Did Deer Cloud Live Before Columbus?

 

Indigenous People of the United States

Indigenous People of the United States

 In my book, Peyote Fire: Shaman of the Canyons, the protagonist Deer Cloud paints stories of his gods on the wall of a rockshelter overlooking a river. The rock art is still there today for people to see. But when exactly was it painted? How old is it? Did that happen before Columbus visited America?

I get asked these questions a lot. In general Americans are pretty foggy on events in North America prior to European settlement. As it turns out, people like Deer Cloud created the Pecos River style rock art in the canyons along the Rio Grande just west of Del Rio, Texas,  about the same time as the Minoans flourished in Crete. That’s about 4,000 years ago, or 2,000 years BC.

Below is a short timeline on human occupation of North America, with some comparative information to add context with the rest of the world. When you look at the timeline, notice what was going on around the world in 2000 BC, or about 4,000 years ago.  What happened before? What happened after?  Please note that all dates are rounded and open to debate and new evidence.

Be watching for a quiz later this spring to win a free copy of my book! I hope you win!

Who, When and Where: Rough Timeline of Human Occupation of North America

Buffalo, the mainstay of North American Plains Indians

Buffalo, the mainstay of North American Plains Indians

1879 Traditional life of the Great Plains Indians is over. Other Native Americans have either moved to reservations or died. The buffalo of the Great Plains are gone, over 65 million destroyed by white hunters.

1875  The last Comanche villages in Palo Duro Canyon (Texas) destroyed by U.S. Army

1776   U.S. Declaration of Independence from England

1730   Founding of San Antonio by Spanish settlers in Texas

1718 Founding of New Orleans by the French

 1700-1875   Comanche, Kiowa and Apache rule the Great Plains of North America

1642 Founding of Montreal, Canada by the French as Ville Marie

1620 Pilgrims land at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts

1610   Don Pedro de Peralta establishes Santa Fe in New Mexico as the capital of the province of New Spain

1532 Pizarro begins the defeat of the Incas in Peru

1521 Cortez conquers the Aztecs in Mexico

1492 AD   Christopher Columbus makes landfall in the Caribbean

1000-1400 AD   Navajo and Apache migrate south from present-day Canada

http://newmexicohistory.org/places/navajo-nation-from-prehistory-to-the-twentieth-century, http://www.ihs.gov/navajo/index.cfm?module=nao_navajo_nation, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apache, http://www.indians.org/articles/apache-indians.html

Cahokia, courtesy of Britannica.com

Cahokia, courtesy of Britannica.com

700 AD   Cahokia settlement first established near what is today St. Louis http://cahokiamounds.org, http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/01/cahokia/hodges-text, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cahokia

0 The Common Era Begins

44 BC        Death of Julius Caesar

776 BC     First Olympic games

449 BC     Construction begun on Acropolis in Athens

800 BC     Founding of Rome

1,000 BC  Adena culture appears in what is today Ohio http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adena_culture

2,000 BC     Pecos River style polychrome rock art along the Rio Grande

Lower Pecos rock art

Lower Pecos rock art

http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/pecos/art.html, http://www.rockart.org, http://www.shumla.org

  • 1790 BC Code of Hammurabi
  • 2000 BC Maya Pre-Classic period in Central America
  • 2000 BC Minoans worship the mother goddess in Crete
  • 2600 BC Stonehenge begun in Britain
  • 2750 BC First Egyptian pyramid begun at Saqqara

3000 BC Evidence of silk production in China

  • 3114 BC Beginning of the Maya Long Count
  • 3200-2340 BC cities begin in Mesopotamia
  • 3300 BC Bronze Age begins in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and perhaps Britain
  • 3300 BC “Otzi the Iceman” dies in the Alps between today’s Austria and Italy
  • 3700 BC invention of wooden carts in Central Asia
  • 3750 BC First evidence of cotton weaving in India
  • 3761 BC Origin of the modern Hebrew calendar

