Friday, January 24, 2014


When I was visiting Arkansas last month, I took an afternoon and drove south to Parkin Archaeological State Park outside of the town of Parkin in Cross County. The park contains a prehistoric Mississippian archaeological site that covers about 20 acres and has an excellent small museum. I spent some money at their bookstore.

The site was occupied from around AD 1350 - 1600, and has one temple mound that you can see in the picture above.
It's located on the east bank of the St. Francis River, near its confluence with the Tyronza River. The general plan of the site is D-shaped, and it is surrounded by a moat, connected with the river.

 Around most of the site, the moat has been worn down by modern farming and earth-moving. This bridge crosses the moat to the museum on the east portion of the site.

At the north end of the site the moat is still largely intact and you can get an idea of its size here. The archaeologists who've worked here have found the remains of a palisade on the inside edge of the moat.

One of the interesting things about this site is the fact that it is almost certainly the town of Casqui, that was visited by Hernando de Soto, the Spanish conquistador, in 1541. Its location and appearance fit with the descriptions of the de Soto chroniclers. Also this copper bell and a glass trade bead were found at the site.

There is an additional piece of evidence. When de Soto and his party arrived at Casqui, the area was in the midst of a prolonged drought. The High Miko (or chief) of the town, greeted de Soto and told him that he had heard of the great power of the Spanish and their god. He asked de Soto if he could give the  people of Casqui a sign of the Spanish god and perhaps that would help with the drought.

De Soto ordered his Genoese carpenter and shipwright to cut down a cypress tree and use it to build a large cross. This was then erected in front of the High Miko's house on top of the mound. The Spanish and Indians held a solemn procession to the cross where the Spanish priests celebrated mass. According to the Spanish accounts, a big rainstorm broke that night.

When the top of the mound was excavated by archaeologists in the 1960s, they found a large cypress wood post in place in front of the remains of the structure. Radiocarbon assays on the charred wood date it to the 1540s, making a good case that this is the base of the cross.

Also, if you look closely at the upper right corner of the painting above, you will see animal skulls on the roof of the house. The de Soto chroniclers also said that the High Miko's house was adorned with bison skulls. There were no bison in the area and the Indians had traded for them with people to their west. The Spanish never saw any bison, though they ventured as far west as East Texas. They were told all about them, however and were fed bison meat and given bison robes that circulated in trade.

The Spanish remarked that the Indians of Casqui and the surrounding region had the finest material culture and best and most sophisticated architecture they had seen on their multi-year trip overland from Florida. Most ceramics in the prehistoric Southeast were brown wares, and this region is one of the few to have polychrome pottery as you can see in this picture from the museum.

Another common style is effigy pots that depict animals and people. The museum had quite a few of these like this frog effigy pot.

Here's a goose effigy - very appropriate for their location on the Mississippi Flyway. Duck effigy pots (especially Wood Ducks) are also common, but I didn't see a good one in this collection. Crested woodpeckers (Ivory-billed and Pileated) were also a favorite.

Here is a double-headed turtle effigy.

Also effigies of humans, like these heads. These people took trophy heads in warfare and these might be related to that practice.

Finally, I saw this comedic piece. You will probably want to click on this picture to "embiggen" it. On the left side of the pot is a rabbit and on the right side is a hunter, bow in hand. They are staring across the pot at each other, mouths agape in surprise.


Steve Bodio said...

Wonderful stuff especially the figures on the pots.

And any falconer's first take on the bell is "hawk bell?"

Reid Farmer said...

Exactly - hawk's bells is what they were

Chas Clifton said...

That was interesting about the Cypress post.

Reid Farmer said...

That was pretty awesome, huh?

Wish they had found the bison skulls

dodson said...

