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The Saginaw Valley 



Harlan I., Smith 

Assistant Curator of Archsology 




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By Harlan I. Smith, 

Assistant Curator of Archaeology-. 

The rude archaeological objects found in the Saginaw valley, 
Michigan, and exhibited in the American Museum of Natural 
History show that the prehistoric people who lived in that area 
were largely occupied with striving for the necessaries of life. 
The region, although not at all desolate, was still too far north to 
support a civilization that would leave traces of a culture so 
largely given to art and ritual as those to be found in Mexico, the 
Southern States or even in the Ohio valley. Such a collection 
of rather rude implements and objects has value, however, in that 
it gives evidence regarding the lives of the early inhabitants of 
the country. 

The objects from the Saginaw valley were found in such places 
that we now know where there were a number of rather important 
villages and a still larger number of small villages or camp 
sites, besides what were probably scattered habitations and 
burial-places — all of the early people of this region. It is quite 
evident from areas where certain stray objects were found, and 
from the scarcity of other evidences in such areas, that the peo- 
ple also made trips to points remote from the villages, probably 
for fishing and hunting, the gathering of fruits and roots or the 
securing of material out of which to make arrow-points and 
pipes; and that the objects were lost on the way. It would 
seem that the character of the country, with the scattered dis- 
tribution of its products, was the cause of the segregation of the 
people into small villages, and possibly of their establishing 
small outlying camps for the purpose of being, at certain seasons, 
near points suitable for such occupations as are above noted. 

The importance of the collection exliibited in these cases is 
chieflly that it indicates the character of the culture of the people, 
the location of their habitations, burial-places, caches and 



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A larger map of the cross-lined area will be found on page 8. 

->■ = UUDEFINEB ANTipunitS 

\u = CXMtTESY. 

The Saginaw Valley Collection 


mounds, as well as that it shows something of their resources, in- 
dustries and customs. It is undoubtedly the largest archaeological 
collection from the Saginaw valley, and was made and presented 
to the Museum by the writer, whose investigations of the region, 
although supplemented by later work, were chiefly accomplished 
during the period from 1883 to 1891. Practically all the objects 
to be found on the surface of the particular sites from which the 

W. Orchard, Photo. 

Wedge Shaped. 


About I Natural Size. 

Adze Shaped. 

collection was obtained have been secured; but it is probable 
that further search, especially below the surface and in the 
neighboring fields, would bring to light other specimens of similar 

The Saginaw valley, including the entire area draining into Sag- 
inaw Bay, occupies the east-central portion of the southern penin- 
sula of iSIichigan. It is a well-watered, level country, formerly 
covered by dense forests of pine, oak, elm, ash, maple, hickory 
and other trees. The lowlands are occupied by swamps, which in 
places are largely grown up with wild rice, known to botanists as 

6 The Saginaw Valley Collection 

Zizania aquatica Linn, a staple produced by nature in such abun- 
dance that it was of great importance to the primitive people of 
the region. The streams which were of the most importance to 
the prehistoric inhabitants of the valley were the Saginaw river and 
its main tributaries, including the Shiawassee, Flint, Bad, Cass, 
Tittabawassee and their branches, while the Pigeon, Sebewaing, 
Kawkawlin and Rifle were not unimportant. Bordering the lower 

W. Orchard, Photo. 

From Bay Port Quarries. 

courses of the rivers there are numerous bayous with low sand 
ridges scattered over the land between them. At the head waters 
the streams flow more swiftly and undercut their banks, and large 
bayous and swamps are less frequent. 

Chert or impure flint was extensively quarried and chipped 
into implements by the prehistoric inhabitants of the valley, and 
in the chipped implements found on the village sites and hunting- 
grounds this material largely predominates. A specimen of 
limestone of Subcarboniferous age bearing a nodule of chert, ob- 
tained at the modern quarries at Bay Port, Michigan, is illus- 

The Saginaw Valley Collection 7 

trated on the preceding page, and may be seen in the case. This 
outcrops in a nearly circular line cut by the head waters of the 
Cass, Shiawassee and Tittabawassee and intersecting Saginaw 
Bay near Point Lookout and Kay Port. 

When white men first visited this region, it was inhabited by 
the Ojibwa Indians. The name of this tribe is variously spelled, 
as Chippewa, Otchipwe, etc. Their descendants preserve tra- 
ditions that the Sauk or Sac Indians formerly occupied the valley 
and were driven out by the Ojibwa and their allies, while the Sac 
and Fox Indians of Iowa, for their part, have traditions to the 
same effect. A collection from these Ojibwa Indians is shown 

W. Orchard, Photo. 

About f Natural Size. 

in another part of the Museum (Hall No. io6, on the ground 
floor). They were found subsisting on a variety of natural 
])roducts, chief among which were wild rice, maple sugar, squash, 
corn, wild fruits and game. 

