Visit to Natchitoches Fish Hatchery and meeting with Regional archaeologist Jeff Girard Sunday, Dec 6 2009 

The Natchitoches Fish Hatchery is a built environment, yet still a combination Natural Resources and Heritage Resources site.  Hatchery Manager Karen Kilpatrick introduced the MAHR (Masters of Arts in Heritage Resources) class to the history and inner-workings of the hatchery.

The Hatchery has been in operation since the early 1930s. Some 164,000,000 fish have been raised in its 53 ponds, each about .8 acres.  It is the third largest public hatchery in the southeast.  The hatchery has raised over 16 species, but currently focuses on the following categories:

1.) Recreation- Which includes largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, and channel catfish

2.)Restoration- These include striped bass, paddlefish, alligator, and snapping turtle

3.) Recovery- These are threatened and endangered species like the Pallid Sturgeon, and the Louisiana Pearl shell mussel

A small aquarium and museum is on-site. In addition to raising fish, the site conducts environmental education, cultural heritage education (including events on Caddo culture), and special events.

About ten years ago, an American Indian employee of the hatchery brought forth concerns about the desecration of the Caddo burial grounds.  The hatchery responded with a day of reconciliation and prayer, followed by a much higher level sensitivity to interpreting the cultural history of the Caddo village and burials that the hatchery sits on. The site is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Smithsonian has agreed to repatriate. I have details of the sequence of events from year 2000 to present in my field notes, but choose not to publish them here. More recently the Hatchery unveiled the Caddo Memorial Plaza. Karen Kilpatrick shared a slideshow that included a lot of information, including Winslow Walker’s excavation including Caddo horse burials.

Next, Regional Archaeologist Jeff Girard met us. He pointed out the location of his dig, which included a prehistoric site on the hatchery grounds that he excavated in 2007. It was apparently NOT associated with the earlier Caddo excavation. Girard began by giving us background of Winslow Walker’s excavation and the “direct historical method” (cf Bureau of American Ethnology; John Swanton). The site included a layer of dark soil associated with habitation, broken pottery and very few features. Girard used a water screening method, with flotation tank. This preserved plant remains and lightweight objects that would have otherwise been lost.  He found a high concentration of fish, turtle and deer remains, as well as hickory/ walnut, pecan shells, maize and persimmon. The pottery he found resembled pottery of Central Louisiana rather than Caddo. The excavation was near a proposed Caddo repatriation plot, so that’s all the detail I care to relay in this public setting. The meeting with Girard was very informative. I look forward to any opportunity to learn from him in the future.

This site visit, including the interaction with Karen Kilpatrick and Jeff Girard, is not typical of what public users (tourists) would experience. I am grateful for that, but it makes the visit difficult to translate to public end-users’ expectations. In any event, a visit to the hatchery is well worth it. There is a knowledgeable director, small but nice aquarium, museum and learning center, and friendly staff. Their website at http://www.fws.gov/natchitoches/ needs improvement, and if they continue down the road of working cultural resources into their mission they should work to acquire a staff dedicated to public interpretation and more aggressively promote visitation.

Publications of FWS on Natchitoches Hatchery and Caddo:

http://library.fws.gov/Pubs2/nativeamerican01.pdf

http://www.fws.gov/eddies/pdfs/EddiesSummer2008.pdf

http://www.fws.gov/southeast/SoutheasternCurrents/archives/2009/2009February.pdf

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Exploring Ft. Jesup Friday, Nov 13 2009 

Fort Jesup is an important military installation in US History. This site represents a historical moment when settler-colonial Manifest Destiny morphed into US Imperialism vis-a-vis other modern nation-states. The fort was built in 1822, not coincidentally following the Mexican War of Independence from Spain. The fort was instrumental in the founding of the Republic of Texas and covert operations for the War of Texas Independence. The fort set the stage for the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), which in Mexico is known as the Intervención Estadounidense, before being decommissioned.