4,000 BC     Old Copper Complex emerges in what will one day be Wisconsin http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Copper_Complex

  • 4000 BC First Egyptian hieroglyphs

6,000 BC     Domestication of corn in Mexico http://teosinte.wisc.edu/questions.html, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maize

The bones of Kenniwick Man, courtesy of the Seattle Times

The bones of Kenniwick Man, courtesy of the Seattle Times

7,500 BC     Kenniwick Man lived on northwest coast http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kennewick_Man http://www.burkemuseum.org/kennewickman

  • 11,000 BC Clovis culture emerges http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clovis_culture

19,000-12,000 BC       Human beings arrive in North America http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buttermilk_Creek_Complex, http://www.gaultschool.org/Home.aspx, http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/gault/, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meadowcroft_Rockshelter

 

7th Annual Lower Pecos Archaeolympics at Seminole Canyon

Throwing a spear with an atlatl is one of the eventsof anicent skill at the Archeolymics.

Throwing a spear with an atlatl is one of the events of ancient skill at the Archeolympics.

Reporting today’s blog post is Vicky Munoz, Archaeology Intern at the Shumla Research and Education Center.

The 7th Annual Archeolympics was held February 22,2014 at Seminole Canyon State Park near

Vicky Munoz

Vicky Munoz

Comstock, Texas, about 35 miles west of Del Rio.  The Archeolympics is a primitive skills competition featuring atlatl and spear throwing, rabbit stick throwing, and frictiion fire starting. Ancient people who lived in the Lower Pecos region of Texas used these three basic skills for daily life, but few contemporary folks practice them today. It’s not unusual for today’s paleo-triathletes to compete in all three events.

Participants included Boy Scout groups from Del Rio, Texas; the Experimental Archaeology Club at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas; and a group from San Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas; as well as individuals with a special place in their hearts for Archaic skills, some coming from as far as Houston.

The rabbit stick throwing competition was first up. A rabbit stick is a non-returning boomerang, and was used all over the world as a primitive hunting device.  The paleo-athletes took turns lining up and throwing at two defenseless soccer balls that stood in for rabbits about 20 feet down range. Each competitor had three shots per turn. This event, or any of the events for that matter, isn’t as easy as it sounds. Most participants missed the targets, but the crowd went wild when one of those “rabbits” bit the dust.  Watch the short video below by Jack Johnson to see the power of a rabbit stick against a mighty opponent, the “Pumpkin.”

A few of the competitors even had hits on all three throws! The bar was set high in this year’s games. Winners had to be determined by sudden death.   Juan Carlos won in the youth category (second place went to Josh Allen), and Lauren Kempf in the adult (second was Fabian Castillo and third was Jerod Roberts).

Friction fire starting was the second event of the day.  This is definitely the sprint event for the games. The event was open to all ages, but only five competitors were brave enough to enter: Robin Matthews, Jack Johnson, Charles Koenig, Bryan Heisinger, and Jerod Roberts. The rules for this event are deceptively simple: Start a fire using nothing but a spindle or hearth-board as fast as possible. No bow drills, all muscle.

Charles Koenig makes fire

Charles Koenig makes fire

Competitors arrange their kits in front of them on the ground. When the flag drops, the race begins.  Within 30 seconds, two were beginning to feed their hungry embers to create that fire. Charles Koenig and Jerod Roberts were neck and neck, but it was the previous champion, Charles, who eventually came out on top with a blistering time of 46 seconds.

The other competitors had to be reminded that the race was not over, and that there were two more places on the podium still up for grabs. They quickly went back to trying to conjure fire. Jack Johnson, also a previous friction fire race champion, added drama to the race by dropping out not just once, but twice, citing exhaustion. He had been doing fire starting demonstrations most of the morning and didn’t have enough energy saved up for the race! Jerod Roberts had also burned most of his energy giving Charles Koenig a run for his money, but managed to get another ember going, only to lose it once more. Exhausted and somewhat defeated, Roberts took a timeout. Watch this short video to see how to start a fire with a sotol drill and hearth stick.

