Welcome to SCHOCK MCCOY PRODUCTIONS by J.H.McCoy. This website will give you information about a variety of topics: nature, literature, history, and astronomy, as well as additional details about my articles in THE MINDEN CITY HERALD (989-864-3630). The last two pages are a tribute to my mother, Gloria (Schock) McCoy (1923-2013). The journal she wrote on our trip West (1977) can be found in "Writing/GSM." It is my hope that you will always find something interesting and informative on this website and that
you will visit often. Please sign the guest book, and thank you for stopping by.
J.H. (John Herbert) McCoy
THE MINDEN CITY HERALD SAND BEACH TWP.
9636 Roberts Rd.
Harbor Beach, MI 48441
FULL STRAWBERRY MOON
(12:53 a.m. EDT)
***CLICK ON THE NAME FOR A SHORT VIDEO***
THE CAMERA SKETCH BOOK **
** With apologies to Washington Irving and THE SKETCH BOOK OF GEOFFREY CRAYON, GENT. (1819-1820).
(Click on small "pics" to enlarge)
THE "BURN BOSS" IN THE WHITE HELMET
"And what is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days."
JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL (1819-1891)
JUNE 19 BLASE PASCAL, 1623, PHILOSOPHER & PHYSICIST
JUNE 19 GUY LOMBARDO, 1902, BIG BAND LEADER
JUNE 20 AUDIE MURPHY, 1924, WWII HERO, ACTOR
JUNE 21 JEAN-PAUL SARTRE, 1905, PHILOSOPHER/NOVELIST
JUNE 23 CLARENCE THOMAS, 1948, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE
JUNE 25 GEORGE ORWELL, 1903, NOVELIST, "1984"
JUNE 26 PEARL BUCK, 1892, NOVELIST, "THE GOOD EARTH"
JUNE 27 HELEN KELLER, 1880, BLIND AUTHOR/LECTURER
JUNE 28 JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU, 1712, FRENCH THINKER
from THE OLD TEACHER'S ALMANAC
MARS BRIGHTENS AS THE EARTH MOVES CLOSER TO
THE "RED PLANET"
SUMMER SOLSTICE: JUNE 21,
6:07 a.m. EDT - SUMMER BEGINS
++ all photos in THE CAMERA SKETCH BOOK are unedited ++
WOLVES OF ISLE ROYALE N.P.
THE MINDEN CITY HERALD
JUNE 14, 2018
THIS WEEK IN
THE MINDEN CITY HERALD
Kevin Roggenbuck explains how stone tools were made and used by early inhabitants of the Thumb.
Anyone who spends time in the Minden City State Game Area (MCSGA) will eventually
come across beaver sign. It might be a well-constructed dam blocking a ditch or small stream. It could be a large aspen lying on the ground and scarred with tell-tale tooth marks. Or it might be the stump of a small tree or shrub, seemingly sharpened to a point and surrounded by wood chips.
The American beaver, Castor canadensis, is a rodent or gnawing mammal. It is related
to squirrels, gophers, and woodchucks, as well as to porcupines, muskrats, and field mice. Weighing 20 – 60 pounds, the beaver is much larger than other members of the rodent family; in fact, it is the second-largest rodent in the world - only the capybara of South America outweighs it. (The only other beaver species in the world is the Eurasian or European beaver (Castor fiber) – superficially similar, but different from and not genetically compatible with Castor canadensis.)
Everyone knows what the American beaver looks like. The Audubon Nature Encyclopedia gives a detailed description:
“The beaver is a chunky animal with dark brown back and sides, and with somewhat
lighter underparts. It has a large, deep head with small, rounded ears – which nevertheless are prominent, particularly when the animal is swimming. In the front of the mouth are
very strong, chisel-shaped incisor teeth, two above and two below, which serve as the
tools and weapons of this animal. These teeth are noticeable, not only because of their large size but also because of their yellow color. The forefeet of the beaver are rather small and clawed; they are very mobile and serve as rather efficient hands. The hindfeet are
large and have webs between the toes – obviously to propel the animal through the water. Perhaps the most characteristic external feature of the beaver is the broad, flat, trowel-shaped tail, virtually naked of hair and covered with overlapping scales.”
While swimming, a beaver uses its flat, powerful tail to control direction and as an aid to propulsion; the tail also serves as a prop on land when a beaver stands on its hind legs.
