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First Peoples

Ken Falls grew up in the Lone Cedar – Merriman area. His family has solid Eastland County roots going back to the 1800s. More importantly (at least to me), Ken worked for many years as a pumper for oil companies. His laser-like interest in the study of American Indian cultures and artifacts, combined with a job that took him onto private property all over the region, destined Ken to be the Alameda – Cheaney area’s greatest expert on Native societies. Ken’s lifetime of field work lays a solid foundation for the future study of prehistoric Alameda and Cheaney.

When the whole Indian thing came up, Ken counseled that I should keep an open mind. He knew I’d run across white settler stories detailing long years of Indian – Anglo conflict. He also knew more than one flavor of Indian had lived in the Leon River Valley.

Ken has a twisted sense of humor, once you get to know him. Most of Ken’s best stories I can’t include, knowing mom will read this someday. During his decades as a pumper, stomping around the pastures and creek beds of rural Eastland County, Ken discovered artifacts. He was able to construct an important map detailing twenty-five Native American camps within the county, based upon these discoveries. Ken catalogued what he found through the years, creating a rich historical Native American tapestry fueling this chapter.

To protect the integrity of those sites, many of which are still relatively undisturbed, their locations are only described in general terms. They all fall with the “Alameda – Cheaney Box” detailed on Map I, however. Rather than recite a long list of amateur finds by Ken and others, I include only those which document certain time periods and cultures.

Sparse archeological study in Eastland County flows from little invasive land development and a suspicion by local landowners that control of their hard-won real estate holdings might pass from their hands. Except for some sporadic surface collection by deer hunters or pre-WWII school kids, whatever the Indians left out there, still awaits collection and interpretation.

Alameda – Cheaney Native peoples date to Clovis era man, 13,000 years ago. He walked the Leon River Valley in fairly large numbers. Though rough country, these hillsides supplied water, game and because of the thickness (then) of the Texas Cross Timbers, offered refuge from other tribes.

The dense Cross Timbers barrier was quite striking for westbound Anglo explorers who had just crossed a wide open Blackland Prairie, covered with chest-high native grasses. Most of these travelers recorded this radical change, giving us first hand accounts of what this country looked like. Randolph Marcy traveled this country extensively when, saying, “At six different points where I have passed through [the Cross Timbers], I have found it characterized by the same peculiarities; the trees, consisting principally of post-oak and black-jack, standing at such intervals that wagons can’t without difficulty pass between them in any direction. The soil is thin, sandy, and poorly watered.”

George Wilkins Kendall with the Texan Santa Fe Expedition of 1841, called the Cross Timbers “almost impenetrable” and “full of deep and almost impassable gullies. The ground was covered with a heavy undergrowth of briers and thorn-bushes, impenetrable even by mules, and these, with the blackjacks and post oaks which thickly studded the broken surface, had to be cut away, their removal only showing, in bolder relief, the rough and jagged surface of the soil which had given them existence and nourishment.”

Josiah Gregg (1844) ascribed the forest’s density to fires, natural or started intentionally by Indians. “Most of the timber appears to be kept small by the continual inroads of the ‘burning prairies for, being killed almost annually, it is constantly replaced by scions of undergrowth; so that it becomes more and more dense every reproduction. In some places, however, the oaks are of considerable size, and able to withstand the conflagrations. The underwood is so matted in many places with grape-vines, green-briars, etc., as to form almost impenetrable ‘roughs’.”

If a band of Native peoples were looking for a place in which to disappear, Eastland County’s Leon River Valley would have been hard to beat. The northern end of the Leon River and its Colony Creek tributary cuts through rougher terrain, more cut up with low mountains, rock outcroppings, hollows, winding creeks and streams. As you move south down the Leon, getting closer to the mid-point of the Alameda – Cheaney Box, the valley widens to a smooth, gentle swale. Cliffs resurface on the western side of this valley (Reid Ridge), just above Alameda Cemetery, continuing south to Nash Creek. Below the Alameda Cemetery hill, Mansker Lake and the Leon River are within sight of each other on a broad, flat delta studded by giant pecan trees.

