Mortlach, An Archaeological Landmark

From "A Time to Remember- A History of Mortlach and District" 1983

(The following is taken from the above listed book, which can be found in the Mortlach Library. The book was created for the village's Centennial celebration and is brimming with the stories and pictures of the people and events that formed this area into how it is today.)

Submitted by Bernie Forbes

It is said that it is an ill wind that blows no good!

The drought and the ever relentless winds of the twenties and thirties left their scars on both the homesteaders and the land in the Mortlach district. In the wake of withered crops, shattered dreams and departing topsoil, bare fields exposed the artifacts of earlier civilizations. Thus, homesteaders and historians are very likely to have diametrically opposed views on the subject. Nonetheless, as there was little else to do, many farm families spent their Sundays walking through the wind-blown fields hunting arrowheads. Generally regarded as curiosities, few realized the significance of their finds.

One of the earliest local collectors, Kenneth "Casey" Jones, recognized the historical value of the artifacts, relating them to Stone Age relics he had viewed in British museums in his youth. In his thirst for knowledge concerning his finds, he contacted numerous authorities and institutions, largely in the United States. Jones' collection included many finely flaked projectile points with characteristics somewhat different than the generally recognized Indian arrowheads. Some of these earlier heads had a distinct fluting. It was not until 1925 when similar fluted points were found at a site near Folsom, New Mexico, that their importance was realized. Folsom points (named after the site) were found to be associated with many forms of extinct animal species.  Their dating has provided evidence of a greater antiquity for man on this continent than scientists had previously accepted.

It was not long before these scientists beat a path to Jones' door. His collection was subsequently found to contain artifacts representing early cultures found throughout this continent. It would appear that Mortlach was located on the mainstream of a human migration and trade route following the retreat of the last glacier approximately 12,000 years ago. Casey became a local celebrity and over the years he received many visitors who came to view his widely publicized collection.

Other local collectors of note during this era were Frank Adams and Ted Bradley, each amassing a sizeable collection. The Frank Adams collection never received its due recognition, probably because of the eccentricity of the owner. The writer recalls an impressive array of spearheads and pipes lining the walls of Frank's shack. Following the death of Frank Adams, his collection was auctioned to pay delinquent taxes owing the Village of Mortlach.

It may be noted that times were tough, and as a consequence some of the best specimens were sold from both the Jones and Adams collections to American buyers to "put grub on the table". Although the Jones collection of fluted points were disposed of previously, he sold his collection to the Glenbow Foundation in the fifties. His decision to dispose of his collection followed the loss of his leg and poor health. Considered to be the largest and finest collection in Western Canada, its loss to Saskatchewan was unfortunate.

Another notable amateur archeologist to come on the scene was Allan Hudson. Although Allan did not begin to collect artifacts until the late forties, he adopted a professional approach to his hobby. He became deeply involved with the Provincial Museum in excavation of various sites throughout the Besant Valley. Despite his lack of professional status, Hudson was well-respected in provincial archeological circles. Allan Hudson's collection has been donated to the Saskatchewan Museum of Natural History by his son, John.

This brief documentary would be remiss were it not to recognize Johnny McLean as the individual who discovered a bison kill in the Besant Valley, ultimately leading to numerous discoveries to qualify the site as one of the most important in the province.

Walter Felt, a local collector, also discovered a bison kill and occupation sites in the Missouri Coteau, south of Mortlach. Named after its discoverer, the Felt site also contributes important information to the prehistory of our northern plains.

Although memories of the drought have faded somewhat, it has provided a valuable lesson in land use. Once a great bison pasture, much of the sandy land has not been retired from the plow and returned to grasslands, providing pasture for herds of the white man's cattle. Even though an occasional puff of wind may uncover an arrowhead on some of the farmlands, it is unlikely that we shall ever see sections of Saskatchewan real estate depart for Manitoba in the manner of the twenties and thirties.

But, what became of the many smaller artifact collections amassed by lesser collectors, and those kept in tobacco cans by farm families? Their importance little understood, collections dissipated with time. Some have been sold, some lost in house fires, while others have passed to distant relatives and their origins forgotten. However, under that thin mantle of topsoil are undoubtedly many more left by early bison hunters.

From the Bering Sea to New Mexico, Mortlach was obviously attractive to early travellers. Khamis Michael and Folsom man both chose the camp site!

May 31, 2016 | Village Office