Volume IX, No. 2, Winter 1981



[Title Image]

Mother stood outside the mouth of the cave watching the eastern sky beginning to redden with the morning sun. For many years she had watched the dawn from the time she was a young woman, like her eldest daughter who lay sleeping on a mat near the fire, to now in her old age when her skin was leathery and her teeth were worn down almost to the gums. Recognizing the importance of the sun, and as head of the small clan which inhabited the cave, she prayed to the sun every morning. Normally at this time of year Mother spent only a few minutes with her silent prayers, for as the days grew shorter before winter came, she couldn't waste a single moment. But this morning she needed more time to think.


Mother shivered in the chilly morning air. Although the night had been cold, it would warm up by mid morning when the sun would reach the cave mouth. She watched as a few leaves silently floated to the ground. Many of the deciduous trees on the densely wooded bluff where the cave was located had lost their leaves. Fog lay heavy on the ground in the bottomland across the creek which trickled beneath the bluff. She watched the wisps of fog among the tall pines which grew on the other side of the creek. She breathed in deeply. The sharp pungent smell of late fall vegetation was greater in the cool, misty morning air.

Mother usually looked forward to the fall season because it was a pleasant interval between the hot summers and the biting cold winters. In a few days the men would be off on the annual fall hunting expedition which usually assured their winter's meat supply. Normally, by this time the anxious period of harvest was past, and they would have harvested sufficient grains, beans, squash, nuts, and berries to ensure the clan's survival through the winter. But this year was different. Mother had been uneasy all summer, and now the uneasiness worried her constantly.

This had been the third dry year in a row. Although the two preceding summers had been hot and dry, the winters had been wet and mild assuring presence of game. The last winter had been mild, but there was very little moisture. The dry winter added to the scorching summer with no rain since early summer caused the crops to wither. The food supply they had managed to gather would not last through the winter and the game had left.

Now Mother was faced with the decision of whether to stay the winter at the cave or to migrate in search of more a favorable location. There were problems with each decision. If the clan stayed, the men must have a successful fall hunting expedition or they would surely starve. If they left, they should have some place to go. Mother was reluctant to migrate into the unknown. As a small child she remembered her mother telling of a drouth that had caused the clan to migrate to this cave. In her thirty years Mother had experienced nothing to equal the last three years. Many other small clans which belonged to her tribe had already migrated, but most of these did not have as favorable a location as she did in this cave. Most of them lived in bluff overhangs or groups of huts.

Mother stood a few more minutes before beginning the day's work. As the oldest female member of the small clan, she must make the decision. She looked down at the creek, which although reduced to a trickle, still provided a constant water supply. The spring that supplied most of the water was good, healthy water. Most of the creeks and springs between there and the main river three miles distant had dried up. This was an ideal site. The southern exposure of the cave mouth received the warmth of the sun in winter, and in summer the dense foliage protected the cave from the hot sun making it a cool retreat. The cave was located far enough from the main river to provide safety from unknown Indians who traveled the river, yet it was close enough to harvest a variety of foods from the river--fish, mussels and turtles. In years with normal rainfall, plants used for clothing, food, and medicine grew abundantly here. The river bottom had ideal land for their simple agriculture, and game was abundant. Mother decided to put off the decision until the men returned from their fall hunting expedition.

She turned and walked back to the opening of the cave. She watched as her eldest daughter began to stir. Other members of the clan lay sleeping in the early morning light. Besides Mother, the clan numbered fourteen. Mother's husband lay on one side of the fire. Mother had five children, four girls and a boy, who lay in various positions on sleeping mats. There had been others but death was a constant reality even in the best of times. Mother was pleased with her children and the clan. Eldest Daughter in the spring season had attracted a fine young husband to the clan. As the other girls married, the clan would become even more powerful. Her son was thirteen and would soon be thinking about a wife. When he found a wife he would live with her family. In the meantime, he was counted as an adult and was developing into a fine hunter. Mother's sister and her husband also belonged to the clan. Mother's sister was twenty years old and would assume leadership of the clan as the oldest female when Mother died. Sister had three children, one small girl and two boys.


