from: The Courson Archeological
One of the best
kept archeological projects in Texas is the Buried City Indian
Ruins which run for a distance of almost five miles along Wolf
Creek Valley in the northeastern Panhandle. The discovery evolved
over nine decades and never made the news as new discoveries
often do today. The findings at the site are unusual for the
high plains area and several new discoveries have been made
recently which add to our knowledge of the Indian culture of
the region just prior to historic times.
Kirk Courson, the present
owner, was very cooperative in sending information for an update
on the recent Texas Archeological Society field school findings
from their recent two summers of digging. Work has slowed while
the findings are being researched, interpreted, and documented.
For a good understanding
lets start when the site was first discovered and documented.
Dr. T. L. Eyerly, a professor at Canadian Academy in 1907, was
told of the site and
took one of his classes to investigate what was there.
peculiarities here is evidence that this small and picturesque
plain may be justly considered one of the strategic
centers in American Archeology.
Dr. Warren Moorehead; 1931
Eyerly later conducted some formal excavations between 1910
and 1912 and selected the name "Buried City" which,
after other titles such as "Handly Ruins" and Gould
Ruins" faded, is still used today. At the request of Eyerly,
Dr. Warren Morehead from the Peabody Foundation of Phillips
Academy in Hanover, Massachusetts became interested. World War
1 delayed action until field teams were sent to the site in
the summer of 191`7, 1919, and 1920. Fred Sterns of Harvard
was conducting archeological studies along the Arkansas River
Valley in Kansas at that time and visited Buried City as part
of that study.
The findings were a bit puzzling.
The site was not a Plains Pueblo site from the New Mexico Indian
cultures and was not typical of the Plains Indian villages.
Morehead wrote in 1931 of his Buried City field work; "...because
of peculiarities here is evidence that this small and picturesque
plain may be justly considered one of the strategic centers
in American Archeology. Apparently all agree that the remains
are not Pueblo...yet it is distinctive departure from ordinary
Plains or Buffalo cultures as we understand the term."
Texas put a stone marker on the
site in 1936 and the ruins were listed on the National Register
of Historic Places. The interpretations on this marker no longer
represent the consensus opinion of archeologists conducting
the excavations sponsored in part by the Courson family. The
Texas Archeology Research Laboratory gave the general site the
trinomial designation 410C1 and 53 sub-sites have been added
and numbered since. Kirk Courson can be contacted at his ranch
located on the Buried City Site if someone has a deeper interest
in the findings of this archeological project.
The five miles of dense habitation
was built during one of the wetter periods in the region now
known as the Panhandle of Texas. The buildings are widely spaced,
single room dwellings just under the edge of the caprock escarpment.
Along Wolf Creek Valley the geological formation contains an
outcropping of the Ogallala aquifer, the water bearing strata
which underlines most of the high plains of the United States.
The upper end of the village starts where the Ogallala seepage
begins and ends five miles downstream where the water bearing
formation becomes covered with silt and sand. The terraces
along Wolfe Creek where buildings were located may have been
sub-irrigated during the period of inhabitation, providing excellent
conditions for gardening and growth of timber. This is
also indicated by the wide variety of food remains found at
the sites during excavations.
City Ruin and subsites are believed to represent a new
cultural complex not yet identified by archeologists
studying Indian Cultures in the southwestern part of
the United States.
The ruin which produced
the most early interest is a large structure known as the “Temple”;
also documented earlier as the Gould Site. This rectangular
building is located at the edge of the creek and one long wall
has either eroded into the gully or has been completely destroyed
by earlier excavations that were not reported. The existing
wall was approximately 23 meters (55 ft.) long and indicated
this was a central gathering place. There may have been
one interior wall separating about one-fourth of the floor space.
The missing wall makes the exact size difficult to estimate
but the indicated amount of space could have been 1000 to 1200
square feet, extremely large for Plains Indian villages or any
other southwestern Indian culture. Three fire hearths
have been located in the floor of the building, one large one
near the center of the structure. An archeomagnetic dating
from clay around the center fire pit was conducted by Colorado
State University in 1988, indicating a date from A. D. 1250
to 1375. The absence of debris, pottery, stone artifacts,
and materials typical of the habitation centers also points
toward a special purpose for this structure. More details
about the Temple will be given in forthcoming reports from recent
Typical of the inhabited
structures is the Kit Courson House Site (410C43) which was
excavated in 1986 and the middle area by the Texas archeological
Society field school in 1993. The house shown in the accompanying
sketch is 9 meters long and 7 meters wide (29 x 23 ft.) with
a typical east facing tunnel entrance of hard packed dirt.
Some tunnel entrances at other locations were found to be rock
lined. The house had a central clay-lined fire pit about
3 feet deep and 3 feet in diameter with four primary support
posts that were up to 19 inches in diameter. Raised benches
extend about 6 feet from the three walls away from the tunnel
side. Numerous small postholes along the walls were the
base of a double-pen wicker wall structure with vertical uprights.
Mud daub was found in large quantities around the exterior walls.
The roof material has not been clearly defined although there
are numerous grass cutting tools in the artifacts found indicating
grass thatched roofs. About 50 miles west at Lake Meredith,
archeologists are finding evidence of yucca-mat thatched roofs.
Either conical or steeply sloping flat grass roofs are possible
at the Buried City Site.
additional structure was attached to the south wall. An
exterior activity area for food preparation and material processing
yielded several grinding stones, deer antler tine tools, broken
pots, and a deer-jaw sickle. A nearby middle of debris
was found and excavated to reveal some everyday life information
about the culture. Much of this is still being analyzed.
The overall impression based on the better quality of pottery
found at this site is that it represents a later period of occupation
that other structures excavated. The archeologist in charge,
Billy Harrison, believes there may be a much older Woodland
culture pit house southeast of the main house at Kit Courson.
characteristic of the Buried City ruins is the diversity of
the pottery. Several new kinds were found, one a fingernail-impressed
named Courson Pinched, and a wide variety of other previously
identified types. This variety of potteries indicates
mixed cultures, a wide trade area, a long period of habitation,
or a combination of the three.
dates for charcoal at the site are consistent and run
from around 1100 to 1500 A. D.
The Buried City
Ruin and subsites are believed to represent a new cultural complex
not yet identified by archeologists studying Indian Cultures
in the southwestern part of the United States. It will
take a period of time to identify and analyze the key traits
of a new complex under the categories of architecture, settlement
patterns, material culture, chronology, and distribution.
The radiocarbon dates for charcoal at the site are consistent
and run from around 1100 to 1500 A. D. These dates indicate
habitation from the early Woodland through the late Village
period, just prior to the first appearance of Europeans on the
high plains. The cultures represented are believed to
be related to the Wichita tribes of western and central Oklahoma,
rather than the Apache, Comanche, and Kiowa tribes of the Plains
in historic times. The Buried City culture may have traded
with the New Mexico Pueblo cultures but were not heavily influenced
by them in architecture, pottery, tools, or weapons.
The Buried City
is occasionally mentioned when the historians try to reconstruct
the source of the Indian myths of the Seven Cities of Cibola
and Gran Quivira which attracted the Spanish explorers to Texas
in the 1540’s. Historians and writers have traced
Coronado’s route and determined after-the-fact that Gran
Quivira was in Roberts county in the northern Panhandle.
No permanent village sites have yet been found in Roberts county
but the nearness of the Buried City Ruin gives rise to speculation
that this conceivably could have been the basis for the Indian
myths of cities of wealth. Since wealth had no specific
meaning to the Indians, their myths may have been based on some
fact and some misunderstanding.
David T. Hughes &
The Courson Archeological Projects, 1986