By John R. Hernandez, Jr. © 2008
When words cannot be uttered we look for signs such as a unique look, identifying markers and geographical symbols, which may lead us back to a time when things first happened. In this case the story begins along the rural area of South East Georgia known as Oak Park an area surrounded by rich farmlands, rural landscape and cultural heritage. The exact location of this town is several miles south from the intersections of Interstate-16 at Rt.1 and just over the Ohoopee River crossing is the city of Oak Park. This story is about the past, artifacts and their identification, and it’s about a patch of woods that one day will be completely developed and the story lying buried in its soil may long be forgotten. It’s an area to the north of town across the Interstate that’s under development and is surrounded by sprawling woods, which has a mixed but growing population of local residents.
Right here in the center of these byways along the river whose name is connected with the Yamasee Indians. This area in the county of Emanuel bordered by the city of Swainsboro in the north and other smaller towns such as Stillmore, Lexy and Normantown, to its south, has a story to tell. A story that I think would help define -to many- a forgotten piece of the past; a page in the history of Oak Park that would mark its place in time forever. A place once probably inhabited by native prehistoric American Indians. This chapter is about them, the Backwoods country, the forest that borders the town on the north side and the story that can only be revealed when one of us stands up and speaks out and begins to translate the words of the story of the past that these woods cannot utter.
They are making way for another road; at the edge of the forest the bush-hog leaves its ragged trail inward through a maze of twists and turns. It’s an overcast and drizzly Saturday Sabbath for me so I decide to explore into the woods and eventually make my way to the lake where my sidekick Baron loves to play in. We take the old trail down alongside the streams and over by the lakeside creek where the ground is soft from the previous night’s rainstorm. Eventually we reach another dirt road left behind by the bush-hog along with scattered bits of brush and tree roots.
Carved along the side of the road is a long stream where the rainwater winds its way through a maze of interconnecting ditches towards the lake. As always Baron leads on exploring the brush occasionally jumping down along the edge of the dirt road and into the flowing streams to lick a few drops before he continues on his imaginary hunt. The woods behind the house and just about all over these parts are filled with pine, oak, hickory and chestnut trees as well as other species. Long gone are the days when the Creek, Shawnee, and Yamasee hunted buffalo, bear and elk in woods such as these now still populated mostly by wild turkey, deer, rabbits and some red foxes.
Indians utilized much of the prey they captured not only for food but also for trading, medicine, implements of dress wear, and oils. They also gathered all types of seeds, walnuts, chestnuts, strawberries, blackberries and vegetables. Their tribal songs and dances blended together by the mixing of tribes like the Creek, Cherokee, Yuchi, and Shawnee are no longer a part of the melody of these woods. The clash of cultures that separated us from them is slowly giving way to the new clash of development and urban expansionism and one day we may blink and the sounds of the songs of the many species of animals and birds like, blue jays, cardinals and even the gray heron who loves the plentiful supply of frogs along the lakeshore will also be “removed.”
When I come back here I get a sense of what it would have been like a century or two ago before we walked into the still and frail past to disturb the peace of this beautiful natural habitat. Once I found a uniquely carved stone arrowhead in the backyard near the woods. I suddenly came face to face with the realization that there we’re other footsteps on this ground who’d left their impression on the surrounding horizon. Long faded of course, vanished by the passing of time; but, nevertheless others who lived and hunted here for their survival. I can imagine them walking along paths handed down to them by their ancestors, laying down seeds in the clearings or carving out a new campsite to settle in. Indian trails were handed down from generation to another and were identifiably connected to individual tribes of Indian clans. Many of these trails crisscrossed the continent later becoming the major byways used by settlers to conquer and subdue them, to help facilitate westward and northern expansion by settlers and for Spanish, French and English trade routes.
The trails that led over hills and valleys and even mountains also led to Indian campsites, mounds, hunting grounds, burial sites, waterways, and eventually to the one known as “The trail of Tears.” Waldman’s Atlas on page 179 details some of the more popular trails that eventually became famous byways for settlers and hints at the peculiar connection between modern day roads and Native American Indian trails. One southern native Indian disillusioned with the treatment of his people by white settlers once wrote that the leaves have fallen twelve times (twelve years) and still the promises to help them have not come true, the warriors have been killed off and only their spirits are left behind in these woods. There is no doubt in my mind that Native American Indians traveled through, hunted and even lived in the peace and tranquility of these woods. But then this was one sprawling forest as far as the eyes could see where they raised their families, traded with each other and perhaps even buried their own.