Eldest Daughter sat up on her sleeping mat beside her husband as a spell of coughing shook her thin frame. Mother did not look at her as she added more wood to the fire, but anxiety stabbed through her. Everyone knew that Eldest Daughter, her first born, was her favorite child. Since not many mothers raised their first child to adulthood, she was especially prized. She had been a tough, wiry child who had been her mother's shadow since she could walk. Working steadily through the day, she learned her mother's skills easily, and had become an expert weaver. Her new husband, a skilled hunter, was an important addition to the clan. However, Eldest Daughter had begun to cough during the last winter. At first Mother hardly noticed, but the cough had very gradually worsened. Mother had hoped that the cough would go away during the summer with more plentiful food. But the cough stayed, gradually getting worse, and the prospect of a lean winter worried her. This year the food supply was already scant. Mother always made sure Eldest Daughter had a fair portion of food and slept close to the fire, a spot usually reserved for the men and boys.

Mother's third daughter, Corn Girl, also had the coughing sickness, but Corn Girl was a thin, tired child who could do no work but weaving and some pottery making. Mother had already accepted deep in her soul that with a food shortage, Corn Girl would not live through the winter. But Eldest Daughter? She put the fear out of her mind as she began the day's work.

Eldest Daughter got up quickly and shook the second daughter, New Moon, and the youngest daughter, Spring Child. As each member of the group rose, they immediately set about their tasks. With the days growing shorter before winter, they could not waste a minute. The children rolled up the sleeping mats. No one wasted time on personal grooming or dress. Although, it was early fall, the women still wore their summer clothing which consisted of loosely woven grass skirts and sandals made of twisted grasses. The men wore breech cloths made from bundles of soft grasses which were tucked into a cord belt. The men also wore tanned deerskin moccasins tied around the ankles.

The day's routine began. The girls, looping water baskets over their shoulders with long straps, disappeared down the path to the creek. The baskets were tightly woven and lined with pitch. Corn Girl began to grind corn for the morning meal. She placed a handful of corn in the center indentation of the flat mill rock. She pounded the corn with another rounded rock until she had a coarse meal. Mother shaped the cornmeal into flat cakes and baked them on hot stones by the fire. Eldest Daughter and Mother's Sister picked up sturdily woven mats and left, returning soon each bent over under a load of wood wrapped in the mat. They had tied the ends of the mat together with a strap which they looped over their shoulders. Eldest Daughter lowered her wood to the ground by the fire. Every female spent many hours gathering wood, for keeping the fire going was a continual job. Mother's Sister greeted by the children with cries of delight also brought in enough pawpaws for the morning meal. Pawpaws were a favorite fall fruit, but this year they had been scarce. New Moon and Spring Child slowly climbed the path with the water baskets. With the creek only running at a trickle, getting water took longer and longer.

The clan quickly finished off the morning meal of pawpaws and corn cakes. Today would be even busier than most days, for tomorrow long before dawn, the men would set off on an extended hunting trip. Mother sent the children in search of walnuts and pecans. The nuts were a light and nourishing food for the men to carry with them. She began to bake a few extra corn cakes. Eldest Daughter and Mother's Sister repaired some deerskin leggings for the men to wear for leg protection.

The men spent the morning fishing. The clan believed that if they were to be successful on the larger hunt, they must be successful hunting in the immediate area of the cave just before starting on the fall hunt. The four men and two boys gathering a woven net, quickly walked the three miles to the river. The men walked slowly along the bank until they found deep water that promised fish. Unwinding the net and placing it across the river, they slowly walked towards shallow water holding the net to catch the fish that would swim into it. To drive the fish into the net, the two boys waded towards the men splashing. The men slowly drew the net up, entrapping several fish. They put them in a shallow basket and began to look for turtles while the boys waded along the edge of the river looking for mussels. The men killed only one turtle, but by the time they were ready to return to the cave, the boys had found several mussels. Tonight at least food would be plentiful, assuring good luck for their hunting expedition.


The entrance of Bear Cave is smaller than when the Bluffdwellers occupied the cave because with continued use, the floor gradually built up. (Photo by Mary Schmalstig.)