The Leon River is punctuated by several deep, rock bottomed “holes” where water would have stood for months after rains ceased. Numerous springs (Duvall Springs, Young Springs, Winsett Springs, Ellison Springs, McGough Springs, Nash Springs, Blackwell Springs, and others) offered passing Native travelers cool, clear water during arid months. Indians could hunt game that wandered up for a drink.

Many think of Central Texas as a land with plentiful lakes, reservoirs and stock tanks. The vast majority of these are man-made, and those pretty recently (1950s on). Before the impulse to impound runoff water for future use began, large bodies of water like Mansker Lake were rare.
Bill McGough refers to Mansker’s waters as “the lake” from a distance of ten miles away as late as the late mid-1800s. These peaceful waters were known to ancient people, and were returned to often. Its shorelines may have even been fought over, with the fallen dead buried in the east-facing cliffs nearby (this Native gravesite long since desecrated).

Native peoples visited Mansker Lake in waves. People capable of recording Native presence (French or Spanish explorers, Republic of Texas soldiers, early ranching settlers) didn’t hit this broad area of Texas until the mid-1700s. There are no known eyewitness sightings of Native Americans in our specific Eastland County area recorded until Big Foot Wallace explored just to our east in 1837. From that date until 1874 when the Indians disappeared to reservations or were killed (or driven underground in at least one Cheaney case), few written accounts fail to mention Native Americans, usually Comanches.

The natural food basket that Natives sought was found in this stretch of the Leon River Valley. The valley is filled with giant pecan trees (“protein that won’t run away,” my new friend and Comanche ethnologist Linda Pelon reminds). The presence of deer, large panthers and bears are recorded by early settlers (McGough and Mrs. Jim Hart). Corn would have grown in these fertile bottoms without the need of soil preparation. Older interviewees report a greater presence of walnut trees than is found today.

Bison would have been hard pressed to get into this rough-terrain valley in large numbers, though McGough reports them seven miles to the west. Big Foot Wallace also reports bison near present day Victor, ten miles to the southeast. Either site is well within the known range of Indian hunting parties. Theoretically, the McGough Springs bison to the west of Alameda could have been herded to the Reid Ridge cliff on the western side of Alameda, and driven over its edge into the fast moving waters below (like Natives did at the Bonfire Shelter in Val Verde County…a similar, seventy foot high cliff). The writer was unable to access the Reid Ridge land, to explore this theory, though the topography, archeology and the nearby presence of bison fit.

If Mansker Lake’s human clock started 13,000 years ago, more than 600 succeeding generations of people could have lived here during that period of time. Hunters and gatherers looking for food and water, would have found a sure supply, unlike other inland Texas areas. We cannot know for sure “who these Indians were”. We cannot give those peoples definite names, like we later can the Comanches, at least not yet. Additional investigation could fill those voids.

All these “could have” theories would have remained conjecture. That’s where Ken Falls and others came to Alameda’s rescue. Ken and I built a ladder of civilizations together, driven only by the nature of artifacts found. Those artifacts become markers for amazing periods of civilization in what is now sparsely settled farmland. Additional hard work by citizens of the City of DeLeon corroborated our story.

DeLeon is a bustling town of 2,424 people, located 16 miles south of Alameda. Amateur and professional archeologists made tremendous progress putting their Indian puzzle together. The preponderance of DeLeon’s Indians are thought to be Wichita, divided into the Waco and the Tawakoni. Their culture was a mix of Caddo to the east, and Great Plains Indians to the west. They farmed a little, but made frequent hunting trips to the plains.

Indians would have been on foot until the later arrival of the horse-borne Kiowa and Comanche. The Leon River bottom, cleared of underbrush by seasonal flooding, would have been a clear thoroughfare to camps above and below Alameda and DeLeon. The water would have drawn game, just as it drew human life.

