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The Spiro Mound: A Photo Essay- Book Excerpts

These are the same captions from the book.

Introduction to Excavation Photographs

The second section of photographs from Dr. Bell’s collection features pictures of the digging and excavations at the Spiro Mound. The caption for each photograph gives the time period during which the picture was taken, a description of what can be seen in the picture, and an index map showing the direction the photographer was shooting. The photographs are organized in approximate chronological sequence from March 1935 through June 1937. 

We began this project with a stack of photographs in no particular order and wanted to arrange them in chronological order. We also wanted to know exactly what the pictures were showing and that meant determining the direction the photographer was shooting the picture. Dr. Bell researched his correspondence files for letters from home that provided approximate dates for his various visits to the mound. This provided most of the needed chronological data. To determine the direction of the photograph, we located reference markers that would appear in more than one picture. These were normally trees. We created a map of the mound with the reference markers located relative to the mound. In this way we were able to correctly determine the direction the pictures were taken. For the reader who wants to confirm our conclusions, we have pointed out some of the reference markers that we used in the captions. The dark arrow on the map shows were he was standing and the direction he was looking while taking the photo.

Photograph 7: April 1935, looking North: Taking a photo break

A photo-op at the Pocola Mining Company dig, taken in April 1935, looking north along the east side of the mound. The diggers are in a trench in the third cone from the north. Sitting in the back is caretaker Dan. He lived in the tent in the background, where the artifacts were held before being sold, and protected the property from unauthorized digging at night. There is some speculation that he might have done some searching on his own at night. Standing to the left is W. M. McKenzie; to the right of him, in the hole, is W. Guinn Cooper, with K. A. McKenzie to his right. W. M. McKenzie is K. A. McKenzie’s father. Guinn Cooper was interviewed by Dr. James Cherry on April 3, 1985. Parts of this interview are presented in the introductory text. The person sitting on the far right is Dr. Bell’s high school friend Chuck Aronhalt, wearing his distinctive hat seen in Photograph 5. This picture was taken about the time the famous Bell-Townsend-Onken Blade was found. Although the diggers didn’t let outsiders know where specific artifacts were found, it is highly probable that the blade was found in the immediate vicinity of this trench.

This picture was taken after the heavy rain referred to in Photographs 2 and 3. The rectangular feature seen on the left, three-quarters of the way up the photograph, was also visible in Photograph 2. The large cone can be seen in the background, in the upper left corner. Notice the cluster of trees near the tent in the upper right of the photo. There is an open area with no other trees next to the mound until the upper left part of the picture where there is another group of trees to the left or east of the main cone. These observations were helpful in placing the locations from which different photographs were taken.

Photograph 18: Summer 1935, looking Southwest: Diggers at the entrance into the large cone

Dr. Bell did not take this photograph since he did not visit the mound while the tunnels into the main cone were open. He had received a message telling him they were finding spectacular artifacts from the large cone and that he should hurry down to the site. However, at home in Ohio, young Robert Bell had been in an accident that disabled his truck and he didn’t have the money to get it repaired. It would be the following April, in 1936, before Robert Bell, his father, mother and nephew would be able to make the trip. By that time, the Pocola Mining Company lease had expired and the tunnels had been closed by dynamite. (See Photographs 19-21.) This photograph has been credited to H. T. Daniel by some sources.

This picture was taken in the summer of 1935, looking into the main tunnel into the large or Great Mortuary Cone. The second, smaller tunnel to the left may be for ventilation. The people in the photograph are believed to be John Hobbs with an unknown person on the right, and the McKenzies on the left. John Hobbs stated the main tunnel was on the northeast side of the large cone. (See Hamilton 1, Plates 4 and 5.) Therefore, this photograph is looking to the southwest at the northeast side of the mound.

From the photograph, all of the trees on the mound are on the right side of the photograph or the east side of the mound. The left, or north, side of the mound is barren of trees. If we compare this observation with Photographs 6, 8 and 9, they show that most of the trees are on the east side of the mound, which would be on the left side of this photograph. This confirms that the main tunnel is on the northeast side of the main cone. The discussion with Photograph 21 also confirms this location for the main tunnel. Hamilton, who visited the mound during the first two weeks of the WPA digging, also placed the tunnel on the northeast side of the main cone.

Figure 12: The Tribute Points Frame

Mr. Schellenberger of Dardanelle, Arkansas originally assembled this outstanding frame of 205 bird points from Spiro. Robert E. Bell took this picture in April 1935. The picture was shown to Mr. Schwem who managed the local S.S. Kresge’s 5 & 10 store in Bell’s hometown of Marion, Ohio. (Kresge’s became K Mart.) Although he was not a collector, he asked Bell to purchase the frame for him. Bell arranged the transaction and, for $100, the frame was obtained.

