Showing posts with label Nature. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nature. Show all posts

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Looters of Prehistoric Native American Archeological Sites is a Big Problem in Illinois and the Mississippi Valley.

Southern Illinois District Court vs, Mr. Leslie Jones (results in the next sub-section).

As Geoff Donaldson sprinted across a barren southern Illinois crop field at dusk on January 26, 2007, he breathed aloud a prayer: "Lord, please make me invisible."

The 35-year-old uniformed officer of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was trying to wriggle into his Ghillie suit, full-body camouflage that makes a turkey hunter resemble a mossy tree stump. He wasn't hunting turkey that evening, though. He was stalking a thief. And, after a year of cat-and-mouse, Donaldson wanted his man.
Disguised in deep-cover camouflage known as a Ghillie suit,
Geoff Donaldson of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in
Southern Illinois caught a major looter on video.
In March of 2006, Donaldson received a tip: A car was often seen parked on private land near a remote corner of Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge, about 25 miles east of Cape Girardeau. He found the vehicle, peeked inside and found some hand-digging tools. People sometimes gather ginseng in these parts, he knew. But something didn't feel right.

The next day Donaldson was hiking along a creek bottom when he spied a man upon a ridge spur below a bluff acting "skittish." His name was Leslie Jones, of Creal Springs, Illinois. Jones had facial hair, Donaldson recalls, and a trim, muscular physique, "the picture of an axman."

Among tall oaks and maple trees, Jones kept hunkering over something, then glancing up. Donaldson dropped out of sight and tried to sneak in for a closer look. When he arrived a few minutes later, Jones was gone, though his handiwork remained: Hundreds of square yards of federal soil were torn up.

"It looked like hogs had gotten into it," Donaldson recalls. He noted several piles of broken spear points and stone chips. It appeared that Jones, for months, had been systematically unearthing Native American artifacts.

Picking up an arrowhead or digging a small hole on federal property might lead to a citation, but looting that causes damage in excess of $500 is a felony. Donaldson contacted the U.S. attorney's office, which listed the evidence they'd need for a felony conviction: a video of Jones excavating the material, then pocketing it and returning home. "You've got to be kidding me," Donaldson thought.

For the next ten months, he and his colleagues spent more than 300 man-hours spread out in the woods, waiting for Jones. Digital cameras at the ready, they sat on watch through sweltering summer humidity and cold winter rains. Sometimes, officers from the U.S. Forest Service or Illinois' Department of Natural Resources joined the party.

"We kept just missing him," Donaldson groans.

Around 4 a.m. on that late January day in 2007, the team took up positions in the shadows of the forest. Hours crawled by and still no sign of the thief. Late that afternoon Donaldson radioed to the others: Pack it up. On their drive back to the staging area in Marion, Illinois, word came that Jones' car was parked near the refuge.

Donaldson remembers racing back to Cypress Creek under a darkening sky. "The idea is to become one with nature," he says. He reached the top of the bluff and scanned below for Jones. Nothing.

Then he inched down the slope toward Jones' "honey hole" — the site of the most intense digging. A tedious half-hour later, he was standing smack in the middle of it. All was quiet for several moments. Then he heard the thrashing of leaves.

Donaldson peered over his left shoulder and froze. A mere twenty feet away, Leslie Jones had stopped in his tracks. He was gripping a hand shovel and staring at Donaldson's neck. The officer assumed his cover was blown and prepared to show his badge. But Jones only blinked, looked past him and trudged off to dig someplace else. The camouflage had worked. "It was a heart-pounding experience," Donaldson recalls.
Geoff Donaldson and other agents at the federal and state levels spent nearly a year chasing down artifact thief Leslie Jones.
He shot enough incriminating video of Jones to secure a search warrant. When federal and state agents raided Jones' residence the next day, they discovered thousands of artifacts stored in old ammunition boxes, coolers and paint buckets.

Archaeologists later determined that about 900 artifacts came from the refuge. A third of these were stone tools left by Native Americans that no human hands had likely touched since about 1,000 BC, or earlier, the scientists reported.

But authorities also seized an additional 12,000 Indian artifacts of uncertain origin. Among these were needles and hooks made from animal bone, clay figurines, pottery shards and something more unsettling: fragments of human skulls, femurs, jaws, and teeth.

"It was particularly disturbing that there was no hesitation picking up human remains," says Tim Santel, a Fish and Wildlife special agent.

Jones confessed to making money off the stolen artifacts by selling them to collectors. "He may have gotten spear points worth hundreds of dollars," suggests Mark Wagner, a Southern Illinois University Carbondale archaeologist who evaluated the seized items. "We don't know. They've all disappeared into this dealer network."
In his illegal hunt for artifacts, Leslie Jones, 50, of Creal Springs, Illinois, tore up enough federal soil to fill a semitrailer.
Leslie Jones was a familiar face to local law enforcement, having been arrested twice for growing marijuana on someone else's land. "I assume he was selling it," says Sheriff Elry Faulkner. That he was mixed up in the illicit trade for both artifacts and drugs was no isolated incident.

Folks have been picking around for arrowheads throughout the Midwest for generations. But now, archaeologists report that a nefarious breed of looter is stripping history wholesale from public and private soil. The worst ones are essentially grave robbers who come armed, often in the dark of night, to plunder Native American burial grounds. Some hawk the artifacts on eBay or other sites. Others use them as currency for drugs.

Deep in the Ozark Mountains, where authorities say the methamphetamine epidemic is again gaining steam, addicts known as "twiggers" (tweakers who dig) have been mining rock shelters and caves for anything of value — possibly even skeletal remains. The weird nexus between looting and meth has been noted by experts for several years, especially in the Pacific Northwest. Today, these shady characters are leaving their footprints in America's heartland.

"What's really frustrating is that archaeological sites are nonrenewable," says Neal Lopinot, a Missouri State University archaeologist. "Once they're destroyed, that's it. They're gone."