The men devoted the afternoon preparing for the hunting trip. This was always an important annual event, but this year it was crucial because of the scarcity of game in the immediate vicinity, which had been reduced by lack of forage and greater depletion by the clan's needs. With no crops, they relied more on meat. The men hoped to find a herd of bison or elk which might have migrated through some of the prairie regions two to three day's journey away.

The men carefully checked their dart and spear points and gathered all their tools. Each man would carry a woven bag for his personal possessions and food. His possessions were few--a flint ax and knife, a bone scraper for scraping animal skins and rope made from twisted grass. Mother added the nuts and corncakes to the bags they carried.

After the evening meal, Mother and her husband walked down to the creek. They talked in low voices for a long time, and both looked anxious when they returned.

Before dawn the four men rose, ate and quickly gathered their belongings. Each wife presented her husband with a small pot which contained live coals from the fire. Mother also gave her son a fire pot. The fire pots preserved fire for the men to use, but they also symbolized a successful journey and speedy return to the home fire.

Eldest Daughter and her husband stood a little apart from the rest of the group. "Bring back a bison. I know you will. And be very careful," said Eldest Daughter.

"I'll be back very soon with three bison. And I will bring you something special," replied her husband.

The women watched silently as the men disappeared into the early morning gray. The older women betrayed no feelings, but both Mother and Sister would be glad when the men returned not just for the food they would bring, but because hunting trips were dangerous. Hunting big animals like bison with only darts and spears was risky enough, but there was always the danger of encounters with strange tribes, for many Indians would be out hunting. Eldest Daughter worried not at all. She was sure that her fine young hunter husband would bring back much meat.


While the men were gone there was much to occupy the women. Day to day activities occupied much of their time--gathering wood, getting water, and gathering what food they could find. They had raised no corn but a few scanty grains which they saved for seed. The seeds which would not be touched for any reason, were stored in the cave in a circular storage pit lined with bark. There were some beans that had matured in early summer and edible seed from wild grasses stored in baskets. These would be ground into flour as they prepared their meals.

The younger girls, Mother, and Sister gathered the few squash and pumpkins that normally grew abundantly in the creek bottom. These were usually important food sources for the clan. The girls had carefully worked the patch in the spring, hoeing the ground with hoes made of mussel shells or flint bound with a thong to a wooden handle.

All the female members of the clan combed the woods gathering every nut they could find--black walnuts, hickory nuts, butternuts, hazel nuts and acorns. They gathered persimmon and black haw, the last of the fall fruits, and every plant that had any use. In wetter years, when vegetation was abundant, the most desirable plants were collected first and so on to the least desirable. This year they gathered everything. Mother kept very busy preparing, drying and storing in baskets the food they gathered.

While the men were away, Sister's two boys did their part by practicing their hunting skills. Once they were lucky enough to kill a raccoon with a dart. They were more successful at trapping birds with snares made from net. One time their mother even allowed them to go to the main river alone where they netted two turtles and found some mussels. The meat was a welcome change.

Eldest Daughter devoted most of her time to weaving. Basket making and weav--ing were highly developed skills among the clans. She used fibers from bluestem, Indian hemp and juniper to weave robes, sandals, overshoes and mats. In preparation for cold weather, she twisted blades from ripened bluestem to make heavy overshoes to be worn over moccasins. She also devoted a great deal of time to making a feathered robe for her husband. She began by making the warp from long fiber cords from plants. Around these cords she twisted rabbit fur and down feathers. Through these, she wove deerskin cords. The clan greatly valued these warm yet lightweight robes. If her husband brought home a deer, she would also make a deerskin robe for him.

She went about her work calmly and cheerfully. Since Corn Girl had a real aptitude for weaving and was not able to do any other work, she taught her to weave the common mats and straps used for everyday. The two girls were very fond of each other. The fact they both had the coughing sickness drew them even closer together. Often Eldest Daughter pretended that she felt much better than she really did. Corn Girl adored Eldest Daughter and followed her everywhere. Eldest Daughter began to teach Corn Girl a few more intricate weaving patterns, and the two chattered and laughed as they worked.