Meanwhile Bryan Heisinger (see www.aswtproject.wordpress.com, Feb. 25, 2014), with laser like focus and coaching from the new champion Koenig, began

Friction fire starting race

Friction fire starting race. Photo courtesy Megan Vallejo.

to get his embers glowing. A newcomer to the sport, Heisinger later recounted how he was so determined to get a fire going that he was forgetting that he also needed to breathe! Clocking in over 4 minutes, Heisinger took second place as the others looked on, clearly feeling the burn (pun intended) in their arms. At just over 6 minutes, Robin Matthews and Jerod Roberts declared a draw and were awarded third place.

After halftime, the atlatl and spear throwing competition began. The sport was divided into  amateur, skilled, and team events. This is the real crowd pleasing event and the one with the largest number of competitors.  Apparently launching pointed darts at animal targets really gets the adrenaline going. Some competitors are so serious that they bring their own darts and atlatls from home.

Robin Matthews throwing with atlatl and spear

Robin Matthews throwing with atlatl and spear. Photo courtesy Shumla.

Scoring is as follows: three points for hitting the target of the deer in the heart/vital area, two points for a hit on the neck and face of the deer target, one point for a hit on any other part of the flesh. The rules to this are also deceptively simple: earn the most points in three attempts.

As the shoot-out began, the wind began to calm down a bit which was a big help to the competitors as they were throwing into the wind. For most of the hunters, the prey eluded them and they went hungry that night but of course, there is always a winner. In the amateur category, Amanda Castañeda took first place with second to Joe Taylor. Amanda delivered a fatal blow to the deer as well as one to her competition.

Those with more experience (and confidence) compete in the skilled category.  At this level, the competition is fierce with friends and couples being pitted against one another. Playful verbal jabs are slung at one another, especially within groups where they’re all vying to be the alpha atlatl hunter. It’s all-out war.

Charles Koenig, who also blazed his way to the top in friction fire race, took the top spot in the skilled category with Mallory Marcone taking second, and Jim (just Jim) taking third place. The youngest winner in the skilled competition was Willie Canseco, age 13.  Here’s a short clip of the atlatl event, courtesy of Michael Strutt and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

In the team atlatl category, the group known as the Eaglenesters took first place. Troop 255 managed to slip in and snatch second place, and the Sharknados defeated the remaining competition in sudden death for third place.  Each team got five shots at the target. Teams were composed of 2-5 people, with every member taking at least one shot.

Prize objects for winners

Prize objects for winners. Photo courtesy Shumla.

Ultimately, it’s important to note that these competitions aren’t just for pride or fun. Each first place winner received a beautiful Perdernales style projectile point knapped by Kinley Coyan from Sanderson, Texas. Unlike the recent Sochi Olympics, however, no national anthems were sung, nor flags raised.

The Archeolympics is the brainchild of National Park Service Archaeologist, Jack Johnson, Amistad National Recreation Area, and organized for the last five years by Park Ranger Tanya Petruney, Seminole Canyon State Park. The

Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson

purpose is to give the public the opportunity to get hands on experience while learning about the lifeways of the prehistoric Lower Pecos inhabitants, including demonstrations on flintknapping, fire starting, plant processing, cord making and, weaponry. The event is sponsored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, The National Park Service, The Rock Art Foundation, and the Shumla Archaeological Research and Education Center. The event continues to grow every year but as of right now, this is one of Texas’ best kept secrets. Other events similar to this are held around the state year round. For more information on this check out the Texas Atlatl Association Meetup page (http://www.meetup.com/ATLATL/).

Well, that concludes this year’s Archeolympics! If you “like” the Seminole Canyon State Park Facebook

Great competition. Photo courtesy of Shumla.

