Prehistoric Inhabitants of Oklahoma

Prehistoric Inhabitants

History is the written record of the principal events in the life of a nation, a state or a cumminity. A country whose people do not know how to read and write and who therefore have not preserved such a record cannot be said to have a history. They are a people who lived before history began.

Like other states of the American Union, Oklahoma was inhabited by people of the Indian race, long before those of the Caucasian race came to settle in America. They did not belong to one tribe, neither did they all speak the same language. Sometimes one tribe was driven out by another during the course of a war, the conquerors thus becoming the owners of the country for a time until they, too, were overpowered and driven out by the people of still another tribe. Disease and famine may have reduced and weakened some tribes until they were so few in number that they could no longer withstand the attacks of stronger enemies.

A knowledge of prehistoric people and of their habits, customs and traits is largely gained by the study of the implements, weapons, utensils and ornaments of stone, bone, shell, clay and copper, which may be found on or near the surface of the ground upon their shop sites, or digging in their graves, mounds or other earthworks. Arrow and spear points, knife blades, scrapers, drills and many other implements and weapons were made of flint, chert, quartz or some other hard stone that could be chipped or flaked. Axes, hammers and mauls were made of stone and were grooved for the fitting of the wooden handles. Many of the stone remains of these implements, can still be found in Oklahoma. Awles, needles, shuttles and other implements and tools were made of bone. Their pottery was made of clay, moulded into the desired form and hardened by fire. Beads, earrings and many other ornaments were made of bone, stone, shell or copper. The traces of their ancient campfires, which may be uncovered in some places, contain the bones of game animals, birds, fish and reptiles, and the shells of mussels and clams scattered through the wood ashes and charcoal.

Just how long ago the first Indian tribe made its appearance in the country which is now called Oklahoma is not known but it must have been many hundreds of years, possibly some thousands of years ago. A stone which had been worn hollow by use in grinding corn, roots and dried meat, was found nearly three feet below the surface of the ground in digging a cellar, in Harmon County. Several similar grinding stones were taken from a sand pit which was overlaid by two feet of clay soil, in Custer County. A flint arrow point was found six feet beneath the surface in a sand pit, overlaid by three feet of soil, near Oklahoma City. As none of these had been buried by the hands of men and, as soils and clays drift and accumulate very slowly, it is plain that they must have been there a long time.

In the northeastern part of Oklahoma there once lived a tribe of prehistoric people who made their homes in caves and underneath overhanging ledges of rock. Deep layers of kitchen or camp fire refuse wood ashes, charcoal, broken bones, clam shells and fragments of pottery, with occasional implements of bone or stone, are to be found on the floors of these ancient cave-dwellings. The people who lived in these places are called Cave Dwellers.

Another tribe of people who once lived in the eastern part of Oklahoma, in the valleys of the Red and Arkansas rivers, built great mounds of earth which endure to this day. These are of various shapes including cones and pyramids. The purposes for which these mounds were built are not known. Some of them may have been erected as monuments. Others are thought to have been used as altars or shrines in the performance of religious cermonies. The people who built these mounds are commonly referred to as the Mound Builders.

Scattered over the fields of more than twenty counties in the eastern and southeastern portions of Oklahoma there are countless thousands of small, circular knolls or mounds of earth. These are not nearly so large as the mounds of the mound Builders. The farmers plow over these knolls and the roads cut through them, yet few people know who made them. Investigation in the early part of this century proved each one to be the ruin of a timber framed, dome shaped earth covered human habitation. The people who built and occupied such peculiar homes are believed to have lived in that part of the country from five hundred to one thousand years ago. They lived in fixed villages and cultivated the soil. In burying their dead, in their valley land cornfields, they they buried urns, vases, bowls and bottles of earthenware, many of which were very artistic in design and decoration. They are called the Earth-House People.

In the northeastern part of Kay County and in the western part of Cimarron County there are quarries from which the people of prehistoric times secured material for the manufacture of arrow points, spear heads, knives, scrapers and other weapons, tools and implements. In one form or another, traces of primitive or prehistoric life may be found in nearly every county in the state.

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Ann Maloney, Bartlesville, OK.
Copyright © 1998 Ann Maloney all rights reserved.