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Tell It Like It Was - Still digging up BONES Part 3

Adapted from the original story emailed by Paul Ovaitt on August 27, 2022

Digging Up Bones Part 3 - She’s So Paleolithic – Joe Harl – Willow - An Unmarked Grave – Becky Flotron Forristal – Glenda Stelzer Drier - Gloria Attoun Bauermeister

I saw her by the roadside… It was just outside of town

Picking up persimmons…Or something on the ground

She had beads around her ankles…And a fetish ‘round her neck

She had muscles in her arms…And a rabbit in her sack…ooooooo

Gentle readers, the comments I receive on my stories are sparse, spare and spaced. Hence, I can only hope there are readers out there. But I did take note that after I emailed Part 1 of Digging Up Bones, a couple readers indicated that they had felt the presence of prehistoric Native Americans ever since they moved out to southwestern SCC. And now, I must confess that I too am subject to all manner of hallucinations, but I prefer to call them visions. In fact, sometime in the early 2000s, I saw a beautiful creature just off the road where High St. becomes the Bottom Road. I resolved right then to write a song about her. Lyrics flooded my brain as I drove through the floodplain of the mighty river along which we live. A recent recording of that song – Paleolithic - is included in this story, but don’t forget your earphones.

Paleolithic by Paul Ovaitt

As many of you know by now, I am not a journalist. Nor am I a historian; I’m an artist/entertainer. And like all artists, I create. What I’m saying…is that the I and she of this song quickly morphed into fictional characters…doesn’t bother me…shouldn’t bother you. There’s often more truth in mythology than in any history book.

I knew I had to meet her…Say baby, what’s your name?

Well, she pulled me from my Beemer…And she dragged me by the mane

I said, “girl, I’m dreadful sorry…I did not mean to fright!”

She said she too was sorry…She did not mean to bite…

But she’s so paleolithic - the girl is terrific - She don’t wear no lipstick, she’s way cool

She worships the goddess - she’s not very modest - I think she’s the hottest thing I’ve ever seen

Now my invisible readers, let us exit the Augusta Bottoms and head northeast to Darst Bottoms. I want to acquaint you with Joe Harl, the principal investigator of the Stelzer Site. He, too, has met a prehistoric woman in southwestern SCC. I know the woman as Willow because I learned her name from one of my visions. Willow is the fresh, sweet scent that I associate with riparian landscape.

I spoke with Joe on July 8, 2022. (((Anything in parentheses is my input.)))

Paul: I’d like to start by asking your age.

Joe Harl: I’m 66.

P: Hmmm. A young fellow.

JH: I’ve been doing this for 44years. I was working for the University of Missouri, St. Louis when they first started their archaeology program. At that time, I had a work-study program, so, I got to work in the lab and get paid for it…(chuckle)…$2.50…$3 an hour…but that was good money (chuckle). I went to UMSL for my undergraduate degree, and then I went to Washington University for the master’s degree.

P: Do you generally use volunteers to help at digs?

JH: No, we don’t. We used to run field schools, but we usually don’t use volunteers ever because they don’t know what to look for, and you’ve got to watch them. It turns out that instead of being able to dig…you’re watching volunteers.

P: How about student help?

JH: Yes, but now it’s stricter, where they require that students at least have a BA degree in anthropology before they can do an excavation or survey. Now, that project (Stelzer Site) wasn’t federally funded…we could have used students, but we didn’t…we used a professional crew.

P: Just to refresh your memory, I’m going to read to you what you wrote in the first paragraph of your introduction to the Stelzer Site report. “The Stelzer Site was first discovered after the extensive flooding of the Missouri River during the summer of 1993, near the community of Matson… An unmarked grave was exposed within a ditch cut by the floodwaters through a natural levee that borders an old meander scar of the river.”

JH: We went out there to recover it and to have it reburied…before it got destroyed by agriculture. The Stelzers were very nice to allow us to come on their property and to dig…because they had no obligation to at all, other than the Unmarked Burial Law…I don’t even think it was in existence then…if I remember right. (According to Mary Ann Reidhead it was very definitely in existence. She should know; she was largely responsible for the passing of RSMo 194.400-194.410. That law was enacted in MO in 1987.)

