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Archaeologists begin salvage operation at historic fort site in Wyoming

2013-05-16T06:00:00Z 2013-05-24T18:53:50Z Archaeologists begin salvage operation at historic fort site in WyomingBy KELLY BYER Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online

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.

Reach city reporter Kelly Byer at 307-266-0639 or kelly.byer@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter @KellyByer.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(5) Comments

  1. Pops
    Report Abuse
    Pops - May 18, 2013 3:14 pm
    Wake up archaeologists spend as much time on native American cultures in Wyoming.
  2. old ranchers daughter
    Report Abuse
    old ranchers daughter - May 17, 2013 11:47 am
    Thanks to Carolyn Buff and all the others who are helping to preserve our history. Once it is gone we have no way to get it back. I hope someone with archeological experience will be there when the dozers roll so if something really big or unusual is uncovered it can be saved. It is a shame that so little is thought of the area that more time won't be allowed to study it. The western migration is a major part of America's history and it should be documented and saved whenever possible.
  3. Big Evan Diehl
    Report Abuse
    Big Evan Diehl - May 16, 2013 9:21 am
    The developer should give them as long as they need, within reason.
  4. big duke
    Report Abuse
    big duke - May 16, 2013 9:05 am
    it's to bad they couldn't wate for at least one more week, what could it hurt? I know money is the bottom line but all that is found will add dollors to our state in letting people know how things were "way back when".
  5. Sassy
    Report Abuse
    Sassy - May 16, 2013 6:35 am
    I doubt they will see the likes of Keith Tyler or Lisa Burridge at the dig site..
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