UA-WRI Research Station - Historical Archeology
Lake Dumond (3AR110)
One of the first settlements by the French in the Mississippi Valley was in Arkansas, in 1686 at what was variously termed the Postes des Akansas, or Arkansas Post. For the next 125 years, the dominant European culture in Arkansas was French, but that formative era has been ignored. In the last two decades, thanks to people such as archeologist John Walthall and historian Morris Arnold, attention has been turned once again specifically to French colonial Arkansas. It is clear, now, that the only way to find that French presence once again, is to go looking in the ground.
Thanks to Morris Arnold's work, it now appears that there were in fact five different Arkansas Posts, at three different general locations known generally as Ecores Rouge, Osotouy, and Fort Desha. in 1779, the Post was moved back upstream to Ecores Rouges, and officially renamed after Charles the 3d of Spain. It is this location that later became the American settlement of Arkansas Post, and is now the Arkansas Post National Memorial.
The first Arkansas Post was established by Henri de Tonti in 1686, at the Quapaw Indian village of Osotouy. The location of this first Post had never been firmly established. Since the 1950s it has been suggested that Osotouy, was associated with the Mississippian mound complex of the Menard-Hodges site (3AR4), a national historic landmark owned by the Archeological Conservancy and currently in the process of acquisition by the National Park Service. Menard-Hodges is located on the far southern end of the Grand Prairie, where the Arkansas River abutted an extension known as Little Prairie. Though upstream quite a distance from the Mississippi, the Little Prairie was the first high ground, one comes to above the mouth of the Arkansas.
Perhaps the most famous visitors to this first Post were the survivors of the La Salle expedition, in 1689. After the loss of La Belle, the murder of La Salle, and a long walk, Joutel and others arrived at a Quapaw village on the south bank of the Arkansas River.
Morris Arnold had pointed to the Lake Dumond site as a likely spot for Arkansas Post, 1686 to 1749, based on his documentary research. The Lake Dumond site is owned by the Wallace family, for many years the protectors of Menard-Hodges. For example, a Post commandant in 1778 noted helpfully, that the post destroyed by Chickasaw in 1749 was not rebuilt, because the Arkansas River channel had moved away from Little Prairie. Such is certainly the case with the site's namesake, Lake Dumond, a cutoff channel of the Arkansas that lies west of the site. Later, in 1819, when British naturalist Thomas Nuttall was in the area, he noted that local sources reported that the original location of the Post was near "Madame Gordon's", and she is associated with the Little Prairie area, near Lake Dumond. John House had already conducted an initial surface collection at Lake Dumond in 1991. Although House discovered that the site has been severely eroded, he also made several suggestive finds including a thousand years of Native American stone tools and ceramics, and lead musket balls, and a brass tinkling cone.
Two seasons of initial test effort were carried out at Lake Dumond site (3AR110) to evaluate the site and to determine if it is the location of the 1686-1749 Arkansas Post. The test work was part of the 1998 Training Program of the Arkansas Archeological Survey and Arkansas Archeological Society at the adjacent National Historic Landmark site of Menard-Hodges (3AR4).
Fieldwork at Lake Dumond was directed by Skip Stewart-Abernathy, ATU Station Archeologist with the Arkansas Archeological Survey, working under John House, UAPB Station Archeologist, who was in overall charge of the Society work at Menard-Hodges, owned by the Archeological Conservancy. The 1997 field season was much aided by Vergil Noble, archeologist with the National Park Service Midwest Archeological Center, and a noted expert on French Colonial archeology.
In 1997, two weeks
of field work included site mapping, a metal detector survey of all but
the northern one quarter of the site, and limited test excavations. The
metal detector survey was carried out by experienced users organized by
David Perdue and accompanied by Society members. All finds were mapped.
The metal detectors produced hints of colonial-era occupation at Lake
Dumond including unfired lead musket balls, bar lead, wrought nails and
spikes, iron kettle fragments, a wrought iron pintle, cut brass scrap,
a triangular brass pendant, and several brass tinkling cones. At one end
of the site there was also substantial evidence of occupation in the 19th
century including a large late 1800s trash deposit in a deep pit feature
only partially examined at this point.
However, two "caches" of tinkling cones found by metal detectors turned out to be associated with two of a total of six Native American burials exposed in only two 2x2 meter units. Other grave goods discovered during excavation included additional tinkling cones (a total of approximately 45, some in fragments), hundreds of rolled brass beads averaging only 6mm in length, 698 blue seed beads, 38 white seed beads, and 6 dark red glass seed beads, and a coil of brass wire.
These burials (three of which included trade goods) were in what is currently interpreted as a European-style cemetery, that is, laid in at least two rows with all remains oriented in the same direction with the feet slightly to the northeast. That orientation is approximately consistent with common Christian practice, but it is intriguing that the Late Mississippian platform mound and adjacent conical mound at Menard-Hodges also lie to the northeast of these burials. All of the grave pits had been truncated by plowing and sheet erosion, but at least two of the burials were associated with trapezoidal soil stains representing either coffins or at least grave pits dug with shovels. It should be noted that the nature of this cemetery is in strong contrast to the burials excavated by James Ford in 1958 at the Menard-Hodges site, which included extended, flexed, and secondary interments scattered throughout the site and oriented in many different directions.
The 1997 fieldwork did confirm the site to have 18th century occupation, including a European-style cemetery containing Native Americans buried with glass and brass trade items, and a 19th and 20th century farmstead at the south end of the site.
Work in 1998 included mapping and additional metal detector survey that produced additional wrought iron nails, brass tinkling cones and cut brass scrap, possible gun parts, and a very nice Model A hubcap to go along with late 19th and early 20th century objects from an historic farmstead known to have been at the north end of the site.
