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NE History & Record of Pioneer Days
Vol VII, no 1 (part 1)  




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By E. E. Blackman, Curator, Nebraska State Historical
Society Museum.

(Radio broadcast from Omaha, Station WOAW, 6-6:30 P.M.,
September 13, 1924.)

The Region

     The area which I explored in July, 1924, is situated on a bluff or table land, 200 feet above the Loup river level and approximately a mile from its banks.
     The farm which is owned by E. J. Burkett of Lincoln, is N. E. 29-17-4, in Nance County five miles S. W. of Genoa. I discovered this site in 1902 and gave it a once over in 1907. Evidences found show this ruin to be Skidi -- a band of the Pawnee tribe, which belongs to the Caddoan linguistic family.
     Practically every other ruin in Nebraska is an Earth House ruin -- in the form of a circus ring, with a low place in the center, having a raised bank of earth at the outer circumference. Settlers called them "buffalo. wallows." This ruin is so different that it inspired the study just made.



     The house ruins here are mounds. Some of these are still three feet high, after thirty years of cultivation. J. W. Williamson, who lives at Genoa, rode over this ruin in 1872 with Sky Chief, the head of the Skidi band. Many mounds were five feet high. Sky Chief said the ruins were there when his people came, that the Skidi would not live so far from water. The creation myths cherished by the Skidi band as studied by Dorsey, say the Skidi were created by the Great Spirit in the Loup Valley.
     The village ruins cover forty acres on the level table land. The mounds are scattered without geometrical design, being 200 to 300 feet apart each way. The largest are still 3 feet above the level. The entire area is thickly strewn with implements, broken flint, potsherds and bone.

Grass House Ruins

     These mounds are the built-up floor of a grass house ruin. The Caddoan linguistic family were originally grass house builders in their home in Texas. Coronado saw the grass houses built by the Wichitas in Quivira, in 1541. He said "they were like a loft where they kept their belongings and slept." Every evidence shows these ruins to have been grass houses. The cold winters in this area probably caused the Skidi to abandon the grass house, because they built earth lodges later, and this ruin was probably their first permanent abode in the Loup Valley. Three miles from this ruin is an Earth House ruin, probably made by the same people, later.

Excavation of Mound

     I cut a trench through the largest mound house ruin 2 1/2 feet wide, and 80 feet long. The built-up floor was over 2 feet deep. I took out of this trench over a hundred pounds of chipped flint, potsherds, bones, clam shells and drift pebbles. This built-up floor was from 2 to 3 feet below where the plow had disturbed the surface in cultivation, and everything found was just where the aborigines had lost or thrown it. Many perfect implements were found among the broken pieces.
     In some places this undisturbed floor showed almost a polish, so hard was it packed by constant use. In other places pure ashes as they were brushed from the fire-place in the center, rested in thin layers at a slight angle.
     The entire mound is 80% ashes. They were evidently poor housekeepers. And this five foot mound was built up year by year. The ashes from the fireplace, the refuse from the meals and implements, potsherds and pebbles were trodden under foot and became a part of the floor of their grass house abode. I found one of the finest flint knives ever seen,




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beneath this trodden floor - at the lowest level of moved earth. The knife is 4 inches long and artistically made, of a yellowish brown flint. Another perfect flint knife was found a foot above this and three feet north of the first one. This is a typical "Harahey" four-bladed knife - diamond shaped, with four very sharp cutting edges. At the edge of the ruin - at the place where the grass house sides came to the earth level, quite large bones and large pieces of pottery were found. The earth around these was loose, not being tramped hard as was the floor near the fire place in the center. Here I found the large pieces of pottery. A number of broken knives and small triangular "war points" were taken from this trench. A few bone awls, buried in ashes, were secured. One "chipping tool" of deer horn and a polished bone bead were taken. One clam shell bead was found and two bone knife handles well polished.

The Cache

On a point of bluff south of the village site and west of the cemetery was quite a prominent mound having every appearance of being a burial mound. It was 12 feet across the base and was raised about two feet above the surrounding level. A cross-section showed a cache, two feet at the top and 4 ft. 10 inches across the level bottom. It was five feet deep. The sides sloped out like a cistern, being bell shaped. The two foot opening at the top had been covered with logs 4 inches in diameter. These had gone to dust. These logs were supported on large buffalo bones set into the solid loess soil at the opening or neck of the cache. These bones' were very much decayed. This bell shaped cache was excavated in the yellowish, loess soil of the hill and it was completely filled with a very loose brownish dust. I removed all this and exposed the firm, solid sides and floor of the entire cache.



     On the bottom was found a folded leather or skin which went to dust on exposure. The entire contents of the cache had never been touched by moisture and appeared to be decayed corn or other stored material, which through countless years has been in this cache, showing great age.


     Charred corn cobs were found near the fire place in the house ruin. These were cobs of the typical squaw corn. In the field of growing crop west of the ruin, may be traced the outline of ancient corn patches. These corn patches are from 30 to 100 feet square. They were separated by paths, worn by footsteps, and blown by winds until the lack of fertility is shown by poor and yellow vegetation - while the corn patch itself - enriched by industrious squaws, show rank and verdant foliage. These corn patches were easily traced in the growing crop. They cover thirty or more acres.

Domestic Water Supply

     The well on the Burkett farm is 200 feet deep. There are no springs in the draws near. The Loup river is a mile away. This seems an ideal strategic wartime situation, on this high table land, but for an agricultural people the situation is too far from a water supply. It is possible that the domestic water supply may have come from artificial ponds or lakes. This loess soil holds water when "puddled." Many splendid ponds have been so made in Nebraska.
     On the table land northwest of the cornfields is an area of 30 acres or more which holds water; the crop was ruined this year. C. R. Wright, who owns the farm west, dug a ditch forty rods long and four feet deep to drain an area of twenty acres on the high table land where the surface water in rainy seasons ruined his crop. Artificial lakes may have been the source of water supply, but this point is by no means settled.

The Flint Supply

     There are many tons of flint chips and implements on this ruin. Some of this flint came from the Nehawka flint mines, 100 miles east; some came from the pink flint quarries of Oklahoma, but more came from the Republican river valley. These various kinds of flint are easily distinguished from the poor quality of whitish yellow "Pierre Shale" which is in greatest abundance on this ruin. This poor quality of chert crops out in various places along the 100th meridian, and will doubtless be found not far away. Although diligent search failed to reveal the sources of this flint supply. When the source of water supply and flint supply are settled, we will know more of the history of this people.

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