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Campfire Tales

How I Became an Archaeologist—July 2004

Why I Love Archaeology—March 2005

The Drawbacks of Being a Field Archaeologist—March 2005

Boots—March 2005

2004 Annual Report

2005 Annual Report

2006 Annual Report


I was raised in the Delta in a small farming town, Sledge, on the banks of Hope Bayou in Quitman County, Mississippi. I grew up with cotton, rice, winter wheat/soybeans, cattle, hogs, and vegetable gardens. I was born in 1965, and saw the end of the sharecropping era: my childhood nurses were retired sharecroppers and we were still tearing down cabins for lumber and kindling wood. My family lost the farm in a FmHA foreclosure in the 1980s, when so many farmers were forced into bankruptcy. Now I am seeing the heavy gumbo land of our part of the Delta grow back up in woods. My father, F. Raynor Starr, Jr., had several archaeologist friends, who eventually gave me a job as a teenager. Before I started getting paid to do archaeology, I tried many lines of work besides my father's farm and my mother's hardware store: painting signs and folk art, breaking horses, mending harness and tarpaulins, cutting meat and cheese and making farm lunches in one of the grocery stores, picking pecans, and, of course, yard work. We were encouraged to work from a young age, and as soon as we started dragging hoes and machetes around they showed us what to do with them. Since I was 15 (then the driver's license age), the only legitimate non-archaeology job I have had was 4 months in a Vietnamese ceiling-fan pull-chain fob factory in Memphis-it was great, a lot like collections re-boxing. My first mentors were Sam Brookes, John Connaway and Sam McGahey, State Archaeologist, ret., of the old Mississippi Archaeological Survey (part of MDAH). They gave me my first paid archaeology job and with their encouragement, between 11th and 12th grade, I took the 1983 archeology field school from Janet Rafferty of Mississippi State University (MSU). We worked on a survey for Chickasaw sites in Lee County and the testing of a Gulf Formational/Woodland period midden mound in the Tombigbee River valley. The next year, while I was finishing high school, I met Hester Davis, State Archeologist, ret., John House, "Skip" Stewart-Abernathy, Jerry Hilliard, Marvin Jeter and many other of the Arkansas Archeological Survey (AAS) professionals and amateurs when I went to volunteer on salvage excavations a Mississippian mound in East Arkansas. That summer after high schooI went to work for Bob Mainfort (now also of the AAS) digging Mound 6 ("twin mounds") at the Pinson mounds state park in Tennessee.

My other professors in my undergraduate years at "State" were Dick Marshall and John O'Hear. It took me 8 years to get a B.A. in Anthropology (1983-1990) because I kept getting distracted by geology, political science, architecture, agriculture, undergraduate fun and archaeology projects. One of the best distractions was spending a summer in Montana and fall in Wyoming with the National Park Service (NPS). Throughout this time I was taking off whenever possible to drive to East Arkansas to volunteer on John House's Kent phase research. This volunteer work for the AAS and the MDAH was at least as essential to my training as my classwork and reading. Archaeology is a hands-on field, and extensive experience is necessary to make a good field archaeologist. After I graduated, I spent a year with the College of William and Mary contract archaeology as a draftsman and project director in Virginia and North Carolina and then did my first paid work for the AAS at the new Parkin mounds state park in eastern Arkansas.

Later (1991-1994), I attended Memphis State University (now The University of Memphis) and studied under Charles McNutt, Sr., now professor emeritus, taking a M.A. in Anthropology. At the same time, I was working as a project director and report author for the old Garrow and Associates contract archaeology firm in Memphis (and occasionally with the rival Panamerican Consultants firm), working mostly on Arkansas Delta and Tennessee projects. Memphis is the cultural capitol of the Delta; I was well advanced in grade school before I learned that Jackson was the actual capitol of Mississippi. In a funny way of coming all the way back around to where I began, my practicum (it being a non-thesis program) would report on my activities as an assistant to John Connaway, in the same minimum wage position I had held the summer after 10th grade. This is a very good entry-level position in Clarksdale, Mississippi, with an excellent teacher, but it isn't available every year due to short funding.

Since then I have worked mostly in contract ("CRM") archaeology, with a few agency and research appointments. I took many of these jobs because they were Mississippian projects, but of course along the way in CRM I have had experience with many site and project types, and acquired a number of other research interests including the geomorphology/geoarchaeology of Southeastern soils, loess, prairie mounds and earthquake sandblows and the archaeology of the tenant farming period and logging boom, including traditional Southern folk architecture and settlement planning, prehistoric and historic agriculture, and the historic stoneware potteries in the Mid-South.

-- June 2004

Why I Love Archaeology

As I said, I grew up farming. I have never been able to imagine myself married to a farmer and spending the rest of my life cleaning up after muddy boots, muddy kids and muddy dogs and always worrying about crop prices, cows out, will it rail, will it quit raining, interest rates, equipment prices, fuel prices and all the other agonies of trying to farm. Around here, other career options for women are pretty much limited to teaching school and clerking in a store or bank. I have said many times I would rather chop cotton than teach school, and I mean it, because I don't have to patience to raise other folks kids for them. I like teaching on a one-on-one basis with people that want to learn, but giving decades of intro to anthro lectures to halls full of kids listening to their walkman or, I reckon today, texting their buddies would definitely not be for me. I think it would kill me pretty quick to spend my time in artificial air under artificial light. Being in the woods and fields is one of the best things about my work. I am very lazy, but I don't mind the labor of digging holes or picking up artifacts. Even if the wind is ripping and the ground is frozen, or it's 100 degrees and you are soaking wet with sweat and caked in mud, a day in the field is almost always great. It doesn't seem like work to me. To a lot of folks it is pure hell. I hate to see someone get a BA without ever doing any archaeology work and then realize they hate being hot and dirty and covered with mosquitoes and ticks, because about the only other thing the degree qualifies you for is being a restaurant manager or going back to law school.

Archaeology is a great combination of brute manual labor and esoteric intellectual labor. You get to use your back and your brain. There is also a lot of creativity involved. A lot of archaeologists appear to be frustrated artists and musicians. Good writing skills and the ability to devour books are just as essential as willingness to be out in the weather. There used to be a lot of art involved in field recording and in drafting, although most of this is done today with computers. To me, hand-drafted maps and artifact illustrations still look better than the average run of CAD figures. Photography is a major skill for field archaeology, along with land surveying. There is also a lot of creativity involved in research and writing. On most projects you go into the field not really knowing what you might find, and have an open-ended problem that you can take in whatever directing your finds lead or, if you are lucky, you can drive your project along the lines of your favorite research topic.

Many students today are encouraged to find something they like and focus on it from the beginning of their career. If you know you want to study, say, the origins of agriculture through diet or the effects of paleoclimate changes on ancient societies through pollen or some such highly specialized topic that entails specialized skills in microscopy or plant identification, this makes sense. I have way too many interests to ever focus on one specialization. This is one of the greatest things about being a contract archaeologist. You get to dabble in a wide range of sciences and humanities. Much of what we do is straightforward socio-economic history. We use written records such as courthouse documents; Federal censuses; and local histories, diaries and memoirs. Sometimes we interview elders about things like early 20th century farming, logging, schools, churches and merchants. It is particularly pleasurable to take an elder to their old homeplace and talk about where the garden, barn and corncrib were. Besides developing ethnographic interview skills, we also draw on the other subfields of anthropology: biological or physical anthropology and linguistics. Sometimes we get to pull in linguistics and ethnography or ethnohistory in studies of historic tribes and their late prehistoric/protohistoric ancestors, or to draw analogies with distant parts of the world. Geology is one of my main interests, and most archaeological studies have to draw on local geology as well as agriculture and forestry in discussions of soils, water, wildlife, forests and other natural resources. Learning to identify trees and wildlife like birds, reptiles and insects has been a gradual process for me, and I am still learning a few trees and weeds every year. You also need a basic knowledge of chemistry and physics for such things as materials identification, soils assay, and dating methods.

A final reason why I love being a field archaeologist is the travel. Like the bugs and heat, being away from home drives a lot of folks out of the field, but I have always had an itch to travel. I never feel as at home as I do in a hotel, and I love sleeping under the stars in alomost any type of weather. I have gotten to live in locations scattered between Wyoming and Virginia, and to informally investigate local lifestyles, foodways, dialects, and economic and political systems. I usually don't spend long enough in any place to get an in-depth feel for it, but to me it is exciting to never know where I am headed next.

--March 2005

The Drawbacks of Being a Field Archaeologist

Instability bothers a lot of folks. Like I said above, it hasn't really bothered me that much because I can't wait to see what's over the next hill, but now that I have had a home for a while, I can see where they are coming from. Lack of home and family can lead to some pretty unhappy campers. Archaeologists seem to have a really high rate of divorce and roguish children, and I have had relationships end as soon as I said I was going to be gone for a few months. I always thought this was pretty unfair, as men have always expected their wives to sit home and wait while they drive a truck or work on the rigs or boats, but it is still a fact of life in our society. If you are really actively involved as a traveling archaeologist, you often can't even keep a garden or a pet much less take care of your parents, cook yourself a decent meal, or keep the cobwebs out of your apartment.