A beaver also uses its tail to warn nearby family members of approaching danger. Just before it dives to safety, the beaver slaps the water with its tail, producing a loud, sharp warning sound to alert all others within hearing. Beavers in the vicinity will usually follow suit, and a series of explosive slaps might echo across a beaver pond.
Seeing the “mark of the beaver” in the Minden City State Game Area reminded me that beavers have always been here. Long before European settlement, native tribesmen hunted them in the Great Lakes region and locally in the so-called “Minden Swamp.”
Later, their soft, shiny fur became an important trade item as white men penetrated the North American wilderness.
Fortunes were made on beaver pelts, and men like John Jacob Astor (1763-1848) got rich buying and selling furs. The Hudson Bay Company, chartered in 1670, controlled the British fur trade in North America for centuries, shipping millions of beaver pelts to England.
Their coat of arms featured a silver shield supported by two elk (similar to Michigan’s
Great Seal) and a red cross with four beavers, one in each quarter. The motto read: pro
pelle cutem (“skin for leather”).
In 1680, the Hudson Bay Company began trading their famous 100% wool “point blankets” for beaver pelts. The short black lines woven into each blanket indicated its size and could be seen when it was folded.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not true that the number of black lines on the blanket indicated the exact number of beaver pelts required to make a trade. The lines merely indicated the blanket’s size, and that alone determined what it was worth in beaver pelts. During the fur trade era, the most popular sizes were 2 ½, 3, 3 ½, and 4 points; but that was before the size of beds increased dramatically. Today, Hudson Bay blankets come in a 6 (queen) and an 8 point size (king).
In North America, the fur trade was the backbone of the economy for at least two hundred years, and the beaver pelt was the most lucrative and widely traded item. The Audubon Nature Encyclopedia describes the close connection between the beaver and the settling
of the North American wilderness:
“The trade in beaver skins formed a basis for the early settlement of North America, and the history of Canada particularly has paralleled the traffic in beavers. New Amsterdam, which later was to become New York, was founded as a trading post, the most important commodity of which was beaver pelts.”
The Seal of New York City still has two beavers on it, symbolic of its historic link with the beaver trade; and the beaver is the official national animal of Canada and is featured on
the Canadian nickel. Even the scientific Latin name, Castor canadensis, reflects its close connection with Canada. In most field guides, the large aquatic mammal is called the “American beaver,” but the Latin translation is “Canadian beaver.”
Between the 1600’s and early 1800’s, beavers were the most hunted animals in North America, and the most valuable. In the late 1600’s, a man could trade twelve beaver pelts
for a gun, and a single skin could purchase four pounds of shot, a kettle, or a pound of tobacco.
As beaver populations declined in the east, French, English and American trappers slowly moved farther west. Much of the exploration of western North America was done by trappers and mountain men, who constantly searched for streams and rivers that had not yet been trapped out.
Although Native Americans hunted beaver and traded their pelts to the Europeans, they
had great respect for the animal and its ways. They regarded the beaver as a special creature, which had the power to create “new worlds” by building dams and producing
In his book Mammals of Michigan Field Guide, Stan Tekiela gives a modern twist to the old belief:
“No other mammal besides humans changes its environment as much as beavers.
Beaver ponds play an important role in moose populations. Moose feed on aquatic plants, cool themselves and escape biting insects in summer in beaver ponds. Other animals such as frogs, turtles and many bird species, including ducks, herons, and egrets also benefit from the newly created habitat.”
Today, the beaver population of North America is only a small fraction of what it once was. According to The Audubon Nature Encyclopedia, “…conservative estimates place the [historic] number at no less than 60 million, and more probably at 100 million.” Like the vast herds of bison on the Great Plains, beavers were nearly exterminated by unregulated slaughter.
However, the Kaufman Field Guide to Mammals of North America claims that the beaver
“…has been restored to much of its former range.” The field guide’s range map indicates that today the beaver is common in the Canadian Provinces and in almost all of the fifty states, excluding Florida, Hawaii, Southern California and much of Nevada and Arizona.
Beaver trapping is now controlled and regulated by the states in order to protect the species, but beavers still run afoul of human settlement. Road commissioners look askance at beaver dams because they might flood county roads, and as a rule, no land owner wants his trees cut down or his fields flooded by beavers.
