Kerry Lippincott shook the wood-framed screen back and forth, sifting dirt from pieces of the past.
“Carolyn, Carolyn, Carolyn!” the Casper archaeologist shouted, bringing forth a cream-colored stone no bigger than a quarter.
Carolyn Buff, the executive secretary/treasurer for the Wyoming Archaeological Society, inspected the find Wednesday morning. Unremarkable to the untrained eye, the piece of stone was identified as an Indian “flake,” a rock piece that resulted from striking one stone against another to make tools.
It was the first Indian artifact of the renewed excavation to join a growing collection of military and period items such as metal, nails and buttons. Volunteers have until Sunday to collect what they can before the former military site in Evansville becomes a housing addition.
Typically, Buff said excavations cover 1-meter-by-1-meter blocks of land, but with limited time, the archaeologists have modified their approach. They are uncovering two separate 8-by-8-meter areas.
“This is a salvage operation, so we have to make it bigger,” she said. “We don’t have the luxury of doing one-by-ones and taking our time and doing it as carefully as we would like to do it.”
Buff, who participated in the site’s only excavation in the 1980s, joined five other volunteers Wednesday morning at the former U.S. Army post along the North Platte River. It is south of the river and north of Seventh Street, bordered by Cemetery Road to the east and Evansville’s water plant to the west.
The town recently sold the 25 acres to local developer Keith Tyler and real estate broker Lisa Burridge, who plan to begin constructing the Reshaw housing addition in June. Evansville Mayor Phil Hinds said the $337,500 sale will benefit the town’s $2 million water-plant upgrade that is needed to keep up with industrial development.
The military post came to be called Camp Payne, and was also known as Fort Clay and Camp Davis. It was built in to protect Reshaw’s Bridge, a crucial river crossing for the Oregon Trail and other westward wagon trails during the 1850s and 1860s.
“This is the first military post in this area,” Buff said.
Wyoming State Archaeologist Mark Miller, who took part in the dig Wednesday, said the site also was a stop on the Mormons' route to Utah.
Miller said he would like to know more about two archaeological features in the excavation areas – square indents believed to be the impressions of Sibley tents. If they are laid out in a pattern, he said it would be indicative of military lodgings.
“We’re going to do absolutely everything we can until Sunday evening, and we have to call it good,” he said.
John Laughlin, of the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office, had an electronic distance measurement tool set up on a tripod between the two excavation areas to determine the location of artifacts. He was able to align pink and orange artifact flags that dot the otherwise empty land with maps from the '80s.
“Even though this is kind of coarse-grained, we can take what we find during these few days, and we can put it on those old maps so that it’s all together,” he said.
The items will be sent to the University of Wyoming Archaeological Repository And Curation Facility to be analyzed, and Laughlin said the findings will be printed in a report and presented to local archaeology chapters.
He is one of the handful of people ditching the Preserve Wyoming Conference in Rawlins to work on the excavation.
“You just have to drop stuff when something like this comes up because it’s your only chance,” Laughlin said.
Archaeologists will work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day through Sunday.
Buff said she expects about 10 to 15 volunteers to come and go throughout the week, most with historical or archaeological ties. There are enough experienced archaeologists to train those interested in helping, though, and Buff said anyone is welcome.