The gritty sandy soil and the trees swaying in the breeze on this chilly overcast Saturday morning are unable to utter a word; they will forever remain silent about the rich past of Oak Park, Georgia. But words are only fragments of history; they only reveal the objective truth. Beyond this, lay the trails, the layers of strata that hold captive artifacts lying buried. Tracks that in time may give up their scattered treasures, which when put together tell the rest of the story.
But, the story is here and where one artifact is found and there is reason to believe that if it can be authenticated, then, there where others here. It’s not hard for me to imagine, to look back, to see them because am apart of what came after them. I am part of the reason why they are no longer here. Yet, am sure there are some who have lived here or have moved on, whose roots go way back. Unlike mine, but who may be linked in some way perhaps by bloodline to the old inhabitants. To the old indigenous people from long ago whose obscure footprints lay buried beneath this earth, along these woods; yet to be uncovered. This is what speaks to me when words cannot be uttered.
It’s what walking along these woods does to me, it reminds me of the past, what it may have been like and what it’s becoming. Writing about these woods reminds me of when I first set out to put the Oak Park Herald-Sentinel together and its first stories. I remember after putting together a rough draft of the paper the feeling I got that maybe I shouldn’t be disturbing the past or the present state of things. That maybe some here would feel uncomfortable or even unfriendly towards me. That perhaps I was uncovering things that others around here chose not to be disturbed, but to be left alone and buried. We must remember that with the passing of time and the encroaching spread of civilization, the past eventually takes on a lesser and lesser meaning, to some. It gets further buried, paved over, forgotten.
The arrow point I found in the yard may be one similar to those described in Linda Culberson’s book titled, “Arrowheads and Spear Points in the Prehistoric South East” (2001). She says on page nineteen that dating archeological materials is difficult at best and pure guesswork at worst. That the “best method” for identifying artifacts such as these is cross-dating, “frequently used by archeologists and museums.” Further down the page she goes on to say that the dating of early artifacts, “can be divided into two major subheadings; relative and absolute” one being the comparison method and the other related to the more sophisticated carbon-14 sampling. Based on my comparison of Culberson’s husbands illustrations found on page 51 it would appear my arrow head is similar to the Pine Tree Notched Point a close relative to the Kirk Corner Notched Cluster types of the Middle Archaic period.
Max E. White in his book titled, “Georgia’s Indian Heritage; the prehistoric peoples and tribes of Georgia,”says on page 44 that, “Kirk type projectile points are found widely in Georgia.” In fact the far left point found in Photo 14 at the bottom of the page appears to be an identical comparison to the one I am holding in my hands, further establishing the possibility that my arrow head may be one from the Early Archaic Period. White states that, “At sites in East Tennessee, Chapman (1972:2) obtained carbon dates from materials found in association with Kirk Corner Notched varieties indicating their use during the period 7500-6900 B.C. In the North Carolina Piedmont, they were found in the midden overlying the Palmer types at the Hardaway site (Coe op. cit.), pg44.” The St. Albans site in West Virginia has been dated as far back as 6980 B.C and contains Kirk –type projectile points relative to those found along the upper Savannah River in Georgia, such as; the Lake Stallings, Ruckers Point, Greg Shoals and the Theriault sites.
It took some footwork and persistence in staying focused in the hope that my research would reveal the answers to my quest and it would appear that now I am closer than I was before and more at ease and comfortable with my findings. Finding an artifact is only the beginning, identifying similarities with other members of the same species -or tool in this case- can eventually lead you to the answers you are looking for. My next quest will be in trying to identify the knife I found near the spot where I found the arrowhead. Its identifying markers are in the form of a three-piece assembly; an antler horn handle about 5 inches long, a 2-inch metal center bevel, and a 5 inch steel blade.