But, there is still room for Castor canadensis on public land and in places like the Minden City State Game Area.
Tim Gierman, Wildlife Technician for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in the Cass City Office, believes the MCSGA is home to a sizable number of beavers. He called the 9,000 acres of state land in northern Sanilac County “ideal beaver habitat” and
a “beaver Nirvana.”
Unfortunately, some of this “ideal beaver habitat” borders roads and farm fields at the
edges of the game area. When “nuisance beavers” block drainage ditches and flood agricultural land or area roads, various state and county offices step in. For example, during the closed season, the DNR can issue a special permit to trap offending beavers;
and the road commission will supervise the removal of dams when local roads are involved.
Incidentally, it is legal to trap beavers in the MCSGA, and there is no bag limit. The trapping season runs from November 10 to March 31.
The beaver population of today is only a remnant of the untold millions that once lived in North America. However, I am glad that some of these iconic animals can still be found in the Minden City State Game Area - itself a small fraction of the vast acreage that once was known as the “Minden Swamp.”
Notes: “Active mainly at night, [a beaver is] often seen or heard at dusk swimming with
just its head showing above the water or slapping its tail on the surface of the water in alarm…. Beavers along rivers live in burrows in banks, but those in quieter waters build elaborate lodges with underwater entrances, dry living quarters, floors lined with wood chips, and vents for fresh air. [They eat] the inner bark of willow, aspen, and other trees, using the stripped logs for construction.” from the Kaufman Field Guide to Mammals of North America
“At the lodge, [a beaver] eats the soft bark of smaller branches the way we eat corn on
the cob. Doesn’t eat the interior wood. Stores branches for winter use by sticking them
in the mud on a lake or river bottom….Monogamous and mates for life. However, will take
a new mate if partner is lost. Can live up to 20 years in captivity.... Dam repair is triggered by the sound of moving water, not by sight. Most repair activity takes place at night.” from Mammals of Michigan Field Guide, Stan Tekiela
“The ponds created by well-maintained dams help isolate the beavers’ homes, which are called lodges. These are created from severed branches and mud. The beavers cover their lodges late each autumn with fresh mud, which freezes when frosts arrive. The mud becomes almost as hard as stone, thereby preventing wolves and wolverines from penetrating the lodge. The lodge has underwater entrances, which makes entry nearly impossible for any other animal, although muskrats have been seen living inside beaver lodges with the beavers who made them.” from Wikipedia
“Unlike most other kinds of mammals, beavers keep growing throughout their lives.
Most beavers look larger than they really are because of the humped backs and thick fur. Thousands of years ago, the beavers of North America were about 7 ½ feet (2.3 meters) long, including the tail – almost as long as the grizzly bears. No one knows why these huge beavers disappeared.” from The World Book Encyclopedia.
from THE MINDEN CITY HERALD - JUNE 18, 2015
MARK OF THE BEAVER AND
THE MINDEN CITY STATE GAME AREA
The "mark of the beaver" can be seen on two aspen trees in the Minden City State Game Area - one gnawed at the bottom and the other lying on the ground. The unchewed splinter in the middle of the fallen tree indicates that the beaver played it safe. He let the weight of the tree and the wind bring it down after he was out of the way.
"The question is not what you look at but what you see."
HENRY DAVID THOREAU**
"DOWN THE RIVER is a collection of essays both timeless and timely. It is an exploration of the abiding beauty of some of the last great stretches of American
wilderness on voyages down rivers where the body and mind float free...it is an impassioned condemnation
of what is being done to our natural heritage
in the name of progress, profit, and security....It is in short Edward Abbey at his best, where and when we need him most"
from back cover
SCROLL DOWN FOR "NATIVE AMERICAN ARTIFACTS AT THE HURON COUNTY NATURE CENTER"(6/18/15)
Many of his friends, neighbors, relatives, and relative friends must have sighed in relief when Henry finally croaked his last, mumbling "moose.. . Indians..." and was safely buried under Concord sod. Peace, they thought, at long last. But, to paraphrase the corpse, they had somewhat hastily concluded that he was dead.
His passing did not go unnoticed outside of Concord. Thoreau had achieved regional notoriety by 1862. But at the time when the giants of New England literature were thought to be Emerson, Hawthorne, Alcott, Channing, Irving, Longfellow, Dr. Lowell, and Dr. Holmes, Thoreau was but a minor writer. Not
even a major minor writer.