The days went by swiftly as the women worked, but with every passing day, Mother became more uneasy and tense. She often noticed Sister and Eldest Daughter looking at her. She and Sister discussed the situation apart from the girls and children, and though Mother tried to talk to Eldest Daughter, she could not bring herself to dispel Eldest Daughter's cheerful mood with her fears and forebodings. The men should have been back. There had been nights of frost, so that the clan slept on mats and under robes inside the cave near the fire. In the chilly mornings, Eldest Daughter coughed more than ever.

One late afternoon, one of Sister's boys came running in from the trail. "The men are coming["

Mother immediately knew something was wrong. She hurried down the path and crossed the creek. When she saw her husband staggering under a load of meat, her mood lightened. Sister's husband also staggered under a load of meat. But only two men! Mother looked into her husband's eyes, and then turned and saw Eldest Daughter's frantic look.

"Get out of here! Let the men through to the cave. Stop gawking and leave us alone," Mother yelled at the children. The children, who never saw a display of emotion from Mother, slunk to the back of the cave. Eldest Daughter remained silent, following the two men to the cave. After the men removed their heavy loads and sat down by the fire, they recounted what had happened.


Mother's husband began, "We made a wide circle around the cave but didn't see any large animals. In lots of places there had been big forest fires, and the earth is black for many miles. Three days ago to the south, we finally killed this deer, but we knew we couldn't get another. As Mother and I agreed before we left, if we couldn't find enough game, two of us would keep looking. So Son and Eldest Daughter's husband went farther south than any of us have ever been to try to find more game. If they don't find game, they will look for a place for us to move. I'm sure they'll be back soon."

Eldest Daughter faced her mother, "Why didn't you tell me that my husband might not be coming back?"

"I had hoped it wouldn't happen," said Mother.

"Here is something your husband sent you. He traded for it with some outlying clans. They said it came from the mother of all rivers." Mother's husband held out a pretty shell.

The women examined the large buck. This would help but would not insure survival for the winter. Hope lay in the return of the two young men with more meat.

Every part of the deer had some use, and all the female members of the clan worked on it. They dried the meat. They prepared the hide and saved the bones. While the women were thus occupied, the two men and boys made more darts and spear points to replace the ones lost on the hunting trip. They would continue to take short day-long hunts in the local area around the cave.

A week later it snowed and then snowed again. The weather turned bitterly cold, forming a crust of ice over the snow. The men waited for a break in the weather but none came. The few days they ventured out to hunt, the game remained hidden. Mother tried to keep the girls busy, but many times everyone sat looking out the cave entrance hoping to see the return of Son and Eldest Daughter's husband. Corn Girl often lay on her mat, too worn out with coughing to move, and Mother stopped sending Eldest Daughter for wood because she often coughed the rest of the day when she returned.


The whole clan became weakened with very little to eat. Carefully rationing their remaining supplies, they ate less and less. Mother calculated they could survive if spring came early, or if the men returned, though she had given up hope of that during the severe winter weather.

By the time the nights began to grow longer, Mother realized that Eldest Daughter was going to die. As the young woman moved around the cave, she looked like a living skeleton, and sometimes, Mother felt she could not stand to hear her cough once more. As the days went by, and Eldest Daughter still held on, Mother had periods of hope, for spring could not be far away. Then one morning, Eldest Daughter was too weak to sit up. She and Corn Girl lay all day huddled under robes and mats. Each morning after that Mother dreaded bending over Eldest Daughter to awaken her, and on the ninth morning, Eldest Daughter did not wake up. In the afternoon of that day, Corn Girl also died.

Mother and Sister dug a pit near the fire. The other burials were in the back of the cave, but Mother could not bear to bury Eldest Daughter so far from the fire. As was customary, the clan laid the girls in a crouched position on the robe Eldest Daughter had woven for her husband. Mother covered the girls with two woven mats. Then the clan covered the pit with rocks. On top of the rocks, Mother put another reed mat. On it she carefully laid Eldest Daughter's most prized possessions--a carefully worked needle, the shell from her husband and some bright feathers from a red bird. Corn Girl had no possessions to put in the grave. Mother then scooped ashes on the grave to symbolize the home fire had died and covered it all with dirt. To prevent discovery from animals and other tribes, she built the fire over the grave.

