Once in lifetime find takes Dale Clark by surprise

Walking stick turns out to be much more than first appeared

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Dale Clark holds a Native American hunting bow found in the northern section of Wayne County. / Photo by Jason W. Selby

Around a year ago, local artifact hunter Dale Clark forgot his walking stick on a hike. When he reached the site, which he recognized through experience as a possible Native American campground, Clark found a long piece of wood laying in the grass that would serve to flip leaves while searching for spearpoints.

“All artifact hunters know you need a stick to flip rocks with, and for balance,” Clark said. Most sites Natives used to camp were not chosen for their ease of access. “The first stick I found that day worked great—in fact, it’s still got mud in it from me using it as a flipping stick. I could’ve damaged it even more than what it’s already damaged.”

It turned out to be a good afternoon. Clark found both arrowheads and pottery shards on the prehistoric Indian campsite in northern Wayne County, which date to approximately 900 A.D.

“All Stone Age tools are prehistoric,” Clark explained. “Once the French got here, [the Natives] started seeing metals, and they said, ‘We don’t want these stones anymore—we want a metal hoe, and a metal spearhead.’ The Indians saw the advantages of metal, and said, ‘This is the way we’re going to go.’”

In the sudden meeting between two different ages of humanity, one that was still nomadic and isolated by two oceans, knowledge was exchanged.

“There might’ve been 25 to 30 years of this exchange, but it was a short period of time,” Clark said of the relativity of epochs. Unfortunately, the newer age of iron and steel took advantage of its technology to claim land not rightfully its own. It could have been a peaceful exchange, one that benefited both civilizations.

“I took the stick with me because it was odd-shaped,” Clark said. “I hung it in my garage. I walked past it for a year, looking at it in passing. In the fall of 2017, I said, ‘This thing is odd. I’ve got to get that thing down.’ That’s why I brought it home—I bring home every odd thing I find. Some of the things, my wife just shakes her head at me.

“One time, D.E. Pidcock and Dean Kenny were at an Indian campsite. Kenny had an axe at his feet. Pid said, ‘There’s an axe right in between your feet.’ Dean looked down and said, ‘You mean that rock?’”

Pidcock is now 100-years-old and still of sound mind.

“Many years ago, when I started artifact hunting, I found an oddly-shaped rock,” Clark continued. “It was heavy, and I didn’t bring it home. I stuck it by a fencepost and thought, ‘If I ever come back by here again, I’ll stop and get it, because today I’m going another mile down the creek.’ When I came back a few weeks later, it was gone.”

Though it took time, Clark learned his lesson:

“Some of us are slow learners,” Clark said, laughing. “I got to looking at that walking stick, and I said, ‘That thing is carved. It’s been shaved.’ I sent a picture to the University of Iowa. They said, ‘If you think you’ve got a bow, that’s impossible.’

“I said, ‘The problem is, it appears to be a bow.

“They said, ‘We’d like to see it.”

As a member of the Iowa Archaeological Society, Clark attended a Board of Directors meeting the weekend of March 10. There, the State of Iowa positively identified Clark’s walking stick as a Native American hunting bow.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime find,” Clark said of finding an intact bow. “It’s almost unheard of. I’ll have a hard time topping it.

“Only rarely have organic portions of bows and arrows been preserved. For that reason, the major burden of identification has focused on the stone arrow tip, only one part of the complete weapon.

“I didn’t tell them what is was,” Clark said of his first contact with the State archeologists in Iowa City. “I told them I’d found a walking stick that is kind of odd. I showed them pictures.

“When I took it up, the first thing they did was look at these square edges that have been carved, and of course the end where the string was. This has obviously been shaped because of the straight angle. There’s been some kind of a carving done on it, and it’s been tapered.”

There is symmetry to the wood, as well as a groove for the bowstring. It is just over four feet long. Rot has claimed part of the handle, and the other groove is broken.

“Rot is a living fungus,” Clark said. “There are just a few components it takes to stop its growth. Moisture, air and temperature—if you control any one of those, you will stop rot.”

That is one reason artifacts in the Arctic have remained preserved longer than in warmer climes.

“Native Americans believed in an afterlife,” Clark said. “They would be buried with the tools they would need. Women were buried with hide scrapers and nutting stones, and the men were buried with long spearheads and knives.

“When I took this to Iowa City, they really weren’t that interested in it,” Clark said. “When I did some reading, I found it’s been going on for a long time that archeology hasn’t been interested in the bow. They were interested in the stone artifact that went on the end of the arrow, because it was all in one piece, and they had more to study.”

Clark would prefer to know the approximate time period of the hunting bow, but carbon dating is too expensive.

“I can’t afford that. In order for it to have been as old as 900 A.D., it would’ve had to have been buried. Around 150 years old would be the maximum it could be exposed to our environment.

“It was a surface find. I don’t dig. We are not allowed to dig now in the Indian burials.”

However, Clark is fairly certain the location he found the bow, arrowheads and pottery was not a burial site.

“There are burial sites within sight of this that I’ve documented,” Clark said. “There are nine sites I’ve documented around this— this site looks like the hub. It’s a low point in a river bottom with a raised spot—that is very common for an Indian campsite—it kept them out of the water in case of a flood.

“We don’t normally say in Wayne and Appanoose Counties that we have villages. It’s more small campsites, but yet it has the right traits, since all these other campsites I’ve documented can see this one. We’ve found all types of different age groups—it goes all the way back to Paleo times. Not that they lived there that long, but they kept coming back, for some reason, to that spot for around 11,000 years.

Wayne County has always been a good place to hunt and fish, it seems. However, evidence of a village anywhere in Wayne County would be a first, because there is no running water year-round. Streams freeze in the winter and dry up in the summer.

“If it was the Chariton River instead of the South Chariton River, we’d probably have some village sites,” Clark said. “Now, pottery goes against that. If you’ve got pottery, you’re not going to move with your pottery without breaking it. And I have found plenty of pottery in Wayne County, which means they stayed there for an extended period of time—it may not have been all winter, because I can’t believe anyone would want to spend the winter here.

“Why is it you’ll find more Indian artifacts on steep embankments or bluffs? It doesn’t make sense. In this area, the steeper the hill, the better the artifact hunting. You have to have a walking stick to get up that hill.”

The answer could be one, at least partially, of aesthetics.

“We like a house with a view, and we built right on top of these Indian campsites,” Clark said. “The Indians liked a camp with a view. It could be for more than one reason. Mosquitos are usually worse down in the bottom areas than they are on a hill. Let me tell you, if I was a person living out there, I would be living where the mosquitos weren’t. The mosquitos have been here longer than people have.

“Now, you look at the [disadvantages], how far is it to water? And you had to have water every day. You’ve got to go down this steep hill and across the bottom to get a drink. The reason was not convenience to the water source. They didn’t have anything to keep water until the pottery time. Before that, gut bags.

“If you look at the Cherokee sewer site in Cherokee, Iowa, there are three different levels of artifacts, and the deepest is eight feet. That means the drift, or something, has covered it. Over time, it starts coming back up.

“This could be possible too,” Clark said of the bow. “This was in a lowland area. It could’ve been covered with mud and buried for years, and now has worked back up—it’s possible.

“It doesn’t belong in my house. It belongs where people can see it.”