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Custer County

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The Heerwald Site

The period AD 1250-1400 marked a time of growth for the Wichita people in central and western Oklahoma along the Washita River and its tributaries. Large villages grew up near the fertile farming soils of the Washita River tributaries in western Oklahoma and along the river itself in the southcentral part of the state.

Excavations at the Heerwald Site revealed house patterns and storage pits.

Bison bone farming tools.


The Heerwald site in Custer county is one of the larger excavated Wichita sites known for this time period. On the bank of Turkey Creek, the site is bisected by I-40 west of Clinton. Covering more than 40 acres, the site had at least 10-15 houses and more than 100 people living there at any one time. This is just an estimate since only about 5% of the site has been investigated. The actual number of houses may have been much higher.

The Heerwald site people farmed corn, beans and squash and hunted bison. Bison provided meat, hides, grease and farming tools made from the bone. The corn fields stretching along Turkey Creek provided rich harvests in good years when ample rain fell at the right season. Big, bottom-flared pits held the harvested corn for winter and next year's seed.


The Wichita people lived in similar villages all along Turkey Creek and other Washita River tributaries in the area. Their houses at this time were square or rectangular with 4 central posts supporting a grass-thatch roof. The walls were plastered with clay over post walls laced with branches and twigs. A hearth in the center of the house provided heat in the winter.

Although there were many people living in this area during the early 1400's, by the time of Spanish incursions into western Oklahoma, only widely scattered villages were reported. Some archeologists have speculated that the farming people of the area moved north and east into Kansas in the late 1400's and early 1500's because of prolonged drought.

House pattern from Heerwald site time period.

Prehistoric Sites in Custer County Identified to Time Period

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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