JH: So, what we found was that the 93 flood had left a large gouge…or the 94 flood…and it exposed all these pit features and houses that were there. Those houses date to about a thousand years ago to the Mississippian period…same time as Cahokia. We were digging all those features that had been exposed. We didn’t go beyond that area…in the farm fields where it hadn’t been exposed. So, we only looked at a small part of this overall village.

JH: It looked like it was probably a typical farming village for the time…where the houses were scattered along the edge of a big meander scar. It was probably a lake at the time they were there…they could get fish…and fish, was one of the more important… Everyone always thinks deer, but fish was more important in their diet than deer was. And waterfowl was also important to their diet…deer was like having a steak once in a while.

P: So, where you dug was one homestead. There probably were others scattered around there.

JH: Yeah, there’s definitely more…I think we had other pits that were associated with other houses…but those houses were just outside of where the floodwaters had gone.

P: What would these houses have been like?

JH: They were rectangular, but they were set partially into the ground. At this time, around the beginning of the Mississippian period, they start…using wall trenches…instead of digging individual post (holes) to put in vertical posts for house walls…the Indians did it differently than Europeans…where they laid there logs vertically, not horizontally. The French picked it up from the Native Americans.

P: Right. I’ve seen the French type in Ste. Genevieve, and there’s a good display of the style in the Gateway Arch Museum. And when I visited the Koenig property which was the site of Daniel Morgan Boone’s 1812 fort, Kimberly Koenig Beer told me the fort would have been made of logs placed vertically in a trench.

JH: Around 1050 they started to dig a trench around the edges…and they would make a wall, and just slip it into the trench. That’s what was going on there. It (the house interior) was dug about a foot into the ground…like a partial earth home. That would be used to keep it cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Before this time period, which was 950 to 1050 A.D. or C.E., they actually dug deeper pit houses…and those were more like true earth homes…where basically just the roof was above the ground.

JH: But at this time (of the Stelzer site) they stopped digging this deep. So, you see some changes were going on. Also, you see trading becoming active…where we were finding lead…and hematite, which is from the Meramec River valley…and mica which would have come from the Appalachian Mountains.

Joe Harl

Gentle readers: on page 41 of his report, Harl says, “Hematite was found… Most of these pieces appear to have been ground or rubbed. This was probably done to obtain a red pigment, which was used by prehistoric groups to paint their bodies or other objects. A large cubical of galena was found across the ditch from the human grave… Galena would also represent a trade item that probably came from the upper Meramec River.” And on page 80: “They probably acquired these goods by exchanging access (sic) foods that they grew or collected at a local market. They may have also supplemented their farm income by producing crafts. Shell or bone working was suggested by the presence of microdrills and gouges.”

P: Joe, you mentioned the importance of fish in the diet of these prehistoric villagers. Is that why…well, I’ve often wondered…why they chose to live in an area subject to flooding and mosquitos when they could have lived a few hundred yards away by the freshwater springs on the current Koenig property?

JH: The fish was more attractive to them, and they’d rather be near meander scars which had water in them or by the rivers and big creeks. Plus, if they had to go and get goods, or if they were traders…you’d want to be near… The main avenue of travel was the rivers until the horse came in…about 1700. So, all these “trails” people talk about…they really didn’t exist. People didn’t walk across the Ozarks to get anywhere; they travelled by boat.

Gentle readers, on page 80 of his report, Harl writes: “Although flooding was sporadic, it would have destroyed their homes, belonging, and crops. Despite this risk, the prehistoric occupants of the Stelzer Site still decided to live at this location. One of the main reasons for living here may have been due to the potential economic benefits. The alluvial sediments of this floodplain are very rich, making good farmland. The residents grew a variety of crops within these bottoms including maize, maygrass, lambsquarter (think quinoa), knotweed, and sunflowers. They supplemented these crops by gathering a variety of natural flora and fauna, many of these from within or around the slough immediately east of the site. Even the wood used for fuel and construction appears to have come primarily from these bottoms.”