Great competition. Photo courtesy  Shumla.

page, they will update you on when the next Archeolympics will be held plus all the other super cool things they have going on all year round. A special thank you to all the staff and volunteers! Without them this event would not be possible. Hope to see y’all next year!

Peyote: Plant Helpers of the Lower Pecos, Part III

Huichol indian yarn painting of peyote cactus

Huichol indian yarn painting of peyote cactus

Peyote was a powerful plant helper for ancient people of the Lower Pecos. Like the Huichol indians of Mexico today, ancient people probably considered peyote a sacred plant. Peyote contains the drug mescaline, which brings colorful hallucinations to those who consume it, along with nausea and other uncomfortable side effects.

Peyote has been used for at least 4000 years in the Lower Pecos and other areas for both medicinal and spiritual purposes. Mashed and dried peyote, radiocarbon dated to  4045-3960 B.C., has been found in certain rock shelters near the Rio Grande. Strings of peyote buttons have also been discovered in caves of northern Mexico.

Dried peyote buttons

Dried peyote buttons

Peyote use spread to Native American groups in the Great Plains and Southwest such as the Lipan Apache, Tonkawa, Mescalero Apache, and Pima by the 1880s. Today, only members of the Native American Church may legally consume peyote in the U.S.

Taken in small doses, peyote is a mild stimulant and reduces appetite. Tarahumara indians in Mexico often chew peyote during their foot races to strengthen them as they run 50 miles or more. The cactus also contains substances that possess antiseptic and antibiotic properties against many types of bacteria.  Mashed cactus can be applied to burns or wounds to prevent infection. The Kiowa also used peyote to treat illnesses such as flu and scarlet fever.

This shy little cactus was declared illegal in 1970 by the United States’ Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act.  The cactus continues to grows wild in south Texas and northern Mexico , but is under stress from several causes, according to Dr. Martin Terry of Sul Ross State University.Peyote_Cactus

Previous posts about mountain laurel and moon flower round out this short series on plant helpers of the Lower Pecos.

 

Rock Art Foundation

Rock Art Foundation tour to White Shaman Shelter on the Pecos River

Rock Art Foundation tour to White Shaman Shelter on the Pecos River

My guest today is Greg Williams, Executive Director of the Rock Art Foundation, which promotes conservation and education about the rock art of the Lower Pecos.  The Rock Art Foundation owns the White Shaman Preserve and offers tours there every Saturday.  To learn more, please see their website at www.rockart.org.

Greg Williams, Ex. Director, Rock Art Foundation

Greg Williams, Ex. Director, Rock Art Foundation

Hi Greg, thank you for being with us today. How long have you been with the Rock Art Foundation (RAF)?

It’s been about 20 years.  I first met Jim Zintgraff in 1993 – I had hired him to do a photo shoot in my business – so it’s been almost 20 years since I first became involved with the RAF.

Jim Zintgraff was a photographer, right?

Yes, he was a commercial photographer in San Antonio.  But in the early 1950s he started photographing rock art west of Del Rio, which was mostly unknown by the general public at the time because it was all on private land.  When the state of Texas decided to build Amistad Dam on the Rio Grande around 1963, Jim was commissioned to document many of the ancient pictographs that would be inundated with the filling of the lake. His images preserve this great legacy from the past.  Later Jim organized the Rock Art Foundation to continue this work.

What do you want the general public to understand about the ancient Image 5paintings in the Lower Pecos?

How important the art was to the people that left their stories for us to consider and what they could mean to us. The people who painted them had to be first concerned with survival in a harsh land but they took time from that to paint their mythology which was as important to them as their survival.

What is the biggest thrill you had with RAF?

Every trip I make to West Texas is a thrill. The country, the archaeology, the modern military and settler history, the tour participants – all are thrilling. Each time. It would be impossible to single out only one. I am as excited every time I go – just like the first trip.

Have you had any close encounters with snakes or other creatures of the wild?

