Where in the hell am I?

April 21, 2009

Today was a good day

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — John @ 9:42 pm

Yes, it’s been a while. Work got crazy, then life, and at some point there will be a series of blog posts about the effects of living the life archaeological.

Today was the first day I’ve been in the field in something like 6 weeks. Back on the Hill Country fiber optic survey, which is such a great project. Go to one of the prettiest parts of Texas, walk along the side of the road and dig a shovel test from time to time. Plus, we’re staying in Bandera and working in the Tarpley area. It’s an all around good thing, because I was starting to crack in the office and I get some per diem and overtime AND I don’t have to be in East Texas dealing with all the bullshit with that project. Soon enough, I suspect.

One of the stretches we surveyed today is mostly on private property, and for this particular project we only survey the portions of the proposed line in the public right-of-way (ROW). The maps we got from the client are weird and not to scale and so trying to match their sketches with actual topo and aerial maps can be difficult. So we’re digging a shovel test by the driveway to a ranch, and there’s maybe a meter-wide area of soil between the road cut and the fence. Lo and behold, the shovel test is positive. In fact, there’s nothing until 50 cm below surface, and then two flakes and a really nice thin lanceolate biface (this means little to non-archs, but it’s pretty cool). So we start digging a couple of other shovel tests along the narrow ROW to check for more deposits.

Well, the ranchowner drives out to see what we’re up to. Probably in his late 60s-early 70s. Wranglers, Ropers, snap-button denim Wrangler shirt, knife on his belt, only unusual thing was no hat. He rolls up in an old-school military Jeep. Asks us what we’re doing, and I explain a little. He doesn’t seem particularly interested, but I could tell he wanted to talk. I mention how we saw the Indian mound up the road (it’s a huge burned-rock midden, but more on that another time) and he says that the landowner had to run some people off of it the weekend before. I show him the biface we got out of the hole, and he says he’s not particularly interested in that kind of stuff. Starts to tell me about a cemetery that’s on his land up on a hilltop. I ask him if it’s marked and he says it has a bunch of grave markers. Then he says that someone came out to visit the cemetery a while back (they had kin there) and while they were there they noticed some artifacts on the ground. He says they were much nicer than what we had, which was a little stunning as we had a pretty nice thin biface. Then he asks if I want to go look at the cemetery. I think about it for, oh, half a second and say “Yes sir, if you realy don’t mind.”

So I hop in the Jeep. He mentions it’s a 1946 Jeep, although I don’t remember how he got it. We drive up to the cemetery, talking about the land and how he owns it but his son lives on this part, nothing big. We get to the cemetery and it’s like a real cemetery. I was expecting 2-3 eroded old headstones covered in brush. There were 15 graves, belonging to 3-4 families, with a variety of headstones and footstones. The earliest grave was from the late 1890s, the latest was the early 1930s. It was well maintained, and the ranchowner (in case you can’t tell, I didn’t catch his name) says that when he bought the land 7 years prior, it was not fenced and a little overgrown and cattle were grazing on it and he thought that was disrespectful. So he cleared it and fenced it in, and he lets people visit it if they ask. He mentions that someone recently had come from Ohio looking for their ancestors’ graves. I mention that I was expecting a small cemetery, and he says that the town of Tarpley used to be based in the area. The original settlers were a bit north, where there are a lot of springs. He says there was a stagecoach stop further up the road we were on, and that you can still see the wagon ruts. Now the town is based along the intersection of two state-maintained Ranch-to-Market roads. Oh yeah, and there were flakes and burned rock all around the outside of the cemetery, and I found a pretty nice leaf-shaped biface. I think it’s all pretty much on a deflated surface, but cool.

There’s a lot of stories he told me about Tarpley and the people there, and I was mesmerized. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned here before that I find a lot of the people we run into are salt of the earth folk, excluding the occasional nutcase or crank. This man was a perfect example of this. He didn’t seem phased in the slightest by my earrings or tattoos, he just wanted to talk about his land and I was very interested. He seemed interested in what I could tell him about the graves, and even about the prehistoric artifacts.

As we’re driving back, we pass some of the cattle and he mentions they’re a Mexican breed. He says they’re not very good beef but that they’re good for calf roping. I ask if they’re being raised for that, and he says no, but that his grandsons compete in calf-roping competitions. Then he mentions that both he and his wife used to make their living in rodeos. She was a barrel racer and he rode bucking broncos. I don’t think he could see because he was driving but I was both agape and had a big dumb grin because I just thought that was about the greatest thing EVER except maybe if he had been a bull rider. I’m riding across a ranch in a 1946 Jeep with a former roder bronco rider. I’m pretty much in heaven.

