Many hands involved in excavating remains

By Don Springer
Charleston Gazette, November 22, 2001

This is the second of five articles dealing with the return of 664 Native American remains to their original burial sites near Buffalo, Putnam County

Two organizations interested in the Buffalo Site, the relics it has given up and the remains of Native Americans once there or still interred are the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, and Charleston and Cultural Resource Analysts, Inc. of Hurricane. Representatives of both organizations have been involved in studying the site and identifying and cataloging the artifacts removed from the site.

"How old were the remains taken from the Buffalo site and could they have been there from the days of the mound builders?" was the question put to archaeologist Darla S. Hoffman of the Hurricane firm.

"It is highly unlikely the remains were from that earlier period," she responded. "Any remains that far back would likely be completely gone by now. The remains taken from the site, we believe, were buried between the years 1500 and 1650."

Some archaeologists believe the remains are Shawnee. Most members of the Shawnee nation left around 1650 or perhaps a few years later.

Hoffman believes they were more than likely a Siouxan-speaking group. But she added, "It is probably wrong to guess what tribe they were associated with, as many tribes lived or traveled through the area."

[the preceding three paragraphs represent a later text by Springer that corrects a misquote in the print version - Webmaster]

Hoffman and her colleague C. Michael Anslinger co-authored a 1999 report on the site for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in regard to a proposed inland port that is on the drawing board for that same area of the Kanawha River.

Historic Preservation Office
Culture and History Commissioner Nancy Herholdt, Department Head Susan Pierce of the Historic Preservation Office and two archeologists from that office, Lora Lamarre and Joanna Wilson, met with this writer on one or more occasions. Through their efforts, details of the three digs mentioned last week and other facts were provided.

Lamarre provided some details of the digs and Wilson provided newspaper articles and writings from the Grave Creek Mound center in Moundsville, site of the largest Adena mound in West Virginia.

According to the Lamarre writings, the first documented excavations at the Buffalo Site occurred during the early 1930s. Local amateur archeologists conducted these excavations and reportedly uncovered a number of artifacts and two remains. The remains and the artifacts' locations are unknown.

Charleston's David Martin said the three main amateurs participating in this dig were his father, the late Leslie Martin, Elmer Fetzer. and O.L. Mairs. "The findings became part of Mr. Fetzer's private collection, and since his death I do not know where they are," said David Martin.

Local Society Formed
Martin said those men, along with Betty Broyles and Sigfus Olefson, later organized the Kanawha Valley Chapter, West Virginia Archeological Society. That organization was responsible for the second dig, 1950-60. It reportedly was under the direction of Bettye Broyles, a professional archeologist, later associated with the West Virginia Geologic and Economic Survey office in Morgantown.

Lamarre's report shows "at least 39 burials were uncovered" during that dig. "Again, it is likely the remains are in private ownership," the report continues.

The largest and most significant of the Buffalo Site digs occurred from 1963 to 1965. These excavations were conducted by Dr. Edward V McMichael, the state's first archeologist, hired in 1960. He spent several years working out of the Geologic and Economic Survey office in Morgantown.

McMichael, then a 25-year-old Pennsylvania native, was hired by the state in "a race against time." The Indiana University graduate was asked to investigate many archeological sites in the state being invaded by industrial and building expansion that threatened their existence.

Some Remains Stolen
About three years later he took his troupe to Putnam County for the large dig. McMichael and company unearthed tens of thousands of artifacts (not an exaggeration) and a previously reported 562 remains.

However, Dr. Paul Sciulli of Ohio State University reported a few weeks ago he has 664 remains in his care.

Wilson said "a large number of the artifacts taken at this dig are currently at the Grave Creek Mound in Moundsville." She also projected that many others were taken by persons involved in the dig and are now in private collections or may reside in other public collections.

"We have no record of these," she continued.

A Charleston newspaper article of the time also mentions that McMichael reported some of the remains were stolen while the project was underway.

"Intruders stole one complete skeleton and three other skulls were removed. "In addition eight skulls were smashed." McMichael was quoted as saying "the caved-in skulls might be restorable."

"McMichael told investigators that so many skeletons were exposed in the latter part of the week the weekend arrived before the workers could remove the remains." He was using a crew of 15 men from the Workman Training Program and several volunteers.

Local Volunteers
We talked with at least two volunteers who assisted in the 1963-65 digs, Dr J B. Cropley of Putnam County and attorney Harvey Peyton who has offices in Putnam County and Nitro.

Cropley, a retired chemical engineer with Carbide, said he was involved in a spelunker (cave) club at the time and one of the club members recruited him for the dig on Saturdays. Cropley said he was assigned an area where he was to dig down 18 inches. 'All I can take credit for finding is a charcoal post," he said with a smile.

Peyton, on the other hand, was a teen-ager at the time and actually moved to Midway, Putnam County and lived there for most of one summer. He said they used whiskbrooms, trowels, nut picks, paintbrushes and ball syringes to remove the dirt.

"We found many items, including remains," he commented.

He said most of the paid workmen did not want to dig up the remains so when they uncovered them "that became the job of the kids."

Those who removed the remains are given credit for having done a "meritorious job for the care in which they did their work," by at least one college professor who later studied the bones.

At the completion of the dig, McMichael removed all of the remains to his Morgantown business location where some studies were completed.

© 2001 Don Springer. All rights reserved. Used with permission
Don Springer may be reached on the Internet at

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CWVA's Introduction to the Buffalo Village Series
Part 1: Obstacles hamper return of Native American remains to Buffalo
Part 2: Many hands involved in excavating remains
Part 3: Remains transported state to state for study
Part 4: Local woman labors to bring back ancestors' remains
Part 5: Buffalo pastor, councilman strive to bring back remains
Part 6: Positive and negative feedback on the 'Remains' series