Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Place Called Wolf Creek Indian Village Part 3

So Part 1 of Wolf Creek Indian Village was about the Archeology dig. Part 2 was my first encounter with the village personally. Now Part 3 brings it up to today and some of lessons learned. There will be more blog posts to expound on what I have learned.  I have to apologize that I am not a prolific blogger. It takes me some time to get these blog posts up. Those that follow my blog, know my illness really stops me in my tracks even on the best of days. If I have other duties then I am truly spread thin.

I use the spoon method with this CFS. Imagine each activity you have to use a spoon and each day you are given only 1 to 4 or 5 spoons (depending what symptoms you have) to use during the day and when they are gone, you are done. I try to gauge what I can do because if I go over, I'm crashed for a day or two and have no spoons at all!! But let's forget about that and talk about Wolf Creek Indian Village.

In the late 1980s, the Bland County Historical Society under close direction of a man by the name of George Schaefer, the first director, purchased what was left of the property after Wolf Creek was re-routed over the archeology dig.  They decided to create a museum dedicated to the village and actually reconstruct the village 200 feet from the original site. It was a monumental task but they did get a reconstruction of the village built in 1996.


First Reconstruction
I remember the first time I saw the village in 1998.  I was on my lunch break from working for a pharmaceutical company selling legalized drugs and the museum had an open house. They did not have the main building open or completed yet. The museum was in a trailer. Walking down the path to the village was like walking back into the woods in time and then at the end of the path was an entirely different world.

It was the size of it all, the palisade, the creek, the smoke in the air from the fires. I was taken back for sure.  Just being on that creek was like coming home. Made my heart beat hard. I didn't remember a thing the guide told me. I was trying to remember the original dig and where things were placed.

 It was a year later when I was running my own historical genealogy business that I volunteered for the village and then was hired as a guide.  I would not leave for 12 years. Being at the village taught me so many lessons about Native Americans and their history. About my own family history and my place today. 

But the FIRST lesson of Wolf Creek I learned is how much we have changed the environment to the point we can't build a proper village. Anyone who says that man has not had an effect on the environment should try to just build one simple, proper, structure like the first people had in this area using natural resources around us. JUST ONE, much less 10 and a palisade.

The first people here were masters at using the resources surrounding them no matter where they were in the US.  In building one structure it will surprise you how much of our natural resources are now gone or changed in Appalachia. Those resources changing and disappearing mean we can not, without a great amount of cost of transporting from outside the area, recreate what they had.

Appalachia has lots of forested land but it has been timbered to the point that what is growing today the trees are actually toothpicks compared to what was once here. Flora and fauna have changed. There used to be a plant called river cane (which is North American bamboo) and reeds, growing along many creeks and rivers.  In some instances we would have to plant and wait for the growth of plants to use what the first people would have found plentiful in Bland County.

The second most important lesson that Wolf Creek taught me, was how Native Americans are perceived to live from the past to the present. People argue over the correct way to build structures from an age when no one was there to record it and how to represent that history.

On the reconstruction, with the archeology dig, what we had that most do not, a map. The archeology map had the post holes of the original structures laid out by what was found. It was used as the basis for the reconstruction, twice. We knew what was found in the ground. What we didn't know was how that information transfers to recreate what was found.

This effected how to build the reconstructed Indian village. The first structures of the reconstruction were made like wigwams, because those consulted said these structures at this time period would have been wigwams. They were built to the diameter and setting in the places of some of the main structures Howard MacCord had mapped out on the original archeology dig.

These first recreated structures were shaped sort of like a wigwam, and covered with a fiber glass material coated with polyurethane resin. It was decided to construct the village this way because to have this many structures covered with large pieces of bark would have been difficult to maintain, killing many trees for the bark, as well as it being too dark inside, for displays. For a view of this first reconstruction here is a You Tube video.

The wigwam design worked in two ways. The structures did represent a structure on the map and they did fit the need for the "perceived" idea of what a wigwam was.  But these were much taller than normal wigwams and actually resembled more tall tee pee type structures. In an odd way they were accepted easily because people thought natives lived in a tee pee from TV. Wigwams, long houses and tee pees are the only structures most folks recognized, though Native Americans across the continent used many different forms of architecture.  The palisade was constructed of locust posts. The palisade, combined with these structures, though not accurately made but accurately placed, was awesome. It was the aura of the village size that made it impressive.

The layout of the village itself is what makes the reconstruction, regardless of how they are built. The original was said to have 60 to 100 people living there. There were times during the upkeep of the village I wished we had that many hands to maintain it!

