counsel guided the people during times of peace and in everyday affairs.”

On the other hand, the war chief was an earned office. In the first step in becoming a war chief, a young man would have to participate in at least twelve raids into enemy territory. Then he would have to organize and lead four raids. To do this, he would have to persuade other young men to follow him. Just leading a war party, however, was not enough: the raids had to bring back honor and all of the men. According to Ian Steele, in an article in Ethnohistory:  “A raid was considered successful only if the entire raiding party returned unhurt, and if it brought back at least one scalp or prisoner.”

Once a man had become a war chief, he would lead at least twelve successful raids. After leading 12 raids, a war chief was allowed to resign if he wished.

The Shawnee tribal council was composed of both peace chiefs and war chiefs. Charles Callender, in his entry on the Shawnee in the Handbook of North American Indians, reports:  “Elderly men also attended or gave advice and assistance, besides providing information about earlier events and the decisions reached by past councils.”

During times of war, the civil chiefs would temporarily hand over leadership to younger men who were considered war chiefs who would lead war parties. However, war could not be declared unless the peace chiefs agreed. When peace returned, the war chiefs would give leadership back to the civil or peace chiefs.

The Shawnee also had two female chiefs: a peace chief who supervised the planting and prepared feasts of vegetable foods and a war chief who was responsible for the preparation of meat. The female peace chief had the power to stop a war party from leaving. When a war party returned with prisoners, the prisoners would be spared if they were touched by the female peace chiefs. However, if a female war chief touched the prisoners first, they were burned and ritually eaten.

Greed, Corruption, and the Foundation for Oklahoma Statehood, 1893 to 1894

Thomas Jefferson was one of the Americans who envisioned removing all Indians from American soil and placing them in a confined territory west of the Mississippi River. In the early nineteenth century, many Indian nations were forcibly removed, often through the use of military force, and resettled in Indian Territory. Here they were to live and to govern themselves unhindered by federal or state forces.

Indian Territory was to be Indian land forever, but it was soon evident that the United States government had lied or lacked the political will to enforce its own laws as expressed in the removal treaties. Mary Jane Warde, in article in the Chronicles of Oklahoma, writes:  “Intruders not only flouted Indian law and authority but also illegally exploited the resources of Indian Territory. They mined coal, collected salt, quarried stone, and dug snakeroot.”

Non-Indian cattle were allowed to graze on Indian lands, often over-grazing it and providing no compensation to the Indians. Many non-Indians also felt that they had a right to hunt, fish, and camp in the area. Mary Jane Warde writes:  “Indian officials complained and petitioned for stiffer laws against intrusion, but they received little satisfaction from the federal government.”

By the end of the nineteenth century, Manifest Destiny had been fulfilled as the United States expanded from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and historian Frederick Jackson Turner declared that the frontier was dead. American greed for land coupled with the capitalistic concern for transferring wealth for the poor to the rich now began to foster the view that Indian Territory was “unused” land which needed to be developed.

In 1893, Congress established the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes, and President Grover Cleveland appointed Henry Dawes, Meredith Helm Kidd, and Archibald McKennon to the commission. Former Senator Henry Dawes was appointed as the commission’s chairman and consequently the commission became commonly known as the Dawes Commission. Dawes considered himself to be a friend to the Indian and was described by others as “the Indian’s truest friend.” He felt that Indians should be assimilated into American culture like other immigrants and that the best way to do this was to destroy tribal governments, tribally held land, and to put each Indian on a parcel of privately owned land as envisioned by Jefferson.

While there were many tribes in Oklahoma, the term “Five Civilized Tribes” referred to the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole. These had been southeastern agricultural Indian nations which had adopted a great deal of European culture prior to their forced removal to Indian Territory.

The purpose of the Commission was to persuade the leadership of the Indian nations in Oklahoma to give up title to their land so that it could be allocated to individuals. In his book The Dawes Commission and the Allotment of the Five Civilized Tribes, 1893-1914, Kent Carter writes:  “The hope was that the commission could persuade the governments of the Five Civilized Tribes to negotiate themselves out of existence—an essential first step in implementing a policy of allotting land to each individual Indian.”

