Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Place Called Wolf Creek Indian Village Part 2

Where to begin with my relationship with Wolf Creek Indian Village? Those that know me personally, know I along with MANY, MANY others, have a very long history with the land the village is on and sort of the beginnings around it. Long before it was ever built. I could and probably should write a book on it all but I think I will just stick to the museum village itself.

Many GOOD people put in a lot of hard work and brought the museum into being. To this day, each successive crew of staff and volunteers that have worked there, have in their own way, made it better. Each like a bead in a story belt they are each a part of the whole. I'm really grateful that the history of the village continues at the museum today.  But it could take volumes to tell of so many and really I can only speak about my own experiences with the village.

The events and how it first began were a little rocky but that's for possibly a blog post that deals with economic development in the mountains, not necessarily the village or the museum. But this is about the village and what it has taught us and specifically me, about Native American history in the mountains. Instead of a 2 part blog post I believe this will be 3.

My first experience with the village was at the archeology dig itself. My dad had retired from the military in 1970. For an entire summer we went camping. We camped a lot when I was growing up. My dad, in the Army in World War II, had been forced to camp and he believed his children needed to know how to live that way too. After seeing many cities and towns in Europe just decimated and people having to live out in the open, he was very adamant about it. It's sort of funny how that also prepared me for my outdoor job at Wolf Creek.

When Howard MacCord was initiating the dig of the Wolf Creek site, we were camping in Grose's Bottom which is right next door to the museum. Ben Grose, whose family owned the adjoining farm for generations, would rent out this pasture on his farm located next to Wolf Creek for folks to spend the day camping, or for a picnic for 50 cents a day. It's the same place my grandfather Bane Boyles dies in 1975 fishing on the creek bank. There is a overhead view picture of the village dig from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and on the adjoining farm, is a very small white car at Grose's bottom. This is my mother's white Studebaker station wagon parked next to the creek at our camp site.

In May of 1970, while camping at Grose's Bottom we knew about the dig. Everyone knew about the dig. Howard MacCord made sure of it. In order for him to pull off this size of a dig in such a short time, he relied on local volunteers. It was in all the local newspapers and after digging all day he would go in the evenings and speak to groups about the dig canvasing for more volunteers. As I said in the first post, though the methodology might not have been up to archeological standards of today, what he did was a miracle.

I was in my early teens. I had never seen an archeology dig in my life. We started camping at Grose's Bottom probably 3 or 4 days after the dig began. When we walked over to the dig, I wasn't sure what I was looking at. Just a lot of bare earth. There were dark patches and pits and opened graves. The bones in the ground were a bit upsetting. I had never seen that before either. Grave yards were sacred grounds to me even at that age.

But there was this man, taking time to talk to all the visitors while he was working about what we were seeing and what he was trying to do, what he was trying to save. The dark post hole molds where Natives charred the ends of the posts before burying them showed on the ground in a round pattern indicating a house. The fire pits with charred rocks, how they were arranged showed how they could have been a documented way Natives cooked meat.

As he spoke, I didn't see bare ground anymore I was imagining and seeing the village he was talking about! He spoke to us of the value of saving what we were seeing. That this was history written in the ground. Those were his words and later on I would use those words to teach thousands of school children about archeology.

Howard MacCord talked about the highway coming through was going to put the evidence of this entire village under the creek and destroy these bones if they didn't get them moved. He then showed us how they were documenting all they were finding. He motioned us over to the pit he was working in which was a woman's bones.  He handed me a soft brush and showed me how to gently brush away the dirt without disturbing the shells beads she had been wearing. Something happened that day to me. I have to say that was the "DAY" I became a student of history and started a life long pursuit.

Now today, I understand the controversy of archeological digs on ancient sites. I feel it in my heart too. Especially from those of the Native American communities. But the Ancient Natives themselves inhabited and re-inhabited sites in the mountains. With our population, and geography there is no way sometimes to just leave things as they are.

In Wolf Creek's case they could have just built another bridge and today if the highway was being built, they "might" have done just that. Of course cost overruns and debt speak doesn't guarantee that any site will be saved. So what can you do? Except to document and remove what is in danger of being totally destroyed and annihilated from memory in the ground. The laws today are better at protecting new sites and with each site discovered new history emerges. The story in the ground of the first people has much yet to teach us.

That night back at camp was the first time I heard my mom and dad speak about that side of our ancestry. Almost in hushed tones. First time I heard my dad say, "We don't speak about that because it's worse than being black."  It took me YEARS to discover the stories, as to what impressed upon him that belief and why he thought that way.

He with his parents, grandparents and great grandparents lived through times, unlike today, that it was thought not to be good to be Native or have ANY Native ancestry. They lived during a time popular history books about the settlement of our area began to focus on wars with Indians that produced "massacres".  Yet they forgot to mention the massacres on the other side. No one plays nice in a war! His great grandparents lived after the Civil War when fighting the Indians out west produced the motto, "The only good Indian is a dead one".

Besides no one with Native ancestry was suppose to be left in the mountains anyway, they were all "removed". They could say and make believe that until he with his parents and grandparents suffered through Walter Plecker and the Virginia eugenics movement. Yes, there will be more blog posts.

That night I dreamed about the village. I saw two men and a woman, not dressed like any Indians I ever knew from TV, coming from the village site, walking like floating over the waters of Wolf Creek by our camp site and vanishing into the hillside above Grose's bottom. I actually got up and went outside the tent and looked. It was really dark and all I could hear were the night critters and the creek water over the rocks.

I went back to sleep and I dreamed there was singing, drumming and laughing coming from the village site and I was moving towards it. I never got there in the dream. It was a long, long way off.  They were not scary dreams just odd ones. Dreams I'd forget about because that was 1970 and I didn't remember until I return to the reconstructed village in 1999.

Wolf Creek Indian Village and Museum

A Place Called Wolf Creek Indian Village Part 1

A Place Called Wolf Creek Indian Village Part 3

A Place Called Wolf Creek Indian Village Part 4