The bluff line running south from Cahokia Mounds to Dupo, Illinois, is "crawling" with archaeological sites, observes Julie Holt, who chairs the anthropology department at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. "You can't put a shovel in the ground without hitting something," she says.
Extensive looting of an archaeological site.
In the 1800s digging into Indian burials was something families did on Sunday outings. At the time, it was widely believed that the earthwork mounds along the Mississippi and eastward had been built by an advanced race that was squeezed out by the more primitive Native Americans.

As a result, if you plucked an intriguing item from a mound, you'd probably have no qualms about taking it home to display on the mantel, says Iowa-based archaeological researcher Bob Palmer.

"In some parts of the country people still find mound-digging to be acceptable," Palmer notes. Last fall, roughly 60 miles downriver from St. Louis, a landowner reported the damage to the burial mound on his property, prompting Dawn Cobb of the Illinois historic preservation office to drive down to investigate.

"There was this huge, gaping hole with human remains scattered around," Cobb remembers. Illinois, like Missouri and Arkansas, has a law protecting unmarked graves. If someone gets an owner's permission, they can dig on private property. However, if they hit bone, they must stop. That law clearly failed to deter anyone in this case.

"We had no leads," Cobb says. "The hole was at least a year old. There's nothing the landowner can do from a legal standpoint."

South of the bootheel, on the Arkansas side of the Central Mississippi Valley, Terry Melton feels that frustration. The 42-year-old chicken farmer has been running looters off his family's land in the Strawberry and Black river bottoms for at least a decade. None has been convicted. On one occasion, he felt threatened enough by a trio of them to brandish an AK-47.

"There's got to be something down here worth selling, otherwise the idiots wouldn't keep coming back," Melton says, bouncing his pickup truck over a potholed dirt road as he heads toward a remote soybean field surrounding two small burial mounds.

The Meltons have been farming this flat expanse for at least a century. Humans first occupied it 10,000 years ago, according to radiocarbon dating of artifacts. Scientists have identified at least 40 ancient human skeletons in this area, where looters have struck three times since last October.

Juliet Morrow of the Arkansas Archaeological Survey began a meticulous excavation of one of the mounds in June 2009. "It's really depressing," she says. With a furrowed brow, she points out bone fragments and evidence of haphazard digging. The site is important, she says, because nothing is known about the Archaic period (8,000 BC to 1,000 BC) in Arkansas.

Melton says he's found so much trash over the years that he knows which brand of cigarettes and beer the trespassers like most (Marlboro Lights and Busch). He once even found a sock that someone used to wipe his butt.

Other clues are more subtle. The reason that dozens of small holes dot the soil, Morrow notes, is that looters slide fishing rods and old radio antennas deep into the ground to feel for something hard. Sometimes, they'll paint their shovels white to make them easier to see in the dark. You can tell they come at night, she adds, because they inadvertently leave behind perfect spear points, some 4,000 years old.

She can't say how much one of those might be worth to a looter. "Professional archaeologists do not appraise anything," she explains. "It's priceless; you can't put a dollar value on it."

The major prize for looters in this area used to be decorated ceramic pots dating back to the time of first European contact 500 years ago. But whole vessels are fairly rare now, and on these northeast Arkansan mounds, only shards remain.

Terry Melton's cousin, Jamie Nunnally, has parked his truck and joined the group. Clad in camouflage overalls, he says he once fired shots in the air to scare looters off his nearby field. "We'll probably never get it stopped," he says. "I quit calling the law."

Both cousins remember the wild nighttime chase of June 13, 2005. They caught two thieves leaving the mound around 12:30 a.m. and pursued them at high speeds through the bottoms. The perpetrators not only dropped their bag of stolen artifacts, but they also jumped a small bridge, lost their muffler and ditched their pickup, leaving a shovel inside. The sheriff's deputies from two different counties showed up. No convictions resulted.

Melton complains that the judge won't discipline the looters, even though it's always the same crowd. Nunnally claims these individuals have also been picked up by the sheriff on drug-related charges. He's convinced they sell artifacts to buy dope.

The situation makes Morrow furious. "Maybe the judge or prosecuting attorneys consider this a petty crime," she says, exasperated. "But it's a felony."

A deputy did recently come out and collect evidence, she notes. But that only happened because the sheriff's office was pressured by Carrie Wilson, a member of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, which claims the area as ancestral territory.

"I can be very persistent," Wilson says later in a phone interview. "But Julie needs to be careful. I need to be careful. There would be people very glad to see us go away. You have to understand, there is a contingent that's dangerous. And sometimes, you're not dealing with somebody with a full deck."

After the scientists leave, Melton and Nunnally stroll through the field, searching for arrowheads. They regularly plow through the mound sites to plant crops. For Melton, that's not the same as digging into a grave. Farming activities are exempt under the burial protection law, he points out.

Back in his pickup, climbing out of the bottoms toward the nearest town, Melton admits, "I love history, and I'd love to dig. But I won't, out of the simple reason that there are dead people down there. It's about respect. Even if they're 4,000 years old, it's still a person."

Farmers in Missouri's Franklin and Jefferson counties have been bristling lately, says Joe Harl of the Archaeological Research Center in St. Louis. Here, where the Ozark Mountains begin to roll west and south, he hears more and more landowners complaining of unwelcome surface collectors — and sometimes diggers — on their property.

"Many have said they're going to get guns," Harl reports. "It's worse than the [illegal] deer hunters."

The problem is not confined to private land. Mark Twain National Forest covers approximately 1.5 million acres of Missouri, most of it in the state's southeastern quarter. Heritage program manager Keri Hicks says Mark Twain has the most caves in the national forest system, and a majority "have been looted into oblivion" since about the 1950s.

These days, an e-mail will trickle in every couple of months from a forest employee who's discovered a hole, shovel or screen, says Hicks. When someone checks on it, they might find that the disturbance is a couple years old or more.

"We don't have enough law enforcement to be effective with trying to protect or monitor it," Hicks says.

Archaeologist James Halpern says he and another employee have been assigned to 515,000 acres in the southwestern portion of the forest. "It's pretty hard to check everything," says Halpern. "There are tons of sites and places on the forest I've never even heard of, let alone been to."

On the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, where 135 miles of the Jacks Fork and Current rivers are designated federal property, authorities write about five citations per year for pilfering arrowheads, says park archaeologist James Price. Each carries a $225 fine.

