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Dalton Point

Al Agnew

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The first signs of the coming spring were submerged in the late winter thunderstorm that struck on the hunter’s second afternoon out.  Others in the band were ranging across the river hills and swampy bottomlands, seeking meat to feed the women and children who had suffered through a long, cold winter.  The transition from the cold season to the season of growth was always the most difficult part of the year, the forested hills gray and bare, the prey animals at their lowest ebb, the predators that competed with the people also desperately seeking sustenance.

He was the best hunter in the tribe, and his goal was to kill a bison on the gently rolling prairie covering the divide between the stream basin where their winter quarters lay and the river to the west that flowed out of the granite mountains.  Bison weren’t common anywhere in the hill country, but they roamed the grass-covered uplands that were kept open by fires started by lightning and occasionally by the hunters of the tribe.  A big bison would be far more than he could carry back to the winter village, but such was his reputation that a small band of women and boys, led by an elder hunter, planned to follow his path up the gradually narrowing creek and wait at the shelter cave for him to meet them when he had made his kill. 

But the thunderstorm had come just as the hunter topped the final ledge-rock bluff and emerged onto the grassland.  He had tried to continue the hunt, but quickly became wet and cold.  He had retreated to the tiny shelter beneath an overhang in the sandstone bluff, and had been able to start a small fire using the dry leaves and branches that winter winds had blown into the alcove. He was gradually warming as he began to eat from the supply of smoked venison in his deer skin pack.  As the rain continued to come in a torrential downpour that showed no signs of abating while the afternoon waned, he was thinking wistfully of the spacious bluff shelter at the edge of the wide, open bottom field that interrupted the canyon-like course of the creek, where the winter camp was.  The weather had been sunny and warm when he had left the day before, with the promise of green and plenty, but he had known that those early promises were seldom kept.  Still, he hadn’t expected the violence of the storm, and he could only hope that it would move on by nightfall.

He finished the venison, and reached into his pack, pulling out a length of deer antler and a long, thin shard of smooth, cream-colored flint.  The flint had come from a beautiful nodule the size of his head which he had found in the hills near the great river in mid-winter.  As the tribe’s best hunter, he was also one of its best flint knappers, and he had skillfully dressed the stone to prepare it for obtaining the 4-5 inch, relatively thin, straight slivers that were the blanks from which he would fashion exquisitely beautiful and deadly points for his spears.  During the short winter days and long nights, he had repeatedly worked the face of the nodule and other large pieces of flint with his well-used hammerstone, the carefully placed and perfectly controlled blows breaking off those good blanks, along with some that were not so perfect and would be given to the women to use as they were for cutting purposes.

Throughout the winter he had continued to carefully sculpt projectile points from the shards, stockpiling points for his own use, and trading them to others in the band who were not so skillful.  He had only a couple of unworked blanks remaining, and had brought them along on this hunting trip just in case he broke or lost too many out of his bundle of points and fore-shafts for his long spears.  Well, he hadn’t lost any spears, but in the continuing rain there wasn’t much else to do, so he began to work the shard.  It was shaped like a willow leaf, about 5 inches long.  He started by carefully breaking one pointed end so that it became squared-off and flat-surfaced.  Then, with a skill borne of long practice, he placed the antler length at a precise angle and struck it with the hammerstone, scaling off a long, concave section from the square end down one side of the shard.  Turning the blank, he did the same thing on the other side.  Now he had a slightly notched base, thickened toward the outside edges and thinner down the middle.  From there, using only the force of pressing upon the edges of the shard with the antler, he began to chip off small slivers running from the edges toward the center, gradually thinning and shaping the emerging point.  It took until nearly dark, but in the end, by dint of that careful and precise chipping, he held in his hand a spear point that was as good as any he had ever produced.

The business end was perfectly shaped, thick enough to be durable if it struck bone but tapering to a very fine point.  The faces were superficially smooth but textured by the tiny, concave marks of the chipping, and were beveled due to his technique, each face rising smoothly from the edges to a ridge that ran from the point in a slightly curving line that ran close to one edge on one side, to the other edge on the other side.  The ridges were mirror images of each other, and finally disappeared as they neared the hollowed out concave surface near the rear of the point.  The edges themselves were finely serrated and extremely sharp.  He finished off the point in the gathering darkness by abrading about a thumb’s width of the outside edges at the rear of the point so that they were dulled and smoothed.

He reached again into his pack and brought out a foot long, very straight length of hickory, slightly sharpened on one end, and split for an inch or so on the other.  He had a couple of spare fore-shafts made of ash as well, but he preferred hickory.  He inserted the grooved end of the point into the split.  He then wrapped it with sinew, the smoothed rear edges insuring that the sinew would not be cut, and smeared a bit of pine pitch onto the sinew and flint to further anchor it, the pitch wrapped in a bit of deer skin, kept warm and soft by being carried against his body.  He would insert this extended point into the hollow end of one of his river cane spear shafts when needed.