“The site was also close to the main lines of travel, trade, and communication along the Missouri River. Although these people were living away from others, they do not appear to have been isolated. They were using pottery vessels typical of other Mississippian groups, and traded for goods not locally available…”

P: So, many of the so-called Indian trails never existed. How about the trail which went from here to Arrow Rock, MO where Daniel Boone’s sons harvested salt?

JH: Yeah, the Booneslick trail? That was after the Europeans were here.

P: So, you think it was not an Indian trail?

JH: It might have been…just starting…the horse came before the Europeans came here. It’s about 1700 that the horse came into this area. It (the horse) was widely traded and widely sought after. Certainly, the plains people had it first with all the horse herds out there.

Well I took it for affection…And I took her by the hand

She did not take exception…She said come be my man

And that’s why I left the boardroom…The condo and the cars

To walk across the planet…And sleep beneath the stars

‘Cause she’s so paleolithic - The girl is terrific - Don’t wear no lipstick, she’s way cool

She’s the crown of creation - Her own sovereign nation - In my estimation, she’s the real thing

Gentle friends, if I had had my wits about me, I would have asked Joe more about what they discovered that would shed light on those Native Americans’ daily life. But luckily, I have the 100-page report, and I will quote some of it to you on that topic. For instance, on page 14: “In more open areas (of the floodplain), a wide assortment of…species such as goosefoot, marshelder, knotweed, pokeweed, ragweed, wild bean, mayapple, pinkweed, cleavers (that Velcro weed that sticks to your pants, and grows even up here on Duke Rd.), among other grasses…these plants were potentially important sources of food and of raw materials for technological purposes. For example, the pliable stems of the sedges and grasses could be mixed with mud to create daub for house walls or could have been used for making baskets, sieves, and mats… Numerous plants could have been exploited…for food and medicine.”

Our prehistoric neighbors also used nuts in their diet including black walnuts, pecans, acorns, and hickory. Based on lab results, Joe writes, “…hickory nuts may have been the more popular nut resource.” Friends, every 5 years or so, I get the urge to eat a hickory nut, and they are good, but...too much work! The squirrels make it look so easy.

And I guess I have to talk about stone tools. On page 31: “Other remains associated with lithic (stone) manufacturing also were found, including cores, a hammerstone, sandstone abraders… Overall, the lithic manufacturing debris indicates that the middle to latter stages of tool production and tool maintenance were performed at the Stelzer Site.” Whereas “sites near quarries or other locations where raw chert was gathered, yielded a ratio of nearly 160 percussion flakes to one thinning/sharpening flake.”

She teaches me to knap the stone…And how to use the flakes

But when she stands that close to me…My little heart just quakes

She got beads around her ankles…Sunshine on her chest

Muscles in her arms…But it’s her brain I love the best…She’s so…

Paleolithic - The girl is terrific - Don’t wear no lipstick, she’s way cool

Our provisions are plenty - She got 20/20 - Her clothing is trendy, if you’re into fur

Pg. 33: “Utilized flakes were probably made as they were needed and then discarded. Flakes recovered from Features #4 and #17 appeared to have been used as cutting tools… These artifacts probably served as hide scrapers, however, five of these have larger flake scars…used to scrape harder substances, probably wood or bone.”

Pg. 78: “Deer, other small animals, and birds were hunted using a bow and arrow. Most of the arrow points used in this site are remarkably similar in morphology varying less than 0.5 cm in length or width. These were made by marginally retouching a flake. A side notched stem was formed to haft these points onto the shaft.”

Joe Harl had a lot to say about pottery sherds too, but I think I would need to be better educated on the topic to oven-fire it into anything meaningful. But I thought this snippet about jars on page 45 was interesting: “These jars were probably used for storage and cooking foods. A charred residue was found on the interior of some of the body sherds. The conical shape of this vessel would allow for a more even distribution of heat across the surface of the vessel, making it more effective at cooking foods.”

And what’s with all the pits in Harl’s manuscript?