As if on cue, the weather broke. It became warmer and the snow gradually melted. As often happens after hardwinters, spring came early, but the men did not return. Eldest Daughter's death had overcome Mother's reluntance to leave the cave site. Until now, Mother had accepted the life and death cycles of nature, but the loss of Eldest Daughter, Corn Girl and her son was too much. Sadly, Mother directed preparations for the clan's departure. One beautiful spring morning, the little clan walked single file down the path with all their belongings on their backs, including the fire pot carefully packed in Mother's basket. Mother turned and looked once more at the cave which had sheltered her family for forty years and still held the bones of many of them. She took her place at the head of the procession. Slowly the clan headed south.

The cave remained unoccupied except for animals for several years. More dry years followed. Lightning started a forest fire, and one autumn much of the pine forest surrounding the cave burned. The winter winds blew ashes, dirt and dry leaves into the cave, obliterating all signs of occupancy. Then wet seasons followed. The creek ran full below the cave. Young trees sprouted and grew rapidly along its banks and hid once again the cave opening in the bluff. Over the years various small bands of Indian hunters camped in the cave, sometimes just temporarily to escape a storm, and sometimes for longer periods while the hunting was good. For the next several hundred years no group stayed there as long as Mother's clan had stayed, but many families built more fires on the ashes of old fires just inside the mouth of the cave where they would be protected from the wind and rain, yet where light was good. More families threw down hundreds of bones after eating off the flesh. These with other trash--broken pottery pieces, nut shells, broken pieces of flint--were covered in turn by ashes of more fires and blown-in dirt from periodic dry seasons. The mound at the cave opening grew taller, hiding the entrance even more.

The surrounding land slowly began to change. The springs on the creek dried up forever, leaving a dry gravely stream bed that flowed only during wet seasons or after a big rain. The pines did not survive the climatic changes as oak and hickory predominated the forests. The hills washed down a few more inches, softening the horizon line. Even the big river, though still flowing strong, did not have as rapid a current and had fewer deep eddies.


A thousand years later in the early 1800s, two bearded white trappers, looking for beaver sign, followed the dry stream bed up from the river where they left their canoe. They spotted the narrow opening and took shelter from the rain storm, building a fire to dry out.

A few years later a farmer and his two half-grown sons, marking out the good creek bottom land for homesteading, discovered the black opening in the wooded bluff. The boys' curiosity lead them to explore. It was they who called it Bear Cave because the opening looked like a partly opened bear's mouth. Once inside, the roomy interior looked like the hollow inside of the bear's mouth.

During the Civil War an escaped southern sympathizer forced into the union Army, hid in the cave while the Union troops were scouting the area. In the 1930s a family operated a whiskey still in the cave where the temperature stayed even all year and the smoke from the fire wouldn't give away its location.

After this time the cave was rarely used. Sometimes stock would shelter in it during the summer months to get away from flies, but the entrance was too low for horses. Occasionally groups of young people would spend hours exploring its mysterious depths.

In the early 1970s Dick and Susan Carr, their children and their friend David Wilhite were exploring the cave on their newly acquired property. They were returning to the opening after being back in the cave crawling through the narrow passages and admiring the cave formations. As they walked to the entrance out of the blackness, the horizonal narrow opening was brightly silhoutetted in the afternoon sunlight. The trees growing in front of the opening showed brown and green against the blue sky. The children climbed out of the cave, up the rounded mound which seemed to block up the cave entrance. The boys shouted as they played around the opening.

Susan noticed that the inside walls of the cave were black for a few feet back from the opening. "I wonder if Indians ever lived here," she said. "Those walls look as if they'd been smoked with cooking fires."

One of the boys dislodged a bone as he slid down the mound. "Hey, look what I found!" he exclaimed.

"It looks like a rabbit bone," his father said.

"Too big," David said. "That's more like deer."

"Or buffalo," Susan suggested. Excitedly, they all crowded around as Dick explained. "Buffalo, or bison, used to live in this area. Indains used to hunt them. Indians did live in caves like this one with a southern exposure. Say, I bet this used to be a bigger opening, and this mound is built up from ashes of fires. This has all the characteristics of an Indian Cave."