One of the reasons he was such a good hunter was that he was the strongest and most accurate in the tribe at casting the spear with an atlatl.  His well-worn, well-shaped atlatl handle was held by one end in his right hand, and near the other end, a smooth, grooved bannerstone was fastened for weight and leverage.  Accurately throwing a spear with an atlatl required a straight shaft and foreshaft, balance, power, and pinpoint timing of the release, but all the better hunters could cast a spear well enough to hit a deer in the vitals from at least 30 steps.  He had proven he could put the spear through a moving deer’s lung area at nearly twice that distance, with enough power to penetrate to the other side.  The unsecured attachment of the point and foreshaft to the main shaft of the spear was designed to allow the long shaft to come loose and drop away, leaving the point and foreshaft in the animal to cause even more damage as it fled its attacker.

He wrapped himself in the furred bison hide cloak that was one of his prized possessions.  Rolled on his pack for much of the day and worn skin side out during the rain, it was still damp, but the wooly fur retained his body warmth well even when wet.  He added a bit more wood to the fire, piled dry leaves from the plentiful supply winnowed against the back of the rock shelter into a thick, soft bed, and settled in for the night.

He awoke in the gray dawn, hungry, thirsty, and needing to urinate.  The rain had stopped, but the tiny creek down the slope from the shelter was in full flood, a small but raging torrent coursing through the big sandstone boulders and pouring over low ledges.  Streams of water fell from notches in the bluff where the short shallow ravines above abruptly encountered the sheer rock face.  Thankfully, it had actually warmed a bit during the night as the storm front stalled over the Ozark hills, but he still shivered in the damp coolness.

He ate a bit of dried berries and nuts left over from the long winter and carried in his pack, drank from a small pour-off next to the shelter, and loaded the pack.  He looked at the spear point and foreshaft he had completed the day before, and decided to exchange it with the one on his best spear shaft.  All that took was pulling out the old foreshaft from the hollow end of the cane, and inserting the new one.  He started along the bluff, his immediate destination a spot several hundred yards away where there was a break in the cliff and he could easily ascend to the open country above.  He climbed the steep slope to the gentle, heavily wooded high ground, and followed a game path toward the spot where he would emerge onto the upland prairie.

The old boar black bear had been run out of his chosen den site the previous autumn by a younger boar who was just as large.  Forced to leave his usual range and seek out a unfamiliar shelter, he had finally found a deep pocket beneath a huge rock slab next to the small creek, and had slept comfortably throughout the winter until the big rain had come.  The warm spell had roused him, but he had stayed in the den until the rising creek had begun to sluice water into it.  The creek water had fully wakened him, and that morning he had emerged from the den, cold, wet, hungry, and very much in a foul mood.  He had ascended the bluff to the woods above, and had been scouring the forest floor hoping to find a few acorns the squirrels had missed, without success.  He had paused in his search for food to lean up against a huge deadfall white oak trunk, in the hollow where the roots emerged from the ground, and there, a bit drowsy and weak from the long winter nap, he had dozed for a bit, until he was alerted by the sound of something climbing onto the fallen bole.

 Through the bare-branched trees, the hunter could see the beginning of the open prairie, and he had been moving in near silence over the wet leaves as he crept toward it.  He had clambered up onto the fallen forest giant to get a better vantage point to see if there was any kind of game in sight in the open grass.  He walked along the trunk toward the roots, where his view promised to be better.  Seeing nothing, he nimbly leapt the five feet down to the leaf-covered ground, and it wasn’t until he was in mid-air that a wave of the scent of wet bear assaulted his nostrils.

The old bear roared when the man suddenly crashed to the ground a few feet in front of him.  In almost any other situation he would have done all he could to avoid the human, but he felt cornered in the hollow of the trunk and ground, and there was nothing to do but charge.  The hunter had a second to realize he was in very deep trouble, but only a second.  Readied by the smell, he spun as his feet hit the forest floor, bringing both hands onto the spear and leveling it toward the bear, but the beast was already lunging toward his upper body.  The razor-sharp point entered the bear’s chest, skidding slightly along his breastbone before entering the lowest point of his rib cage.  It was a bad wound, but far from immediately fatal, and the bear shook its body, ripping the spear out of the hunter’s hands even as he was falling backward beneath the massive black bulk.  He had no time for anything else, as the bear rotated its head so that its jaws closed across the man’s face, a long upper canine tooth penetrating the bone at his temple and into his brain. 