Alcohol and drug use have always been part of the lifestyle. Like lots of archaeology students, at first I thought I had to live up to this machismo stereotype, and it can get to be a really vicious habit. This problem generally crops up when you have a bunch of young folks marooned in a motel far from family and friends for months on end. It is largely a product of boredom for them, but as you get older and see that your agemates are all getting married, buying houses, and having kids and you are still living out of duffelbag and getting increasingly alienated from the rest of society, it can get to be a major physical and mental health problem. A lot of promising careers have been lost to substance abuse. I guess sexual promiscuity and addiction to television should also be included in vices run amok, because I have seen plenty of these on my crews as well.

Uncertain finances and lack of benefits are probably some of the worst long-term adverse effects. Some of the better contract companies treat their senior staff pretty well, but the technicians and temporary hires in particular get abused in the system. The worst companies will cheat you on everything from your per diem living allowance to your social security and workmen's compensation payments, and then put you up in a fleabag hotel and expect you to pay your own travel expenses. Many projects get underbid, and the project director in particular is often expected to make up for it by essentially working extra hours without pay in order to turn out a decent report. Most traveling archaeologists seem to live pretty much hand-to-mouth, and who knows what happens to them when they get too old to work. Besides often wretched living and working conditions, the pay is generally low, and most of the folks in archaeology are still there because they love the work and are willing to accept low pay in order to get to do what they love. However, the fact that so many people are avocational volunteers (sometimes even paying us to give up their vacations and weekends!) shows how much the people that love archaeology are willing to do.

A little hard work never hurt anybody but lots of folks have been killed by too much hard work. Field archaeology can get pretty laborious if you are climbing mountains, pick-axing through rock, wading swamps and briars, or toting sacks of dirt out through muddy turnrows. This sort of stuff leads to degenerative arthritis, ruptured vertebral discs, bursitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. I know when it is going to rain by the ache in my shoulders. If you can't stand going around dressed in rags, being out in all kinds of weather, toting 30 or 40 pounds of gear all day while getting et on by half a dozen kinds of bloodsuckers, and having dirt under your fingernails and everywhere else, archaeology probably isn't for you.

--March 2005


"Boots" is one of the archaeologist's favorite hotel and barroom conversation topics, right up there with snakes, weird locals, crummy hotels and bad bosses. When I was growing up, if my clothes weren't made by a seamstress or JC Penny, they came from my mother's hardware store. This included such fashionable 1970s items as snap-up flannel plaid shirts and non-Levi boot-cut jeans (not tapers and not bell-bottoms), although in first grade I had a pair of red cowboy boots I really loved. The worst part was the gum boots with red toes. You can tell Delta people by the pair of mud boots stuck between the cab and the bed of the pickup truck. When I was in college, I took whatever I could get, mostly military surplus lace-up boots and knock-off Converse-style tennis shoes. Converse type tennis shoes or moccasins are great for detailed excavation, but not safe for the woods. Anything with lug treads should be forbidden in an excavation unit. Army boots aren't very comfortable, and I have always been opposed to shoelaces. About the best I had back then was 2 pairs of used Redwing brogans I bought for 6$. As soon as I started making money, I started buying 100$ a pair boots. I learned that, as I had always been told, pointed toes and high heels aren't really for anything except sitting in a saddle or truck seat. Digging holes with a shovel pulls the heels off pretty quick. But as long as I could afford it in my 20s I went for style instead of function. I have since realized that 20$ gum boots are cheaper, slip on and kick off, last as long (about a year) as leather boots, have a tread, keep the chiggers and ticks off, and what is even more important, keep your feet dry. The main drawback is how easy it is to get thorn holes in the sole and the way they crack across the toes. Once they start leaking, they are the worst-unlike jungle boots with drain holes, they keep water in, but at 20$ a pair they are disposable. I think the main reason I wear them though is snakes, but snakes is a different story....

--March 2005

Georgia Giant. Year old and still watertight.












Agave, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

This large sort of yucca or "Spanish daggers" has fleshy blades. They live several decades before fruiting, and the rootstock formed one of prehistory's main edibles in the Chihuahuan desert. The flower spikes are very long and woody enough to be used for walling and fencing. This is from the McKittrick Canyon trail near the New Mexico line in Trans-Pecos Texas. The canyon cuts up into the side of the Permian reef limestones. The thorns on this sort of agave, like a lot of this family, are hooked down or back along the blade and they sting and fester like locust. Yucca-like plants are the main ground vegetation and another of the spiny kinds is sotol, a source of spinnable fiber.


The end of the year got here before I expected. In January I did a very cursory literature review and field reconnaissance at the WWII Gulf Ordnance Plant, at Prairie, near West Point MS. Considering 8 years spent rouging the roads around Starkville, can't believe I missed it, but I had never heard of it. The land is now MSU's experimental ranch, including the remnant of over a mile of 19th century bodoc hedgerow, cut down in WWII for olive dye, but grown back hollow. It was some cold, with several days with sundogs, and all we found were the 20th century sharecropper cabin sites, but then we didn't have time to look, so who knows what might be out there in the Black Prairie gumbo. The tenants were evicted from 6000 acres in 30 days in the spring of 1942, so there are good terminal occupation dates and extensive artifact assemblages, generally sealed under gravel or earth fill. Most of the concrete factory buildings have already been demolished without documentation. Gulf Ordnance produced canon shells and rockets, and ended the war with a surplus it took most of '46 to dispose of (didn't dig around the UXO trench). Mississippi had another stand-by plant at Flora that was never used. Some photos from Prairie are here on the webpage and a schoolmate of my father's in West Point showed me a mighty nice Mill Creek (IL) chert hoe from the Indian Creek or Davidson site foot of the bluff in Panola County near Sledge.

While it was cold in January, most of February was mild and the bayou stayed full (snowed on 7 Feb), so we had a good crop of mosquitoes by the first of March. I saw a geologist friend in Vicksburg the second week of February, where the Quince and Forsythia were already blooming. (She was busy with another house remodeling project). It is amazing how much difference a few hundred miles makes in daylight and climate. The weather around 20 February was pretty hazy, and satellite maps showed west Texas cotton land blowing out. At least they weren't toxic dust storms like the ones that are coming back in north China. Since we were both unemployed, by brother talked me into selling some of our timber on the hill place. Of course we both got busy after that, and I don't have kids for a tax write-off, so I will be paying for that. I didn't have much of a garden this year besides a few radishes and onions, which was just as well because I was gone from home the second half of the year. We had a wet and cool spring.

In March I spent a couple days in Jackson on the edge of the floodplain documenting a very well-preserved third quarter of the 19th century site, marked by a pile from a collapsed mudcat/stick chimney and a square pattern of cut nails and large fragments of whiteware. Since it was the kind of site that would be excavated in any other neighboring state, I recommended it for testing, and the outfit that did the phase II concurred that it was significant, at which point the developer called up his lawyer, who happens to be a trustee of MS Archives, and said "this site isn't significant and I don't want to pay for it." So the state politicians overruled the state archaeologist (who quit soon thereafter), this really nice site was destroyed, and further backwards precedent was established.

Missouri Botanical Garden

In April, I went to St. Louis for the Missouri Archaeological Society annual meeting, and heard lots of good amateur, student and professional papers. The MO Society is experiencing the same aging and recruitment problems associated with urbanization that the other state organizations are. I spent that Sunday at the great botanical garden and its affiliated prairie restoration reserve near St. Louis. If you haven't been to the botanic gardens in St., I highly recommended it for a day of botanizing and strolling in the huge Japanese and Victorian gardens. On 24 April, I went to Oxford and stood in huge tobacco, perfume, beer and cell phone infested crowd in a vain attempt to hear my favorite local band from college, Beanland, but after about 4 warm-up tunes, it started pouring. I was one of the last wet fools hollering for them to come back when the cops swept us out of the square. This spring one of our old friends worked on editing a Beanland tribute DVD "Rising from the Riverbed", put together by a Widespread fan that was still in grade school when we were dancing to Beanland, so I got to relive some of the old days that way (www.risingfromtheriverbed.com). My brother thinks I don't work enough, so I spent part of April and May doing his annual chore of bush-hogging JoJo's pasture.

In May, I went to visit an old roommate on the TN-NC border. They have a little ca. 1900 poplar pole cabin up in a little canyon with a good spring. She has found her a man to drive her trash-hauling trucks (no county service) and is an art potter (www.leroypots.com) and let me do something I have been longing to do for years, learn to throw pots. I could do that all day long. I brought back some nice BIG rocks from Jack and Nancy's place and looked at Leroy's "arrowhead" collection. We rode over to Knoxville and saw my current favorite band, the Flatlanders, for free, in a park, and I saw them again a week later at the House of Blues in NO. If you like sort of country/roadhouse blues and swing/cowpunk/Tejano pan blanco Buddhist philosophy, this is a great band. I left NO at 11 at night (they're old guys that play the same set-list every night, and are done when most bands are warming up) and by 10 next morning I was in Memphis picking up a friend and his sound equipment to run sound for a couple of clubs around South Main, for the Stranjbrew benefit. I got to hear some pretty good bands that day too, and act like I know enough to keep the feedback and reverb down to an acceptable level. About that same time, a lawyer friend in Memphis married his paralegal, and now they have a cute tiny baby girl to go with his little boy. His former fiancée and her husband now have 2 babies, sex order reversed, too. Our schoolteacher friend is in hog heaven with all the babies to play with that can be returned to their parents when it's all over. The wedding was at the neighborhood Methodist church in Midtown, and they had a big throwdown afterwards, where there were lots of legal types for me to talk politics with.