The prehistoric villages were located along the streams, be- 
cause of the importance of water, wild rice, fish and the land 
animals which frequented the river banks for food or visited 
them for water. Furthermore, the canoe was an easier means 
of transportation than the trail, and even trails were more easily 
formed along the ridges parallel to the rivers or along the banks 
than elsewhere. The outcrops of chert and pipestone also are 






1 North Island Workshops. 4 Bay Port Cache. 

2 Heisterman Island Village Site. 5 Sharpsteen Village Site. 

3 Bay Port Village Site. 6 Sebevvaing Village Site. 


7 Hoyt Camp Site. 12 Esterbrook Camp Site. 

8 Wright Graves. 13 Mobray Camp Site. 

9 Saginaw Graves. 14 Ka-pay-shaw-vvink Village Site. 

10 Germain Village Site. 15 Green Point Mounds. 

11 Ayres Camp Site. 


16 Merrill Cache. 19 Albee Workshop. 

17 St. Charles Graves. 20 Chesaning Mounds, 
iS St. Charles Mounds. 


21 Foster Village Site. 23 Stewart Cache. 

22 Peonagowink Village Site. 24 Morse Cache No. i. 


25 Wille Cache. 30 Cass Village Site. 

26 Fisher Village Site. 31 Bow Village Site. 

27 Fobear Mounds. 32 Cook Village Site. 

28 Andross Village Site. 33 Simons Prehistoric Cemetery. 

29 Lull Earthwork. 


34 Little Camp Site. 37 Frazier Village Site. 

35 Morgan Camp Site. 38 Tittabawassee Village Site. 

36 Andrews Workshop. 39 German Camp Site. 













The Saginaw Valley Collection n 

exposed by the rivers, wliile in other places they are covered 
with soil. From such exposures canoes could easily descend to 
villages along the rivers, while to carry the material by trail to 
inland settlements would have been laborious. The evidences 
from the numerous village sites and the burial-places, mounds 
and other remains, indicate that the conditions of life in pre- 
historic times were similar to those which existed when the 
Indians were first met by white men. Fragments of pottery; 
pebbles which have been burned and broken, probably while 
used as supports for the round-bottomed pottery cooking-vessels; 
ashes and charcoal ; the broken bones and shells of animals; 
arrow, knife, spear, scraper and drill points of chert; points 
made of bone for arrows or awls; celts or chisels; hammer-stones; 
grooved axes; ornamental objects, etc. — all are to be seen in 
this case. A number of such objects when found on the sur- 
face of the ground at a particular place, especially if pottery is 
present, constitute the evidence which proves the spot to have 
been a village site. Charcoal and ashes alone are not conclusive 
proof of a village site, since such remains may have been left by 
white people of recent times. 

Particular Sites. 

North Island Workshops. — At the western limit of Wild 
Fowl P5ay is North Island, on the northern side or highest part of 
which chert implements were found in all stages of manufacture, 
from the nodular masses occurring in the substratum of the entire 
island to the finished chipped points for spears, arrows, knives 
and similar objects. Here also were found chips, flakes and 
other discarded fragments of the same material, — the waste from 
the i)rocesses of manufacture, — indicating the site of an ancient 
workshop. Chipped implements of other material than chert 
have not been obtained at this locality. 

Heisterman Island Village Site. — The highest portion of 
Heisterman Island is the northeastern side and there the sand 
ridges slope to the marshes known as the Middle Crounds. 
These marshes are frequented by fish, and wild fowl assemble 
here in large numbers to feed on the wild rice. The rice alone, 
which does not border other portions of the island, may have 

The Saginaw Valley Collection 13 

determined the site of this prehistoric village. The limestone 
bearing chert suitable for the manufacture of arrow-points under- 
lies the island and outcrops on its western shore within easy 
access of this site. Hammer-stones, chipped points for arrows, 
knives, spears, drills, etc., and chipped flint implements resem- 
bling small hoes were gathered here, as well as fragments of pot- 
tery and a piece of a pottery pipe. Many of the potsherds are 
neatly ornamented, some by incised designs, others by designs 
made by pressing twisted cord or twine into the clay while it was 
soft. Another important locality is the one known as Bay Port 
Village Site, from which the grooved stone hammer used for our 
illustration was taken. 