If Natives preceding the Comanches also used smoke signals, smaller hilltop smoke sites along its course could have reached the major Jameson Peak and Ranger Hill regional smoke sites easily (a hilltop above Jim Neal Creek, the Schmick Ridge below Alameda and the Staff (“Round”) Mountain sites all fit subsidiary smoke signaling location profiles. Physical evidence was found at two of these sites.

Linda told me to look for Indian footprints along paths of least resistance, when we first met. She said that many settler roads (even a few highways) follow prehistoric paths created by Native peoples. Plotting Mr. Falls findings, then cross-referencing his work with the earliest known detailed road maps of Eastland County (1888 and 1917), yielded a surprising breakthrough.

A north-south roadway recorded on a 1917 U.S. Soil Conservation Map implies an ancient roadway connecting several Indian campsites, dating from the Archaic Era, 8,000 years ago. That same route was widely used as a public road until late 1878 by settlers and travelers, when a new county road was built to its east, on higher ground. This Old Alameda Road forms the spine of much of this region’s early history, though it is now largely invisible.

Bill McGough (1859) places the intersection of the two overland Comanche War Trails a mile and a half east of Desdemona, beneath the most important Native regional mountain landmark, Jameson Peak. This seems to be roughly corroborated by the 1839 “Map of Texas Compiled from Surveys on record in the General Land Office of the Republic”, by Richard S. Hunt and Jesse F Randel. The 1839 map shows a Y intersection that the Alameda – Cheaney Box lies completely within. It is likely the Comanches were not the first to travel this well-defined migration path, as earlier peoples were also always on the move. This intersection is eight miles from Mansker Lake, if McGough is correct. The 1839 map plots it farther west.

The writer will only identify the more stirring marker artifacts found, mostly arrowheads, spear points and mano/metates, that suggest the timelines of the peoples who left them behind. This discussion is informed by the extensive archeological study undertaken around DeLeon.

The Clovis Culture of Paleo-Indian presence begins with two Clovis points, found inside the Alameda – Cheaney Box. Nearby Native fire pits have not been carbon dated. Alameda’s Clovis Man lived for around 800 years, beginning 13,000 years ago. These Clovis points were found near the Rock Ledge Shelter Camp.

Clovis points were used on spears, lances and darts – weapons used to “stab” their prey, not be thrown or shot. These first Paleo-American Stage Indians hunted the now-extinct camel, the prehistoric horse, four-horned antelope, mastodon and the

mammoth, though the mastodon is the only ancient megafauna whose remains have been found in this valley (to this writer’s knowledge).
These early Paleo-Indians are not thought to have been shelter builders. They might have lived in the open, in trees, or beneath rock outcroppings. These outcroppings are an easy walk from the Rock Ledge Shelter Camp site. Earlier shelter outcroppings could have been softened or eroded away through the years by the seasonally-flooding Leon River and other man-made alterations to this river’s nature. Caves lie at the western edge of this site in two locations.

The Folsom Culture (9,000 – 8,000 B. C.) hunted now-extinct ancient bison, much taller than the animals alive today. These later Paleo-Indians were slightly more sophisticated in their tool making than the Clovis peoples. Folsom tips were found in the same area as the Clovis tips, suggesting the site’s ongoing desirability, or perhaps even a linking thread between the two people. When I later talked to Comanche Nation representatives, they told me that their people believe that all Native peoples share an eternal core linkage. Though it sounded like mystical allegory to me, a part of their cosmic belief system, the Comanches’ spiritual legacy might also literally explain the evolution of Native peoples at one location through time.

The Plano Culture is represented by Plainview points, found at the Upper Leon Fulcrum Camp. This culture’s population lived from 10,000 – 8,000 years ago. The sheer number of these people is thought to be greater, as many more artifacts have been found. Metates show up as early as this culture, but were used constantly until early

Historic times. The Fulcrum Camp peoples widely roamed this valley as flint scraping tools, several manos and metates and stone cleavers have all been found as far south as the Alameda Cemetery vicinity. An additional cleaver was found on the Hamilton Place near Jim Neal Creek, ironically, near the site of the valley’s first Anglo settler foothold. Paths of least resistance.