Bison evolution

Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum

In June, I went to the Mid-South Archaeological Conference at the new museum in Tunica. It was a real geezerfest, with all the main speakers being retirees. A couple friends and I were the only folks under 40 there (last year I can say that). It was field-school season, but no professors with students were in attendance. I'm not sure what if anything the topic was, it was a more-so-than-usual rambling session, chaired by Uncle Steve who says he is 80 and retiring. Also, I took my niece on a trip out thru OK, CO, NM, and TX. We had planned to go see the Pacific Ocean, but I was fixing to have to go to work. We camped at state parks and went to NPS's Bent's Fort at La Junta on the Arkansas (an adobe trade point near the old US-Mex border), spent a miserable cold wet night on the foothills of the Rockies, saw the Riverwalk in Pueblo, went over the Boca Raton to NPS's Capulin volcano and drove around through the Texas panhandle looking at the tiny but clean cotton, and camped some at Palo Duro canyon. Christian did good sleeping on the ground until that last night when we saw the tarantulas. They got some good rain this year and that country was about as green as I have ever seen it. My niece complained about the rain some until I told her how bad the drought has been. We also spent a day at the very nice university museum at Canyon, between Amarillo and Lubbock. I enjoyed the oil well and windmill displays, and there was lots of archaeology as well, including some old professor's hat that makes mine look almost reputable. Texas is a rich place, through no fault of their own. They have so much steel alone tied up in the oil business that there is no way their politicians could ever turn loose of it. On the other hand, anticipating December, I saw a couple of windfarms (dozens and dozens of huge 3-blade generating turbines) on the mountains in west Texas.

As I said, I was gone the second half of the year, directing a survey of about 3000 acres in the Pearl River swamp at Jackson MS. The cheapo I subcontracted with, instead of wasting money on me staying in a hotel, put me up in the attic of a funeral parlour of all places. The really creepy part was being in a sealed HVAC building with no fresh air and having to ride an elevator home. It was day-care in the woods a la Palachucola SC or Ft. Polk LA [I saw a story in September saying there is a tigre loose on Polk....] all over again, complete with drunk and irresponsible anthro students; arrogant, know-it-alls with no experience trying to tell me what I need to do; and a series of tall-tales sky-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night crew chiefs. I did acquire about my best "Yeah, well, let me tell you what my technician did" stories yet: One dude, a recent MSU grad, was walking around in the woods with a pillowcase. At first I thought it was just a sweatrag, but I finally had to ask. Turns out archaeology isn't for him-dirty, hot, work, bugs-but he has found his calling, and the pillowcase was for putting snakes in. He got a couple nice rat and ribbon snakes that all got loose in his apartment complex. On 19 October, four of us had been standing around a test unit for a couple of hours when I almost stepped on a copperhead. He took it home. It wouldn't eat mice or lizards or crickets. He called me up one night, smashed, and says, "I gon kill that copperhead. If it won't eat tomorrow, I gon kill it. How should I kill it?" That was more than I needed to know. He showed up a week or so later with a finger like a polish sausage that got left on the grill overnight. Don't try to force-feed poisonous snakes; they eat when they ready to eat.

We found lots of Dalton (7000 BC) and Marksville (200 AD) sites, almost all very well-preserved, including a Dalton feature, which I reckon is cool if you are interested in such, but almost no Mississippian or nineteenth century evidence. The woods were very pretty, mostly oak-hickory that hasn't been cut-over very often, with the occasional huge cypress, tupelo gum or beech. I had been afraid it was going to be a cane and grapevine hell, but it was almost all easy going with loamy soils, just a little hot at the outset (95 F by 9 in the morning and still there at 6 in the evening). It started cooling off with all the hurricanes in August and September. I got real familiar with Jackson streets and fast food, moreso than I have in the last 20 years, and spent lots of time leaning on the counter at the Forestry Suppliers toy wonderland. Got thru it all without once laying eyes on my finally completely former boyfriend.

Red Adair died at 89, as announced on the radio 8 September. SAFETY FIRST! Also in September, I went up to Paragould, for the Arkansas Archeological Society meeting, and heard some interesting papers and got to visit with some old friends there. I reckon the best was the Survey's new rockshelter rockart documentation in 3-D for internet use. I stopped on the way back to Jackson to look at an earthquake-disrupted Woodland puzzle site my friend Maria was excavating for the highway widening at Gilmore, the site of the awful bus wreak this fall. I've got six months of writing ahead of me, but I think she really has her work cut out for her. Of course, she works for a real archaeology company, complete with lab workers. October 1, they said Jimmy Carter is 80 years old this year. In October, I went back up to NC to see my friend get married (which she had said she would never do). It was at a pretty chapel on the Methodist Junluska resort, and (they being from the Gulf Coast) it was one hell of a party afterwards, with music by Sons of Ralph, an antique guitar and mandolin picker backed up by three twenty-odd year-olds. Just seeing the hill folk doing the chicken scratch was worth the trip up and back. It was hard to believe I was waking up by a freshwater stream in a cool dark canyon instead of in a stinky noisy city, but that was over soon enough. Lots of Jackson folk were there and all wanted to know about the Pearl River project; with comments ranging from "That's crazy! They can't do that, can they?" to "They're going to build it, aren't they? It would really develop that part of town." (It's not a town, son, it's a alligator and water moccasin infested swamp!) In November, I was so sick with the flu, I didn't even care about listening to election returns. That's pretty sick if I'm not fascinated by anything political. That one was a nail-biter to the end. I was incredulous that the Democrats couldn't start anything better than another dead horse. I was standing at the town hall in my pajamas about to fall out and wondering what to do, when it came to me that at least I wasn't having to decide between McClain and Clark (and never will, as short and honest as they are).

We didn't get a frost until 1 December. In December, I went up to Fayetteville AR for the annual Stigler Lectures; this year's was George Lankford talking about his chapter in the new "Hawks, Heroes, and Open Hands" art history book, focusing on star myths and other aspects of Creek cosmology, followed by Thai supper at one of my favorite restaurants with my friend mentioned above on the highway job, just out of the field too with some good "Well, let me tell you what my technician did" stories, and got to visit with the AR Survey folks and some other friends. They (the Survey's Sponsored Research Program) have been digging a ca. 1815 site, alleged to be an inn, but out of a huge and diverse assemblage no liquor bottles or smoking pipes. Most peculiar; Quakers? My other friends Midcontinental Research Associates Inc. had also just gotten through with another of the highway jobs complete with mystery objects-conical baked silt hearth furniture-at Tyronza (see Cyrus Thomas's BAE Mounds Report). I had just bought a load of lumber intending to build a smokehouse/toolshed, but seeing that they had converted their potato house into a sauna (not a nasty, slimy, dark, muddy sweatlodge but an immaculately joined cypress room by Bob Cande with an electric heater and a Mycenaean decorative scheme) has made me reevaluate my building schemes.

Bottomless Lakes State Park, New Mexico

There are a series of deep karsts along the Llano Estacado at this campground and swimming hole. The state also stocks the lakes with trout. Runoff from the Gaudalupe Mountains flows below the Pecos River valley and upwells on the west edge of the Llano forming solution sinkholes (karst). Due to the rain this year, the were also several playas (shallow seasonal lakes) flooding much of the park. I wasn't expecting to need my gum boots in the desert in the winter but I actually used them several times.

Monahan Sand Dunes State Park, Texas

East of the Pecos are extensive Pleistocene dune fields. Some are stabilized by vegetation, but these here are still actively shifting with the prevailing wind from the west. There were lots of birds and lizards in the grass and brush. The Pecos River basin is limestone dominated so I'm not sure what the source of the sand is, but there area also siltstones (like the Delaware Mountains south of the Guadalupe Mountains) and sandstones, as well as a some volcanics.