Page 67: “A total of 34 features were excavated at the Stelzer Site. These include 21 basin pits, 6 medium deep pits, 4 limestone concentrations, 1 house basin, and 2 burials…these larger pits appear to have evidence of burning within…contain a number of pieces of charred wood, burned limestone, and burned clay.”

Harl then quotes Walter Hough who, in 1926, wrote a report on Native American cooking practices: ‘They dig a large circular pit 1 to 2 feet in depth with flat smooth bottom, heaping the excavated earth in a ring around the border of the pit. A heap of corn is piled nearby and rocks are heated on a fire. Everything being in readiness, the hot rocks are piled in the middle of the pit and corn heaped in, leaving a central hole down to the rocks. Earth is covered over the mass and water poured down into the rocks producing a tremendous volume of steam.’

Harl, pg. 67: “Feature #4…did not have any evidence of charred floral (plant) remains. This pit may have been used for other purposes, perhaps firing pottery. A number of broken pottery sherds were found among the charred wood. The smaller pits…contained few artifacts… These pits may have been used for storage.” Continuing pg. 70: “Features #8…appear to have been used as earth ovens.

And believe it or not, Harl reports that the pit (basin) of the house had smaller pits in its floor.

Two more pits were used for burial. One contained Willow, the Native American woman who was moved. Pg. 72: “The second grave consisted of an adult, male dog. The dog appears to have been placed into a pit feature that originally served as an earth oven. The dog was placed in a curled position, lying on its left side with the head lying near the front paws and the tail warped near the head. Similar to the human burial the dog was placed with its head towards the north, but it was turned so that it faced east. …it does appear that care was taken in the placement.” We love our pets, don’t we?

But let’s talk a little more about the Indian woman I call Willow. Doesn’t Willow sound better than Feature #1, as she is referred to on the page 23 illustration? BTW I’m including a photograph of that illustration. I hope nobody feels like I’m showing disrespect. It’s quite the opposite.

On pg. 22 Harl reports this about the forensic analysis done at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville: “…a Native American female who was between 35 and 45 years old at time of death. She appears to have been just over 5 feet tall. Overall, she appears to have been healthy prior to her death, however, a number of pathologies were noted on the bones. The lower vertebrae and possibly the bones around her knees show evidence of arthritis. The osteofication around the knee area could also be due to advancing age or stress, possibly resulting from this person squatting over long periods. Her left ulna also shows evidence of a well healed break. Portions of her cranium are slightly porous and pitted, possibly related to various types of anemia. Many of the teeth were lost due to postmortem events. A total of 13 teeth were recovered, 6 of these show evidence of dental carries.”

Harl also notes, “The surface survey suggested that other burials could also exist on this site. Bone fragments recovered appear to have come from one infant, one juvenile, and 2-4 adults.”

On pgs. 80 and 81, I was struck by this paragraph: “Extravagant items that have been found at some Mississippian sites are lacking at the Seltzer Site. Even the grave of the woman excavated at this location, did not contain any grave goods other than flakes, pottery sherds, and burned limestone, which probably represent items inadvertently mixed with sediments used to fill in this grave. The personal objects recovered at this site, the shell bead and limestone effigy (see photo of illustration), could have been produced by the residents for residents of this site for their own use or for trade. The lack of exotic goods could be due to these people living on the lower end of the Mississippian economy. It could also be due to them not needing symbols of social display, because they were not in daily economic and social competition with others. These displays were probably more important for the residents of the larger villages.” Likewise, I’m not inclined to make any extravagant displays up here on Duke Road.

Joe and I talked some more about his occupation, and subsequently I learned that his association with Defiance/Matson dates back to 1978 when he did his first field school. They sometimes lunched at Terry and Betty’s Bar…the same bar at which you could possibly find me at night jamming with anyone who could pick or sing. And that is just the segue I need to introduce my next interviewee, Becky Flotron Forristal. She’s a sister-in-law to Pat and Glen Frank of Augusta. Becky is married to Mike Forristal, Pat’s brother, and she lives south of New Haven, MO.

But first…a few more words from Professor Van Reidhead.