Later. Mr. Schwem sold his frame and it was obtained by Dr. C. J. Bondley of Bell Center, Ohio, his brother Elmer, a postal worker in Marion, Ohio, and three others individuals. The frame was then sold to Irvin Dougherty of Fremont, Indiana. It is shown in Who’s Who #1, published in 1960, on page 30. Mr. Dougherty valued the frame at $1200. He sold the frame to Richard K. Meyers of Peoria, Illinois. The frame later sold to Tony Stein of Kansas City, Missouri. Pieces from the frame are now known to be in the collections of Tony Stein, Steve Granger, Steve Lyons, Roy Hathcock, Rodney Fant, Kent Patterson and others. Several points from this frame can be seen in the “Prehistoric American” Volume XXXVII
Number 3, 2003.

The twenty Tribute (Craig) points that make up the center design of the frame are part of a cache of maybe 25 points. One other example is located on the outside circle of points in this frame, at the bottom of the picture near the middle. Two other Tribute points have been shown in Figures 9 and 10, thereby accounting for 23 of a reported 25 examples. These are large, thin, well-made tri-notched points with serrations common around the base. They are certainly some of the finest bird points from Spiro or anywhere else. The first picture taken of this frame by Robert Bell was in Spring 1934. That means the Tribute points were recovered early in the digging and had to come from the lesser cones of The Spiro Mound and not the Hollow Chamber of the Main Cone (the Great Temple Mound) . Tribute points have been named Craig points after the Craig Mound (The current name for The Spiro Mound.) by Gregory Perino in Volume 3 (2002) of his Projectile Points and Preforms hardback books. We like the old name Tribute points and will continue to use it in this text.

Figure 1: The Bell-Townsend-Onken Blade

Many people consider this to be the finest example of Native American flintwork. This artifact was recovered from The Spiro Mound, reportedly by Bill Heydon Vandagriff, and purchased for $15.00 on the spot by Robert E. Bell for his father’s collection. The blade was broken in one place and was glued together with only a small chip missing, as shown in the photograph taken April 15, 1935. (The chip in the middle of the blade is about one-fourth of the way up from the base.)
According to Dr. Robert E. Bell, the blade is made of colorful Kay County chert from northern Oklahoma. (Proper name is Florence “B” Chert). It is pictured in color in Who’s Who in Indian Relics, #5 (1980), where it is said: “ this 13 1/8 inch flint lance has a maximum thickness at one spot of only 3/8 inch.” It was item # 103 in the Harry T. Bell collection at Marion, Ohio, until July 30, 1956, when Earl C. Townsend, Jr. purchased the Bell collection. It is currently in the collection of Bobby Onken. Mr. Onken has put this piece on display on several occasions to allow interested parties, including the authors, to view it. He has also published pictures of it. The blade is shown in the Townsend collection in Mr. Onken’s Legends of Prehistoric Art, Volume 1, page 97 and will also be featured in Masterpieces of Prehistoric Art- Volume 1. It was also shown in color on the cover of the “Prehistoric American” Volume XXXVII Number 3, 2003. Mr. Onken and others believe it is made of Kaolin flint. Whatever material it is made from, it is one beautiful artifact.
This blade was found in April, 1935. This would be around the time when Dr. Bell took photographs of the diggers at work in the minor cones. Photograph 7 shows them digging in the third cone from the north. W. Guinn Cooper is shown in this picture. In his interview with Dr. James Cherry, Cooper discusses the discovery of what probably is this blade: “and there was a fellow, I was trying to think of his name. I had his picture...he was a professor...He used to come down here all the time...He’s interested in this stuff and he bought one of those long thin, well you’d call it a knife probably...Yeh, it wasn’t flint, I don’t know what it was...but anyhow the old preacher broke it, I remember when he broke it and I pulled it out.” This would account for the fact the piece was broken. Although Dr. Bell said the diggers wouldn’t let outsiders know exactly where items were found, it is safe to assume that this piece came from the third cone from the north in the area shown in Photographs 7 and 11.

Figure 20: Spiro Swords

The story of the Wehrle Cache begins at the Robert Bell’s home in Marion, Ohio, in August 1935. Lear Howell of Glenwood, Arkansas, one of the dealers in artifacts from Spiro, arrives with some new discoveries, including a cache of these long blades sometimes referred to as swords. There were at least 17 of the blades, as well as three chipped maces (Figure 21), in the cache. Robert E. Bell and his father Harry decide not to purchase the blades. Lear Howell continues on to Newark, Ohio and to A. T. Wehrle who purchases the artifacts. Mr. Wehrle decides to clean the blades since they are fire-blackened and “dirty.”
As he soaks them in water, they begin to fall apart. They had been restored!