As soon as I got through in Jackson, I had intended to go to Arizona or Utah to see my sister and brother-in-law, but a client called with 2 local 25-mile waterline surveys, so I went to wading cotton stalks and ricefields and didn't get as much of a vacation as I thought I deserved. I did ride out through Dallas-Ft.Worth, where I got to meet a distant cousin and talk a little genealogy, and then went to the Odessa meteor crater, Monahans sand dunes state park, Carlsbad Caverns, and Sonora Cave. For 6$ you get up to 3 days unattended at Carlsbad; for 20$ you get the hour-long jester-led cattledrive through Sonora. Carlsbad is as big as all the other caves I've been in together. Sonora was the most fantastically ornamented cave I've ever seen, including some types of flowstone formations I had ever seen before and can't begin to explain. [I will interject here that some of the 1942 factory buildings at Prairie had 15 and 20 cm long soda-straw type stalactites forming on their ceilings, larger and softer but otherwise like those we found last year in the mid-20th century ore crusher on Iron Mountain in Birmingham.] Mostly I rode around in the Pecos valley looking at some very clean but small stripper cotton, pecan groves with in-ground irrigation, truck farms (cabbage and onion) and dairy/alfalfa farms. I guess a pecan grove surrounded with rice and bayous would look as funny to them as one in the cactus and agave does to me. I went to the most peculiar Bottomless Lakes sinkhole state park on the west flank of the Llano Estacado near Roswell NM and to 2 mountains called El Capitan at either end of the Guadalupe Mts. I am afraid I am not a very good hiker; I walk with my head down looking for flakes I can't pick up and don't know what to do with my hands without a shovel and screen. At least I can still carry my notebook. I didn't really see many cultural or historical sites; it was mostly a geologizing trip, but I did spend most of a day in the local museum in Pecos. The brands, barbwire, saddle and hat collections are great, but the Indian room was full of un-interpreted fossils, agates, rattlers up to about 14 buttons, and green felt boards with arrowheads glued on. Oh, well. I saw a few cows here and there, mostly Angus and black crosses, and they all looked fat and the grass good. Then I went down thru the Rio Grande valley (Del Rio and Eagle Pass remind me of Charleston or Savannah with the palms and magnolias, pastel houses and fancy iron work; I could live there) to get my father and his cousin some grapefruit, and drove all day from McAllen TX as the blue norther was rolling in. Somehow I missed Shreveport and Texarkana and crossed the Sabine at Logansport, of all places, where the snow started. I came within a few centimeters of being involved in a huge bad wreak in Houston, but did fine till I had a blowout at Grenada (within about an hour of home), so now my truck is in the shop there. I got to spend a couple hours in a gas station in Grenada waiting for a ride at 2 in the morning, but the wreak was worth it, getting to eavesdrop on an extensive gossip session concerning hunting, crack, AIDS, why won't she work, why won't they go to church, and the ever-popular whose baby is by whom (evidently mostly Willie's, or at least they all look like him, especially the white girl in Batesville's).

El Capitan, Gaudalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

I saw this mountain from a distance for several days. It is the south bluff of this segment of the Permian limestone coral reef. The other Capitan mountain on the Lincoln National Forest at Arabela, New Mexico is a granite plutonic intrusion. Most of the volcanics out here are extrusive lavas and ashes. It is likewise seen from 75 or so miles away. The mountain heights form noticeable refuges of trees (mostly scrub oak and cedar) and mule deer above the surrounding Chihuahuan desert.

Cousin Louie spent Christmas with us and is toting his bag of grapefruit back to France (at Thanksgiving he was crying about how his shipper sent him Florida grapefruit this year, which was unacceptable), and my brother and his family came over for a late dinner of the traditional ham, dressing and turkey gravy, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, and pickles and olives. I got apples, oranges, and chocolate in my stocking, but no walnuts. My brother gave me some briar pants with waterproof seat. He asked me for a 300$ 1943 Mauser "since you're sitting on so much money", but he didn't get it. I paid his property tax instead. The kids got tons of toys, including train set and real motorcycle. Sledge and Oxford were covered with sleet for almost a week, and my brother wrecked his truck, too. One of my old schoolmates is back down home and playing a New Year show at a blues joint in Clarksdale; I had wanted to go, but sitting in the Toyota dealership yesterday going thru the last three weeks of papers read that it has been sold out for weeks. So I reckon I will stay in Sledge and shoot rockets. They ran Santa letters; the best was a request for "three flashlights and a roll of duct tape" which ranks up there with one I saw a couple of years ago whilst working on the Homochitto NF, "All I want is an ax and a pair of scissors. I promise to be careful."

My good cat Scooter spent a big part of the fall unjustly imprisoned in the funeral parlour. My mother has gotten interested in feeding and watching birds, which is not exactly compatible with my father's cat raising. If you just shake the BB gun, the cats scatter. We only added 3 cats to the herd this year, and Daddy only has 10 beagles left from 3 litters. I would do anything to have that pen full of yardfowl again. There was a Stella guitar in a Memphis store I have been playing around with and lusting after for a couple of years; and finally had enough to buy it, but tragically it fell off the wall before I could blow my summer's wages on it. Well, a 60$ pawnshop guitar is all I will ever need anyhow. I didn't complete a single acceptable artwork this year, but getting to throw on a wheel was great fun. I lied to my friends when I said I was going to write some songs this summer, because I didn't do much good there either. Nor did I publish anything or read papers at any meetings. Maybe I will do better on all fronts next year; my house is full of unfinished paintings, songs and articles. Turns out this was a pretty busy year, at about 40,000 miles. Looks like I did more than I thought I did. I hope y'all are all doing well, and that I will get to see everybody soon.

Best wishes for peace and prosperity in 2005.

Culvert, Seminole Canyon State Park, Texas

In the 1880s the Southern Pacific was driven through some awful country along the Rio Grande valley and western Edwards Plateau. The state park includes a section of old grade with cut limestone culverts. This line was only used for about a decade before replacement. Like anywhere else out here, artifact scatters are very evident-no shovel testing for these folks, just put your chaps on and go. There was a Chinese rail workers camp documented hereabouts.

Christmas letter 05


 Aspens, Colorado , July.



Aspen trees in November, Colorado .

Howdy Family and Friends,                                                                                               31 December 2005

The year started with disaster and hasn't much let up. I felt pretty good that I worked so much last year because this was one of the first times when a call for aid for the tsunami in the Indian Ocean went out I could do something besides feel sorry for the homeless folks. I had a poor camellia crop compared to the huge number of flowers on 2004. January started out warm and sunny in the daytime and foggy at night, in the 70s some days, with some spells of wind and rain; the only really cold day was 17 degrees on the 16/17th. The frogs were awake, as well as the mosquitoes, and our bayou and the Coldwater River stayed full. I took on one of my workers from the Pearl River survey to help me do a waterline survey in Coahoma County; we found lots of tenant sites and that's about all-mostly leveled/rolled rice and bean land south of Dublin and some cotton ground with old houses and cemeteries to the north. See Resources>Environment for the Dublin Gin and cottonyard.

Since I wreaked my truck on the way home from vacation (drove thousands of miles, including that day from McAllen, and then had a blowout and hit a bridge an hour from home) and they (Kirk Toyota in Grenada) didn't get my truck back to me for a month and a half. February was about the same as January weather wise, maybe a little colder, but we were putting up meat with it in the 40s.The deer were thick; one night about 3 on my way home from Oxford , I saw 18 deer along the road at Mt. Olive, Panola County. I didn't have any quince flowers or fruit this year. The crocus started blooming on the 4th, daffodils on the 11th and the box blooming on the 21st (when it hit 80 degrees) as well as wasps and bees all along. We just had a few showers and a couple of 1" rains, which was the set-up for a drought year. We had lots of geese on Pecan Lake all month. Our cousin Louie came to visit. My brother-in-law helped me with another waterline survey down in the south end of Quitman County; that pastey scoundrel got red. We got to visit a few prehistoric sites as well as lots of tenant sites, and got photos of some mounds with the vegetation down. This was mostly the higher silty cotton ground along the river, and some heavy bean and ricen down on the Tallahatchie County line. Mostly I worked on the Pearl River report, which has taken up most of this year. One night after billing for all that counting and writing, for no good reason, I took a notion to go up to Memphis and drink scotch and play guitars with my friend Wally, then I went down to Birmingham and on the way back stopped at Natural Bridge near the Bankhead National Forest in northwest Alabama. I had never seen it before. It is a three-way arch over a hemlock cove with lots of boulders, beech trees and a creek and is well worth the visit. It is part of the Alabama state parks.

The crocus had bloomed out by the first and the camellias were still blooming at the end of March. There was hardly any cold weather or rain in March. I noticed red flickers digging holes in my yard; that was odd as we almost always see yellowhammers. I took my niece Christian down to the Oauchitas to camp during spring break; we looked unsuccessfully at the diamond mine ("They just take people's money!"), then went and loaded up on quartz at an abandoned mine; went to Dripping Springs Gap; did a little stoneware research in Mt. Ida; played around the lakes looking at some places I surveyed several years ago for Garrow and the CoE; and slept in the rain the last night. She says she wants a tent, but is a good cowboy camper. On the way back we stopped in Pine Bluff to see John and Mary, and look at the French colonial stuff coming out of the Menard area 1700s fort site. I took a couple of hardwood management courses from the state forestry commission in Batesville; went up to SIU-Carbondale to the annual seminar, which focused this year on the Levi-Straus concept of "house" (what we might more often call "lineage" but implying place as well as family, where James Brown spoke on what I too think is one of the Southeast's strongest cases of said lineages, Etowah); and then went to hear said James Brown give a Stigler Lecture at Fayetteville AR. He talked about mythology, constructing Mississippi period Spiroan and south plains/Ozark rock art as a myth cycle that sounds an awful lot like the Popul Vuh. Like George Lankford's lecture the month before, also on mythology, the whole lecture hall had zero questions, pretty unusual for an anthropology crew, and making me wonder how science UA-F has gone. So I ask him about that connection, but Bob L. said he didn't answer me (which is what I suspected, but wasn't sure). I stayed with my friends up at Fayetteville and about made myself sick sitting in their sauna. Woke up with a headache and not realizing I was dehydrated, went to work slinging manure on their garden. As Bob C. said, I must be hard up for entertainment, so I stopped off at Murphy's in Memphis (where they served me watered whiskey) to hear John Lowe playing his electric cigar box guitar and other odds and ends, as per Greg Hiskey's endorsement, "John makes the blues scary again." Some want-to-be punks came on later and I realized how foolish I must have looked in the 1980s. On the 26th, we went down to Teoc, Carroll County, to bury the last of my grandmother's generation, Gladys Grey Huff. GG was some character, and worth a whole story in and of her self. She was born in 1908, started teaching school when she was 15, and rode a horse in to Carrollton until after WWII, when (big mistake) the headmaster decided she needed to learn to drive a car-lots of scary stories result from that. Had a great time swapping stories about her exploits and got to see our cousins Betty and Tom, Tom and his girlfriend were down there turkey hunting.

