Posted on February 1, 2016 by Mary Hernandez
by Pat Holland
Sometimes my winter walks across the farm were more like winter scrambles than rambles. Whenever the earth froze and hid under a thin layer of snow, footing was chancy. Even a clump of dried grass could cause a stumble. Putting a foot down in mud often ended in a too-swift slide downhill.
Yesterday, I took the long path down to the creek. I heard wild turkeys gobbling down there—I supposed they were talking to each other about the weather and walking conditions. Birds walking? Yes, from previous trips down that path, I knew that the flock of turkeys rarely lifted off to fly more than a few feet above my head. When I spotted them yesterday, they were keeping their heads down—probably looking for food—and good footing.
I was keeping my head down too, watching the obstacles in my path so I wouldn’t stumble. Then I saw it, an arrowhead gleaming in the sunlight. Weather conditions were just right; the ground heaved it up into the light from deep below the frost line. I knew that during a hard freeze the ground would often swell upwards and bring buried treasures to the surface.
A thousand years ago, the Hopewell Indians lived here. One must have made the paper- thin pine-tree point arrowhead. He made it of rose-colored quartz and carefully shaped it into a narrow, ridged triangle that looked something like a pine tree. Maybe he lost his arrow here on a long-ago winter day when he tried to shoot a turkey—and missed.
I vaguely remembered a lecturer describing the woodland Indian culture in general and the Hopewell Indians in particular. In the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras, my farm lay under the sea. By 400 A.D. the salty waters of the inland sea receded. The land that would later bear the name of Kentucky emerged from the muck. Bands of woodland Indians came through the mountain gaps or crossed the rivers to settle on this land.
The first Indians who settled here did not use bows and arrows. Instead, they threw projectiles at game, including the big creatures, like deer and elk, and smaller creatures like fish and birds. The spear was their weapon of choice.
My Hopewell arrow point was evidence of a more modern Indian, who settled on the farm sometime between 500 and 1700 A.D. I wondered about him. Did he hunt with a bow and arrow? I thought it likely he did. Was he a skillful flint knapper, one who could put a sharp, penetrating tip on his arrowheads? I held that evidence in my hand.
The Hopewell valued sharp tools. Since most of the land on and around the farm has the soft kind of sedimentary rocks spawned by the its emergence from the sea, I wondered if “my” Hopewell Indian had traded for a bag of preforms, the roughly oval-shaped, hard igneous stones not often found here. The Hopewell would trade for bags of the oval stones that could be knapped into spear points, arrowheads, and other tools.
From that long-ago lecture, I knew the Hopewell participated in long-distance trading networks, acquiring copper from the Great Lakes, mica from the Carolinas, shells from the Gulf of Mexico and minerals from the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains. Did the Indian know where the piece of quartz he made into the arrowhead came from? I guessed he didn’t know, but I imagined “my” expert Indian flint knapper looked at the preform piece of rose quartz as a sculptor would look at a beautiful block of stone.
The lecturer included this fact: crystalline quartz is a very hard mineral, seven on the one-to-ten OHM scale, with the diamond at ten being the hardest mineral on earth. Quartz at seven on that scale, made a good sharp arrow that could be used over and over without any need to resharpen, or reshape, the point.
The new wooden bows and arrows of the Hopewell Indians had to be light and flexible. Perhaps “my” Indian planted some of the trees here planning to use the straight stems and branches for arrow shafts. Did he expect to see those trees mature? Did he harvest the straight, slim shoots of dogwood, ash, black locust and paper white birch? Did he discover that the hollow reeds in the cane breaks would make good arrow shafts too? I hoped so.
His home would have been up the hill near the top of the path, near my home. During the first rainy spring spent on the farm, he would have watched the creek flood. He was probably a part of a loosely-related group of neighbors who built their rectangular log homes near each other. They drove posts deep into the soil in much the same way my Amish barn builders had used muscle-power not machines to drive in the posts for my pole barn. The Indians built up daub walls of cane secured with cords and wattle, a kind of cement made of ground-up limestone. The cane breaks on the farm must have provided plenty of thatch for their roofs.
Working together, the Hopewell men, women and children would have cleared enough land to raise crops including sunflowers, squash, maygrass and other plants with oily or starchy seeds. Corn crept into the Indians’ list and became their staple crop. The Hopewell grew some tobacco; now it is the biggest cash crop in my county.
The Hopewell also answered the call of their shamans to work together to build huge mounds, or earthworks. The spaces inside the circular earthworks were filled with carved artwork and ceremonial objects before conical tops made of clay soil went on. Today, the closest Hopewell mounds are about two miles away from the farm—on the Indian Mound Bypass to the Walmart in Mount Sterling, Kentucky.
What happened to my Hopewell Indian, that artistic, skillful flint knapper? I hope he lived out his life here comfortably, at ease on the land I love. What happened to his descendants? My Internet research told a sad tale. The Hopewell thrived here until 1700 A.D. when the Europeans arrived with their guns and their diseases. It seemed pretty clear to me that the Europeans drove off —or killed off—the descendants of “my” Indian. The Hopewell culture disappeared soon after the Europeans’ arrival.
I’ll hold on to the rose quartz pine-tree point. It’s more than a memento. It is a symbol of the farm that will be my legacy when I pass it on to my son and his son and daughter; just as the land was passed on by the Hopewell arrow-maker to his offspring.
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“The Arrowhead” by Pat Holland, Paris, Kentucky
When she was 17, Pat Holland went to work for the National Geographic Society. Now retired, after 25 years of writing non-fiction pieces on assignment, she has the freedom to choose what to write about and how to do it. She likes to write about nature topics because she believes children and most adults are taught generalities about adverse environmental changes, but they frequently miss the point—unless they have to opportunity to read a steady diet of modern-day fairy tales to learn how their actions can affect people, animals, and the environment in good ways—so those tales will end “…and they all lived happily ever after.
” The Arrowhead” By Pat Holland
P.O. Box 44 N. Middletown, KY 40357