There was one major case there in the last decade, says Jodi Towery, a federal law enforcer on the Riverways. Looters wearing headlamps came cruising in at night on ATVs. They tore two feet down into a 20-by-30-foot plot. Towery caught them on camera but couldn't positively ID them. When a mushroom hunter stole one of her cameras, word spread that the site was under surveillance — and the digging ceased.

This particular case taught her one thing: "Some of the people who collect artifacts are also known to do drugs. It's kind of the same crowd."

Sergeant Kevin Glaser of the Southeast Missouri Drug Task Force has also noticed that connection. The number of meth-lab incidents has tripled from 2008 to 2009 in the ten counties under his supervision, he says. And he's noticed something odd: "We've gone into meth houses, and we'll literally find tubs of arrowheads."

Larry Keen, the supervisor of the Southwest Missouri Drug Task Force, also reports that he often finds artifacts during meth busts. Keen says "I think whenever they get high, they've got to do something, so they wander around and get arrowheads and rocks."

There's probably more to it than that, says Richard Rawson, a professor at UCLA's School of Medicine. For 35 years he has studied addiction, with an emphasis on methamphetamines. He says meth users can stay up for days, focusing intensely on a redundant task until they collapse from fatigue.

Rawson says he has not heard of any link between meth users and arrowhead hunting, but, he reasons, "Somewhere in the background of their thinking, there's some motive for getting these things. They're not out there collecting leaves."

Special agent Robert Still recalls catching a woman stealing artifacts from the Buffalo National River in northwest Arkansas. She grew so agitated that she pulled out a revolver and a large knife. "I had to disarm her," says Still. Then there was the looter who came lunging at him with a jagged-edged garden tool. "We've had officers shot over this type of stuff."

If theft here is more dramatic, so is the scenery. The flinty blue hills arcing across the horizon — known as the Boston Mountains — are the highest on the Ozark Plateau. Steep slopes of cedar, hardwood, and pine drop down into streams lined by limestone bluffs. Tucked back into the hillsides are hundreds of rock shelters and caves, all of them rife with history — and vulnerable to plunder.

"Industrial-strength looters" have been invading the Buffalo River for several years, says federal archaeologist Caven Clark. He's worked at numerous parks in the western United States, including the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Southeastern Missouri has a problem, he adds, but not like here. "When I got here, what I found was more looting than I'd ever seen before." Much if it, he says, is linked to drugs.

Of the 350 caves and rock shelters in and around the Buffalo, more than 95 percent of them have been worked over, Clark estimates. In the last three years, he says, 22 serious cases were reported, some of which went to federal court where the pillagers were prosecuted under the federal Archaeological Resources Protection Act. Passed in 1979, the act prohibits looting on federal property.

Crooks target the sheltered sites because humans have huddled in them for millenniums and artifacts have accumulated. Compared to the wet caves of the eastern Ozarks, the sites here are relatively dry, which has helped preserve the bark fiber sandals, fabrics, and cordage. "Those things would fetch an unbelievable price," Clark says, but they are very rare.

The serious thieves wear camouflage and burrow ferociously into the ground. "I've seen some holes you could probably drop a Volkswagen into," says Clark, adding that they also leave plenty of trash. "We joke that Mountain Dew might as well be probable cause."

Special agent Still estimates that 70 percent of the archaeological crimes he's worked have some drug connection. Caven Clark has seen the same correlation. "Bad boys are bad boys," he says.

What complicates investigations, he continues, is that the artifacts are often used as currency and bartered for drugs. Looters know, for example, that a nice Dalton point (8,500 BC to 7,900 BC) might be sold on the Internet for a couple hundred dollars or more, while a more generic point might get $10 to $40 from a collector.

"If you're in a bluff shelter all day," Clark says, "you're all pumped up on drugs, and you find six points you can turn into $20 each — there's money to be made."

Outside federal property in this part of the state, "a new wave of looting has been seen in epidemic proportions" over the last ten years, according to Jerry Hilliard, assistant station archaeologist at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He fields eight to ten calls a year from a landowner or sheriff's deputy about such crime. "And that's the tip of the iceberg," he says, "because university people are sometimes the last people to get called."

Landowners can't report looting if they're not aware of it, according to Arkansas state archaeologist Dr. Ann Early. But even if they're aware of illicit digging, she adds, they might still keep mum to avoid unwanted attention. "A lot of digging may be going on in the counties, and the sheriffs may know nothing about it," says Early.

Hilliard is alarmed by the scale of the thievery. He says backhoes and dump trucks have been used to secretly haul huge amounts of unsifted soil away from sites. In 2003 a group in Madison County rigged a pump from a stream to a power-sprayer then blasted the inside of a nearby cave to uncover valuable items.

More recently, in Carroll County, another gang fired up a generator and ran lights into a cave. There, they cooked crank and dug several trenches five feet deep in search of ancient objects. Authorities on the scene later collected scattered human leg bones.

The group even tried to sell a human skull at a flea market, Hilliard says. "I think there is a weird underworld of selling, buying and trading of human skeletal material because I've heard these kinds of stories over the years," Hilliard says. "I'm not sure I'd want to get into that world.

Special agent Still believes there is a black market for human remains, though he's had no direct contact with it in the Midwest. After interrogating numerous grave robbers, he's noticed that "typically human remains still tend to give people the heebie-jeebies." They might use a human bone as a poker for their campfire or play with them and bat them around, he says, but generally, they leave the bones onsite.

If you stumble across ancient remains on federal property and then fail to report them, secretly remove them or try to sell them, you're guilty of violating the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act enacted by Congress in 1990. Anti-looting laws have not been warmly received in the deep Ozarks, where, jokes Clark, "digging is a custom among our people."

Hilliard agrees that quirks of highland culture play a role at the state level, too. "Government intervention has always been something that rural folks in the Ozarks have been very skeptical of," he says. "They don't want to be told what they can or can't do on their land."

Agent Still remembers how one man guilty of looting informed him in 2007 that only a prison term could stop him from digging. Sure enough, during the sentencing process, he was caught stealing in the exact area of his original offense.

"It's an addiction," Still says.