Many of the pieces had fit together nicely but some did not. The “restorer” had decided to flake the broken edge to provide a space to glue the pieces back together and cover the work by filling the space created with chippings mixed with plaster of Paris and plastic wood. The plaster was then painted to complete the cover-up. As reported by Hamilton (1952) page 43, “In a few instances green paint had been added in an evident attempt to simulate the copper stains which were present on so much of the Spiro material.” When some of the blades were put in water, the plaster dissolved and the blades fell apart, much to Mr. Wehrle’s dismay. Mr. Wehrle reported the unhappy circumstances to the Bells but, fortunately, kept the restored blades despite their condition. Upon his death in 1954, his entire artifact collection was left to
St. Josefina Catholic School near Columbus, Ohio, to be sold for the benefit of the school. The school contacted Mr. Ray Baby of the Ohio Historical Society for help in auctioning off the collection. In return for his help the Ohio Historical Museum received a donation of all the Spiro material in the Wehrle Collection, as well as other materials from digs in Ohio sponsored by Mr. Wehrle to keep some of the employees from his factory working during the Depression.

Thus, the story has a happy ending.

All of the blades in the cache had been ceremonially broken or “killed”. This was the only class of artifact that was systematically killed. Figure 24 shows three other swords that were obtained by Mr. Royer from Mr. Pilquist in fragments and then restored by Mr. Royer by gluing without damaging the fragments. Figures 22 and 23 show all the pieces from the Wehrle cache. Hamilton (1952) shows “swords” from the Wehrle collection in his Plate 46.

The material used to make these blades is difficult to determine due to their condition. The senior author was able to view these blades during a trip to the Ohio Historical Society in May 2003. Based on the broken edges, they are made of a variety of Mill Creek chert rather than Dover chert as some of the Duck River Swords. This would agree with Brown (1996) who has identified the use of Dover and Mill Creek for the large blades, as well as some being made from Smokey Hills jasper from Kansas and Nebraska. The Hathcock Mace discussed in Figure 18 above is also indicated to be Mill Creek chert. The Hathcock Mace is shown in color in the “Prehistoric American” Volume XXXVII Number 3, 2003, pages 26-27. The color in the picture has been enhanced as the piece does not have the reddish cast to it.

Figure 46: Repousse male profile in copper with two earspools

This picture shows an 11” cutout copper sheet human head effigy with repousse designs. Below it are shown two stone earspools with copper coverings.

The figure in the cutout can be seen wearing such an earspool. Also, from the occipital hairknot is a copper feather that curves up over the head. It is clear that this is not simulating a real feather but that it is intended to show a sheet copper plume hair ornament such as those seen in Figures 41 and 42. The eyes are almond-shaped and are within a forked or weeping eye design. This eye design is like the marking of the peregrine falcon. This piece is shown in Ancient Art of the American Woodland Indians on page 142, plate 100 (catalog number 95). It is also shown in Hamilton (1952) Plate 73, and Hamilton, et. al. Spiro Mound Copper (1974), Figure 88. This piece is now in the Ohio Historical Museum, the result of an exchange with Robert Bell and Robert Phelps of Marion, Ohio, arranged by Henry C. Shetrone, Director, Ohio State Museum. This piece is listed as inventory item 1393.1A. This profile was part of a cache that included eight copper feather pieces. See Figures 41, 42, 43, 44 and 45 (left) for other items in the cache.

Figure 58: Joe Balloun

This photograph shows the same basic artifact display shown in Figure 57. The pots are not from Spiro but all of the beads are. The man is Joe Balloun, an artifact dealer from Dardanelle, Arkansas. Joe was the first to officially dig at The Spiro Mound when he leased the Percy Brewer property that contained the small cone on the southeast end of the large mound in the summer of 1933. He found very little of value and abandoned the project before the Pocola Mining Company began digging. After that, Joe visited the mounds regularly and bought items from the diggers. Mr. Balloun was known to restore items that need to be restored. He was the individual credited with restoring the effigy pot shown in Figures 65-67. He may also have been the person who restored the blades and maces sold to Mr. Wehrle and shown in Figures 20-23. He was said to always be upfront about the materials he sold and would identify pieces that had been restored. When the Pocola digging was over, he took a large group of artifacts to Kansas City which are shown in the Braecklein photograph of December 8, 1935, shown in Figure 14. Joe Balloun was the main bidder against Dr. Clements’ group for the rights to dig at the mound after the Pocola Mining Company lease had expired. He was outbid at $600. Figure 13 shows a group of boatstones on a postcard that Dr. Robert E. Bell refers to as ones that “Joe had”, referring to Joe Balloun. According to Hamilton (1952), J. G. Braecklein, H. I. Player of Kansas City, H. M. Trowbridge of Bethel, Kansas, the Museum of the American Indian, New York, and others obtained materials from Mr. Balloun.

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