Paul: I recall that Glen Frank once told me that his sister-in-law, Becky Forristal, studied or worked under you.

Van: She was a student…she was Becky Flotron then. Becky was a student at the first UMSL field school…in 1977. That was the very first archaeological field school that we ran. I ran that dig. Becky was on that…it was the Utz Site. Do you know about the Utz site?

P: I do not.

Van: It was the village of the Missouria Indians…after whom the state is named. It’s located at the big bend on the bluff…just west of Miami, MO (in Saline County, 13 miles northwest of Marshall). The first field study was the Utz Site…Becky was on that. It’s a huge site…and in late prehistory, and through their whole historic existence in Missouri…the Missouria Indians lived there. That was their village.

Gentle readers, Van recommended a book to me about the Missouria Indians. I’m reading it now. It’s called The People of the River’s Mouth, and the author is Michael Dickey of Arrow Rock, MO. Look for the photo of the book’s cover if you wish to learn more about our early neighbors.

And now…meet Becky Flotron Forristal.

Becky: …we worked on the upper Missouri, near Marshall, MO…and we excavated a big Oneota Native American site (the Missouria are considered direct descendants of the Oneota). It was interesting work…I learned a lot…I was really young…and the area was beautiful. Van had his kids with him. We all…maybe 15 students…lived there in Marshall…6 or 8 weeks. It was a great opportunity.

P: Joe Harl told me about another field school project out here in our end of the county in 1978.

BF: It was a surface survey. We would use flags…maps…extrapolation of compass points…a transit. We did surface identification of projectile points…pottery shards. All of that is documented…somewhere (laughs). I don’t remember who commissioned that work…the county? And UMSL got the contract to do it. There were fellow students, Joe Harl, another friend, Laura Kling…she went on to UCLA to get her Masters of Archaeology…Joe became a professional archaeologist.

P: Where exactly did you do this work?

BF: On 94. On F. Those stick out in my mind…I mean it was over 40 years ago.

P: Did you consequently meet any farmers out here?

BF: Sometimes we had to get the landowner’s permission…I don’t know who was doing that…I couldn’t tell you any names.

P: Did you hang out at all at Terry and Betty’s Tavern?

BF: Oh my gosh! We had lunch there often. And we’d go by Pat and Glen’s house after work. They were on the Bottom Road then.

Becky went on to explain why the survey took place.

BF: They (the county officials) knew that SCC was going to be overrun with population…it’s like the NA people lived there…it’s flat…it’s easy…there’s the river…it’s a great place.

My friends, the story I have given you, only became possible when my neighbor, Glenda Stelzer Drier, placed in my hands, a copy of the 1993-94 Stelzer Site report. I was immediately psyched…not knowing that a whole lot of digging was still needed to write it. Thanks to Glenda and many other Missourians I managed to unearth enough info to make a cohesive (I hope) story. Now I’ll let Glenda have the last word.

GSD: I had to go to work, but I was thinking I’d first take half a day off work, and they (the diggers) would pretty much have it wrapped up, but…no…then I went to work and came back through on the way home…and they’re still out there laying on their stomachs using their little brushes…like the size of a toothbrush. I said OMG, but I’m sure that’s how archaeology goes.

Paul: And how did your parents, Glennon and Ruth react to the whole event?

GSD: My mother’s initial reaction was pretty much, I think…mystified? …mortified? …pretty shocked by it all, but when they found out exactly what it was…a very historic find…I think my dad was pretty tickled about it. They (Glennon’s family) had found peace pipe parts when he was a kid, so they knew there had been Indians down there…and they found arrowheads.

Gentle readers, since so much of this story revolves around indigenous artifacts, and since you’ve hung with me this long,

I ask you to now check out this beautiful song and video from Augusta’s own Gloria Attoun. I think you’ll like it. It’s called The Arrowhead.

And now, to finish my own song:

And when the piggies are squealing - She’s not above stealing - I get the feeling, she’s my kind of girl

A tireless hiker - My wife doesn’t like her - I feel like a piker, since I wrote this song.

Stay curious, take lots of walks, and report human bones.


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