The artifact collector show held annually in Collinsville, Illinois, is one of the largest in the country. Before this year's [2010] event, on March 20 and 21, organizer Floyd Ritter said he'd be welcoming 3,000 visitors from across the nation. But anybody trying to hawk items unearthed from burial grounds, he says, was banned.

Asked how he could tell if an artifact was robbed, Ritter responds, "There's no way to tell."

Many archaeologists distinguish between good and bad collectors. The good ones, they say, display a good-natured curiosity about an arrowhead. The bad ones disregard the law and the artifact's history and care only about finding the highest bidder. They amass their inventories from low-level looters.

The finest specimens find their way to major dealers, who in turn sell them overseas, mostly to the Japanese, says Larry Zimmerman, an anthropology professor at Indiana and Purdue universities. "On the high-end stuff," he says, "Americans have been pretty much the middleman."

Zimmerman says collectors' shows, such as the one at Collinsville, are often "an archaeologist's nightmare." But eBay also worries him. Five years ago, as chair of the Society for American Archaeology's ethics committee, he lobbied the auction site to at least concede that the online antiquities trade is keeping looters in business.

"They basically said, 'Thank you very much for your concern,'" remembers Zimmerman. "They weren't very helpful." But he does point out that eBay will shut down any auction of human remains or artifacts known to be stolen.

"The problem is that eBay is so big, it's unmanageable," Zimmerman says. "Even if they had ten eBay cops, they couldn't control the antiquities trade."

Leslie Jones was sentenced January 25 in the Southern District of Illinois for his crimes at Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge. Archaeologists calculated that he had churned up enough soil to fill a semitrailer, (details below).

"That's going to haunt him for the rest of his life," says Geoff Donaldson.

Dr. Julie Holt of SIUE was not as impressed. "The judge gave that guy a slap on the wrist," she complains. "Do you think if he dug up your grandma, he'd get 30 days? No. He'd be in prison for a long time with psychological testing. But somehow, it's OK if it's a Native American burial."

Donaldson says the origin of the skeletal material seized from Jones' residence is still under investigation. The offender declined to comment for this story.

Unlike Jones, most people sentenced for Archaeological Resources Protection Act violations don't end up in prison. In Bob Palmer's analysis of federal prosecutions from 1996 to 2005, he determined that 83 looters were found guilty. Of these, less than a fourth of them did any time and the ones who did serve no more than a year.

Last June federal agents swooped into southern Utah and arrested two dozen people suspected of playing a role in a network of illicit Indian artifact trading. (Curiously, two suspects and one informant have since committed suicide.) Announcing the raid, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar hailed a "new chapter" for protecting such items. The time of the U.S. government "simply looking the other way," he said, "is over."

Meanwhile, Native Americans like Carrie Wilson look with anxiety toward the future. "Somebody's looting a site every day, whether a rock shelter or some other place," says Wilson, who consults for various Native American tribes and claims Quapaw, Peoria, and Eastern Shawnee heritage.

"If they're not looting, agriculture is destroying our sites in such numbers that in a few years, there won't be sites left."


In January 2007, Mr. Leslie Jones was observed by Fish & Wildlife Service Refuge Officers digging and removing these artifacts from an archeological site on the Refuge. The site, as it was later determined, minimally dates to the Middle to Late Archaic to Middle Woodland periods (6000 BC to 400 AD). It is suggested that, based on the artifacts found, Indians used this site for stone tool production, cooking, and other domestic activities.

In late January of 2007, law enforcement officers and special agents from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and Johnson County Sheriff’s Office seized 13,232 artifacts from Jones’ residence during the execution of a federal search warrant. These artifacts included pottery, clay figurines, tools, and over 200 pieces of human skeletal material. Jones later admitted living off the artifacts he collected and sold. 
Seized Indian artifacts from Leslie Jones residence.
“The damage caused by Leslie Jones can’t be measured in simple dollars,” said Tim Santel, Resident Agent-in-Charge for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Indiana, Illinois, Missouri). “These sites give us an unprecedented glimpse into the past. He has done devastating harm to the site, as many of these artifacts are lost forever, denying the American public much in the way of understanding past human existence.”

Staff from the Shawnee National Forest and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale assessed the estimated value of the damage to the site at more than $150,000.  

“Archeological sites are similar to a museum,” said Mark Wagner, Staff Archaeologist, Center for Archaeological Investigations at Southern Illinois University – Carbondale. “We wouldn't tolerate someone going into a museum and removing an object because they felt like it. These items don’t belong to archeologists, they were stolen from the American public.”

According to Mary McCorvie, Forest Archaeologist at Shawnee National Forest, public awareness and interest play a role in combating and preventing similar crimes.

“In Southern Illinois, we have a rich history of human occupation for 12-14 thousand years,” said McCorvie. Taking these pieces destroys critical pieces of our historical puzzle. It's important the public know how important and fragile these links to the past are, and the role they can play in combating this.

We've found that the public's interest in preservation is critical to reducing vandalism. People are aware of a number of sites like this that contain significant cultural resources, and we'd love them to both refrains from taking found artifacts, and report suspected incidences of vandalism or theft.”

Under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, it is a felony to disturb, alter, remove or damage archaeological sites and objects that are over 100 years old on Federal lands. Archaeological sites and artifacts are also protected by 36 Code of Federal Regulations, which prohibits digging in, excavating, disturbing, injuring, destroying, or in any way damaging prehistoric, historic, or archaeological resources, structure, site, artifact, property; or removing said items. Persons found guilty of offenses against the Archaeological Resources Protection Act could be punished by not more than two years in prison and not more than $250,000.00 for the first offense. 

On January 20, 2010, Leslie Jones, (then 50), of Creal Springs, Illinois, was sentenced to 30 days in a federal prison, 500 hours community service [ditch digging (he is experienced)], five years of probation, and to pay $150,326.06 in restitution to Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge, for excavating, collecting, and transporting illegally taken archaeological resources from a prehistoric Indian site on the southern Illinois refuge. In his plea agreement, signed October 2009, Jones admitted selling the articles to interested collectors to supplement his income. Jones case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of Illinois.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Help preserve our history by leaving archaeological sites and artifacts undisturbed and reporting any looters or evidence of looting activity that you see.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.
---Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Prehistoric shark nursery fossils found in Illinois.