Plano artifacts tend to concentrate at Fulcrum Camp, but scatter liberally at multiple sites along Jim Neal Creek, Colony Creek and the Leon River. These people’s population grew through time. The end of this Paleo period is thought to be the Altithermal Period. Average temperatures rose markedly. Rainfall decreased 6,500-7,500 years ago, producing punishing droughts. Large game like bison would have suffered.

A large year-round inland lake like Mansker Lake would have been necessary for survival, attracting refugees from the Great Plains. The Antithermal may have made West Texas uninhabitable, scientists believe. If the Antithermal caused bison to disappear, Indians would be forced to retool, to hunt smaller game along wooded river bottoms, like rabbit, turtle and deer. This Leon River Valley’s native pecan, walnut and several seed-bearing plants surely added to Alameda-Cheany’s allure. Its desirability probably produced conflict.

The Archaic Stage began about 6000 B.C. – 200 B. C. A Bulverde Point from the Early Archaic Period (3,000 – 2500 B. C.) was found at the Alameda Cemetery many years ago. A Trinity Tip was also found farther north at the cornerstone Fulcrum Camp. More paths of least resistance.

The Native’s weapons transitioned to airborne delivery (arrows are shot, not jabbed). Black-scarred middens begin to appear. There is no evidence of farming at this stage, or constructed shelters, but again, cliffs and caves are convenient to both sites.

The Middle Archaic Period (8,000 – 1,000 B. C.) announced cooler temperatures and more rainfall. Bison returned to the recovering grasslands to the west. Pedernales points were found just north of Alameda Cemetery.

The Late Archaic Period brought a marked growth of population and intense interaction. These folks gathered berries, roots, nuts, pecan and the lemon size bur-oak acorns. They hunted deer, small game, and bison. Refuse mounds filled with discarded bones, shells, and broken hearth stones formed the “rock middens” of Central Texas, found in two places within the Alameda – Cheaney Box. The dart was their primary weapon. They developed a wooden device called an atlatl to increase the power of their throwing arm.

Pottery began to be made during this time, as well as organized agriculture. The bow and arrow replaced the atlatl. The arrow points were much thinner, smaller and lighter. Though Ruth Terry Denney mentions pottery in her well-written 1941 A Short History of Ranger, the writer did not interview anyone who found Native pottery within the Alameda – Cheaney Box. Anecdotal stories reported pottery finds on the upper Jim Neal Creek and also southwest of Alameda Cemetery. Neither were confirmed.

The Late Prehistoric Period (A. D. 600 – A. D. 1600) fully embraced the bow and arrow, and pottery. Caddo and Plains Indian cultural influences meld in this period, just prior to the first Spanish and French ventures into this part of Texas. Perdiz points found at Fulcrum Camp could point to a wide time frame, from the 1800 Historic Period as far back as the Late Prehistoric Period. Alba Points found at Fulcrum seem to better anchor the Late Prehistoric I Period (1250-750 BP).

Fresno points confirm man a short distance to the northeast, at the large Colony Rock Mountain Camp. There are Washita Points from this same site, and also farther south along the Jim Neal.

HISTORIC PERIOD (AD 1600 – Present). The Wacos seem to be in abundance in DeLeon, driven out later by Lipan Apaches. The points found in the Alameda – Cheaney Box support DeLeon’s discovery of a sizable Waco civilization. Any Wacos left behind were surely eliminated by the Comanches, beginning around 1740.

Indian campsites around DeLeon seem to be of two types – the first contained flint arrow points. The second contained large spearheads, hand axes, points with corner tangs, and grinding manos or “squaw rocks”.

Where the Leon and Sabanna merge south of DeLeon (eighteen miles south of Alameda) a large “war camp” was found. “It was in blow sand that was originally about two and one half feet deep but has since exposed eleven small fire place mounds about two feet in height and three feet in diameter at its base.”