You were on my home grounds as I grew up on the family plantation 4 miles North just across the Tyronza River. There are mounds all along there and the ST. Francis River. Many were leveled for farming. One was famous as a rattlesnake den. I had many artifacts as a child. Don't know where they are--so common, of little value then. There is a room in the Memphis Pink Palace Museum that has a great permanent collection of effigy pots and others found in one site near Hughes, Ar. Well worth your visit. The collector had a necklace made of ivory billed beaks at one time.
My understanding is that Bison were quite common in the St Francis and Arkansas River basins. Hunters from New Orleans came there to supply the city with meat and ship pickled tongues to France.
The area North of Parkin and Earle was vast hardwoods just over a century ago. Singer's Woods was just across the River from the museum and is where Singer Sewing Machine got cabinent wood. All gone. Out near my home, lot of land is going back to trees under the WRP program. I had 5,000 acres of woods that a neighbor owned as a backyard when a boy. Cypress trees were huge and acres of oaks to feed the mallards. My paradise.

dodson said...

Reid, let me recommend a book for you. "Arkansas Delta,Land of Paradox" by Gatewood and Whayne. Collection of essays really.
That whole area is rapidly losing human population and regaining wildlife. Hwy 184, where the museum fronts runs about 10 miles fro Earle to Parkin,crossing the Tyronza twice. In the 50's there were at least 1,000 people living out there. With the demise of sharecropping and high tech agriculture, there are now 10. four are my relatives, There are deer, panthers again, bald eagles, an occasional bear. Amazes me. Fewer people live in Eastern Arkansas than when DeSoto passed through.

Steve Bodio said...

And fewer here in the Magdalena area then at any time in at least a thousand years...

Reid Farmer said...

Thank you, Dodson for your recollections and recommendation.

That is my home ground, too, as I was born in Jonesboro and grew up there and in Memphis where we moved when I was 10.

After reading your comments, I was going to say something about how my roots run deep in Arkansas. The first Arkansan in my mother's family was an Irish immigrant named Samuel Fillengim, who bought a portion of a Spanish land grant in what was then Spanish Luisiana in 1798.

I couldn't remember exactly how to spell his name, so I looked up an article my genealogist great aunt Ruth Hill wrote about him in "The Arkansas Family Historian" in 1969.

Turns out Fillengim's land grant was also in what is now Cross County, near the old town of Wittsburg which I now find is across the St Francis River directly west of Parkin!

How about that.

Aunt Ruth's research shows that Fillengim later moved into St. Francis County, just south of Wynne where appears in the 1830 census as head of a household of 18 including two slaves. He died in 1834 and is buried near Wynne.

Thank you for your comments and for pushing me to do a little research.

dodson said...

How small is the world. My family moved to Cross County in 1916 from Desoto County Ms. After my grandparents marriage. The Dodsons had been there since the 1830's. I know Wittsburg. That area was settled fairly early. We had a log cabin on our place that is now in Parkin,as my grandfather gave it to a man to use as a museum. It was dated 1836 on an inside log. The first home I lived in was built around a log cabin made of huge cypress logs. It was used as a temporary field hospital during Mr Lincoln's War. Older than that though.
My parents divorced and I moved to Memphis in 1957 at age 14. Went to east high school. Still live in Memphis.

I remember i left my artifacts packed in My Grandfather's house. 2 or 3 boxes that plowing or road crews would uncover on the farm. He died in 1970 while I was in Manila and his house was burned by white trash. Real Faulknerian story but white trash don't like to have black men men chase them off with a shotgun(Rem Mod 10) and they love to set fires. All my stuff burned.

Back to Desoto, my theory is the folks at Parkin saved his life by directing him West to Crowley's Ridge and then North and West to the Ozark foothills. Thus they avoided the vast White River swamps from which the expedition would not have emerged. You could not do it today. See the Ivory Billed expedition and their problems in the area. This route took them to East Texas and circled around the Grand Prairie region of Arkansas. This was where the Bison herds were.
I think you will enjoy the book mentioned above. Not many about East Arkansas. There is a book about the Mound Builders whose title I dont recall but the author is surnamed Kennedy. Great study of those people and theory of why they died off,

I have often admired your grandparents home in Jonesboro and wondered about the street's curvature. Highway 184 at the Crittenden/Cross County Line makes a sharp turn to run through our farm. My Grandmother sat with a Savage 99 250/3000 for several hours stopping a road crew from continuing while my grandfather rode to get the route changed. She had my infant Father and a baby nurse at her side. Steel Magnolia.

Come see me sometime