3,000-year-old buffalo skull displayed at Bear Creek Rendezvous

At the Bear Creek Rendezvous in Hannibal, Karen Sparrow of Keokuk, Iowa, explains how she uses this buffalo skull to illustrate American Indian history to school children. The skull was studied by archeologists and is believed to be 3,000 years old.
By Bev Darr, Courier-Post Reporter
Posted: Aug. 12, 2019 2:08 pm

HANNIBAL - The fifth annual Bear Creek Rendezvous at the Mark Twain Cave complex in Hannibal on Aug. 10 and 11 had a historical buffalo skull on exhibit.

The attendance was down from previous years, according to the Native Americans bringing their leather works, beaded jewelry and herbal items to sell. However, those who attended on Saturday, had a chance to learn some Indian history, as they saw a buffalo (bison) skull believed to be 3,000 years old.

Karen Sparrow of Keokuk, Iowa, a member of the sponsoring Standing Bear Council, takes it to schools to teach the many uses American Indians had for buffalo. This skull was found about two years ago by a man fishing in the Little Sioux River near Cherokee in Northwest Iowa.

It was studied by archeologists, who determined its age, she said. A special wooden box was made for it by Garry and Kimi Jones of O'Fallon, so it does not need to be moved from the blanket on which it is displayed.

Why do the archaeologists believe it is so old? Partly because of its size, Sparrow said. The horns are 25 inches across. "It is so much larger than today's buffalo."

The study was done by the chief archeologist in Northeast Missouri, she said. Sparrow is permitted to take it to schools because, "we work with Iowa and Illinois and Missouri. It was loaned to us as long as we are teaching children in the schools.

"We teach about the buffalo and how important it was for Indians as a source for everything - to make a teepee out of hides, or they could make clothing. They ate the meat. Tools were made from the bones, such as the scapula (shoulder blade) was used to make a hoe. It makes the perfect hoe.

"The skull was used in ceremonies, and the horns were used to carry things," Sparrow said. "The bladder was used to carry liquid or water. … There was not a part wasted. They made glue from the hooves."

"It was like a walking Walmart," Sparrow said. "Everything you needed you could make out of buffalo, but white people took a little bit and would leave it to rot. It was a sad part of our history.

Market hunters just about wiped out the buffalo.

"In the east they sent hides to Europe and had mountains of bones left over. The Plains people would run across slaughtered buffaloes. One way to control the people was to kill their food supply, and the land was wanted for farming."

Sparrow said along the Des Moines River where she lives older generations told her the buffalo herd was so big, it took three days to cross the river. The Fox and Sac people would camp there as buffalo came through to harvest what they needed.

"They would set up shelters and bring women with them to take care of the meat. … Back home in Rock Island, Ill., where the main tribes were living, they left the oldtimers and children."

Sparrow is an honorary member of several Indian tribes and has been given many names, but her favorite was received during a visit to South Dakota, where she regularly takes donated clothing to the Pine Ridge Reservation. She had treated children for minor injuries, and they named her Miss Lady Doctor Woman.

The educational displays were not the only learning tools at the rendezvous. On Saturday a group of Black Fox Singers led by drumkeeper Jerry Baker of Galesburg, Ill., was playing and chanting during a ladies' traditional dance. Baker said it was "to thank the women for all they do."

Baker has been leading drummers for 30 years and encourages parents to bring their children "to learn a little bit about the culture and the traditions, because some children have bad ideas" about American Indians.

He explained how drummers are chosen. The current ones hold their sons on their laps during their performances, and if the sons show an interest, they are taught.

On Sunday afternoon, a teepee was being taken down, one pole at a time. It was made of lodge pole pine, according to the owner, Monica Thompson of Quincy, Ill. Her friends, Sue and Stan Keith of Camp Point, Ill., were helping to carefully dismantle it.

Thompson was eager to explain how Indians lived in teepees, sleeping on buffalo robes or reed mats. They also made reed chairs. The adults slept in the back of the teepee with the boys on one side and girls on the other, and a small fire in the center.

The fires were safe, she said, because "They never had big fires, unless they were sending signals." The teepees had doors to keep animals out, and the men had bows and arrows and knives to protect the family from animals.

The women owned the teepee and nearly everything in it, Thompson continued. A man owned only his horse, weapons, clothes, bedding and sacred items, such as pipes and drums.

Also on Sunday, a family from Jacksonville, Ill., bought several items made by Guy Johnson of Poplar Bluff. Celtin McEvers chose a poster and a wooden crossbow with arrows. His sister, Piper Upchurch, had a geode necklace, and their cousin, Raelynn Vannier, had a conch shell necklace. Celtin's mom, Amanda McEvers, bought a large abalone shell and a wooden stand for it.

On Sunday, Maggie and Gracie Johnson, 11-year-old twin daughters of Kelly and Chris Johnson of Pittsfield, Ill., explained their mom is the former Kelly Harrison and was raised in Hannibal. They were trying out their new bows and arrows. Earlier, they were in a candy circles dance, which they described as something like playing musical chairs.

See photo gallery for more pictures of the rendezvous.






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