Not many – we travel in a group and make a lot of noise. Most critters are long gone before we get there. It’s very hard to sneak up on a desert creature – most are nocturnal. In 30+ years of being in West Texas I’ve probably seen less that 5 rattlesnakes but we did see a mountain lion a few years ago at Meyers Springs. She was most likely tending to a hurt cub or we would have never seen her.

RAF Bunkhouse at White Shaman Preserve

RAF Bunkhouse at White Shaman Preserve

Besides tours of rock art sites in the Lower Pecos, what else does RAF do?

We are currently providing scholarships to the Shumla School in Comstock (associated with Texas State University) and outstanding seniors at the Comstock High School. We work with Landowners assisting in conservation efforts – in a recent example we contracted with Texas Tech University to provide a complete assessment of the prehistoric and historic cultural resources on a West Texas ranch for a new Landowner. The RAF keeps funds in reserve to protect endangered property through acquisition if needed.

We are also involved with restoration efforts on private ranches and are the official “Friends Group” for Seminole Canyon State Park helping them by conducting their weekend tours. The RAF operates a tour guide program with 15 experienced/trained Guides and we work with Landowners to develop access for this program (there is no BLM land in Texas – it’s all private property).

We also assist in research funding helping to defray the cost of field research and assist with publication funding. We have published our own book and CD ROM on Lower Pecos archaeology as well as the development and continued support of our website and have just established an electronic newsletter.

We also stage an annual fundraiser campout, the Rock Art Rendezvous, each October at Image 6the White Shaman Preserve and offer as many tours as possible that weekend. All these efforts are focused toward the preservation through education of the unique world class archaeology in West Texas. Our funding is all provided through private donations. We operate very efficiently – no one in our organization receives a salary.

Any advice for people new to exploring Lower Pecos rock art?

Yes – go to West Texas and listen to the country. Look at what appears around you and sit quietly. Be there at a sunrise, a sunset, sit beside the campfire – it will change you. If you’ve never been there it will introduce you to a part of yourself you didn’t know.

Thanks for being with us today, Greg.

Moon Flower: Plant Helpers of the Lower Pecos, Part II

IMG_1401

Moon flower, one of  the triumvirate of powerful helping plants in the ancient Lower Pecos, is known by many names: Jimson weed, loco weed, datura, stink weed, thorne apple and devil’s weed, to mention the most common.  These plants are members of the Solanaceae or nightshade family, which claims over 2,500 species such as potatoes, eggplants, and tomatoes. Datura stramonium, or moon flower, is a fragrant night-blooming plant that grows wild all over the world, including the Lower Pecos, and can cause delirium, anxiety, hallucinations, stupor, coma and death.

The plants contain the tropane alkaloids– atropine, scopolamine, and hyoscyamine. These alkaloids have many uses in modern medicine, but also serious side effects. Atropine interferes with activity in the brain stem, ranging from motor impairment to rapid heart beat, to overheating of the body. Internal bleeding and stroke can occur. Scopolamine and hyoscyamine are also sometime known as  “zombie drugs” because of the delirium and unpleasant hallucinations they can cause.

Spiny seed pods

Spiny seed pods

The seeds and leaves are the most potent, but all parts of the plant are toxic.  Uncomfortable effects generally begin 20-30 minutes after ingestion. Effects can  last from eight hours to three days.

Many researchers agree that ancient people of the Lower Pecos used moon flower, or datura, as a plant helper to converse with the ancestors and gods.  Their shaman were undoubtedly familiar with the plant and learned to dose themselves and others carefully to prevent dire reactions.  Some images in rock art have been interpreted as datura seed pods.

Spiny dots could be datura pods

Spiny dots could be datura pods

The Hopi used this plant for divination purposes, and Carlos Castaneda wrote about it in his famous book from 1968 The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. In the European Middle Ages, the  deadly nightshade known as belladonna was often used in magical brews.

