History

Saginaw Valley Archaeologists: Contributors to the Field IV – Eliza L. Golson

Note: As the title implies, this series of occasional posts is intended to highlight individuals who have made significant contributions, in one way or another, to the archaeology of the Saginaw Valley. Subjects of previous posts in the series include Fred Dustin, Harlan I. Smith, and Ralph Stroebel.

Eliza Golson is less well-known in local archaeological circles than the previous subjects of this series, but she exemplifies the contributions that avocational archaeologists have so often made to the field. And she did so at a very early date! Much of the following biographic information was compiled by the Castle Museum’s Chief Curator, Sandy Schwan and can be sourced to the introduction to a transcription of Eliza Golson’s diary prepared by Golson’s granddaughter, Theo Alice Klisch and great-granddaughter, Margaret Klisch and to conversations with Margaret Klisch.

Born Eliza Martin on December 9, 1853 in Buffalo, New York, she moved to Saginaw with her family in 1863 where they took up residence on a houseboat. Though formal education was precluded by family responsibilities, young Eliza had a curious mind and a desire to learn and she managed to educate herself.

Eliza Golson

In 1871, Eliza Martin married Frank Golson. They resided in South Saginaw and had six children. While raising her family, Eliza developed an avid interest in the prehistoric artifacts she found near her home – many from right in her own flower beds, others from elsewhere in the neighborhood. Although she had no formal training in archaeology, she recognized the significance of her finds and the importance of documenting them.

Eliza Golson’s Journal

Between 1881 and 1906, Eliza Golson kept a journal of her archaeological activities. Entries describe outings with her children and other family members to search for artifacts. They record what the family found and where. She also describes various classes of artifacts in her collection and speculates on how they were made and their possible functions. The journal entries paint a picture of a woman not simply content to amass a collection of objects, but rather, interested in learning about what those objects might mean.

Selected artifacts from the Golson Collection.

One of Eliza’s children, Edward (Edd), was a schoolmate and good friend of Harlan I. Smith. [Smith, of course, later became a celebrated archaeologist/ethnologist most widely known for his work in the Pacific Northwest.] Edd is mentioned several times in Golson’s journal and seems to have been rather adept at finding artifact caches. Edd’s first cache, consisting of 83 Bayport chert cores and/or preforms, was found 26 April 1890 and was donated to the Peabody Museum at Harvard University that same year.

Edd discovered six bifaces from a second cache on 1 May 1892. Over the next two days, he and Eliza recovered 53 additional specimens from the cache. They sent a report on the cache to the Smithsonian Institution on 8 May 1892 and on 28 June 1892, Harlan I. Smith arrived to photograph the cache.

This image is a copy of Harlan I. Smith’s photo of the Golson Cache #2, found in Saginaw in 1892 by Edward and Eliza Golson and exhibited by Smith at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.

In 1893, the archaeology of the Saginaw Valley was presented to an international audience when Smith chose to exhibit this cache and several additional items from the Golson collection at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Eliza made note of the loan in a 21 March 1893 journal entry.

March 21st 1893
Today Harlin I Smith came for some of my specimens to take to the Worlds Fair for Exhibition. I let him have in Edds name
1 Cache of 59 Implements
1 Copper Axe
1 Copper Awl
103 Bone Points
4 Deer Horns (Pieces of Deer Horns)
1 large tooth
15 Bear Teeth
58 Horn Points

Her 7 December 1893 entry documents that the artifacts were well taken care of and all were returned in good condition.

Dec the 7th 1893
Mr H I Smith Returned my specimens all of them in good condition

Eliza Golson died on 23 February 1923 in South Saginaw. Her memory endures through her continuing contribution to the body of knowledge about the archaeology of the Saginaw Valley. In 1980-1981, her descendants honored her memory and efforts by transcribing Eliza’s journal and distributing copies to various institutions including the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology, the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, and the Historical Society of Saginaw County. In 2012, Eliza Golson’s original journal was donated to the Historical Society of Saginaw County. Although much of her collection seems to have been dispersed, portions can be found today at the Peabody Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, and in the archaeological collections of the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History.