Soon I will embark on that research and will let you know my findings. A great beginners guide for amateurs is, “Frontiers In The Soil; The Archeology Of Georgia” by Roy S. Dickens Jr., and James L. McKinley, (1979). The list of contributors and its collaborators makes it a good read. Needless to say this book has all the nuts and bolts necessary to get anyone started on his way to being a good observer if not expert in the process of working the statigraphy of a site from start to finish. I found a copy of this book and others here at the local Swainsboro Library and the Culbertson book I got from the Vidalia branch. Historical times are interpreted by periods, in the case of my arrow point, Dickens and McKinley show in their illustration on page 29 how projectile point styles changed through time.
The use of stone matter to create arrow points dates back from the Paleo through the Archaic period and interloped with the preceding Woodland period. Different methods of hunting prey and gathering foodstuff varied with the changing periods and the affect of climate on the people and the terrain. Hence the varying sizes in arrow points from the minute 1-inch types to the 2 to 3-inch and even longer spear like types reflected the changing style and taste for bigger prey. To give a crude layman’s example, imagine prehistoric man in the Paleolithic period hunting the large mammoths prior to their extinction. Then the changing climate of the Archaic period forced them to hunt smaller prey; because the groups were small the bands hunted for smaller prey such as deer, rabbits, turkey, etc. With the changing of seasons and from drought to wetter climates the hunting habits changed as well.
So it can be deducted that as the groups or families grew larger so did the need to hunt in packs and gather enough foodstuff to supply the larger community as a whole and so, along with this came the need to adapt, to evolve to the use of bigger tools lighter than the heavier stone types. This need for change eventually allowed for the adaptation of the cross bow with the shortened spear fitted with the steel tip point borrowed from European Woodland settlers. However the use of the Archaic arrow points continued on even through the Woodland period and this is why it’s not unusual for one to stroll across a patch of woods or farmland and stumble on a rare artifact from such distant times.
If you want to dig further into the science of Archeology and the history of natural artifacts then you might want to borrow a copy of the “Atlas of the North American Indian” by Carl Waldman, (1985), from the Swainsboro branch or you local library. On page 2 we find a map of the Bearing Strait land bridge and indicators of the migration patterns of early Indians from Siberia through Alaska, Canada and into the lower continent of the Americas. In the middle of the first column on page 3 it reads,”After about 25,000 B.C., new technologies appeared among Lithic Indians. Workable stone-especially flint, chert, and obsidian-was used to craft functional tools, such as knives, scrapers, choppers, and, most important for hunting, spear points.” This Atlas is like the bible, the invaluable authority on Indian culture.
The Atlas reads that, “one-third to one-half the Indian population in the United States lives in the cities…but few in both groups in search of economic opportunities and others government sponsored training…have been able to break out of the cycle of poverty, unemployment, and societal discrimination…the new found cultural isolation has forced many to opt for the poverty of the reservation…the 1980 Census population count put the number of native Indians living in Georgia at 7,619…” (Ibid 200-201). But all is not doom and gloom instead White saysin his book titled, “Georgia’s Indian Heritage; the prehistoric peoples and tribes of Georgia,” that, “…many Georgians are proud to trace their ancestry to some of Georgia’s original inhabitants. [Such as Creeks, Cherokees, Shawnees, Yuchis and the Chickasaws.] Although most of the Indian people were forcibly evicted from Georgia during the Removal of the 1940’s, scattered bands either evaded the troops [by migrating south or to northern parts of the country,] or were hidden by sympathetic whites. One such band of Cherokees was living in Banks County as late as 1895, moving to Indian lands in North Carolina in that year. Other Indians had intermarried with whites and remained. Their descendants, proud of the Cherokee and Creek ancestry, number among some of Georgia’s most prominent citizens, and are in many professions.”(White, Pg.135).
The names of roads, rivers, parks and other sites of historic importance with Cherokee, Creek and other related Indian names are found all throughout the state of Georgia. Reminding us of the rich past of our native heritage as well the legacy left behind. Yet, it is not enough to just admire the names and places where American Indians existed. But need to undertake a thorough study of their ideals and structural forms of government; their individual clan-specific politics and cultural expressions; learn further about their familial practices along with ceremonial rituals which, need to be understood in order to truly appreciate their history.
Thanks for visiting my page,
John R. Hernandez
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF SOUTHEAST USA
CULTURAL ARTIFACTS AND EMBLEMS BENEATH OUR EARTH
LANGUAGE OF INDIGENOUS AMERICA