Not far from Chicago, in a region now dominated by cornfields and whitetail deer, scientists say they've found fossil evidence of a “shark nursery” where prehistoric predators hatched.

The finding, which challenges long-held notions about ancient marine life, highlights a collection of prized local fossils preserved for more than 310 million years by a rare geologic process and then brought to the surface in recent decades by coal mining.

Like salmon in reverse, long-snouted "Bandringa Rayi" sharks (henceforth; Bandringa) migrated downstream from freshwater swamps to a tropical coastline to spawn 310 million years ago, leaving behind fossil evidence of one of the earliest known shark nurseries.
Photo of a fossil impression left by a juvenile Bandringa Rayi shark. These long-extinct sharks are known for their extremely long spoonbill snouts, which resemble those of modern-day paddlefish. This individual measures about 4 inches from snout to tail and was found in marine sediments at the Mazon Creek deposit in Illinois.
Fossils of Bandringa was discovered in 1969 in Will County as strip mining altered the landscape south of Chicago. Coal companies would discard piles of dirt rich with fossils, said Paul Mayer of the Field Museum, and allow people to pick through the churned earth.

Michael Coates, a University of Chicago evolutionary biologist, said the Bandringa sharks likely spent most of their adult lives in the rivers that run through present-day Ohio and Pennsylvania, citing fossils found in those states in recent decades. But Coates and a colleague suggest that the long-snouted critters laid their eggs and spent the early part of their lives in shallow coastal waters, such as the sea that once covered Illinois' Mazon Creek area and much of the Midwest.
Fossils of Bandringa Rayi were discovered in Will County, Illinois in 1969.
Amateur archaeologists and experts alike combed through the piles, and many of the fossils they brought home ended up at the Field Museum, which has the two Illinois samples studied by Coates, a public display about Mazon Creek, and thousands of the region's specimens in storage.

Mazon Creek's fossils began forming hundreds of millions of years ago when flowering plants and grass were nonexistent and when dinosaurs — not to mention humans — had yet to roam the Earth, Mayer said.

“When these sharks died, they fell into the mud of an estuary or even freshwater ponds in a little delta-like area,” said Mayer, who oversees about 40,000 Mazon Creek specimens as the Field's fossil invertebrate collections manager. “They were buried in the mud, and, for whatever reason, iron came in and cemented the rock around them.”

The process preserved many organisms that would have simply decomposed elsewhere, allowing today's scientists to study ancient jellyfish, worms and the soft-bodied Tully Monster. It also led to a fuller picture of sharks.
The Tully Monster is found only in Illinois and is the state's official fossil.
“The preservation of Mazon Creek allowed us to reconstruct this animal in detail using the fossil record.” said Lauren Sallan, a University of Michigan evolutionary biologist, who started the research as a graduate student rotating through Coates' Chicago lab.

Coates and Sallan's analyzed two Bandringa samples from Mazon Creek originally identified by scientists as separate species. The juvenile sharks, just 4 to 6 inches long, had pronounced spoon-billed snouts that stretched half as long as their bodies and, Coates said, “looks a little bit like the things you see today in sturgeon, paddlefish.” Their findings suggest that the two sets of fossils are in fact members of the same bottom-feeding species, and a juvenile version of the adult sharks found fossilized in Ohio and Pennsylvania. 

After reevaluating 24 fossils, including latex “peels” of Bandringa’s scale-covered skin, it was concluded that Bandringa was a single species that lived, at various times during its life, in fresh, brackish water, and salt water.

Young Bandringas — but not adults — have turned up in Illinois and adult ones — but not their offspring — were found farther east suggests that the sharks thrived in freshwater but used saltwater havens (like the one south of present-day Chicago) as a “shark nursery” to lay eggs and allow young animals to live safely.

Although no sharks living today are known to travel from freshwater to saltwater to lay eggs, most sharks do use shark nurseries.
An artist’s rendering of a 310 million-year-old Bandringa Rayi shark, originally found in fossil deposits from Mazon Creek in Illinois.
The physical differences between the two purported species were due to different preservation processes at marine and freshwater locations, Coates and Sallan concluded. The freshwater sites tended to preserve bones and cartilage, while the marine sites preserved soft tissue.

By combining the complementary data sets from both types of fossil sites and reclassifying Bandringa as a single species, Coates and Sallan gained a far more complete picture of the extinct shark’s anatomy and discovered several previously unreported features. They include downward-directed jaws ideal for suction-feeding off the bottom (getting their nutrients from algae and other plant material), needle-like spines on the head and cheeks, and a complex array of sensory organs (electroreceptors and mechanoreceptors) on both the extended snout and body, suited for detecting prey in murky water.

It’s also the earliest evidence for segregation, meaning that juveniles and adults were living in different locations, which implies migration into and out of these nursery waters. Adult Bandringa sharks lived exclusively in freshwater swamps and rivers, according to Coates and Sallan. Females apparently traveled downstream to a tropical coastline to lay their eggs in shallow marine waters, a reverse version of the modern-day salmon’s sea-to-stream migration. At the time, the coastline of the super-continent Pangaea ran diagonally between the Mazon Creek freshwater and marine sites.

All the Bandringa fossils from the Mazon Creek marine sites are juveniles, and they were found alongside egg cases -- protective capsules that enclose eggs of the next generation -- belonging to an early species of shark. Adult Bandringa fossils have been found only at freshwater locations, including several in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
An artist’s rendering of a 310 million-year-old, bottom-feeder, Bandringa Rayi shark.
Coates and Sallan said that the juvenile Bandringa sharks hatched from the Mazon Creek egg cases, and that the deposit’s marine sites represent a shark nursery where females spawned and then departed, returning upstream to freshwater rivers and swamps.

“This is the first fossil evidence for a shark nursery that’s based on both egg cases and the babies themselves,” Sallan said. “It’s also the earliest evidence for segregation, meaning that juveniles and adults were living in different locations, which implies migration into and out of these nursery waters.”