The boys needed no further encouragement as they began searching the ground. Even the two men and Susan caught the infection and began looking. Pointing his flashlight here and there on the darker side of the mound, Dick picked up the gleam of a piece of flint.

"A broken arrowhead!" he exclaimed. "It Really is! See the point and places where it has been chipped off? It probably broke before the Indian finished it, so he threw it away."

"Dad look here!" Craig shouted. He found a crude piece of pottery.

"That settles it," Dick said. "This is an Indian Cave."

Getting a shovel, Dick and David very cautiously began to dig a test hole. They carefully saved all the dirt they dug out, shifting through it for any artifacts. Instead of digging straight down from the top of the mound, they dug into the mound at an angle.

The very top layer of dirt was fairly packed, but as they removed that, the underneath was soft and remarkably easy to dig. At first the boys hung over every shovelful, but as the men dug deeper, finding nothing but obvious animal bones, the children left for more exciting adventures along the bluff.

Dick dug up a layer of what looked like decomposed vegetation, and, surprisingly, in the midst of the soft ash-like soil, he hit a rock, then another one. They removed the rocks, and about ready to give up finding anything more, Dick found two bones together. He carefully removed them. "These bones look different. I think they're human!"

Realizing they'd probably found a valuable archaeological site, they agreed they should wait before digging any more to determine if the bones were human and to get expert help on uncovering the site.


A doctor verified the bones were human and very old. One was an upper leg and the other was part of a pelvic bone.

Later they returned to the cave prepared this time with information, equipment and instructions. They could hardly suppress their excitement as they began the serious and painstaking work of excavating what the University of Missouri Anthropology Department verified was a typical Bluffdweller site.

They were prepared to begin the dig with paintbrushes, shovels, buckets and a sifter. In order to dig down in an exact area, they first staked off a rectangular area with string stretched between iron stakes over the spot where they found the bones. Then with paint brushes, they brushed through the top soil. After examining the dirt, they scooped it with the shovel from the staked area onto the sifter which consisted of a coarse screen stretched tightly over a rectangular board frame. They then sifted the dirt, which fell through the sifter, leaving the coarser items such as bones, bits of pottery or arrowheads on the screen. As they found each artifact, they carefully noted where it was found and what it was. They numbered each and stored it.

The first level went down eleven inches. The men found little on this level except broken pieces of pottery, broken animal bones and stone chippings from the cave wall. As they went down level by level, they found more interesting relics, a piece of pottery and a perfect arrowhead tip. Since this time they did not dig in at a slant as they did the first time but began at the top of the mound and systematically explored a larger area, it was slow work. They were impatient to reach the rocks over the top of the bones but were careful to dig properly to preserve and record each specimen as they found it. Finally, the rocks began to appear.

On the day before removing the rocks David wrote in the report they kept. "Level E, which is approximately 25 inches below the level of the string mentioned above, indicated by the large rocks that are located there that this might be a possible grave site covering. A bone needle was found within a light gray crust that seemed to be covering this entire area and the gray type covering would appear to be a decomposed grass or reed lining."

The next morning the men brushed away the last of the dirt on the rocks. Just as they were about to remove the rocks, Susan asked, "What's this?" She picked up a small shell completely different from the mussel shells they had found before.

"I haven't seen anything like that," said David. "It surely didn't come from around here. It must have been some treasured possession from some other place, maybe the Mississippi, or maybe even a sea shell!" He carefully placed it in a separate bag and labeled it.

The whole family hovered over the dig as the men slowly and carefully pulled up the rock. Even with the film of dirt covering them, they could all recognize the outline of bones in the dirt. As they brushed the dirt away, they could identify an armbone here and a leg bone there. There was no question that these were human. For a few minutes the small group was silent, awed at the sight of this ancient human buried in their cave. Once this person moved and saw and wondered, too.

Susan Cart's collection of Indian artifacts is similar to the artifacts found in Bear Cave. Photo by James Heck.


"Who do you think it was, Dad?" whispered Craig.

"I don't know. The archaeologists will be able to tell us more."