Near some of the villages hidden deposits or caches have been 
found, fourteen in all having been discovered in the Saginaw 
valley. The specimens from a number of these may be seen in 
this collection. That the quarries from which the Indians ob- 
tained their raw material have yet to be found is possibly because 
signs of them may have been obliterated by modern quarrymen 
or by the grinding of the ice or the beating of the surf against the 
lake-shore outcrops during the many years which must have 
elapsed between the time when the Indians abandoned the 
quarries and the time when the first archaeologist saw the site. 
The caches seem to indicate that expeditions were made to these 
quarries and a large number of the partly finished forms were 
chipped, and that they were taken to the vicinity of the permanent 
camp and cached in the earth, where the stone would be kept 
from becoming weathered. 

Bay Port Cache. — One cross-section of a chert nodule and 
forty-seven "turtle-back" blank forms, constituting a cache, 
were found two feet below the surface, in the muck jungle, about 
a hundred feet from the shore of Wild Fowl Bay, and a quarter 
of a mile east of the wharf at Bay Port. The place is between 
the bay and the sand ridge on which the Bay Port village site is 
located. The specimens in the cache were found in one long 
row, overlapping one another somewhat like shingles on a roof. 
It is probable that the material of which they were made was 
obtained near the spot, since the outcrop of Subcarboniferous 
rock, which occurs for some distance along the beach westward 
from the wharf, bears concretions the material of which is similar 

14 The Saginaw Valley Collection 

to that of the cache specimens. There are several outcrops of 
this rock within a mile, especially along the beach to the west. 
In this cache there were some blades of peculiar form, having a 
straight beveled edge on one side. It seems probable that this 
was caused by flaking the pieces for turtle-backs from a round 
concretion. The first flake removed would be symmetrical, but 
each of the succeeding flakes, if the material were used without 
waste, would have one side beveled where the one before it had 
been removed from the nodule. Not all of the flakes had been 
subjected to sufficient chipping to remove the signs of this bevel. 

W. Orchard, Photo. 

From the surface of the Esterbrook Village Site. 
About I Natural Size. 

More or less evidence has been found of the existence of a 
number of village sites, burial-places, mounds and prehistoric 
battle-grounds from Bay Port southward along the shore of Sag- 
inaw Bay, on the western shore of the bay and along the lower 
course of Saginaw River. There are Ojibwa traditions also 
which tend to confirm the archaeological evidence. From such 
sites the quantity of material in this collection is not sufficient 
to warrant a detailed description of it in this place. This, how- 
ever, is given in a summary of the Archaeology of Saginaw Valley, 
Michigan, published in the American Anthropologist beginning 
with Part II, 1901. The fragments of pottery, arrow-points and 

The Saginaw Valley Collection 


other objects found on the surface of the sand ridges along the 
eastern side of Saginaw River in the city of Saginaw, indicate a 
number of village sites which were separated by bayous. I'roni 
one of the latter series 
there has been obtained 
one of the so-called 
" bird-shaped " stones 
which is evidently in 
process of manufac- 
ture. The greater por- 
tion of the surface 
shows the pits caused 
by " pecking," as it is 
technically called, that 
is, the bruising of the 
surface of the stone 
and the brushing away 
of the crushed particles 
until it has assumed 
the shape desired. At 
either side of what was 
to have been the head, 
the next process in the 
manufacture had been 
taken up, as is shown 
by the rubbed surfaces. 
It is probable that this 
rubbing was done with 
a rather coarse stone, 
and that the implement 
would have been fin- 
ished by polishing. 

Mobray Village 
Site. — This site, which 
is on the east side of 
the river in South Sagi- 
naw, had on its surface 

a sandstone pipe decorated with neatly arranged pits. Rock 
which outcrops in the bottom of the Cass river was mentioned as 

W. Orchard, Photo. 

'Fluted " celts are found only in Michigan and Wisconsin 
and this form is rare. Collected by Mr. Albert Harkels. 
Natural Size. 

i6 The Saginaw Valley Collection 

early as 1859 in the State geological reports as being material 
used by the Indians of the region for their pipes. It is possible 
that this pipe was made of similar material which was brought 
down the Cass by canoe, that being the most natural way; an idea 
which is strengthened by the fact that the early pioneers depended 
on the canoe, at first, for transportation along the same route. 