The primary governmental concern at this time was for Indians to become assimilated into the dominant culture. In addition, dissolution of tribal governments would clear the way for what had been Indian Territory to become a part of Oklahoma and for Oklahoma to become a state. Powerful non-Indian groups pushed for this as an opportunity to make a profit.

The letter of instructions sent to the commission by Secretary of the Interior Hoke Smith states:  “success in your negotiations will mean the total abolition of tribal autonomy of the Five Civilized Tribes and the wiping out of the quasi-independent governments within our territorial limits. It means, also, ultimately, the organization of another territory in the United States and the admission of another state or states to the Union.”

In 1894, the Dawes Commission began its work by travelling to Indian Territory to hold meetings with tribal leaders. They quickly found that tribal leaders had little interest in negotiating allotment with the federal government.

The Cherokee told the Commission that something as momentous as allotment must be discussed by the people at length. Furthermore, they suggested that the United States first settle all outstanding claims from previous treaties. Historian Andrew Denson, in article in the Chronicles of Oklahoma, reports:  “This reluctance to embrace allotment left the American commissioners mystified and angry. Advocates of the policy at this time were convinced that common landholding and tribal government were doomed.”  Cherokee historian Robert Conley, in his book The Cherokee Nation: A History, summarizes the Dawes Commission attitude toward the Cherokee this way:  “U.S. authorities were getting tired of trying to play fair with the Cherokees.”

In meeting with the Creek, the Commission had to use an interpreter because none of the commissioners spoke an Indian language. Commissioner Archibald McKennon believed that most of the 3,000 Creeks who heard his presentation were favorable towards allotment and was somewhat shocked when everyone in the audience voted against the concept.

An intertribal council with representatives from the Creek (D.N. McIntosh, Roley McIntosh, Pleasant Porter, Hotulke Emarthla, Concharte Micco, Isparhecher, George Washington Grayson), Cherokee (E. C. Boudinot, L.B. Bell), Choctaw (Samuel Mayes, Green McCurtain), and others are assembled. The intertribal delegates wrote:“If you will not listen to our protests, if in our assertions, though so well founded in absolute truth as to be unanswerable, you simply reply that it costs too much money to allow our people to remain as we are, we as Indians possessing the common instincts of humanity, reply, then if the die is cast you must do these things yourselves and not ask and expect us to aid you in reducing ourselves to homeless, wandering paupers.”

The Five Civilized Tribes pointed out to the Dawes Commission that the lack of almshouses and potter’s fields in Indian Territory demonstrated the benefits of their communal landholding system. Historian Mary Jane Warde, in her biography George Washington Grayson and the Creek Nation, 1843-1920. writes:  “Unimpressed, the commissioners reminded the Indian representatives that with populous states now surrounding the territory, their way of life was bound to disappear and they would soon be crowded off the land by intruders.”

Concluding that the Indians would support allotment if they knew their best interests, the Commissioners tell the Indians:  “We believe we stand between you and a peril you do not see.”

Having failed to convince tribal leaders to negotiate allotment and dissolution of tribal governments, the commission began to travel the territory seeking testimony from both Indians and non-Indians which supported their view that tribal governments were corrupt and wanted to block allotment for personal gain. Based on this testimony, the commission then issued a report showing that it was the fault of tribal governments, not the United States, that the territory had been overrun with non-Indians. The report concluded:  “Their system of government can not continue. It is not only non-American, but it is radically wrong, a change is imperatively demanded in the interest of the Indian and whites alike, and such change can not be much longer delayed. The situation grows worse and will continue to grow worse.”

The Dawes Commission insisted that the federal government should act without the consent of the Indians and that the tribes had destroyed the force of the treaties by allowing non-Indians to become citizens under their laws. They also insisted that tribal governments were corrupt and irresponsible and therefore the promises of self-government made in the treaties were no longer binding.