A large moon flower plant grew at the base of our back door steps when I was a child. I was fascinated by the aromatic flowers that bloomed as the summer twilight deepened ,  and I wanted to pluck them for my hair.  But my mother always cautioned me strongly not to even touch the plant, and especially never to eat it. (It was not unknown for us kids to eat a little grass with our mud pies, but then, those were simpler days, when kids made up their own games outdoors.)

There must have been a note of truth and urgency in my mother’s voice when she cautioned me, for I obeyed her on this. And I was not known for being obedient.

Once my grandfather and I were riding horseback through a field when we came upon a moon flower plant.  I still remember the sharp distaste my grandfather conveyed as he said, “Don’t let the horse get into that!  That’s loco weed.  Now I have to get out here and get rid of it.”

I asked why he didn’t want the horse to nibble it, and he said, “because it will make him loco, crazy.  Don’t let him get into it, and don’t you touch it!”  And we quickly turned the other way.P1040172

The Center for Disease Control reports a number of datura or moon flower intoxications over the past few years which resulted in trips to  emergency rooms and admission to intensive care units. In one case, a family accidentally ate datura leaves in a stew, thinking it was an edible wild herb. Six members of the family were taken to the hospital, two of them unconscious.

Moon flower is not regulated in any way in the United States, even though it can cause severe reactions. It carries no warning signs in gardens or in the wild. Archaic people knew the power of this plant, after generations of dangerous trial and error.  Modern people should be aware that even one seed is poisonous and can cause severe discomfort.

The ancient people of the Lower Pecos used all parts of their environemnt, including toxic hallucinogenic plants. A  post in January discussed mountain laurel in Part 1 of this series, and an article on peyote is coming in March.  Nature is beautiful and complicated, as we learn over and over again. Four thousand years ago in the canyon lands near the Pecos River and the Rio Grande, the people knew this well.

Mescal Beans: Plant Helpers of the Lower Pecos, Part I

mt. laurel flowers

These lovely flowers of the Mountain Laurels so familiar in many parts of Texas belie their past ritual usage for  archaic people of the Lower Pecos and many other historic Native American groups. These flowers produce the potent “mescal bean,” which causes nausea, convulsions and even death when ingested. Mountain Laurels are one of three powerful plants abundant in the Lower Pecos that were used ceremonially by ancient peoples to gain visions, talk to ancestors, cure sickness, or fill other important needs.  Articles about datura and peyote,  two other potent plant helpers of the Lower Pecos are planned in the coming months.

Sophora secundiflora grows wild in the dry limestone country of south Texas, and it is often used as an ornamental shrub in urban and suburban settings. The fragrant flowers are a favorite of bees. However the pretty red beans they produce are highly toxic.

P1040493

 When eaten, even as little as half a bean can cause  nausea and vomiting, dilation of the pupils, tachycardia [excessive rapidity and irregularity of the heart-beat] followed by dizziness, mental confusion, muscular incoordination and weakness, and convulsions; in addition respiratory paralysis may occur leading to death by paralysis, according to  Martindales Extra Pharmacopoeia p 1746.

Parents and teachers should warn children of the dangers of these tempting beans, which often fall from their pods onto sidewalks and backyards.  If a young child ate even one bean, it could be fatal. Seeds contain the highly toxic narcotic alkaloid sophorine, or cystisine; don’t be fooled–they do not contain mescaline and have no relation whatsoever to the alcoholic drink called mescal.  If you suspect someone has ingested mescal beans or Mountain Laurel, take that person to the hospital emergency room immediately.