Ka-pay-shaw-wink Village Site. — This is a large village 
site on the east bank of the Saginaw river, just below the junc- 
tion of the Tittabawassee and 
Shiawassee rivers. The ar- 
chseological evidence found 
at this locality coincides with 
the Ojibwa traditions, which 
state that in ancient times a 
great villageof the Sac Indians 
was located here. A cache 
consisting of fifty-nine blades 
was found about a foot below 
the surface at this spot. The 
implements found in it are 
leaf-shaped, average about 
one and one-fourth inches in 
length and are of chert. One 
of the blades had been special- 
ized by notching at the base. 
This cache is known as Golson 
Cache No. 2. There are two 
large dome-shaped mounds on 
the western side of the river, 
opposite the Ka-pay-shaw- 
wink village site, and it is 
related by the Indian tradi- 
tions that a part of the exterminated Sacs were buried in 
them. They are known as the Green Point mounds. 

Wille Cache.— A cache consisting of two celts and about 175 
chipped blades of triangular shape averaging an inch and a half 
in length was found in a small marsh hole or periodic pond near 
the north bank of the Cass river about three miles from Saginaw. 
Specimens are shown, also, from various sites on the Shiawassee 

W. Orchard, Photo. 
Collected by John Rainbow on the Mobray 
Camp Site. Natural Size. 

The Saginaw Valley Collection 17 

and Flint river, but, as in the case of many of the other sites in 
the region, they must be here passed without further mention. 

Fobear Mound No. i. — A group of four mounds was found 
on tile land of Mr. Leonard Fobear on the south side of the Cass 
river nearly opposite the Wille cache, or about four miles above 
Saginaw. One of these was thoroughly explored in 1894 and a 
number of skeletons, besides fragments of pottery, chips of chert 
and other objects of like nature were found in it. Persons not 
acquainted with archaeological field-work often ask how the ex- 
plorer knows where to dig, hence a brief outline of the begin- 
ning of operations at this mound may be of some interest. On 

'£?T'" • M ,,^rSSfc 


Harlan I. Smith, Photo. 

first visiting this locality, the author viewed it from several 
directions and felt that the mound was of such slight elevation 
and so much like the natural knolls in the same meadow with it 
that it might be only a natural rise in the ground; but, on walking 
over the middle of it, he noticed in the short meadow grass some 
yellow soil which had been thrown up out of a woodchuck bur- 
row. Such material must have come from below the reach of the 
plow, since all the surface soil was black. In the yellow earth 
were several fragments of pottery, but such bits are to be found 
anywhere in the surface soil of the neighboring fields. A human 
tooth lying among the potsherds suggested the idea that a human 

j sif.imiiiin^^ . 

The Saginaw Valley Collection 19 

skeleton might be underneath, and that the knoll was in reality 
a burial mound and not a natural elevation, for human teeth have 
not yet been brought up from the interior of natural knolls. 
On excavating the mound, several human skeletons were found 
near the base of the burrow. Thus tlie wood-chuck, of interest 
to the student of mammals, was of assistance to a worker in 
another department of science. 


Cass Cache No. II. — This cache, consisting of 22 blanks 
and 12 pieces of nodules of chert, very similar to that of the 
Subcarboniferous outcrop, was found just below the surface of 
the earth, near the south bank of the Cass river, at a point about 
four miles above Saginaw. The 12 pieces of raw material lay in 
a pile and the 22 blades were spread out near them. Chips and 

W. Orchard, Photo. 


The Saginaw Valley Colleetion 21 

flakes, also, were abundant near the cache, and it is possible that 
this was a workshop, the raw material being piled in one place 
and the worked rock in another, beside it. The blanks found 
here included both forms described under Bay Port Cache. 

Andross Village Site. — This site is at Bridgeport, about 
six miles from Saginaw, and is one of the many which have been 
found on the Cass river. It is worthy of note, because it fur- 
nished the large pottery urn which is illustrated on page 20, and 
which is, perhaps, the most interesting specimen in the collec- 
tion. While a pioneer was plowing on the site, the foot of one 
of his oxen suddenly sank into a hole. On investigation, the 
farmer found that the ox had broken through the bottom of an 
urn which had been turned mouth downward over the head of a 
human skeleton. This urn is three feet nine inches in circum- 
ference and one foot eight inches in height, but before it was 
broken it must have been at least two feet high. It is reported 
that a number of similar urns have been found near Detroit, and 
one was dug up at Point Lookout on the west side of Saginaw 
Bay; but unfortunately all these specimens have been broken or 
lost, so that the Andross urn is probably unique. 