The findings, both scientists say, were possible only because of the fossils found south of Chicago, which are renowned in scientific circles even if they're unknown to many locals. Coates said he learned about the fossils as a graduate student in the United Kingdom and was eager to study them when he arrived here. “The Mazon Creek fossils are world famous,” he said, “and it's on Chicago's doorstep.”

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Looking North at the Clay Pit from the top of gas tank at Albion and Albany Avenues, Chicago. Circa 1945

Clay Pit looking North from the top of the gas tank from about Albion and Albany Avenues, West Ridge community, West Rogers Park, neighborhood, Chicago.
The Entrance to People's Gas, Light and Coke was on Whipple Street. The property boundaries were Kedzie was on the west, Albion on the south, Whipple on the east and roughly North Shore on the North.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Very First Frenchman in Southern Illinois was a Poacher.

The very first Frenchman so far as known, who passed over the old trails of southern Illinois was a poacher. That Frenchman passed this way in 1673. He was at or near the mouth of [Little] Mary's River (near Chester, Illinois) when La Salle came down the Mississippi on his very first voyage; that explorer stopped long enough to interview René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (Sieur de La Salle is a title only) and got certain valuable information from him.
{{In 1670 La Salle set out on another expedition. He led a group of men west across Lake Erie and then overland ending up at the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Although reports from the expedition do not indicate, it would have been obvious that the Great Lakes represented a vast freshwater sea. From Lake Michigan, the party moved south across Illinois and encountered the Mississippi River. From the first expedition, La Salle would have known that the position on the Mississippi was far north of the Ohio. He likely deduced that both rivers flowed South to the river reported by De Soto. La Salle later followed up the discovery and sailed down the river all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. His trip made him the first European to travel the length of the Mississippi,}}
The name of this lone Frenchman is not mentioned, but as he was a scout, he may, for convenience, be called “Le Espion” (French for 'the spy'). Much of the life of Le Espion is revealed by the information which he gave La Salle. He told La Salle about the river from that point (Little Mary's River) to the Chicasaw Bluffs, and of the various tribes of Indians along it; he also told of a great tributary entering this river from the east, and of some of its tribes. To possess that knowledge, Le Espion must have been in that territory for several months, probably running into years. In so vast a territory, he was probably not alone—there were other lone scouts. He was there not for pleasure, nor for sight-seeing, but for business.

The business of Le Espion reveals itself. There were at that time many French-Canadians—Itinerant (a traveler, wanderer) merchants, voyageurs, adventurers, etc.—traversing the unexplored west in search of favorable locations for the fur trade. One such voyageur rescued Hennepin at the Falls of St. Anthony. Of course, these adventurers were looking for locations for the illegitimate fur trade, because they did not expect to pay the king a royalty for the privilege of trading under such difficulties. But since the fur companies and such men as La Salle did pay licenses, and since they had police powers and might arrest and punish poachers, and since it was the duty of the Fathers to apprehend all such poachers, these Itinerants followed the inland portages, divides, water-sheds, or old Indian trails. They avoided the missions and the navigable streams; the Ohio River, from the mouth of the Wabash River to the mouth of the Tennessee River, was taboo because frequented by English-speaking traders, whom the Itinerants feared to encounter.

The Itinerant Merchant was a Canadian who had some means of his own or a line of credit with a Quebec or Montreal fur-buyer. He had allied with him from five to twenty-five Canadian youths, on a sort of profit-sharing basis, who were designated voyageurs (commercial travelers). Each voyageur, in turn, had with him a servant, and a ‘coureur de bois’ who acted as interpreter. A fully equipped Itinerant might have in his party as many as seventy-five men and boys—a considerable party, with considerable expense. Accordingly, it behooved the Itinerant to select a suitable location for trade. The best location for the purpose was to be found in the midst of Indians, who were in the midst of fur-bearing woods. Le Espion, doubtless, was looking for just such a place; we shall see.

In 1684, Franquelin, a French geographer, made a map of Louisiana, which included the Mississippi and its tributaries to their head-waters. On that map he shows, at the head of the Grand Chain of Rocks, a post named Tacaogane; at the Frankfort Hill, one named Nataogami; at the mouth of the Wabash River, on the left bank, one named Taarsile; one at about the location of East St. Louis, named Maroa; and at Cahokia, one named Kaockia. These are the only posts shown within several hundred miles of this old Reservation on that map, and it is presumed that they were the only ones then existent. These posts were necessarily built before 1684; and posts Tacaogane and Nataogami, the only ones within the Reservation, fairly shout as to the business of Le Espion in 1673. Of these two posts, Nataogami had by far the better location; it was at a great crossroads—the intersection of the “grand trace,” or Ohio-Mississippi water-shed, and the “salt-trail” from river to river. If the Itinerant who located there had his full complement of seventy-five men, then he needed many shelters; this would require several huts.

The “trafiquer post” proper was a log hut fourteen by twenty feet, with a log partition. A door in the south end of the hut gave ingress to and egress from the store-room for merchandise; and there was a hole in the partition for convenience in storing furs and peltries in the rear room.
An example of a small American log trading post.
Today (1932), a voyageur would be called a pack-peddler. The voyageur with his pack, his servant with a similar pack, and his coureur de bois with a gun and some camping equipment sallied forth in quest of an Indian camp, and of trade. Le Espion, in all probability, was one such voyageur, looking for a favorable trading place. Having found a desirable location, he built a small, one-roomed hut, thus establishing a sort of sub-post, which was called a depot. He hired an Indian woman to chop wood, to build fires, to cook, wash and mend. He was then ready to trade brandy or other wares to the Indians for beavers. These cost him from forty cents to one dollar apiece; when they reached Montreal they were worth four times that much, and at Paris or Bordeaux, ten times as much. Although the coureur de bois was his interpreter, the voyageur soon learned the twenty words necessary for him to be able to trade with the Indians; after that, the interpreter and the servant were kept busy carrying beavers to the post, and other merchandise back to the depot.

This sub-post, or depot, was usually given a French name, for the benefit of such persons as might desire to go there in the future. The stream, or prairie, upon which the depot was located, was also given a descriptive phrase name, for better identification. It was in this manner that our many French names came to be here.