April was very nice, but dry, with hail on the 5th/6th. It thundered a couple of days, to no result. There were lightening bugs and nighthawks out; the banana (Asian magnolia) bush was blooming by the 10th; and I saw the first humming bird on the 12th. My brother and I went up to Memphis to hear Jimmie Dale Gilmore at the Hightone and to take Christian to have a last visit with her cousins Frances and Lloyd. Our cousins Butch and Sara moved back home to South Carolina; we have sure enjoyed having them out here the last several years. That was the first time in years my brother and I have been out together. He was drinking fake beer and it put me in a mind to take a drink, too, so I did, at 6$ a shot. I guess the Hightone is my new favorite joint in Memphis. Gilmore was pretty humouristical, like he's kind of loosened up to being on stage or maybe because he says his people are there, plays a bunch of 1950s tunes (2005 Rounder Records, "Come On Back"), with that awesome guitar picker whose name I will not attempt, and gets down to the end and says, "We haven't talked politics yet, but I want to talk about landmines, nobody is for land mines, right?" My brother turns his cap around and says, "I knew he was a hippie." (He was building armored cars at the time.) The next day I went over to Clarksdale to get my groceries and stopped out along the Yazoo Pass to watch a bobcat wading around in a cut-over, I recon hunting crawdads. My parents went over to Carolina to see our cousins from Charleston, Beatrice and Julian, at their camp in the mountains and got snowed on their way back. The Missouri Archaeological Society meeting was in Columbia; there were some good papers, but not as much student or amateur presentations as some years past. So-called amateur societies have a hard time keeping going without an awful lot of professional involvement. The 25th was the 90th anniversary of the attempted English landing in the Ottoman Empire at the cliffs of Gallipoli, which both Turkey and Australia consider the birthplace of their national identities; they had some big speechifying covered by the BBC. It's hard to believe the Great War was that long ago, being as we are still dealing with its consequences..

I turned 40 in May (forgot to say I got my bifocals in March) and celebrated by near-bout killing myself making my annual trip to move Tucker and Melanie in Birmingham, this time (congratulations!) they have bought a house so maybe we won't have to do this again too soon. It was way too dry this spring, especially in May; by the end of the month folks had to irrigate to get their cotton up, very sad. I think Sledge didn't get more than an inch of rain in May. It hit 90 degrees by the 12th and the catalpa and magnolia started blooming the next week. I went down to Jackson for a little mop-up on the Pearl River project and it was getting pretty warm by then. About the high point of my year, professionally, was going up to see an art exhibit at the St. Louis Museum of Art that collected a huge amount of prehistoric "art", mostly religious/ceremonial objects. They had the Key Marco cat. I remember the first time I saw it at the Smithsonian; I had always figured it was big like a totem pole, but it was tiny, maybe 15 cm high. A lot of the stuff was like that, but mostly bigger than I expected from the textbook photos, like the Hopewell obsidian blades. In my mind a "blade" is just another flake, but these things are huge (30-40 cm). They had all manner of Arkansas delta items (bottles and fire-clay pipes) from private collections that I'd never seen in person before as well as the Issaquena tablet (a round slab pallete of Vicksburg limestone with rattlesnake-type creatures). Folks today consider the Mississippi-Arkansas confluence country the back side of nowhere (because to us water is an obstacle not a highway), but evidently along about AD 1200 it was a happening place.

The locusts started on the 5th of June, and the month was properly warm, 95 degrees at 6 in the evening on the 2nd, but still in the 70s at night, with a few slight showers through the month that didn't total up to an inch. One of Sledge's last farmers Henry "Hennyboy" Howze died, and I got to see friends at the funeral. He was a WWII Pacific air corps veteran, bought rather than inherited his land, and was a big hunter and fisher. I worked pretty hard in June on the Pearl River draft.

Pecos Pueblo , NM .

I was gone most of July, first on vacation and then house sitting and doing some road surveys around Jackson. We got the Pearl River first draft out on the 4th, and I was glad to see it go. I wish it was gone for good. Christian and I went out to Arizona to see my sister and her husband. They had boll weevil traps up in the Pecos country. I wonder how much we (U.S. taxpayers) have spent on eradication and now they are going to do away with the last few cotton farmers of America in the name of free trade. We camped the first night at Villanueva State Park, NM, a very nice campground on the head of the Pecos River, near Pecos pueblo ruin, then the next night at Bluewater Lake State party hole, not near so nice, and stayed in Holbrook several days, saw a pueblo ruin and the big meteor crater. Joanna and Rich didn't stay with Navajo County but a couple of months, then quit their jobs, and have now moved to somewhere else in Arizona to look for work. When my brother and his people got there, their little house was pretty crowded and I left Christian with them. My parents went out to Arizona to see my sister and brother-in-law, too, in August. I went back by going up along the middle Rio Grande valley and by I-25 to my usual vacation stomping grounds in southeast Colorado. I stayed out on Mt. Taylor National Forest, NM, looked at some volcanic deposits; then at hugely crowded Sugarite Canon State Park NM, where I had to remove a little yellow rattler so some flip-flop wearing Texans could get their shower. I camped the next night at San Isabel NF, CO, and then at one of my favorite spots, Carrizo Canon, Comanche National Grassland before heading back across Oklahoma and then about 12 hours at home switching loads before I headed out for two weeks of C-SPAN, animae and air conditioning in Jackson MS. I took my cat Scooter down with me and she gave the little dog we were keeping some discipline, and then wanted AC for the rest of the summer. After two weeks down there, I asked a girl in Jackson (the freaking state capital) what do they do there, and she says "Widespread's playing in Birmingham!" There are lots of vacation photos over on the Resources>Tourism page.  

One of the most interesting things to happen this year was the report that there are giant woodpeckers on the Cache and/or White. I have heard folks in Arkansas say they have seen them, and they keep saying there are still some in Cuba, but the ornithologists say it's official. This winter they are deadening plots of old trees on Cache River National Wildlife Refuge to try to improve the habitat. I wouldn't mind seeing one, but don't reckon I need to go thrashing around in that jungle just to look for the "god-almighty bird". They played a sound clip; if I'd have heard one I'd have thought it was a guinea hen. The Afro-Cuban singer Ibrahim Ferrer, age 77, died around about the 7th of August. It was good that these old guys (Buena Vista Social Club) got some acknowledgement and pay before they passed. Dr. Robert Moog, the electronics inventor, age 71, also died, around the 22nd. My old friends Jack and Amy were in Memphis in August and played, among a lot of folks, at a memorial gig at Murphy's for photographer and musician Dan Zornsdorf , who died this spring. It sure is sad to sit in that bar, with the Antenna club sign on the wall, and look across the road at what used to be the best black hellhole of a joint. When I came back from Kentucky and went in the Antenna and they had put a window in it, I knew it was all over, and look what it is now.... later on, some of us went down the road to the P&H and heard Dan Montgomery's band. He is my new favorite on the Memphis scene, imagine John Prine or Bruce Springsteen, he talks kind of funny and I have no idea how he wound up in Memphis, but he has a CD out (2004 "Man From Out of Town"). I've heard him a couple of times since then and hope he stays around. I was down in Birmingham to see cardsharks Tucker and Melanie, and decided to ride over to Atlanta to hear Joe Ely and Joel Guzman, which was lots of fun, too, because they can fill up a theater (no dancing allowed) with a flattop and an acordion. The next night, we watched the weather channel until all the Gulf Coast stations quit reporting, then stood out in the yard watching the wind on the mountains. We woke up the next day with no electricity and trees down; I went on home and saw lots of down trees and power lines across north Alabama and Mississippi, but didn't realize the full impact of Hurricane Katrina until I turned on the BBC. We have great public radio out of Memphis/Senatobia with 88.9 WKNO I went to work piling and burning limbs in our yard. There was about 5" of water in a bucket on my patio, making up in part for the rain we didn't get in April, May and June when we needed it. Not to get into politics, but Mississippi has, I've heard, on the order of 3000 national guards in Iraq that weren't available for picking up after the hurricane. Back in the era of Vietnam, the guard was the safe thing unless something like Camille came along.