Andrews Workshop. — On the Tittabawassee river, as on 
the other streams, we find a number of village sites and burial- 
places. One is on a sand ridge east of the river, near Paine's 
Station, about five miles west of Saginaw. Here the wind had 
blown under some buildings and removed the light sand, leav- 
ing a deep hole of considerable area. Over the surface of the 
sand remaining in this hole were left wagon-loads of chips and 
flakes of chert, arrow-points in various stages of manufacture, 
small hammer-stones and a few other objects, all indicating that 
the place was once a workshop. The hammer-stones are merely 
pebbles that have been battered in pounding, or pebbles which 
have been provided with a pit on either side, so that the thumb 
and middle finger may grasp them more securely. These were 
used in breaking up the pieces of chert and bringing them some- 
what into the form of the chipped points for arrows and similar 
implements. It is probable that a bone implement was used for 
the finer flaking necessary to finish the object. 

Some copper beads which were found on this site are of particu- 
lar interest, since they show that the native coi)per from Lake 

2 2 The Saginaw Valley Collection 

Superior, was hammered into the form of beads which are alto- 
gether different from those made of the thin rolled copper fur- 
nished the Indians by the white people during more recent times. 
These beads had evidently been at this place for a long time, a 
circumstance indicated by the corroded condition of the copper. 
The copper salts due to corrosion are of a preservative nature 
and have kept from total destruction portions of the cord on 

W. Orchard, Photo. 

Nearly Natural Size. 

which the beads had been strung. Had these beads been of 
shell or stone, or of any other material that did not produce 
such a salt, the cord would not have been preserved, and we 
should not have known that it was of vegetable fibre, but might 
quite properly have supposed that the beads had been strung 
upon a thong of buckskin. 

Frazier Village Site.— This was a very large village site and 
was located on the south side of the Tittabawassee river near 
Paine's Station, about five miles above Saginaw. It is mentioned 
in the Ojibwa traditions as being the place where a large village 
was captured by the invading force. At this spot some fragments 
of pottery were secured which have decorations made with cords 

The Saginaw Valley Collection 23 



like those of the Heisternian Island pottery. A mound of un- 
usually large size is said to have been located on this site and the 
many human skeletons found here are supposed to have been 
those of the unfortunate Sacs. This mound has been entirely 
removed for the commercial purpose of obtaining the sand of 
which it was con- 
str acted. It 
seems possible 
that the site was 
really a burial 
ground in a nat- 
ural knoll of sand. 
A cache consist- 
ing of over 300 
pieces was found 
about a foot be- 
low the surface 
on this site. In 
the cache, which 
was located 
within a few hun- 
dred feet of the 
Frazier mound, 
were found four 
varieties of 
blades: First, 
large, black, leaf- 
shaped i m p 1 e- 
ments, about 8 
inches long,made 
of black, concre- 
tionary chert and 
having a very 
delicate stem 

formed at the tip of the base by two notches ; Second, 
similar implements, about 3 inches long, showing concre- 
tionary structure very plainly, the centre being black and hard, 
the tips grading off by successive rings to a comparatively soft 
yellowish chert; Third, small forms made of yellow chert and 

\V. Orchard, Photo. 
About 5 Natural Size. 

24 The Saginaw Valley Collection 

evidently intended for specialization; Fourth, a few of the latter 
specialized by notching. Objects made of the same material are 
only rarely found in the region, hence these were probably 
brought from a distance. A cache, a few feet from the preced- 
ing, consisted of one large, black, leaf-shaped implement, similar 
to those of the last mentioned and surrounded, it is said, by 
thirteen rubbed stones. 

The foregoing description contains but a general indication of 
the archaeology of the Saginaw valley, as outlined by a single 
collection. Those who care to pursue the inc^uiry further are re- 
ferred to the more detailed descriptions published in the Ameri- 
can Anthropologist, though even these are not supposed to ex- 
haust the theme presented by this limited area alone. Thorough 
explorations in the mounds, graves and village sites are neces- 
sary to supplement what is now known from the surface evidence 
and from the few explorations which have been made beneath 
the surface. 

Of the archaeology of many other parts of Michigan still less is 
known, and it is of the greatest importance that thorough work 
should be done in several centres of culture, not only in the 
Saginaw valley, but also in other parts of Michigan and in fact 
throughout the Central States, in order to solve the enigmas that 
have long puzzled the students of the early iVmericans. The 
Mississippi and St. Lawrence valleys are rich in archceological 
material, but it is almost useless to indulge in speculations de- 
rived from scattered bits of evidence from widely separated parts 
of the country. The time has come when our studies must be 
based upon exhaustive and detailed investigations made in a 
scientific manner, at one place. These may then be compared 
with the results of similar studies carried on at all other parts of 
the region of which knowledge is desired and substantial prog- 
ress will be made toward unraveling the history of the early 
Indian tribes in this country. 

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All money received from membership fees is used for increasing the collections. 

DEC 8 1970 7 DAY USE 



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