Some of the streams that have French names are: Au Kas (Okaw), Beaucoup, Au Vase, Cache, Saline (Le eau de salle—salt spring), Grand Pierre, Gros Baie (Big Bay), Bobinet, Au Detour, and Le Clair; there were doubtless others whose names are lost to us. Some of the prairies in and near this Reservation are: Le Prairie du Bochier; Le Prairies du Long, du Chien, du Grand Cote, du Paradis, and du Etang (pond—East Six Mile); Le Prairie du ville de mont (Town Mount); du Coline (hill—probably Knob Prairie); du Mauvais (poor); and dn Fredonner (pronounced fredona, and meaning to hum, to buzz—probably Eight Mile).

Our most prominent landmarks were: Cavite-en-rocher (Cave-in-Rock); Le Grand Chaine a la Rocher (the Grand Chain of Rocks); Cavite Deltoid (the delta-like formation at the mouth of the Ohio River); Le Cap de St. Croix (Grand Tower) and others not now familiar.

There were numerous little depots with big French names. The best-remembered of these were: Macedoin (Macedonia); Francefort (Frankfort - modern-day West Frankfort); Egalite (Equality); Eau Mineral (Creal Springs); Vienne (vi en, both vowels short; location of this depot uncertain); Moscou (Moscow, probably becoming a post later); Perou (Peru, location well known); Golconde (near Reevesville); A pas le Mocassin (Mocassin Gap) A pas le Geant (Giant’s Pass, identity not certain); and many others that a former generation of men could name.

This large number of French names did not become attached to all these places by chance, but were given by the French traders, trappers, and hunters who roamed about this Reservation before Americans came; enough of these Frenchmen remained until the coming of our forefathers to acquaint them with these names. For just the same reasons that the English-speaking peoples who settled around Kaskaskia adopted the French names of rivers, prairies, and places, our forefathers adopted the French names which they found here. A smaller and more scattered French population here probably accounts for the loss to us of many other such French names.

The fact that our French left no history is not at all strange. They were braconniers (poachers), and were violating two strict laws of Canada—they were trading with the Indians without a license, and were selling them brandy, which had been prohibited. (One such violator had been hanged at Quebec.) They were violating an economic law, also, by wasting their time in the woods with Indians, learning all their vices and teaching them others, instead of staying at home and producing foodstuffs for the next winter; this was a great economic loss to Canada. And they were violating the moral law by their relations with Indian women; this was quite a scandal in the minds of the Jesuit Fathers, and they wrote many scathing letters about that scandal, to the governor and the intendant.

There were not more than nine thousand people in Canada at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and the territory was so immense that to properly police it was not practicable. A stricter edict was therefore declared, but to this edict, D’L’Hut and eight hundred young Canadians answered by withdrawing into the woods to become Indians. As a salve for these, who were much needed in the wars which were bound to come with the English, the king issued permits which allowed an Itinerant to have as many as twenty-five voyageurs with two men each as helpers. If the two “ posts’’ known to have been in this Reservation each had its Itinerant with his full complement of helpers, then there were here as many as one hundred and fifty Frenchmen. In all, twenty-five such permits were issued. But their issuance only aggravated the brandy-selling and the dissipation and caused the priests to write stronger letters than ever. In this way, the permits were withdrawn and re-issued several times. And this was the somewhat muddled condition of affairs in Canada at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Monk and the Earthquake at Cahokia Mound in the Illinois Territory, 1811-1812.

The story of Father Urban Guillet in the Illinois Territory started when his group of Trappists[1] left Kentucky to move further west in 1809. Having been unsuccessful in establishing a self-sufficient community near Bardstown, Kentucky, they received an offer of land and buildings in Florissant, Missouri by John Mullanphy. Mullanphy was an Irish immigrant and a successful St. Louis entrepreneur and philanthropist. In the meantime, the superior of the Trappists received another offer of land, this time from prominent Cahokia citizen Nicholas Jarrot. Jarrot offered 400 acres of land, situated nine miles north of Cahokia, completely free of charge. The Trappists took Jarrot's offer and began to establish their settlement at the foot of the long abandoned pre-Columbian temple mound of the Mississippian culture. It was this settlement that led to the site's current nickname, Monks Mound.
An artist’s depiction of Monks Mound as found within the interpretive center at Cahokia Mounds State Park.

Although Guillet and his colleagues established farms, built buildings, and opened a school for boys, the monastery of Notre Dame de Bon Secours (as they called it) never flourished. Bad weather, recurrent waves of disease, and crop failures made the Trappist ideal of a self-sufficient community difficult to pursue. Unclear title to the land, furthermore, led to problems with squatters. It seemed clear that the effort to establish a community of self-sustaining religious brothers at the foot of Monks Mound would not succeed."

It was amidst this backdrop of struggle, on December 16, 1811, that the earth shook and perhaps, for Guillet and his confreres, served as another signal of the fate of their errand into the wilderness.

Fr. Guillet corresponded regularly with Jean-Octave Plessis, the Bishop of Quebec. While not his superior in the Trappist order, Plessis was an important figure in French-speaking North America and Guillet sought his counsel and assistance.

Two of these letters, written on February 18, 1812 and March 14, 1812, discuss the terrifying events surrounding the earthquake that would come to be known as the New Madrid Earthquake of 1811-1812.

In his letter of February 18, 1812, Guillet tells Plessis that, “an almost continual earthquake which lasted from the night of 15-16 December until now, helped much to bring people back to their religion. Earthquakes, long harbingers of evil in the Christian tradition, might have been seen as a sign from the beyond. Guillet also describes the destruction wrought by the quake, which damaged houses and, "opened the earth in many places.”

The earthquake that Guillet was describing did indeed begin on the morning of December 16, 1811. A series of three earthquakes, measuring between 7 and 7.5 on the Richter scale, shook the entire eastern portion of the United States. Centered in northeastern Arkansas and southeastern Missouri, these earthquakes caused damage and fear over half a continent. Another significant earthquake occurred on February 7, 1812, destroying the town of New Madrid, Missouri and toppling buildings in St. Louis.