The bear savaged the twitching body for a short time.  The taste of blood aroused his hunger, but he was hurt, the point within his body cutting into the edge of a lung.  He backed away from the dead hunter, the shaft of the spear dragging on the ground in front of him.  He took it in his jaws and shook it, ripping the cane away from the hickory foreshaft and crunching it into pieces.  He went back to the body and tried to feed, but he was weakening, blood beginning to trickle from his nostrils.  He shook himself, and thirsty, slowly plodded down to the tiny stream a few yards away.  He sank upon his belly and drank deeply.  He struggled to rise, finally regaining his feet and staggering back toward the body of the hunter.  He again tried to eat, but soon his head dropped to the ground; age and a long winter had worn away the vitality that would have allowed him to survive such a wound in previous years.  He died there, alongside his victim and killer, a few steps from the tiny creek winding through the huge oak and pine timber.

Eight thousand years later, a father and son were walking through those same woods.  The man was telling his boy how he had spent many of his summer days exploring the bluffs and caves of this sandstone country at the head of Pickle Creek.  He had mentioned that he had sometimes found Indian arrowheads shallowly buried in the soil beneath the bluff shelters.

The woods were different.  Eighty centuries of weathering and erosion had not changed the cliffs very much, but the ravines above were a little deeper and they had cut a little farther up into the gently rolling uplands, which were now covered in fescue instead of the big bluestem and Indian grass of the original prairie.  The trees had been cut down, had regrown, and been harvested again, and were now growing once more, far more thickly but far less tall than they had once been.  On this sunny spring day, the little creek was trickling over the rocks and fine tan sand as the boy walked along it.

He was thinking of those arrowheads his father had found.  He had often taken them out of the shoebox at home and examined them, feeling the smooth flint and the slightly dulled edges, imagining them on arrows, being shot by Indians at game and enemies.  He saw something different in the sandy creek bottom, a smooth, cream colored edge gleaming against the darker sand.  Perhaps if he hadn’t already been thinking of “arrowheads”, he wouldn’t have noticed it, wouldn’t have bent down and plunged his hand into the creek to pull out the relic.  Its serrations were a bit duller now, but its shape was still perfect from the sturdy, triangular point to the deeply notched base, the finely flaked, beveled sides smooth and unscarred.

Father and son huddled, examining the beautiful relic.  The man said, almost in awe, “That’s as pretty an arrowhead as I ever saw!  Way to go, Son!”

The boy put it in his pocket, but soon reached in and brought it out to pore over some more.

“Dad,” he asked, “How do you suppose it got there in the creek?”

The father thought a bit.  “Aw, probably some Indian was wandering along and dropped it out of his pack.”

Note:  The boy was me, and the Dalton point is framed on my wall still, more than 50 years later.  I found it as described, on land near Pickle Springs Natural Area that was owned by my great-uncle at the time.  I have found quite a few projectile points over the years, including several others of the ancient Dalton points, but this one is still by far the most perfect and most beautiful of all.  Over the years I’ve often held it in my hand and imagined the maker, and how he could have lost it, for it to finally be found in a spot far from any established camp or village site, and upstream from the bluff shelters along Pickle Creek.  I wrote this tale many years ago, and came upon it again while going through a folder full of my early writings.  I hope you enjoyed it.







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Nice story, That's whats fascinating about finding points, is wondering about their story of how they got where they are.   So do you got a picture of it?  Or your collection.  Me and my boys do  lots of point hunting.  My 7 year old has they exact story from a couple months ago after the last big flood on the James River.  It's 4 inches of awesomeness.

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Here's a photo of the point.  It's one of four nearly complete Dalton points I've ever found, and the most perfect.  One of the others has just a tiny bit of the point chipped off, another is complete but the point was broken off (apparently right before I found it, because I found the piece of point with it and glued it back together perfectly), and the last one is complete but has a sizable chunk knocked out of the edge.  Dating of points of that style puts them at 5000 to 8000 years old.  Not quite as old as Clovis points, which have been found in association with mastodons and mammoths, but the next oldest era.  The Clovis points were bigger and heavier for the most part, and were made to attach to stabbing spears rather than throwing spears, and to slide back out of the animal easily, being widest in the middle and tapering a bit toward the rear.  These points were made for throwing spears, and to stay in the animal, being widest at the rear.  Theory is that hunting techniques for mammoth and mastodon was to surround them and stab them repeatedly until they died.  Hunting techniques for smaller game like deer, elk, and bison, once the mammoths and mastodons and giant sloths were extinct, was to stalk and throw the spear, using an atlatl.  Sorry about photo quality...I was trying to shoot it through the glass of the frame I have it in without getting glare from the glass.DSCN4350.jpg

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very cool Al

I found a dalton in MO. it's a one in a million piece! 

anybody know/recommend  an HONEST person who knows about MO arrowheads and can authenticate it for me? Somebody who isn't in the relic business just to make money,lol  


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