Furthering an already pretty disastrous year, Fat Possum recording star and hill country blues picker/singer R.L. Burnside of Marshall County, age 78, died around the first of September. R.L. was one of the label's mainstays ("The Blues Ain't Nothing But Dance Music", 1994 "Too Bad Jim", "Ass Pocket Full Of Whiskey", 1997 "Mr. Wizard", 1998 "Come On In", 2000 "Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down", "Burnside on Burnside"). Burnside played real juke-house blues, and set his sons and grandson Cedric Burnside up to carry on the music. My webmaster Kent called me from Escatawapa on the Mississippi Gulf Coast wanting help; my brother Bill and I went down (Bill Starr couldn't stand the thought of there possibly being massive destruction, looting and shooting and his not being able to get in on it). We took them groceries, soda pops, gasoline and cut pecan trees out of their drive. His mama's house is on the highest point around, maybe 15' amsl, and it got a little water in it, but it was made out of concrete by a hurricane-paranoid German so the only real damage they had was loosing both cars to salt water damage to electronics, and roof damage. Also their rental house next door got 5 ft of water in it and will need to be gutted to get the mold and mildew out and replace all the walls, cabinets and appliances. I went back to work on the Hinds County bypass and did another little waterline survey at New Africa in Coahoma County, as usual, lots of tenant houses. I had intended to go down to Magnolia for the Arkansas Archeological Society meeting, but they canceled it to let folks have the hotel rooms during Hurricane Rita. We got more damage from it than from the first storm, since they had what cotton they made defoliated and ready to pick, and the wind and rain really hurt. It lodged a lot of rice, too. Pick up and burn sticks again.... They are planning to put a auto plant in Lauderdale County, MS, so I went down to Meridian to do a literature and records review for the old mostly abandoned town of Kewanee, site of one of south Mississippi's first sawmills in the 1830s. Lauderdale County has an excellent county archives and public library. It started out as a railroad junction and was home to several famous railroad men, including Luther "Casey" Jones, who wreaked the train speeding on night north of Jackson, 1900. I read a copy of Illinois Central's investigation conclusions. He was bragging to his brakeman about how he was going to wake up the town with the whistle they had just put on in Memphis, the brakeman of the broke-down train had done as required, and brakeman yelled a warning before his jumped. When they found Jones' body in the wreak he had one hand on the whistle and one hand on the brake. My usual cheap hotels had the roofs off or were full of people, there were almost no hotel rooms to be had, and there were lots of signs, trees and roofs busted up especially on the hilltops. I had always meant to check it out and as I was riding around viewing the destruction, I came up on the Jimmie Rodgers museum. They have some awful nice guitars it is a shame to have locked up un-played, railroad trunks, lanterns, home made chairs, and all the rest of his stuff. That was for, like Hank Williams or Johnny Horton in the '50s, tragically few years in the late 20s-early 30s. Like the Great War, Casey Jones and Jimmie Rodgers are still with us. I went home by way of Birmingham, stayed a couple days working on my report, and we went out to hear a couple of bands; I think I finally got it out of my system for a while. Tucker played with Tim, then we heard the Kelly boys (Full Moon Blanket) tearing it up at Marty's (little or south Five Points) all-night bar and cafe. A perfect case of the break in the grid social boundary, across from a church. The next night we went out to a yuppie joint full of toddlers and polo shirts to hear some antiseptic, technically perfect, soulless white-boy blues and Beatles covers, ikk. We went to the Birmingham art museum too, but I only saw a fraction of what there was to see and need to go back sometime.

Folks around here had most of their cotton out by the first of October, and were well along cutting stalks. I don't know what it is about the seasons changing, and the wind blowing, but it always makes me want to runoff somewhere else. I was headed to Senatobia one windy day with my mind a thousand miles away and saw a Big 12 module builder sitting on the side of the road and had to wonder which Panola County I was in. I didn't do much to speak of in October, but spent some time with my brother getting up our wood. All we cut was down trees; starting with sweetgums and a huge red oak along the Russell's cotton field in the Yocona bottom and moving on to the university golf course. The most interesting note on my calendar for October says I rescued a rat snake from the cats on the 24th. It was a big pretty snake, but they had wounded it. I hope it made it. Rosa Lee Parks died on the 23rd or 24th; one commentator said, "She sat down and we stood up," or as Bill Clinton put it, "If the black folks didn't have to sit on the back of the bus, then we didn't have to sit in the front." I was in Memphis one evening, and a bum is trying to get more money than I was willing to come off of, so he starts complimenting me, ultimately on my hat, so I offered it to him, but he wouldn't take it. I went out the next day, bought a new one and gave my nephew Eli my at least 10-year old slouch hat. I tried to figure out how long I have been wearing that nappy thing, and I first remember it when old cowboy Wayne said I finally had gotten a cowboy hat (not black). I hate new clothes, even after a couple of hot showers to break it in; it's just like wearing a hardhat.

A side channel of the upper Rio Grande ...


November was mostly for loafing (when I was supposed to be revising Pearl River) and getting up wood, too, but I did a cell tower survey and started getting calls to do housing project surveys (Panola, Tunica, Bolivar, Forrest and Lamar counties). Sherry helped me over in Tunica County, wading gumbo in a bean field and finding, yep, tenant house scatters (and a Woodland spear point/knife). Started hearing wood ducks on the bayou on the 4th, and it stayed warm, in the 80s with thundershowers, until the middle of the month. There were robins eating the first fallen persimmons on the 18th and the geese started moving through, barking at night, about the same time. My schoolteacher friend in Memphis, Paulette, and I went out to Colorado for a couple of days at Thanksgiving, to a hot springs at the old iron mine of Orient, in Saguache County, and I got me in about a month of sweating in a very nice sauna. I really feel like I NEED one myself. There was a bunch of real nice old hippies there. We saw the sand dunes and Zapata Falls (frozen); I had never knowingly been in the San Luis basin. It is high desert; they irrigate with artesian water but have a surface water salinization problem. It is a closed basin, cut off from the Rio Grande and Arkansas, and looks like mostly oat and rye (hay) and alfalfa country, with some white potato farms. Paulette is talking about moving out there, but I notice the county seat has two whiskey stores and no grocery store. For some reason, we drove straight there and straight back without stopping, 16 hours, reluctantly letting Paulette drive about 3 hours around Dalhart to Clayton and then last 3 hours from Little Rock to Memphis; we saw a little snow on the Boca Raton and La Veta pass. We met a fellow from Houma LA at the hot springs, 57 years old, lost everything, family was scattered all over the country, can't go fishing or get any good food, marooned in the great white north. It was a bad year, but not near as bad for me as it was for lots of folks. I keep hammering on it, but we're over a foot under average for rain this year.

Zapata Falls, Sangre de Cristo NF.

There is plenty of wreckage still around Hattiesburg . In December, I’ve been doing surveys down there, and the bay thickets are full of pine splinters. There are no hotel rooms or campground spots, so I have been laying out in the woods on the DeSoto National Forest . Hattiesburg is full of Yankees and Mexicans sleeping in their trucks, roofers, painters, masons, electricians, if you’ve got building trades skills, there is more work than anybody can handle. The Camp Shelby mortar practice keeps me awake until about midnight, and then when I wake up there is frost on my bedroll, and I don’t want to roll out. But I’m not complaining, I did find the year’s nicest spear point/knife, and I’m glad to have work. I need to get gone and stay gone because I don’t have enough wood to make it though the winter, and how else am I going to make my land payment and taxes and have some left over for the Kashmiris?

Best wishes for peace and prosperity and rain in the new year 2006.  


Belmont Missionary Baptist Church and Cemetery (22Tu689), Prichard , Tunica County MS.



Old plantation commissary, Jack Lake Bayou, near Prichard , Tunica County MS.


The Crestone, Colorado, area looks to be largely a vacation-home community for rich white folks that feel the need to put themselves thru ordeals. There are also some Tibetans; I reckon it looks more like home to them than the rest of the US. Wind around on the gravel roads and you will find two stupas, Jangchub Chorten (Stupa of Enlightenment), view west across the San Luis valley, and Tashi Gomang Chorten (Many Auspicious Doors Stupa), view south. These look west across the valley; they traditional face the rising sun. As I understand it, the entire monument has symbolic meaning. They are filled with relics, including an axial pole wrapped in silk, scriptures, images, and often actual relics (bone cinders) of the enlightened individual commemorated. The forms used encompass the “elements”: square base of steps and throne is the earth, ratna, equanimity; the round bumpa—water, vajra, mirror-like wisdom; the triangular spire—fire, padma, discriminating-awareness wisdom; the crescent moon, air, wind, karma, action; and the drop jewel, space, and enlightenment. The traditional circumambulation derives from Hindu practice and varies in direction and number from school to school throughout south, central and east Asia. The Tashi Gomang Chorten was dedicated to HH XVI Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1924-1981) by HH XVII Karmapa Ugen Trinley Dorje (b. 1985). See www.khg.org and elsewhere about political controversy. Out walking on the National Forest, way up a little creek I also found what I think was a Laxmi shrine. You don’t see many of those in Mississippi either.

Out walking in the same pinyon forest, on a point of a ridge overlooking valleys to the east and west, below the Hindu shrine, I came across a ca. 1900+15 log and rock cabin site. It was partly dug out, with boulder chimneys and dovetail notches in sawn and ax-made pine logs. Artifacts observed include Architecture—wire nails, window pane glass, sawn lumber, Kitchen—plain and black transfer late refined earthenware; overglaze handpainted Japanese porcelain; Albany slipped stoneware (jug); solarized (quart cork liquor), amber, aqua (panel bottle), and dark green bottle glass; lead-solder food cans; white glass canning jar seal; Clothing—leather shoe, child’s brass-nailed shoe; Activities—brass tarpaulin grommet, iron harness buckle, 2 m long iron rod, threaded, with bolts. No clear glass, semiporcelain or soda bottles. 15 m to the north was a 3 x 5 log structure (barn?) and 12 m east a 2 m square crib (meathouse?). Several fragments of rock around the cabin site had epidote, I am interpreting this as a mining prospect.