In his March 14, 1812 letter to Plessis, Guillet again describes the destruction in the wake of the earthquakes. He writes that the damage locally was minor, but that he was nearly crushed by a falling chimney." He mentions the destruction of New Madrid and relates a story about the supposed source of the earthquakes: a volcanic eruption in North Carolina. This story, while likely credible, passed through many hands before it got to Guillet in the Illinois Country and may have been exaggerated.


The struggles to eke out a living from the unforgiving environment of the American Bottom, coupled with the shock of the 1811-1812 earthquakes, may have finally convinced Fr. Guillet that the mission at Notre Dame de Bon Secours was doomed to failure. In 1813, the Trappists gave up their effort, abandoned the monastery, and returned to Europe."

While it would be speculation to suggest that the earthquake drove Fr. Guillet and the other Trappist Monks away, it would be fair to conclude that the earthquake was another major factor in the decision to abandon the mission.

Fr. Guillet's account of the earthquake is one of many that exist, and this account cannot be considered without attention being paid to the context. If the many accounts of the earthquake are compared, a picture of the earthquake emerges. If, however, one account of the earthquake is set in its historical context, a deeper rendering of the meaning of the event to the lives of those who lived it arises. In considering historical sources, one must always consider the context along with the source itself if an understanding of the past is to be had.

The memory of the earthquakes of 1811-1812 doubtless lived on in the unrecorded memories of those who lived through it. The recorded accounts, like that of Fr. Guillet, are a small sample of the widespread experience of the event. The past, in its totality, may be unknowable. We can come to understand it, though, through what remains from it.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

[1] Trappists - The order takes its name from La Trappe Abbey or La Grande Trappe, located in the French province of Normandy. A reform movement began there in 1664, in reaction to the relaxation of practices in many Cistercian monasteries. Armand Jean le Bouthillier de Rancé, originally the commendatory abbot of La Trappe, led the reform. As commendatory abbot, de Rancé was a layman who obtained income from the monastery but had no religious obligations. After a conversion of life between 1660 and 1662, de Rancé formally joined the abbey and became its regular abbot in 1663. In 1892 the reformed "Trappists" broke away from the Cistercian order and formed an independent monastic order with the approval of the Pope.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The White Squirrels of Olney Illinois.

Why are there so many white squirrels in Onley, Illinois? There are two theories that offer some historical perspective.

The William Yates Stroup Theory
While William Yates Stroup was hunting squirrels in the woods near his home in the southeast Olney Township he saw a gray squirrel run into a nest and shot the den killing the mother and knocking out two pure white baby squirrels. He put them into the pockets of his game bag and took them home with him, turning them over to his sons, George and Era Strop who raised them by hand feeding them milk by a spoon. The little squirrels lived, thrived and grew well. That fall farmer Stroup brought the squirrels to Olney and presented them to the Jasper Banks Saloon (JAP's Place) and displayed them in his window. They attracted attention and were a fine drawing card for JAP's Place. 
The albinos were finally released when the Illinois legislature passed a law prohibiting the confinement of wildlife, which included squirrels. The squirrels were taken to Oakwood, the home of Thomas Tippit commonly called Tippit's Woods and released. The Tippit residence was located at 802 N. Silver Street, but has since been torn down.

The George W. Ridgely Theory
George W. Ridgely moved to a farm about six miles southeast of Sumner, In 1899 George discovered a cream-colored squirrel and a white squirrel playing on his farm near Sumner. He tried to capture them but was unsuccessful. Finally he asked his neighbor John Robinson to help him, but they were unsuccessful. Finally the men constructed a box-like trap and a cage eight feet by six feet. They captured them and were able to raise several litters before bringing a pair to Olney in 1902. Mr. Ridgely sold the pair to Jasper "Jap" C. Banks for $5 each. Mr. Banks made a green box for his albinos and displayed them in his saloon window, hoping they would attract customers and cause them to go inside and get a better look and have a drink.
When the Illinois state legislature passed a law prohibiting the containment of wild animals, Mr. Ridgely released all his squirrels from his cage near Sumner. They wandered in his woods and neighboring lands, and the squirrels were no longer to be found.
Jap Banks also disposed of his squirrels, giving the pair to the sons of Thomas Tippit Sr., a former mayor of Olney. Thomas Tippit had a woods near his home then located at 802 Silver Street His sons placed the open green box in one of the nearby trees, liberating the squirrels.
Thomas Tippit Jr. and his brother watched the male white squirrel leave the cage. Just then a large female fox squirrel attacked the male albino, "tearing him to shreds" and dropping him to the ground. Tom threw something at the fox squirrel and drove her into her den. They he ran to the house and got a shotgun. His father had allowed him to shoot it for the first time the day before. Fourteen-year-old Tom drew aim and shot the fox squirrel as it approached the white female. The albino produced a litter of all white squirrels establishing the Olney albino colony.
About 1941, there were 800 white squirrels. In the mid-1970's, John Stencel, instructor at Olney Central College, received a small grant from the Illinois Academy of Science to study the white squirrels. 
A squirrel count is held each fall. Both white and gray squirrels are counted in addition to cats. The number of squirrels has dropped causing concern. When the white squirrels dip below 100, Stencel said, they are concerned about genetic drifts, a biological force that speeds up the extinction of a small population. 
In 1997, the Olney City Council amended its ordinance which disallowed dogs from running at large to include cats. The 1997 squirrel count realized a decrease in cats. Dr. Stencel is hopeful this will have a positive affect on the white squirrel population. 
In an effort to help the white squirrel population, City Clerk Belinda Henton has obtained a permit to rehabilitate wildlife from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife Resources. Residents are asked to contact Mrs. Henton when they discover white squirrels that have been abandoned or hurt.

White Squirrels and the Law

White squirrels have the right-of-way on all public streets, sidewalks, and thoroughfares in Olney, and there is a $750 fine for accidentally running one over.

The police department badges and squad cars have a picture of a white squirrel on it. 

The white squirrel has proved to be an enduring symbol of Olnean pride, and stands as Olney's most defining feature.

Albino or white squirrels are on the endangered species list since 2014.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.