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Bryan County

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Bryan County, Oklahoma

The Novotny, Vaden, White and Opel Sites

B&W image of WPA excavation at Novotny site

WPA excavations at the Novotny Site

The history of the removal of the five Southeastern tribes, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole, to Indian Territory in the first half of the 19th century on the "Trail of Tears" has been well-documented historically. The record of the lives of these people after their arrival in Oklahoma is less accessible to us. Very few of the sites from this period have been investigated archaeologically; however four sites in Bryan County, dating to the post-removal period, were excavated in 1941 by Works Progress Adminstration (WPA) crews and have been linked to the historic Chickasaw.

WPA excavations were directed by Lynn Howard under the supervision of Dr. Forrest Clements of the Department of Anthropology, University of Oklahoma. The sites excavated were located on Rock Creek, a tributary of the Washita River, except for the Opel Site which was along the Washita itself. They were believed to be the locations of small Chickasaw homesites which once had log cabins on them. Material was usually recovered in the first eight inches of soil except in the few cases where features like hearths or burials were encountered. A child and an adult burial were excavated at the Opel site.

The Chickasaw originally lived in a large swath from western Kentucky and Tennessee to northern Mississippi and Alabama. They were farmers growing corn, peas, beans, pumpkins and sunflowers who also hunted wild game. At first contact with Europeans, the Chickasaw lived mostly along the Tombigbee River in Mississippi and Alabama.

The Chickasaw allied early with the British in the ongoing political intrigues of the competing European interests in North America. After the American Revolution, the Chickasaw forged new relationships with American traders. Eventually, under continuing pressure from the American government in the 1800s, the Chickasaw ceded their ancestral lands and agreed to removal. At Doaksville in 1837, Chickasaw representatives agreed to lease land from the Choctaw who had already settled in southeastern Oklahoma. Removal to the new area was slowed, however, by the dangerous conditions exisiting in the western parts of their new territory. The native peoples of the area considered the newcomers interlopers, and Texas settlers conducted raids in Oklahoma, ostensibly in retaliation for horse stealing by Indian tribes. In reality, any Native American in Indian Territory was a target. In 1842, Fort Washita was constructed near the confluence of the Washita and Red Rivers and in 1851 Fort Arbuckle in Murray County to the north was completed. With these forts in place, the Chickasaw began to relocate in earnest, eventually occupying most of south-central Oklahoma.

The four sites excavated by the WPA appear to have been occupied in the period between 1840 and 1850. The recovered materials are interesting for their mix of European/American and native goods. The people living at the four sites were farming, raising livestock and probably hunting small game for their livelihoods. Although European or American china, as seen in the image below, was recovered during excavations, the majority of the pottery from the site was hand-made. It replicated the forms that the Chickasaw had grown accustomed to using in their European china, like cups, small bowls and mugs. These imported items were no longer available to them in their new frontier homes and so they made their own. Several tiny bowls were also recovered that might have been made by children or for children as playthings.

European/American goods used by Chickasaw in 1800s Oklahoma

Metal and European/American-made China

Toy bowls from the Novotny site

Miniature bowls from the Novotny site


"Reexamination of WPA Excavations at Novotny Site" by Robert L. Brooks, Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume LXXIV, No. 3, Fall 1996.

An Analysis of Archaeological Material Attributed to the Chickasaws by E. Marilyn Kassel, M.A. Thesis, University of Oklahoma, 1949.

"Post-Removal Chickasaw Pottery: Four Sites in Southern Oklahoma" by Lydia L. Don Carlos and Robert E. Bell, Bulletin of the Oklahoma Anthropological Society 29, 1980.

Number of Prehistoric Sites in Bryan County Identified to Time Period

Chart of prehistoric sites in Bryan County, Oklahoma



Paleo = ?-8,000 BP / Archaic = 8,000-2,000 BP / Woodland = 2,000-1,000 BP / Village 1000-500 BP
BP (before present)


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