We get back to the road and chat a bit more, and I give him my card (and, as I said, I never catch his name) and he says that if we’re back in the area we’d be welcome to look around his land (after all, the other techs didn’t get to see it all). His wife owns the little store in town and we just need to go there and she’ll call him and let him know that we’re heading out. And you know what, even if we can’t make it back this week, I think I might just make some time for myself this summer and take him up on his offer. Even if it’s just to walk around the ranch and enjoy the country.


As it turns out, I had read the maps wrong and the fiber optic line actually runs on the other side of the fence. In other words, we didn’t even need to be survey there in the first place!

I’m very glad I misread the maps.



  1. This might be my favorite post of yours yet.

    Comment by Joolie — April 22, 2009 @ 3:31 am

  2. I miss fieldwork.

    Comment by colleenmorgan — April 22, 2009 @ 9:22 am

  3. Watch out for the rattlesnakes. And the goats. And the chupacabras.

    Comment by roo roo — July 1, 2009 @ 2:41 am

  4. […] This leads to interesting situations, which are of course influenced by the personality of the landowners involved. It’s also a bit self-selective, as the people most adamantly opposed won’t let you on their land to begin with (like the guy who sat on his porch with a shotgun on his lap whenever our truck was anywhere near his land). You’ll occasionally run into your naked flag ladys, but you’ll also get to ride around in a vintage WWII jeep with a retired rodeo cowboy (seriously, this was the best day in …). […]

    Pingback by More on public archaeology « Where in the hell am I? — March 21, 2011 @ 9:56 pm

  5. […] John at Where in the hell am I? also blogs for his friends and family and his next post is one of the best examples I’ve seen that explains the varied Texas  CRM field experience. John’s blog exemplifies a strong tradition in archaeology–storytelling. We make narratives from our gathered information about the past, and pair them with our contextual experience of this process of gathering. I think this is where the short form excels above other methods of communicating archaeological information. Nowhere else are we allowed to tell our archaeology campfire stories, the things that we did or our friends did that make up the stuff of our profession. Most people choose not to share this information, but I think it gives non-archaeologists the best insights into our profession. Do yourself a favor and read John’s experience with a gentleman who drove him around in an old jeep in the Hill Countr…. […]

    Pingback by Blogging Archaeology – Week 4 | Middle Savagery — March 22, 2011 @ 9:09 pm

  6. […] have a great experience a few years back getting a tour of a cemetery on private property (click here for the post, one of my favorite ever). It seems easy enough to record one, especially if it has clear boundaries and […]

    Pingback by More scattershot thoughts on graves « Where in the hell am I? — February 7, 2013 @ 10:11 pm

  7. […] Possibly the best day ever […]

    Pingback by Site recording and reporting | Day of Archaeology — July 24, 2013 @ 8:51 am

  8. […] the section 106 process and talked about how sites are both a dream and a nightmare, has 390 views. My favorite post has 113. I have gotten a lot of recent views for my Rising Star Expedition post, helped in part by […]

    Pingback by Blogging Archaeology 2014 Carnival: Good, Bad, Ugly | Where in the hell am I? — December 4, 2013 @ 1:46 pm

  9. […] the section 106 process and talked about how sites are both a dream and a nightmare, has 390 views. My favorite post has 113. I have gotten a lot of recent views for my Rising Star Expedition post, helped in part by […]

    Pingback by Blogging Archaeology #BlogArch – All of the Responses to the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly | Doug's Archaeology — January 5, 2014 @ 12:48 pm

  10. […] the section 106 process and talked about how sites are both a dream and a nightmare, has 390 views. My favorite post has […]

    Pingback by Blogging Archaeology | Doug's Archaeology — January 5, 2014 @ 12:51 pm

  11. […] the section 106 process and talked about how sites are both a dream and a nightmare, has 390 views. My favorite post has 113. I have gotten a lot of recent views for my Rising Star Expedition post, helped in part by […]

    Pingback by Blogging Archaeology #blogarch Carnival 2014: Best and Worst | Where in the hell am I? — January 28, 2014 @ 11:09 am

  12. […] favorite post is named after my favorite Ice Cube song: Today was a Good Day. It describes a typical day in the field that turns into a wonderful, atypical adventure. It’s my […]

    Pingback by Blogging Archaeology #BlogArch – All of the Responses to the best and worst posts | Doug's Archaeology — February 5, 2014 @ 6:07 pm

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