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Archaeology Volunteer Recognized!

And the highly coveted Historical Society of Saginaw County Volunteer of the Year award goes to………………..

NICK BACON!!!

Archaeology volunteer extraordinaire Nick Bacon, along with two others, received the award during  the Historical Society’s Annual Meeting on Saturday. At an institution with a roster of 180 volunteers who donated over 7,800 hours of service last year, this is no small accomplishment!

Nick filling out collection bags during the Swan Creek Survey.

For those who don’t know Nick, over the past three years he has become a valued member of the archaeology team. Since 2015 he has logged over 500 hours in the field and many more in the lab. Nick can always be counted on to lend a hand when needed, bringing his experience from working on numerous archaeological projects in Michigan, several states in the Eastern U. S. and as far away as Belize.

Nick and Jana hard at work in the lab.

As any archaeologist can attest, field work is not always easy, or pleasant. Conditions are often cold and wet, or hot and dry. Mud, mosquitoes, poison ivy, and thorny vegetation are frequent companions. Nick meets such conditions with a shrug and a smile and gets the job done. A memorable outing last fall consisted of walking more than two miles off-trail to a remote part of the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, salvaging two important features that were eroding into the river, and then hiking back out with backpacks and buckets stuffed full of wet soil samples! Not many would return after that “adventure”, but Nick was back the next week ready for more! (That in itself probably merits this award!)

Nick, with Roxanne, giving the “thumbs up” at the Steltzriede Farm site.

In 2017 Nick expanded his range of contributions to the museum to include working with the museum’s historical collections, digitizing photographs and entering collection records into the database. Over the past two decades, we’ve had some truly extraordinary individuals donate their time, effort, and expertise to the archaeology program at the Castle Museum. Nick is continuing that tradition and definitely deserves this recognition as a Volunteer of the Year!

CONGRATULATIONS NICK!!!

 

Michigan Archaeological Society Meeting, Thursday, 5 October 2017

Somehow the days have gotten away from me this month, so this notice is rather last-minute. Nevertheless, all are invited to the October meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society. The meeting is tonight, 5 October 2017,  at 7:00 pm, here at the Castle Museum. For the evening’s program, I will be providing an update on our work at the Steltzriede Farm site in Saginaw Township. The official announcement from the chapter is copied below.

Nick and Julia excavating at the Steltzriede Farm site in Saginaw Township.

The October meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society will be on Thursday, October 5, 2017, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m., in the Morley Room, of the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History, 500 Federal Ave., Saginaw, MI 48607.
Jeff Sommer will give an update on the third season of excavations at the Steltzriede Farm site where, in 1838, German immigrants Henry and Katherine Steltzriede settled, established a farm, and began raising a family.

Fieldwork Update – more from the Steltzriede Farm site.

Progress has been slow but sure at the Castle Museum’s archaeological investigations at the Steltzriede Farm site in Saginaw Township, so I think we are due for another update. We noted previously (here) a need to expand our excavation in order to expose the northwest corner of the presumed cabin cellar. The hassle of dealing with bushes and utilities notwithstanding, we have expanded the excavation block and the corner of the cellar is now clearly visible.

The northwest corner of the cellar at 90 cm. Note brick fragments and abundant chinking.

Other than hundreds of fragments of chinking, several brick fragments, and a few square nails, artifacts have been sparse in the cellar fill. This brass buckle is one of the few non-structural items so far recovered within the cellar. Unfortunately, unlike some 19th century buckles, this one does not appear to have a patent date impressed into it.

Brass buckle found in the cellar.

One of our goals has been to determine the overall size of the cellar. Using a small coring tool, we have attempted to trace the extent of the dark cellar fill. It appears that both the north and west walls of the cellar extend to the edge of, or under, the asphalt driveway. Cores show no evidence that the cellar extends all the way across the driveway. Therefore, if we assume the cellar maintains a rectangular shape, and assume our interpretation of the core samples is accurate, the cellar must measure approximately 12′ X 16′.

Projected size of the cellar.