First off, sorry I didn’t do anything to improve this webpage in 2006. I don’t have an internet connection, but will try to get started replying to the folks who have written about the Delta Archaeology webpage.

It was 70 degrees on the 9th of January 2006, and in the 60s most of the month. Fruit trees were blooming in central Mississippi 31 January. My camellias, jonquils, narcissus, tulip magnolia and jasmine were blooming by the second week of February. My brother bought his kids a pony for last Christmas—a jug-headed, choppy-gaited spotted horse, but I had some fun riding anyway, and also got to ride the neighbor’s sorrel thoroughbred-quarter horse cross mare (why somebody would do that, I have no idea, but she’s the fastest horse I ever been on, “sitting on G waiting for O” as Ken says). In January and February I did several housing project surveys in south Mississippi, which was still wrecked from the hurricane. The bay thickets were full of pine splinters and there was nowhere to get a room or campground or shower anywhere below Jackson, so I slept in the bed of my truck on the National Forest, but Camp Shelby mortar practice goes on til 3 o’clock and even then there’s the moon and coyotes to keep you up. The BBC said on 19 January that Stax recording star Wilson Pickett had died.

I spent a good part of the winter in Jackson getting the Pearl River floodbasin report finished, goodbye and good riddance! It sure feels good to get those monster reports out the door, even if it means saying there goes a couple of years of your life condensed to 600 pages of paper. On 18 February found a $100 in Byington’s Choctaw Dictionary. Reckon I ought to study Chatta more. The last part of March was cold, around freezing a couple of nights with the last significant frost at home in Sledge MS on 23/24 March, but purple, white, red and yellow clovers were blooming in Jackson MS by 18 March. Okie-Californian modern country picker Buck Owens died, age 76 years, around 25 March.

After a couple of months in a hotel drawing maps and watching telenovelas all night, I wanted to sleep out under the star and so I went on vacation to Colorado the last week of March and first week of April. I will now tell you the story of the most amusing thing that happened to me this year. Sorry if it’s a lame story, but such was my year, and those of you who know me will see this as an act in true character. I took a wrong turn wandering around in the Oklahoma panhandle and wound up in Elkhart, Kansas. I knew I wanted to get on the highway in Campo, so I set out by dead reckoning on section line roads, without looking at my map. It turns out there is a dark corner of Colorado south of the Cimarron that you can’t get to Colorado from. I wound up way back in somebody’s pasture in a dunefield, nowhere to turn around, so I kept going until I was well bogged down. There was a headquarters about five miles away and I contemplated walking and asking to borrow a tractor, but didn’t want to get laughed at, so I spent until dark chopping brush and shoveling sand down to hardpan and wore out a tire backing out a couple of meters at a time. In the process I dug up a broken come-a-long, so at least I wasn’t the first one. I spent some time on my favorite camping area, Comanche National Grassland, then went over the mountains to the San Luis valley and Orient Land Trust hot springs (www.olt.org, getting expensive but still well worth your support if you’re into such). Spent a couple days sweating and some time sitting in the hot water and talking to all the cool folks there. It snowed one night; the snow was like Styrofoam pellets and sounded like hail hitting the tarp I was rolled up in, but it wasn’t that cold; never seems as cold or as hot out there as it does here. It was the first time I ever got to sweat and then roll in snow. Damn, that stings! I also spent a while creeping around the Baca Land Grant/rich hippyville Crestone, found a ca. 1890 cabin site while walking on the San Isabel National Forest and saw my first stupas (those described at the head of this report). I also met some Tibetan-Americas (playing with home-made lawn darts, which our government doesn’t trust us with), sat a while there and got to turn a prayer wheel, also for the first time ever. While at Orient, I met a lady who told me about the Branson Hiking Club, which had an expedition planned to the tank maneuvers range on the Purgatoire Canyon, so I went back over there to the prairie, slept at Iron Springs, Comanche NG and showed up at the base, and rode all day with some ranchers from Folsom. We got to see the canyon rim, a number of ranches taken over by the government. and one rock art site. The army may take several more ranches to expand the Pinyon Canyon Maneuvers Area. I have read some of the archaeology coming out of the surveys there and had been wanting to get on the place, but didn’t figure I ever would, so many thanks to the fine folks of the Branson Hiking Club. The trip was especially enjoyable because we were escorted by two old ranchers, the Loudens, with a huge knowledge of the geology, archaeology and history of the area. They had advised the University of Denver archaeologists conducting the inventory and had worked the country and known the people put off the place. I also saw Ft. Garland, one the first U.S. Army posts in Colorado, and met an archaeology class from the Adams State College at Alamosa. All these are described in further detail in the Resources>Tourism>2006 Vacation Update section. I stopped off in Fayetteville on the way home and happened to catch a very interesting Stigler lecture on prehistoric Polynesia-California contact, based on linguistics as well as archaeology.

Jack and Ebb Crowder Ranch headquarters. Pinyon Canyon is a new base, ca. 1980, and the archaeology was done on a fairly intensive level, finding thousands of sites, tho there should probably be some caveats as to coverage intensity and representativeness of small, upland flat sites, since they focused on the bottoms where they knew there would be sites. The ranch was used as a field camp for the University of Denver archaeology crews. The army has supposedly fenced out the “keepers” (potentially eligible for the NRHP), and I have to say it is about the best looking base I ever saw as far as litter and ruts goes.

Back in Sledge, the “banana” magnolia bloomed on 10 April and the junebugs were out by the second week of April and tree frogs the third week. It was 90 degrees on 18 April but mostly cool and windy and we got a few showers in Sledge the last two weeks of April. On the 26th I saw something very rare here, evanescent rain. It wasn’t a good sign for the outcome of the summer. By the 29th the buckeyes had bloomed out and the magnolias were starting to bloom. I worked for Pam McG. on the Church Health Services Benefit “Strangebrew Hoodoo” at Murphy’s and the old Antenna. It’s sad to sit in Murphy’s and look at the Antenna sign on their wall and across the street at what was once one of the country’s greatest clubs. I remember when I came back from Kentucky and went in the Antenna and saw they had put a window in it. I knew it was doomed. But there were some great bands anyhow, Jack Oblivion, Zeke Johnson, Jim Dickinson & Jimmy Crossthwait, Johnny Lowebow & Wally Hall and some very freaky dude Freddy and his freaky band from Cape Girardeau. Missed some others I’d have liked to see like Bob Elbricht and Amy and the Tramps. I got to talk to my homey Jimbo M. who was propping up the bar—dude, there were several occasions this year I wanted to get out and around the Mid-South to hear you, but circumstances always conspired against me.


High Point on Pinon Canon. This is Permian red rock like that exposed in the Cretaceous plains further east. The Apishpa, Pugatory and Cimarron all had established courses from the mountains and as the ground upwarped, the streams cut down at the same rate as the upwarping, resulting in the cutting of these canons. The top or cap rock is Dakota sandstone, and there is the dinosaur-bearing Morrison fm on top of the redbeds (the Comanche Grassland has dinosaur trackways). In the 18th and 19th centuries, Apaches and Spanish farmed these bottoms and in the 1820-40s several American expeditions about didn’t make it out of the Purgatory canyon. It looks like great turkey and deer country, and is said to be full of petroglyps.

It stayed cold (50s and 60s) thru mid May. We got a good rain on the 16th and I saw the first lightening bugs on the 18th. I first heard woodies (summer ducks) in the bayou on 29 May. My old roommate from Memphis, Hyatt L., called me and said he has left Taiwan and gotten a journalism MA from Columbia and was trying to find work in New York. It sure was good to hear from you, dude, and I wish you the best of luck up there. I was down in south Mississippi doing cell towers and passed through Jackson one night. I had had a long hot day and was muddy and bloody and decided to stop in a bar and take a drink, but saw that Dan Montgomery’s band was playing that night, so I stayed most of the night, took several shots and wound up getting to the next job site in Vicksburg at 3 o’clock and sleeping in my truck in a cottonfield. Dan gave me a copy of his new cd. If he comes to your town, go hear this great songwriter, in the style of Prine and Springsteen; they really rock out. Long-time Mississippi legislator Sonny Montgomery died 19 May. Proto-reggae singer Desmond Decker died around 25 May and also the oud player Hamza al-Din.

Petroglyphs on Pinyon Canyon Maneuvers Area. See other southeast Colorado petrogyphs

from the surrounding Comanche National Grassland in Resources>Tourism.

A couple of times at the end of May, I went down to the Arkansas River to volunteer on the Arkansas Archeological Survey project at the French colonial Wallace Bottoms (3AR179) site. I knew just how jaded I was with archaeology to be walking around picking up some of the only eighteenth century faience sherds to be had in the Mississippi Valley and lots of endscrapers and just tossing them in the bag, but I got to dig with Alan S. on a 2x2 that was a sea of postholes and visit with other old friends in the society. This was the first time I had gotten to see this unique and highly significant site, found on the last day of the Menard-Lake Dumond AAS training dig. Met two of the new AAS archeologists and the new archaeologist at Baker Engineering; told him I was broke and would do anything from wash rocks to mitigate sites--more on that later.