An important component of the 1998 work was to test several anomalies produced by geophysical survey conducted in April, 1998, by a team under the direction of Dr. John Weymouth at the University of Nebraska, funded by the National Park Service, MidWest Region, and supported by volunteers from the Arkansas Archeological Society and staff from the Arkansas Archeological Survey. This geophysical survey included use of a gradiometer and a resistance meter. Some of the strongest anomalies correlated with burials in the European-style cemetery but these were not tested since the nature of that area as a cemetery has already been demonstrated.
Five anomalies were examined with test units, in which one result was to confirm that the site has been severely deflated. Two anomalies turned out to be primary deposits of Mississippian period trash in large pits of unknown purpose, consistent with the Native American occupation associated with the contiguous Menard-Hodges site. One of these deposits was particularly significant since initial analysis suggests it dates to the Early Mississippian, a largely unknown period on the Lower Arkansas River. Testing at a third anomaly produced a complex array of numerous postmolds including several in pairs, some of which are most likely associated with a Native American house rebuilt at least once. A fourth anomaly produced ambiguity, but in searching for clarity we encountered several features including additional shallow postmolds, the base of a pit or postmold with both Woodland and Mississippian sherds and wood charcoal, and a burial, likely Native American and likely prehistoric, and in no way associated with the European-style cemetery found in 1997. After the grave outline was confirmed the unit was backfilled. No human remains were removed.
Finally, and in some desperation since this was supposed to be an historic site (at least all test units also produced additional wrought nails), another unit was opened at a fifth anomaly that was thought to likely be associated with metal. We discovered that the metal consisted primarily of wrought, cut, and wire nails dumped along with window glass and brick bats into a shallow trench. The wire nails along with a post-1891 manufacturers mark on a whiteware sherd indicate the fill dates to the late 19th or even 20th century, though there was also prehistoric gravel chert debitage and heavily leached Mississippian shell tempered sherds in the trench fill. Excavation of the trench produced two possible postmolds but the Dig ended before they could be fully explored. One might be definitely associated with the trench, but the other may simply have been a prehistoric postmold truncated by the trench. So far, the trench has thus not obviously turned into evidence for a post-in-ground French house as we had hoped.
Nonetheless, a remarkable French colonial site was found only a few hundred meters south of Lake Dumond. Following up on a 1997 lead from the landowner of the Lake Dumond site, the Site Survey class, taught by Survey Station Assistant David Jeane and offered as part of the Society Training Program, found a site that contained a perfectly ordinary assemblage of 1700s material including tin-glazed earthenware, Westerwald stoneware, diagnostic green-glazed French redware, and gun flints, along with a Native American component with shell tempered sherds and gravel cortex lithics. At this point it is uncertain if the site represents a habitant farmstead from anywhere in the 1700s, an outlier of the 1686-1749 Post we are looking for, or even an extension of that Post as an ordinary line village settlement. Remote sensing in March, 2001, suggested numerous features still survive, and a test unit hit undisturbed colonial period sheet midden deposits. Now we are trying to figure out what to do next.
In order to provide initial conclusions to the professional world of archeologists, the symposium "Looking for French Colonial Arkansas" was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology, Quebec, January, 2000.
France provided the primary European presence in Arkansas from the 1670s to 1756, and even after Spain took over, "Louisiana" French cultural traditions remained predominant for three more generations. However, this presence is forgotten perhaps because the key French occupation sites have remained lost, one exception being the problematic "Fort Desha" now eroded away by the Arkansas River. Fieldwork at the National Historic Landmark site of Menard-Hodges in 1997-1998 by the Arkansas Archeological Survey and Society provided a new opportunity, since that site was thought to be the Quapaw village of Osotouy in the late 1600s, and Arkansas Post was established nearby in 1686 as the first French outpost in the Lower Mississippi Valley. It is now clear the Lake Dumond site contains evidence of both Native American and European presence, and the Wallace's Bottom #2 site contains substantial evidence of colonial domestic occupation. Recent documentary and material culture research have also given us a much better idea of the relations between the French and their Quapaw hosts.
Leslie C. Stewart-Abernathy,
and John H. House
John W. Weymouth
David R. Jeane
Mary Evelyn Starr
Arnold, Morris S.
1979 Unequal Laws Unto A Savage Race: European Legal Traditions in Arkansas, 1686-1804. University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, AR.
1991 Colonial Arkansas, 1686-1804: A Social and Cultural History. University of ArkansasPress, Fayetteville, AR.
2000 The Rumble of a Distant Drum: The Quapaws and Old World Newcomers, 1673-1804. University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, AR.
Arnold, Morris S.,
and D.J. Core (compilers and editors)
Branner, John C.
1944 "The Arkansas Post of Louisiana: Spanish Domination". Louisiana Historical Quarterly 27:629-716.
Ford, James A.
House, John H.
1999 "Wallace Bottom: Early Eighteenth Century Native American and French Material Culture on the Lower Arkansas River". paper presented at the annual meeting Southeastern Archaeology Conference, Pensacola, FL.
House, John H., Mary
Evelyn Starr, and Leslie C. Stewart-Abernathy,
Jeane, David R.
Jeter, Marvin D.
Martin, Patrick E.
Rule, John C.
1998 "Preliminary Report, 1998 Fieldwork at Lake Dumond, 3AR110". manuscript prepared for Project Director John H. House, and submitted to the Quapaw Tribe; copy on file, Arkansas Archeological Survey Station, Arkansas Tech University Station, Russellville, AR.
1999 "Looking for Arkansas Post at the Lake Dumond Site (3AR110), 1997-1998". Le Journal (newsletter of the Center for French Colonial Studies) 15(1, Winter):7-9.
Walker, John W.
©2001, Arkansas Archeological Survey, Revised - Summer 2007