Archeologists theorize that ancient people in the Lower Pecos used this drug in ceremonies to cleanse the bodies and souls of the participants (though severe vomiting) before undertaking other trials such as vision quests. Ancient mescal beans  have been found in a number of dry rock shelters that were occupied by people in that area 4000 or more years ago, and the plants are common in the area today. The beans were included in charms and amulets, made into necklaces or other adornments, or used as parts of other shamanistic regalia.P1040501

      In a 1957  issue of American Anthropologist, James Howard described mescal bean cults among the Apache, Comanche, Delaware, Iowa, Kansa, Omaha, Oto, Osage, Pawnee, Ponca, Tonkawa, and Wichita tribes. The bean was regarded as a powerful fetish and used in ceremonies similar to those for peyote. One Apache man said “Go ahead, eat that bean. You can do miracles, jump right up and out the top of the tipi.”  You probably will jump up if you try this–but you will run to the toilet instead of through the smoke hole of the tipi.

Alanson Skinner described the effects of the mescal bean on participants in 1926.  He said that “everything looks red to the drinker for a while, then he vomits, and evacuates the bowels.”   The toxic effect also causes a feeling of stupor, which some have confused with hallucination.  The majority of literature on mescal beans, however, does not indicate much in the way of hallucinations. Many of us have suffered a hangover at some time in our lives.  It is not the same thing as “tripping” back in the 1960s.

Among the Wichita, medicine men used to administer mescal beans to spiritual novices, causing them to throw up and become unconscious.  The sharp jaw of a gar fish was then raked across the novice’s naked body to test his ability to withstand pain. This ceremony also served to ritually remove evil influences and promote good health, long life and general prosperity (Dorsey, 1904).

Native plants were used in many ways by ancient peoples, but this is one plant better admired from afar.

Interview with Scott Walters

WTY Book Cover Photo

My guest today is Scott Walters, author of the young adult novel Woman Too Young of Panther Cave, which is set in the Lower Pecos and available at www.archaicindians.us.  More information for teachers and students is available at his companion website  www.archaicindians.net.

Hi Scott.  Tell us a little about Woman Too Young of Panther Cave.

 I wanted the novel to appeal to both boys and girls.  Consequently, the story is told through the eyes of a boy while a girl figures prominently in the decisions he makes.  Had he not met her, his life would have been radically different.

The story begins when Lizard Boy, who is tired of being treated like a child, sets out to prove to his father that he is ready to enter manhood.  At the same time, Woman Too Young, a girl from a rock shelter believed by Lizard Boy’s people to be an evil place, sets out to save her people from starvation.  When their paths collide, Lizard Boy is thrust into a world of chaos and danger.  In this world, he must become a man or die.

In my attempt to make the characters relevant to modern readers, I utilized many elements of human emotion and experience.  Readers of Woman Too Young of Panther Cave will find adventure, mystery, fear, bravery, humor, uncertainty, folly, the sacred, evil, and, of course, love.

The setting is about 3,500 years ago in the Lower Pecos where three surviving paintings provide key components in the plot.

Who is the intended audience?

My initial audience was the class of fifth graders I was teaching at the time I wrote Woman Too Young of Panther Cave.  I wanted to create a compelling story that would engage reluctant readers while including enough depth to challenge the more advanced students.  While writing the novel, however, I decided to set my sights a little higher by crafting a story that would appeal to as many age groups as possible.  Much to my surprise, I have received more comments and notes of appreciation from adults than students.

Why did you decide to write for this age group?

During a time in my life when I had taught at the university level and was about to wrap up my doctoral studies, I developed a passion for teaching children.  Learning to make worthwhile content relevant to young minds turned out to be one of the greatest and most rewarding challenges of my life.  I quickly learned that kids responded with great enthusiasm to truly good stories (not the politically correct stuff in basal readers).  When lessons were accentuated with stories, comprehension and retention went way up.  Over the years, I discovered numerous books that excited kids while teaching them valuable lessons.  While I had written for adults all of my publishing career,  I discovered that stimulating the minds of children intrigued me more.

The writings of Mark Twain served as a model for me and, in turn, had considerable impact on my writing and teaching.  In fact, I used The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to foster a love for reading and to improve comprehension.

Scott and Cassie Walters

Scott and Cassie Walters

What inspired you to write about the people who lived 3,000 to 4,000 years ago in the Lower Pecos?

