Though wooded draws now obscure some parts of the face of the hills near Ree Heights, the terrain still shows the escarpments that would have made it ideal for engineering a bison kill. Shown next are some of the arrowheads, scrapers and other stone tools recovered from the Deuter site near Ree Heights by the Deuter family. The Deuter site was investigated in the 1960s. AP PHOTO BY LANCE NIXON COURTESY OF THE CAPITAL JOURNAL
REE HEIGHTS (AP) — Rancher Dean Lockner found the site about three years ago one day while checking cows — a place where the earth on a hillside had started splitting like a seam.
It’s what was underneath that slide area that got his attention.
“The hillside revealed a layer of bones perhaps a foot below the surface, and the bones themselves are perhaps another 18 inches deep,” Lockner said. “I think I stepped it off once and the place where the bones are is about 75 feet long — that’s what’s visible. As that hill moves, it might reveal more.”
Lockner and his wife, Candice, haven’t dug into the bones to try to determine what the bones are, but they already have a pretty good idea: bison.
“There’s really no other logical thing that it could be,” Dean tells the Capital Journal.
In addition, there’s the evidence of what is already known about how prehistoric American Indians used the area. The Lockners ranch on land only a short way west from a bison kill site on the Casey and Jan Deuter ranch that was discovered in the 1960s — a location where prehistoric American Indian people stampeded bison over the sheer face of the hills near the site of present-day Ree Heights.
The new bone bed on the family land he ranches may be more evidence, Lockner said, of how American Indians used the Ree Heights terrain in hunting for bison.
For Casey Deuter, the discovery of a potential bison kill site on his neighbor’s land brought back old times. He recalls the 1960s as a time when his parents, Buster and Lois Deuter, discovered that the draw where they held family picnics on Sundays had once seen community gatherings of a different sort. It had been the very site on which American Indians long before Columbus had slaughtered and butchered hundreds of bison.
It was the son of their hired man, 13-year-old Kenny Pawlovich, who discovered the site. He had been busy digging himself a fort in which to play, but he kept bumping into leg bones of some big animal.
“They told him to stay out of there because they thought they were cattle bones from cattle that had died of anthrax,” Casey Deuter recalled.
But when the family started to find shards of pottery, and a few scrapers and arrowheads, they realized they had better consult an archaeologist. Eventually archaeologists came in and did a dig.
And Casey Deuter’s parents, Buster and Lois, became self-taught experts on archaeology of the area — and passed on a love of it to their children.
“I didn’t play baseball or anything else. We were all busy digging on Sunday — digging and sifting,” Casey said. “With six kids, my parents didn’t have much money for anything else anyway.”
Carbon dating from the site on the Deuter land indicated that the site had been used about 500 years before Columbus by people archaeologists characterize simply as a Woodland culture.
Archaeologists told them the people using the site had probably come from villages along the Missouri River, farther south, to hunt. They had dogs for transport but horses were still unknown in America.
Careful excavating in the area helped archaeologists find “the kitchen,” where cuts of bison from the kill site were taken for processing.
But already as a boy Casey Deuter noticed that the stone tools found in the kitchen area were almost always broken, rarely intact — probably because intact arrowheads were retrieved in processing to be used again.
In another part of the site, Casey said, there were hundreds of intact arrowheads. For him that suggests that American Indian hunters shot and killed many animals that they never processed and carried away, since they never bothered to retrieve the arrows from that part of the kill site.
“I always pictured it as 20 or 30 or 40 men coming out here. They had one heck of a good time that day,” Casey Deuter said.
Because of the way the soil on the hills tends to slide after wet years, Deuter said, new things come to light in the Ree Heights area periodically. And it may have been that same tendency of the soils to slide that made it ideal for engineering a buffalo kill site.
“I’m sure they’d done it in different spots for years,” Deuter said. “If they started those buffalo running, they could hit any one of these ridges and get the same result.”
Meanwhile, a few miles west of the Deuters, Dean and Candice Lockner have refused to let other people dig into the bone bed and refuse the temptation to dig into it themselves, content to wait to find out if there are American Indian artifacts buried there.
“Preservation for educational purposes rather than destruction would be our goal,” Candice Lockner said.
Dean Lockner added that if the site is going to be excavated, it should be done by professional archaeologists who can interpret what they find.
“I see people with the European, white man’s mentality to get in and mine it and get all you can,” Lockner said. “I have a problem with that. There’s so much we can learn from these sites.”
For the complete article see the 07-08-2014 issue.
Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 07-08-2014 paper.