The Novotny, Vaden, White and Opel
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
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.
Metal and European/American-made China
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
Number of Prehistoric Sites in Bryan
County Identified to Time Period