Thank you for asking, because I love to tell this story.  My wife Cassie has been a catalyst for so many of the pivotal points in my life, including this novel.  In her fourth grade history classes, she used Texas Studies Weekly to make the subject more interesting to her students.  In one of the editions, the Archaic Indians of the Lower Pecos and their paintings were discussed.  One of the articles noted that some of their paintings could still be seen at Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site.  Cassie knew of my interest in Native American culture and history and suggested that we travel to Comstock to take the tour.  Over the years, we had passed by there several times and I never thought of it as anything more than a place to camp in the desert.  How wrong I was!

During our tour of the Fate Bell Shelter I was hooked by what I saw and what I heard from Billie Foster, our tour guide.  As soon as I returned home, I started writing.  In less than a year, the novel had undergone eight rewrites and was completed.

There is a real irony in this story, however.  American Legacy Publishing, the company that publishes Texas Studies Weekly, contacted me because of the novel.  They wanted to update their curriculum and asked that I write their fourth grade lessons.  The publication responsible for introducing Cassie and me to the rock art in the Lower Pecos became my next major writing assignment.

What do you want your readers to learn or feel after reading your book?

Above all, I want them to think that reading my novel was time well spent.  I also hope that my book will help the paintings and archeological discoveries in the Lower Pecos come to life for them.  I think it is vital to remember that the images and artifacts were created by real people who experienced life in ways very familiar to us.

Personally, I think we miss something when our discussion of an ancient people is purely academic.  It’s like reading the label of ingredients on a food product but never bothering to taste it.  In short, the Archaic Indians of the Lower Pecos were much more than the sum total of what they left behind.  While it is impossible to know any of their individual stories, we can easily imagine what life must have been like in their world.  Doing so establishes a commonality that enriches our appreciation for these ancient people and their art.

 How did you go about researching your book?

In addition to reading everything about the Lower Pecos I could find, I spent many hours visiting rock shelters and literally walking the land that serves as the setting for the story.  One moment of tremendous satisfaction came shortly after the book was published.  An archeologist who had worked in the Lower Pecos wrote to tell me that he knew the places I described in many of the scenes and complimented me for my accuracy.  I was humbled, though, when he thanked me for writing a book that appealed to one in his profession.  For that, I have Mark Twain to thank, because his style of writing often appealed to a wide range of ages.

Tell us a little about the workshops you conduct on indigenous archaic life?

Oddly enough, it has been the science community in education that has shown the most interest in my book.  One would naturally expect the social studies teachers to be first in line.  I was initially asked by an innovative consultant at a regional service center if I could introduce teachers to the science employed by ancient people in their quest for survival.  As I prepared for the workshop, I decided to include a discussion of  the science employed by archeologists to learn more about how early people lived.  Consequently, my workshops consist of these two approaches.

Since my first workshop nearly a decade ago, I have made presentations at service centers, school districts, and state-wide conventions.  In the all-day events, we do a lot of activities that teachers can take back to their classrooms.  Some of my workshops include a trip to the Lower Pecos to tour several rock shelters.

What other books have you written?  What is your next project?

My first break in publishing came years ago when I was hired as a television and movie critic for a national journal.  This, however, is where I must admit to a flaw in writing.  When I grew weary of spending hours in movie theaters and on the sofa in front of the television, I began writing novels.  When one was finished, I threw it in the closet and started the next one.  Once again, Cassie saved me from myself by encouraging me to seek a publisher for Woman Too Young of Panther Cave.  To date, it is the only one that has been published.  I received an offer to publish Beyond the Shadow, a time travel novel for young adult readers, but the contract was not a good one, so I turned it down.  My other novels are about the demise of public education in our country.  As for my next project, I am deep into a sequel for Woman Too Young of Panther Cave.  I am also on the verge of seeing if I can find a better contract for Beyond the Shadow.

Thanks for being my guest today, Scott. See you in the desert!