The resource, including the interpretive center, seems under-utilized. Upon entering the visitors center, the artifacts and reproduction pieces failed to convey a cohesive story. However, my first impressions were still positive.
Luckily, the interpretive ranger did an adequate job of communicating key facts of the site before releasing us to visit our “off-site” archeology (this area is privately owned, but a historically important part of the fort).

The only other visitors during our trip pulled up as we were leaving. They were a retired couple enjoying a Friday drive. The man was doing genealogy on a forefather who was once stationed at Ft. Jesup.

I recommend:

1.)Interpretive Center: Create an interpretive plan to integrate available artifacts with existing resources, and to identify gaps in material culture that would help tell the story of the fort.

2.) The state to re-establish and fund the period costume workshop.

3.) That Dr. Haley consider integrating the public into some facet of archeology done in the area.

I enjoyed my visit and look forward to spending more time there.

Poverty Point Friday, Nov 6 2009 

Poverty Point was everything I had hoped for: a large, publicly owned site, good interpretation, a visitors’ center, and a dormitory that housed the Heritage Resources students on our overnight trip.  The Poverty Point Earthworks have been noted since the 1870s, but aerial photography revealed a more complex system excavated since the 1950s. The site’s purpose is to preserve and interpret the earthworks. The earthworks are a National Register listed State Park, National Historic Landmark, and is a National Monument.

Poverty point has been the location for a number of field schools for Tulane University, University of Louisiana- Lafayette (ULL), and Washington University in St. Louis, among others. The central hall of the dormitory area includes photographic testament of many of those field schools.

More recently, Mississippi State (Starkville) and University of Louisiana- Monroe have employed “high tech” methods  including magnetic graditometry and began limited excavation of the central plaza earlier this year.

Since our group constituted the visitors present early on Halloween morning, I chatted with the park rangers about their knowledge of the site and visitors’ usual questions. Interpretive rangers like to explain the Poverty Point culture and differentiate it from the later Coles Creek culture of Sarah’s mound.

Erosion is a major concern for preserving the site, and site workers are in a constant battle to reduce erosion.

The only recommendations I have are for the State of Louisiana to provide a larger staff to care for the site, and to implement credit/debit card machines in the gift shop.

LaSalle Parish: White Sulphur Springs and Jena Band of Choctaw Friday, Nov 6 2009 

The second and third stops on the way to Poverty Point were two locations where MAHR students are doing thesis research in LaSalle Parish. Neither site had tourists or other visitors while we were present.

White Sulphur Springs

White Sulphur Springs has seen better days.

White Sulphur Springs

Courtney Cloy provided visitors with on-site interpretation and distributed a hand-out which included a map of the area, circa 1900. The visit entailed looking at what once was a more active spring and lots of walking through the woods in the rain.

Using the map as a reference, Mr. Cloy performed a pedestrian survey of the area which revealed surface evidence of the Bethards Hotel. Mr. Cloy will be mapping the area and preparing an amendment to previous National Register documentation as part of his thesis project.

The location is an unassuming roadside gazebo and associated Archaeology site on private property. Mr. Cloy’s excitement regarding the subject matter was evident. However, I think he tended to “over-interpret” the site, given current knowledge of the site. Much more investigation is needed to do interpretation. Mr. Cloy is a native of LaSalle Parish, which explains his fascination with this place. White Sulphur Springs was once an important tourist destination in LaSalle Parish. Most of the sprawling development, which included numerous hotels and stores, and may have included a casino and brothel, has been lost to history. Mr. Cloy aims at recovering it.

Marie Richards explains traditional and elected leadershipJena Band of Choctaw

Our cohort visited the Jena Band of Choctaw Administration Office where we met Marie Richards (MAHR 2010). Ms. Richards gave the class an extemporaneous overview of her thesis work and some introduction to the tribe and its history, including a list of traditional and elected leaders. The visit would have been improved with a member of the tribal council or a tribal crafts-person. The visit might have also been improved with a brochure or hand-out on the history of the band, tribal activities, or social services (especially the health center). I found the subject matter, a band of American Indians with a living culture, much more engaging than White Sulphur Springs, but I feel as though the site and topic were “under-interpreted” to our class.