“The major site of the second type was located east of De Leon on the west bank of the Leon. It covered an acre of ground and was a small hill so littered with mussel shells as to resemble one of the shell heaps common on the coast. This site produced a great many drills, mortars and manos, arrowpoints, large spearpoints, hand axes and flint scrapers.”

Two professional digs near DeLeon found “Central Texas Aspect” Clifton, Scallorn, Granbury and Perdiz points. A second division of the Neo-American Stage called the Henrietta Focus found Harrell, Fresno and Young Points. The Edwards Plateau aspect of the Archaic Stage found Pedernales, Martindale and Darl points. In rough terms, DeLeon’s prehistoric history seems to mirror Alameda’s, a short distance to its north.

Ruth Terry Denny believes that various flavors of Caddo were pushed into this area from East Texas during this period by early Anglo settlers. Earthen berms visually consistent with Caddo mounds were observed at two sites in the Leon River Valley, both on land the writer could not access.
Denny tells us “the Indians inhabiting the central part of the State when (the) white man was moving West were, for the most part, these speaking dialects of the Caddo language. They were the Caddos, Wacos, Wichitas, Keechies, Andarkos, Tejas, Ionies, Adaes, Bedias, Ayish, Towash, Tawakanas, and the Nachodoches. These tribes were builders of permanent homes, and cultivated corn, melons, and vegetables for their
own use. Those inhabiting the North Central part of Texas were the Caddos, Wacos, Keechies, Witchitas, and Towash tribes”.

Denny offers fascinating clues. “The meal bowls, pestles, stone-hoos, and most of the flint artifacts found in Eastland County were left by the Caddos and kindred tribes. The meal bowls vary a great deal. Some were made of thin rock which required experienced and skilled hands in shaping them. Perhaps these were the ones taken with them when they moved camp. Others have been found which were too heavy to have been moved any considerable distance. Some times round holes about the size of post holes were found in large sand rocks or in limestone boulders which seem to indicate the site of a permanent camp. Some camp sites have been found where it seems that those bowls were purposely broken. This is thought to have been done to prevent their falling into the hands of their enemies. Arrowheads have been found in many sizes and types. Tomahawks vary so much that hardly any two are very much alike.”

When French, Spanish and Anglo explorers hit this land, Native fortunes declined rapidly, on several fronts. Though scattered battles killed both Indians and European explorers, the disease the fair-complected men brought with them turned out to be their most effective weapon.

The introduction of the horse by the Spaniards near Taos and the rifle by the French and Spanish helped the Apache and Comanche grow to dominate the region’s more peaceful Caddo. Comanche hegemony continued to grow to the south, eventually beyond the Rio Grande into Mexico.

The Comanches probably beat Anglo covered wagons to the Leon River Valley by no more than 120 years (1740 versus 1859). The Comanches are thought to have swooped down from the north (Native roads tend to run north to south, unlike Anglo east to west paths). Some Native historians believe conversely that earlier peoples were mixed into the Comanche population. Either way, the Comanches (and Kiowas) were operating full bore in Eastland County when the first Anglo settlers arrived at Mansker Lake and Blair’s Fort to its east.

First hand, written reports from this fated meeting punctuate the beginning of Alameda’s recorded history. Though written in heroic language, and clearly from the Anglo writers’ sole perspectives, they offer a look at this valley that is hard to imagine today.

Pre-Comanche First Peoples arrived at Mansker Lake and the Leon River Valley in hundreds of waves through the years. They stayed for a while, got what they needed, then history’s tide forced them to pack up and leave (or be killed trying). The Native folks who stayed behind are buried here, in cemeteries off in the woods, victims of disease or other tribes or old age or each other.

The parade of the Natives described in this chapter got the wakeup call of their lives when “who came next” arrived. One morning many moons ago, these mostly peaceful people heard the sound of mustang hoof beats in the distance. Perhaps blood-curdling war cries filled the stilled air. Within the space of a few years, the Comanche had displaced all who came before. And the Comanche dug in, preparing for what came next.