Archaeological dig in Dodge City backyard

October 30, 2015

Left, Kaitlin Arbour, general anthropology major from Breckenridge, and Lauren Nelson, a graduate student in cultural resources management from Homer, use a screen to sift rubble at one of the key sites of a historic logging camp.

Left, Kaitlin Arbour, general anthropology major from Breckenridge, and Lauren Nelson, a graduate student in cultural resources management from Homer, use a screen to sift rubble at one of the key sites of a historic logging camp.

By Rosemary Horvath
Correspondent

Marty Johnson who for years has been immersed in Clare County history has discovered a slice of history on his own back yard.
“You never know where you will find history,” Johnson said about his wooded property on Springwood Lake Road in Hamilton Township he acquired 12 years ago that once was owned by the Wilson Brothers.

Johnson has written about the iconic brothers in his blog Trains, Reins and Shantyboys, a collection of local tidbits of history. William Wilson of Wilson Brothers Lumber Company owned vast swaths of land around Harrison and ran a sawmill on the banks of Budd Lake which he subsequently deeded to the city for a park that ultimately became the Wilson State Park in 1927.

All of Clare County boomed from the 1870s to early 1880s from the lumber industry.
And, as it turns out, including Johnson’s property where the Wilsons had a logging camp.
The revelation surfaced several years ago with the discovery of several foundations thought to be the remains of logging cabins.
Intrigued, Johnson decided to call in Dr. Sarah Surface-Evans, assistant professor of anthropology at Central Michigan University.
She brought classes to the site for archaeological digs over summer. Sunday was the final visit for students to carefully excavate the areas that had the biggest potential, Johnson said.

Wilsons had big mills at Dodge City and Budd Lake where lumber was cut into boards and loaded onto rail cars on a narrow gauge railroad.
“We’ve found charred wood and other artifacts from the logging camp such as pieces of the foundation, clay pipes and nails,” said anthropology major Kalena Wright, a student from Livonia.

Remnants of charred wood are suspected to be from fires touched off by lightening after loggers clear cut forests. What remained was more or less kindling and susceptible to fire either from a natural or man-made cause.

Michelle Schubert, a physical anthropology major from Traverse City, said the time period has been pinpointed to the 1870s based on marks on clay pipes found.

Dr. Sarah Surface-Evans pauses at the archaeological dig she organized at the Marty Johnson property in Hamilton Township.

Dr. Sarah Surface-Evans pauses at the archaeological dig she organized at the Marty Johnson property in Hamilton Township.

Surface-Evans has organized four major archaeological digs around Michigan. In partnership with the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe and city of Mt. Pleasant, students excavated a laundry building and greenhouse that stood on the grounds of the former Indian Industrial Boarding School. Another dig was at the lighthouse in Rogers City.

The professor expressed gratitude to Johnson for allowing the monitored excavation on his property that was open to upper undergraduates and graduate students. The field experience allows her to employ the methods and strategy she teaches.

The CMU Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work can be contacted if you are interested in setting up a dig on property believed to have historical value and where artifacts may be buried. Send an email to sarah.surface@cmich.edu.

Photos by Rosemary Horvath

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