[Stewards-l] Dee Ann is dead; or, a story for Story
skiles at austin.rr.com
Mon Dec 27 12:30:33 CST 2010
A great person in Texas archaeology has died; and I haven’t the talent to explain what Dee Ann Suhm-Story meant to Texas archaeology (and MANY Texas archaeologists) than Al has just done. But perhaps I can add something to elucidate her great influence in awakening a scientific interest in and knowledge of archaeology, and stewardship of archaeological resources, among the common folk of Texas.
I owe a lot to Dee Ann. She gave me many gifts, both tangible and intangible, that can never be requited.
I can still remember the first time I heard (read) her name. It was the fall of 1961, and I had finally made it to 10 (leaving behind those childish single digits). It was a year in which we common folk in the “Big Woods” of northeastern Texas (otherwise known as “PWT,” and ostensibly and unanimously Democrats [but actually Republicans in everything but name ... and vote]), tho’ still chafing from the outcome of the Northern War of Aggression, had already begun to love our new president (who was acknowledgedly a “damned Yankee,” AND from god-forsaken *blankety*blank* Massa-chews-it, at that! *hark*spit*
I had not, yet, learned how to duck-and-cover, nor to venerate our president (who became much beloved by all after the way he faced-down those damned Russkie commies in Cuba, a year later on) ... but I did learn who Dee Ann Suhm-Story was.
That (‘61-62) was truly a momentous year for me. Whilst squirrel hunting with my Daddy, walking down a dried-up slough in the Lake Fork Creek bottom (I learned many years later this had been, anciently, the main fork of Sabine River), winding like a broad avenue through the dense woods, paved with blocks of sun-baked black gumbo, I had found my first “arrowhead.” I say “I found” but I suppose it would be more accurate to say my daddy found it, with his preternatural peripheral vision. He had an uncanny knack of seeing what you were doing, especially if it was something you shouldn’t be doing, even if you were directly behind him, where I always was the first couple of years I had been allowed to “hunt” with him. I say “hunt” but it amounted to little more than trailing along behind as an apprentice, since he always saw and shot the quarry before me. He said I’d never amount to much of a squirrel hunter if I didn’t learn to keep my eyes-in-the-trees as we walked silently along. But that was a real hard job when faced with the need to wend ones way through the ever-present snarly green brier, and stepping around the moccasins that seemed to lie across our more usual hunting pathways, as numerously as fallen tree limbs.
Yes, my Dad saw it first (even though his eyes had been fixed in the tops of faraway trees as he stepped on it), and was already turning to pick it up. Probably because I was nearer to the ground than him (at least a head start), and my eyes had been, as usual, transfixed on the trail immediately ahead of my next step, I was able to snatch it up (a HUMUNGOUS snow-white arrowhead) from his boot print a moment before his hand reached it.
“Wow! That’s the biggest arrowhead I ever saw!” I exclaimed.
In my Dad’s usual understated way, he quietly commented, “A little BIG for an arrowhead, don’t you think.”
“Spear point?” I asked.
“Nope, too lop-sided for that," he responded.
“Then WHAT is it? I probed.
“Don’t rightly know, you’ll need to ask Mr. Willingham, he’ll know.”
Mr. Willingham was our chief-of-police (actually the ONLY policeman in our town in those days, ostensibly he worked 24-hours-a-day, and the Mineola PD was always open, but at night only the fire dispatcher was on duty by the phone and radio ... Chief Willingham kept regular daily hours of 8am-5pm, and slept at night like the rest of the citizenry, as apparently the criminals also did, since I don’t recall any after-dark criminal activity being talked about in those days). Chief Willingham was a good neighbor, his house was across the street from ours and a block further from town. He had a MASSIVE arrowhead collection, his living room walls covered in artfully arranged frames containing thousands-upon-thousands of “Indian heads” of every conceivable shape and size. He was the acknowledged archaeological expert in our town and that part of the county.
“If anybody would know, he will know,” my Dad said.
So I eagerly took it to him ... anxious to find-out what it was, and for another opportunity to oogle Chief Willingham’s collection. I remember the Chief’s reaction when he saw it ... his distinctive eyebrows shot up (like I had noticed they did whenever he espied an expired parking meter, or someone jaywalking), and he let out a low and sustained whistle.
“My god, son, where on earth did you find that beauty?”
After relating the story of discovery, I asked what it was, and received his answer: “That, son, is the finest example of a corner-tanged knife I ever laid eyes on!” Then he reached for a book on the side-table beside his favorite chair. Flipping it open, I could see it was a three-ring-binder filled with pictures of wondrous artifacts ... pottery vessels (I had already learned to recognize the shards, but had never seen one whole), arrowheads, spear-points, and more ... all in neatly ordered sections ... and finally arriving at a page with a picture of MY artifact. I was very intrigued with that book. Noticing my enthrallment, Chief invited me to sit and peruse it at length, while he traced and drew my corner-tanged knife. I remember slowly turning page-after-page and stammering something like ... “What is this book, where did it come from? [or perhaps just letting go an involuntary low and sustained whistle in emulation of my hero’s expression of amazement].”
Not even taking his eyes away from the drawing task he was engrossed in, I can hear his words in my mind’s ear to this very day, “That, son, is THE BIBLE of Texas archaeology, and a work of sheer genius!”
After a long while, and after perusing the book all the way through to my heart’s content, even reading some of the textual descriptions of artifact types, I remembered to look at the title page (we having been taught in school to ALWAYS remember the author’s name of any good book we read). There I saw her name for the first time. A name enshrined indelibly, and first, in that archaeological godhead, (and, too, in later years enshrined in the pantheon of my heart, mind and soul). I remember three distinct thoughts that then flickered successively across my adolescent gray-matter: (1) how strange that Chief calls this a Bible; (2) how strange that humans are writing a Bible; (3) how strange that a WOMAN is listed FIRST among the godhead!
PS – Among the many intangible gifts from Dee Ann, is one very tangible one. The position that I have held for the past 16+ years, I won over many more qualified and experienced archaeologists, due solely to Dee Ann’s personal recommendation (to the guy who happened to be doing the hiring; she was his next-door-neighbor, and the person to whom he looked for advice on all matters archaeological).
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