Work has also continued in what we refer to as the “midden” area of the site. This is a trash disposal area in what at the time was a fairly steep slope leading down to a small pond. The pond has long since been filled in (sometime prior to 1954). Recent finds in the midden area include fragments from several ceramic vessels and numerous animal bones. Ceramic types include blue-edgewares, red transferware, black transferware, and hand-painted polychrome, all of which fit well in an early to mid-19th century context. Many of the animal bones appear to be from pigs, but cow (including most of a skull) and duck have also been identified.

Fragments of a small blue-edgeware plate from the midden area.

Assorted ceramics from the midden area.

Fragments of a cow skull in situ in the midden area.

That’s it for now, but for those interested and in the area, I will be sharing the results our work at the Steltzriede Farm site as part of the Thirty-Seventh Annual Saginaw Humanities Lecture Series on Tuesday, Oct. 3rd, at the Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy (SASA), 1903 N. Niagara Street, in Saginaw. SASA students will perform a musical prelude beginning at 7:00 PM with the lecture beginning at 7:30 PM. There is no admission fee.

Fieldwork Update – Work Continues at the Steltzriede Farm Site

The Castle Museum archaeology crew continues to make progress at the Steltzriede Farm site in Saginaw Township. We have been working on exposing more of the north side of the cellar and at the 70 cm floor can clearly see a portion of the north wall. At this point, the wall appears to have been lined with horizontal wood planks. However, the nature of the wall is obscured by what seem to be rotted tree roots that grew parallel to and through the wall. The roots were probably attracted to the organic content of the rotting wall boards. It is also becoming obvious that we will need to extend the excavation a bit to the west to expose the northwest corner of the cellar. Unfortunately, to do so will require working around buried utility wires and a large shrub. A hassle to be sure, but much better than the eastern side of the cellar, which appears to be entirely covered by the paved driveway!

The edge of the cellar at 70 cm floor.

As expected, we have not been finding a lot of artifacts in the cellar fill. Material we have found includes several square nails, a few fragments of window glass, plaster/chinking fragments, and several ceramic sherds. The ceramics appear to be from early to mid-19th century vessels including a black transferware plate, a blue edgeware bowl or soup plate with an embossed (beaded) rim, and a blue edgeware plate with a scalloped rim and curved impressed lines. Based on what we found in adjacent units last year, we can expect artifact density to increase as we approach the floor of the cellar.

Ceramics from the cellar fill.

Meanwhile, we have also been working in an area of the site where 19th century midden (trash) deposits were previously identified. We have progressed through the upper layers of 19th and 20th century fill that cap the area and are now into the 19th century midden deposits. Artifact density is much higher in this portion of the site, which means lots of measuring, mapping in artifacts, and recording notes!

Nick and Julia measuring and recording data.

Artifacts from the midden area include bricks, ceramics, bottle fragments, animal bones, lead shot, and even a couple of glass beads. One of the glass beads (shown) is a dark blue faceted bead. The other is a tiny clear glass “seed” bead. Similar beads were found in early 19th century contexts at the Cater Site in Midland County (Beld 2002), but these styles likely persisted through the mid and late 19th century. Fragments of two small aqua glass bottles were found including the neck and shoulder portion of a rectangular medicine bottle and the base of a slightly melted round (cylindrical) bottle with an open pontil scar. Ceramics include fragments of both green and blue edgeware vessels with scalloped rims and both red and black transferware vessels. The red transferware vessel shown below is a bowl or other hollow vessel decorated on both the interior and exterior surfaces. The pattern has not yet been identified, but there may be enough for one of the ceramic gurus out there to figure it out.

Selected artifacts from the midden area.

We will continue working at the Steltzriede Farm site throughout the summer and into the fall, so stay tuned for more updates!

Fieldwork Update – Getting Started at the Steltzriede Farm Site

Nick and Roxanne ready to get started.

The Castle Museum Archaeology team has been busy and the 2017 field season at the Steltzriede Farm Site (20SA562) is now well underway. During the 2016 field season we located a mid-19th century midden zone (trash deposit) and what we believe is the cellar of the original house/cabin built on the site. Readers familiar with the project will remember that the Steltzriede family is said to have built a log cabin when they settled at the site in 1838. They moved to a frame house, which still stands on the property, in 1848. New readers can learn more about the project here, here, here, and here. Our work this year will, at least initially, focus on uncovering more of the cabin/cellar to learn what we can about the size and nature of the structure. We will also expand our excavation in the midden area to obtain a larger sample of artifacts and subsistence remains from the early decades of the Steltzriede’s occupation.

