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Looking back on the excavation of an Iroquois camp in Westfield

December 10, 2015
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian , Westfield Republican

While researching about the Wright and Peacock historic homes of Westfield, and their owners and family histories, references were made to an archeological excavation of Indian artifacts on the South Gale Street farm of James Mack, by several local folks including R. Pier Wright, his sons - Theron, Richard and Allen - and Charles Peacock. This triggered memories of spending many hours as a teen, with my best friend, the late Barbara Heather Welch Carkin, exploring the same area to find a variety of Indian arrowheads, which we gave to the newly formed museum in the historic McClurg Mansion in our village park. Also recalled was a Dibble's Dabbles written by former Westfield Historian, the late Billie Dibble; so this was located and is reprinted below.

Dibble's Dabbles, July 25 1985

"The prehistoric Iroquois village excavation"

By Billie Dibble

We often speak of the first white settlers who came to Westfield and the Barcelona area in 1802, but the earliest settlers were long before that. They, of course, were the Indians. They had no written language so it was necessary to learn about them from the material things they left behind.

Much evidence on the presence of these earliest settlers in this area has been discovered through the past years by the unearthing of arrowheads, stone tools and even skeletons.

The Westfield Republican of October 5, 1927 carried the exciting story of R. Pier Wright and Major Burmaster excavating in an Indian village of early days. Mr. Wright of Erie, PA, son of Reuben G. Wright of Westfield, had been engaged for the past three weeks in excavating on the farm of James Mack, a short distance from South Gale St. for Indian relics and had been quite successful in uncovering many interesting specimens of the Indians and their work.

Mr. Wright, in speaking to the Chautauqua County Historical Society at Mayville, described the Indian mound or encampment that was being excavated as consisting of about 15 acres, which had once been surrounded by a stockade. He said that it was quite easy to discern where the stockade stood and described the manner in which the Indians built their stockade. An earthen embankment was thrown up, tree trunks sunk down into the soft dirt and the trees bound together. He said arrowheads found indicated that the Indians inhabiting the encampment were probably a tribe of Iroquois. Iroquois arrowheads were notched, while the Algonquin arrows were larger, three-cornered and lighter in color than those of the Iroquois.

In connection with the excavation in an ossuary (depository for the bones of the dead), Mr. Wright said the party had found bones of Indians, two still having arrows imbedded in them.

Great credit was given Mr. Mack for his kindness in allowing the work of digging in his meadow and other parts of his farm and the assistance which he had rendered. Thanks also were due to Messrs. Van Cise and Meeder and to Miss Durand for their consent for operations on their lands.

According to an article which appeared in the Jamestown Journal on October 17, 1927, the excavations were being carried on under the direction of Major Everett Burmaster of Irving with Mr. Wright in general charge. The others who took part in the work were Charles Peacock of Westfield and Mr. Wright's three sons, Theron, Richard and Allen Wright. Dr. Arthur Parker, director of the Municipal Museum of Rochester and former state archaeologist, said to be one of the leading members of the profession in the east, had become interested in the work at Westfield and had visited the scene of the excavations.

Mr. Wright and his sons spent many hours, over a period of about four years, piecing together potsherds and successfully restoring 75 earthen pots ranging in size from a little toy about an inch in diameter to one holding more than 10 gallons. Sometimes almost all of the pot was recovered; in others, perhaps only a part of the rim was found, enough to indicate the size of the circle, and pieces that would suggest the curve of the sides. These were put together with waterproof glue, and the missing parts were created from plaster of Paris.

According to Helen G. McMahon in her "Chautauqua County, a History," "The pottery is unglazed, brown or tan in color. The surface is cordmarked; that is, finished with a stick or paddle wrapped with cord to produce a pleasing texture. There are two general shapes though no two pots are exactly alikeA selection of these pots may be seen at the Chautauqua County Historical Society's History Center in Westfield.



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