Flooding over the years and the placement of the village near the re-routed creek caused significant damage to this first reconstructed village. I have seen the water from the creek up in the village over 3 feet high. Howard MacCord in his report talked about how the original site did not show evidence of much flooding. But with the removal of trees and the changing of the land over the years flooding now normally occurs on Wolf Creek on a regular basis. By 2008, flooding had weakened and taken out so many of the original reconstruction. There were only 3 of the original rebuilt structures left and only 1 could be used.

In 2008, the Bland County Historical Society sold the village and museum to the Economic Development of Bland County. First order of business was to reconstruct the village and yours truly is responsible for its design today.  The process was a long, exhausting research project that taught me many lessons. I talked to so many people; archeologists, historians, different tribes and tribal members. I went to other reconstructions such as Cherokee Oconaluftee village and looked at other sources. Too many to name right now as I left that list at the village.

Under the direction of Director Sam Wright, we begin the rebuild the second time. In the end, we went to the original archeology dig and the archeological notes of Wolf Creek village itself as the main source. The map of the village told us how it could be built today. What I saw was a village constructed pole for pole. Where the ancient ones put a pole, we put a pole, even if we didn't know what the pole was for.

There were still those that insisted it should be wigwams. We had friends who are Ojibwa and Cree from Canada who still build wigwams that I consulted with. When they visited they kept saying the structures were too large to be wigwams. Looking at the map they kept saying there were too many poles and the structures were too large for them to be wigwams. If not wigwams, what were they? They were not elongated like long houses. They were round! Great site about Objiwa Wigwams

In Cherokee they spoke of wattle and daub round houses. In Cherokee I learn they would use river cane splits or saplings and cover them with clay. These structures made much more sense to have been at Wolf Creek than a wigwam. In the early documents there were recorded reeds and river cane in our area. First European settlers and farmers complained about it. They fed their livestock river cane shoots and dug it out to get rid of it so they could get livestock to the creek.

We actually have planted a small patch at Wolf Creek. It is not along the creek but in the wetland, because one of the farmer's complained about it to us when he learned we planted it. He warned us that if it gets out of hand, his great, great, great grand daddy said it spreads like wildfire and he would never be able to get it out!

In the archeology notes, Howard MacCord complained that there was this heavy clay mud at the dig that every morning the volunteers would have to go to the creek and wet down the area where they were working to get to the feature's post molds.  Just up from the village there was a pottery operated in the mid 1800's with clay found on site. I am more than certain that with this info that these structures were not wigwams and probably were round houses. So I followed the map and measured out where the poles would have been, placing an orange flag for each pole and that's how we built what is there today.

I had a very dear friend who was a chief that was quite upset with the rebuild. He insisted on wigwams, he insisted we had too many poles, told me of other structures to include and to move fire pits to different places. I politely told him we were going with pole to pole construction and if he wanted, he could tell the ancient ones they put in too many poles and the poles and fire pits were in the wrong place in the village.

It was like a light bulb went on in his head. Then and only then did he understand what we saw the village as and approved. We still had to modify the doorways to allow for disabled access. We call that building an ancient village open to the public in modern times. The doorways were quite narrow and we left one as an example.

Mike Barber, the Virginia State archeologist, put out the possibility that the extra posts were replacement posts. If the village only existed 5 to 7 years, it didn't flood, what would they need to replace? What damaged the first reconstruction were flood waters, hitting the coated wigwams and ripping them basically out of the ground, not rotting in the ground.

Now could we build the village wattle and daub?....NOPE! The re-routed creek, unlike the original creek, floods on a regular basis and with that many structures a decision had to be made, since we didn't have the 60 adults of the original village to rebuild if it flooded, how to construct it with out much maintenance costs. Even the matting on the inside is placed up higher to avoid the flood waters when it floods.

But Wolf Creek Village teaches this comparison contrast between the past and the present. One of the basic tenets in most Native American teachings is the taking care of the earth. That the earth itself is not an inanimate object but a living being on which all life relies and when we destroy the earth or abuse it, we destroy ourselves. The story of the village and reconstruction is teaching the effects that man can have on the land today, in a big way. Man is learning a hard lesson in that we have to work with Nature not against it.

The village today is almost complete. I had wished to be a part of it for years to come but alas that was not to be. But the village lives on as the spring board of the comparison contrast between the past and the present story of Native Americans in our area. That is it's greatest strength as a museum.  Especially with so many Appalachians claiming native ancestry still, it was the place I begin to understand that belief, the myths and the work to uncover the real history.

My next blog post will be, "Where are the Indians?.....What does an Indian look like?" where I will discuss playing Indian, quantum blood, effects of treaties, removal and my own family history.

A Place Called Wolf Creek Indian Village Part 1

A Place Called Wolf Creek Indian Village Part 2

A Place Called Wolf Creek Indian Village Part 4

Wolf Creek Indian Village and Museum