In June John and Bev taught me to eat crabs--a most peculiar excuse for food. Like squirrels, it is best done outdoors, in the dark, with beer. My parents took Christian over to the mountains in NC to visit three generations of our cousins. 16 June was the 125th anniversary of the 1881 vote by the Mississippi & Tennessee line (now ICGRR) approving a switch from 5’ to 4’8” standard gauge, which I have read was “when the South finally joined the Union.” Unlike last year, we got a couple of good rains in the second half of June. Some of the only hot weather was the middle of July 100 for a week and never below 80, then the last week of July was cool (70s!), cloudy and breezy; most unusual. It was in the 100s again the first two weeks of August, and then by the 10th cloudy and cooler, with a shower and sundogs on the 11th and 12th. My sister-in-law rolled her jeep and was in the hospital two weeks. I took the kids up to Charleston to stay with Aunt Myra and Uncle Glen, we all had a big time. We went over to walk at Wickcliff Mounds, the Giant City State Park “stone fort” in the southern Illinois mountains and some of the French colonial sites like Ft. Kaskaskia and the Pierre Menard house. They also took us to Reelfoot to fish, across the Dorena-Hickman ferry, the first time Christian and Eli knew about that. Glen and I got soaked the last day, some big rain. I had about forgot what it looks like. The north end of the Delta got good rain last year. It didn’t rain at home. By August folks were abandoning their gardens and the trees were dropping leaves. The Commercial Appeal said we are 9.5” short again this year, but I think more so in Sledge. Folks started cutting beans early.

Cape Girardeau, Missouri, reconstruction of the French-colonial of the “Red House.

” Built to commemorate the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition across the Louisiana Purchase.

I had a big weekend planned in Memphis in August—Dan Montgomery’s cd release party at HiTone, Sid Selvidge’s annual retirement party at Otherlands, and Alvin Youngblood Hart (I think the closest thing Memphis has to a spiritual heir to Sid’s tradition of rock, folk and blues). Instead I got sick with an ear infection, so sick in fact that I went to a doctor for the first time since Dr. B. retired in the 90s, and still notice I can’t hear properly. Well, when you’re 41 years old and your mama has to take you to the doctor, it’s time to find a job….

The weather stayed rather cool with occasional showers the rest of August and through September. Everybody was a little mystified by this; it was the first year we had “fall” per se in my recent memory. I only had to go to one funeral this year, that of Mae Kim Wing (1932-2006) at the Oxford-University United Methodist Church, where they had retired. The Wings had the drugstore in Sledge when I was growing up (it’s hard to believe Sledge used to have not just grocery and hardware stores and gas stations, but even a doctor and pharmacist). Mr. Luck was the mayor in the 1970s and Ms. Mae was loved by everyone. Ms. Mae and her sisters were the first non-Anglos graduated from Greenville high school, and all of her children have done well in life. My sympathy to the four children and especially Mr. Luck. Here’s a little of Dale Wing’s song from the service:

You hold me in your arms You guide me through the storms that surround me You catch me when I fall You answer when I call And when I turn from you You never turn from me It’s a mother’s love It’s a Godly love It’s unconditional….

Fish-pond island at the Birmingham Botanic Gardens.

This year I finally got busy and finished processing the Tombigbee National Forest 22-Wi-692 kiln testing collection (two truckloads of sandstone, brick, stoneware sherds, kiln spacers and salt slag). Found a little buttermilk kingsnake in the process; hope the cats didn’t kill it. I also visited Alabama, Arkadelphia, Little Rock and Fayetteville documenting stoneware collections; thanks to all who helped. The occasion for the big push on the stoneware project was the fact that I got invited to give a lecture on Mississippi stoneware potters in a symposium at the opening of an exhibit of Alabama stoneware. The lecture was 30 September at the Birmingham Museum of Art. It was a great meeting: I was highly honored to be keeping company with such venerable researchers and learned a little more about the Mississippi potters, such as the fact that Sam and Pat Smyth of County Fermanaugh, who had a factory in Holly Springs in the 1870s and 80s, had worked in the Alton, Illinois, industry in the 60s and that the “GWM” of 22-Wi-692 was George Morton from a large Alabama potting family. The Leopards and Usserys/Ersrys were also from large potting families, and the Mortons and Usserys were related to each other and to the Stewarts. (I’m posting my paper and the conference handout in the Papers>Historic Archaeology>Stoneware section.) It was also good to get to visit with Shawn C. who appears to be enjoying his new job back home in East Tennessee. Another old Panam buddy who just got his PhD from U. Texas is the new Arkansas Archeological Survey station archeologist at Magnolia, so big congratulations to Jamie B. on his new job, too.

Here is another incident typical of my behavior. My brother asks me to come one weekend to Oxford and help build a flowerbed, no big deal, right? It required the welder, torch, several trips to hardware store, and two weekends. Getting not enough to pay for the gas there and back, I volunteer to do the dirt work, too. No sooner had lady put the money in my hand than I threw my wheelbarrow through my back window. Again, the work wasn’t enough to pay for doing it. So, my brother says if I will clean up his yard and find the leak in his water line he will buy me a new glass. Said job of course involves couple hours cranking the crane and tearing the only pair of britches I got with no holes moving a pile of trusses. We decide to just replace the waterline from the well to his and adjacent cabin, dude loans us a ditchwitch, but doesn’t say it has no brakes (the cabin is built into a hillside….). So we dig probably 150 m of ditch and lay line all in 10’ sticks (his boy Eli is a pretty good plumber by now), but still don’t know where the end of the old line is. I dig around, find some PVC where we think it ought to be. By now I’m digging by lamplight. Bill Starr says just saw it off and cap it. Well, water comes out of the pipe, the saw sparks and goes off. Huh. It was a piece of PVC being used as electrical conduit. All that screwing around results in burned out hot water heater elements….But I got a new sliding back window. Sunday full moon of cottonpicking time, downtown Memphis damn near burnt down.

I reckon the biggest news I have to report is that this year I finally got so broke I had to go get myself a real job. As much as I have enjoyed being “self-employed” for the last 5 or so years, I think I will like having a regular job for a while, at least until I get my money straight. I’m working for Baker Engineering out of their Pine Bluff office—and I don’t have to move back to PB. My 2001 truck turned over 200,000 miles 6 October, so I changed the oil before heading to Arkansaw. I was up in Fayetteville (working in Prairie Grove, in Washington County) for the rest of the fall doing a highway survey. It was beautiful up in the mountains; I learned a few new plants and got to visit with a lot of friends. One of the best things about this job is working 8 on and 6 off, so you can kind of have an archaeology job and a life at the same time (as if….). Special thanks to Carrie W. and her family for their hospitality, the Survey folks for all the good food and big pile of books, and especially to my brother Bob L. and the always gracious Kathy H. at MCRA for use of the sauna and many interesting conversations. The job was also highly educational. I’ve worked in the Ouachitas but never before in the Ozarks, and didn’t realize there were such pockets of fine farm and ranch land up there. When I was a kid an Angus was as long as it was tall as it was wide; I saw some black cattle on the Bartholomew ranches that were so long they were swaybacked. I swapped antiques and trinkets with Danny at one of the many antique stores in Prairie Grove, Red Feather Trading Co., for some pretty cool old marbles. We got a little ice and snow and I was scared stiff trying to drive, which reminded me that no matter how much I like Fayetteville it’s not my country and I’ve never moved up there because I don’t want to have to deal with mountains and snow.

At the beginning of the project I saw a lot of scissors tail flycatchers. On 4 November I noted that there were violets blooming in the Ozarks and ripe strawberries here in the Delta. Voting didn’t amount to much for us, but it was our first year to use these new electronic voting machines. The BBC crowed bigger about the US elections than I could.

 Opening day of deer session at Como, my nephew James Elisha Starr, Abbeville, age 6 and in 1st grade,

shot his first deer this year, a big doe, with a 1944 General Motors  M-1 at 75 yards.

In December, I paid my truck off. It has been warm and foggy, with some mosquitoes, since I got home, which is good since I haven’t had time to get my wood up. Right now I have the door open and a big block of gum wood going that I have to keep shoving chips under so it won’t go out. Hydrangeas and vinca are blooming. My niece Christian went to Gunnison skiing for school break. My nephew Eli, 1st grade, shot his first deer this year, a big doe, with a M-1, and got a compass, sodbuster knife, scout ax and .22 for Christmas. Look out, cub scouts. We also got Eli a flattop guitar from Zanadu in Memphis, although John says for a little more he could have had a world-famous Lowebow (John got invited to do a gig in England with his one-man punk blues band—www.lowebow.com, but Eli still doesn’t believe you can make an electric guitar out of a cigar box). My best Christmas present in years was a jar of marbles from Sherry R. We got down on the pool table and shot until I wore the skin off my knuckles and then (can’t help it, I’m an archaeologist) classified, sorted and tabulated them. Funkster James Brown died age 73 on Christmas day, sounds like the wakes were one hell of a party; they tote him all over the country like Gerald Ford.

Love and thanks to all my kin and friends and Best wishes to all for peace in the New Year 2007 Now for the peas and turnip greens….

Mary Evelyn Starr

30 December 2006

Big Bayou Coahoma Co. MS

--January 2006


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Contact: Mary Evelyn Starr
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