Julia, Nick, and Brad excavating in the cabin/cellar area.

We have opened up three 1X1 meter units in the cabin/cellar area and are slowly working our way through the upper fill layers toward the cellar floor. Two of the units contain clusters of mortar/chinking, but little else, and no sign yet of the expected wall of the cellar. This is probably due to the way the cellar deteriorated, collapsed, and was filled in – a process that, through careful excavation, we may be able to tease out. The third excavation unit in this part of the site was previously excavated (in 2015)  down to 40cm in north half and 50 cm in the south half. At that point there was no clear sign of a structural feature so the excavation was halted and backfilled. Given what we learned last year about the location of the cellar and what the collapsed and filled in area above the cellar looks like, I decided to reexamine the previously excavated unit and go a bit deeper to see if we had given up on it too soon. This may have been a good decision because at the 60cm floor we can now see what appears to be the north edge of the cellar!

Probable north wall of cellar. A rotted root runs along the edge.

Artifacts have been pretty sparse in all three units. Other than the previously mentioned mortar/chinking, we have found a few nails, bone fragments, one or two small ceramic sherds, and a couple of glass fragments. One glass fragment is from a pressed glass goblet or tumbler with the “Wildflower” pattern by Adams and Co. More research is needed, but a quick internet search indicates that the Adams and Co. began producing the pattern in the 1870s and it was widely reproduced well into the 20th century. Regardless of whether this is a 19th or 20th century example, it clearly post-dates the occupation of the cabin.

Pressed glass – “Wildflower” pattern.

Monday, we also opened up two excavation units in the area above the 19th century midden. This part of the site is capped with approximately 50cm of sod and topsoil and clay and gravel fill. We shoveled out these relatively recent (probably mid-20th century) fill layers and are now ready to begin excavation of the 19th century deposits.

Fieldwork Update 3 May 2017

Nick Bacon and I took advantage of a window of nice weather and spent Wednesday working in the Swan Creek study area. We revisited one of the 19th century artifact clusters we initially found two years ago. Previous posts about the study area can be seen here, here, here, and here. We spent the morning flagging artifacts and the afternoon plotting coordinates and collecting the specimens. Here’s Nick hard at work recording provenience data on the collection bags.

Nick filling out collection bags.

Despite making two previous “total” collections of this artifact cluster (in 2015 and 2016), we continue to find new classes of artifacts, and new styles of previously collected artifact classes. We may eventually  reach a point of diminishing returns in terms of broadening our understanding of the range of materials present in this cluster, but I don’t think we’re there yet.

A selection of artifacts from Area 2, Cluster 1.

Structural debris was limited to window glass, nails and one or two small brick fragments. Household/domestic and personal items were more varied. We found several types of decorated ceramics including blue, black, green, and purple transfer-printed wares; blue edgeware; red, blue, and red and blue sponge-decorated (including one sherd with a green hand-painted band around the rim); and hand-painted polychrome (sprigware). We found a few white clay smoking pipe fragments including one with a cross-hatched bowl and a circle of stars. Although it’s missing the initials, this pipe is probably a fragment of a “Patriotic T.D.” pipe, which was a common style during the third quarter of the 19th century (Anderson 1982). We found one molded, white, four-hole, prosser button.  Prosser buttons post-date 1840 and were still being made into the mid-20th century (Sprague 2002). We also found one bead, a black glass, or jet, specimen, rectangular in outline, flat on one face and rounded on the other, and beveled on both ends. The bead has two holes, one on each end of the long edge. Finally, we found a French “blade” gunflint. According to Beld (2002), by 1850, most guns in the Saginaw Valley had been converted over to the percussion cap firing mechanism, so this artifact probably dates to the first half of the 19th century.

All in all, it was great start to the 2017 field season! Stay tuned for more updates as the season progresses.