Once again the Carrs and David Wilhite agreed to wait for more expert help. Without digging farther, they waited until two archaeologists from Missouri university could meet them at the cave. When the archaeologists saw the site and confirmed its authenticity as a Bluffdweller cave, everyone anxiously awaited each new discovery. Complimenting Dick and David on their work so far, the scientists began cleaning off the bones with paint brushes.

As they worked they talked. "From the evidence you've uncovered, we are sure this is a site of Bluffdwellers, who were Indians living in this area over a thousand years ago. Some probably lived in the open in thatched huts and some lived in the caves and bluff overhangs. We've found their remains preserved in the dry caves. This cave is wetter than most sites, so baskets or other daily items they might have used would have decomposed long ago. From evidence we have uncovered in other sites, we know the Bluffdwellers were highly skilled at weaving. Probably their pottery skills were less advanced because they used woven baskets for almost every conceivable need. They even carried water in pitchblende baskets. Bluffdwellers usually chose sites like this one--a south facing cave, a nearby water supply, near but not directly on a major river."

They slowly removed the dirt from around the skeleton, charting where each bone was located. "This looks like a female, maybe fifteen or sixteen years old."

David Wilhite (above) and Dick Carr (lower) spent every spare minute one winter digging in the cave. They were rewarded for their painstaking work when they discovered a Bluff-dweller burial.

After they brushed the dirt away, archaeologists measured the two skulls (below). They determined both skulls were female, one about fifteen years and one about seven years. Photos courtesy the Carr family.


Just as they finished cleaning off and labeling the skeleton, the other archaeologist exclaimed, "Hey! Here's a second skeleton." He began brushing the dirt away from that one. "Sometimes they did bury more than one in a grave. Usually they buried the dead farther back in the cave. There must have been a good reason for placing them here." He continued working as he talked. "From our evidence, it seems that these people had very few religious practices and burial rituals, but they did bury their dead in similar ways. We usually find burials in pits which are covered with rocks. Often the pits are lined with grass on which is spread a deerskin robe, a feather robe, or a plain fiber robe. The skeleton is laid on its side with knees drawn up and arms flexed. Mats or grass were sometimes laid over the body. Next came a layer of poles and sticks, then ashes and finally large rocks. We have no way of knowing what their burial rituals were. Perhaps they had none."

The archaeologist measured the second skull. "We'll have to examine this more carefully when we get it back to our lab, but I would say this one is another female, maybe from seven to nine years."

"How can you tell? They both look awfully little."

"Yes, they are. They weren't as big as we are. Also, their life span was short. This young female was probably already bearing children. By thirty they would be old. You can tell by the teeth, also. They ground their corn on sandstone mills. They would get tiny pieces of stone in their meal, and over the years that would grind down their teeth. See, the older girl's teeth are ground down lower than the younger one's. By the time they were thirty, if they lived so long with all the dangers and sicknesses living in these damp and drafty caves, their teeth would probably be ground down and mostly rotted out."


"What do you supposed happened to these girls?"

"Who knows? Maybe an accident like drowning. Maybe they were killed by invading Indians. Perhaps they died of an epidemic or maybe tuberculosis. That disease was a common cause of death among the Indians."

Everyone was so engrossed in the work they didn't realise it was getting late. They would have to return tomorrow to finish removing the skeletons from the burial, secure them in special crates and take them to the university museum for further study.

Gathering up their notes and equipment, heading south single file down the narrow path, the two archaeologists, David and the Carr family filed by the exposed skeletons of the two girls. Susan was in the lead for she had invited the university men for dinner and needed to get it started. Anticipating dinner, they all piled into the Jeep and pickup truck parked in the open meadow just across the tree-lined creek bed and drove up the steep rocky trail which led across the bare hillside to the road above.

The two skeletons lay quietly for the last night in what had been their home in life and death for so many years. As the sun set that warm fall day, the night turned cool just as it had been doing for more than a thousand years. The moon behind the cloud, the smell of the creek bottom mingled with the damp earth smell of the cave, the rustling of a squirrel in the branches and the drone of frogs were just as Elder Daughter and Corn Girl experienced that long ago night before the hunting trip when their clan was all together.

The first part of this story is fictional based on historical information and actual skeletons found. The second part is a dramatization of actual events.


Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.

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