Today we see it differently. In the ultimate democracy of time, Henry has outlived his contemporaries. Hawthorne and Emerson are still read, at least in university English departments, and it may be that in a few elementary schools up in Maine and Minnesota children are being compelled to read Longfellow’s Hiawatha (I doubt it; doubt they can, even under compulsion), but as for the others they are forgotten by everyone but specialists in American literature. Thoreau, however, becomes more significant with each passing decade. The deeper our United States sinks into industrialism, urbanism, militarism—with the rest of the world doing its best to emulate America—the more poignant, strong, and appealing becomes Thoreau’s demand for the right of every man, every woman, every child, every dog, every tree, every snail darter, every lousewort, every living thing, to live its own life in its own way at its own pace in its own square mile of home. Or in its own stretch of river.
EDWARD ABBEY (1927-1989) from DOWN THE RIVER
E. ABBEY ON THOREAU
** Scroll down for a postscript on Thoreau
from THE MINDEN CITY HERALD (5/10/18)
Regardless of what the calendar says, it is not spring until the frogs start singing. Punxsutawney Phil and other prognosticators are often wrong about the end of winter and the coming of spring, but you can bet on the frogs! When you hear them singing, spring is here.
Frogs are also called “anurans,” a term that the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines as “any of an order (Anura) of amphibians comprising the frogs, toads, and tree frogs, all of which lack a tail in the adult stage and have long hind
limbs often suited to leaping and swimming.”
There are thirteen anurans in Michigan, including bull frogs, green frogs, leopard
frogs, tree frogs, and toads; and each species emerges from hibernation and mates
in a sequential order of “breeding windows” during the spring and summer.
This year, the first members of the spring chorus to announce the new season in my neighborhood were spring peepers and wood frogs. As the weather finally warmed
up at the end of April, both “early bird” anurans were singing loudly in the vernal
ponds near my house.
The spring peeper is a small brown or tan tree frog with a roughly formed dark “X”
on its back. The Latin word crucifer in its binomial name, Pseudacris crucifer, refers
to the cross-like mark and means “cross-bearer.” (Pseudacris is a combination of two Greek words meaning “false locust,” a reference to the frog’s, loud, piercing call.)
At close range, the “X” on the frog’s back can be used to identify it. However, spring peepers are very small (about an inch long) and hard to see. Even when they are singing loudly in the water at your feet, it is not easy to spot them. Of course, once
you know their unique sound, you can simply identify them by ear.
The spring peeper is named for its call, which the male uses to attract a mate. (In all frog species, only the males sing.) The high-pitched single note is similar to the peeping sound made by young chickens, but much louder and more intense. The
short ½-second “peeps” are repetitive, sharp, and shrill. When large numbers of
spring peepers are calling in the same pond, their individual efforts blend together
in a loud, intense crescendo of sound, which is said to resemble jingling sleigh bells.
Standing at the edge of a vernal pond and listening to the high-pitched calls of numerous spring peepers is an unforgettable seasonal experience. Up close, their incessant chirping is actually hard on the ears – an insistent, almost deafening reaffirmation that winter is over.
The wood frog (Rana sylvatica) is another member of the early anuran chorus. It
begins singing in the spring ponds as soon the ice melts and the weather warms up. Its unique call is similar to the sound of quacking ducks - a hoarse, clacking, staccato-like sound repeated continually. The wood frog’s sharp, raspy call is easily distinguished from the clearer, bell-like sound of the spring peeper. Often both frogs sing together in the same pond, but their calls are completely different and easily separated.
Wood frogs also can be identified by their distinct markings. They are the frogs
with the “robber’s mask” – a black facial spot extending from the eye backward past the eardrum. Wood frogs also have a dark line from the eye forward to the tip of the snout.
Like most anurans, the wood frog only frequents the newly thawed ponds for a short time in the spring. Once the breeding season is over and the eggs are laid, they leave the water and take up residence in the woods and swamps; hence, the name, “wood frog.”
Almost everything I know about identifying frogs I learned from Jim McGrath of
Nature Discovery (Williamston, Michigan). He and his wife Carol are frequent presenters at the Huron County Nature Center on Loosemore Road. Their Saturday Programs about Michigan reptiles and amphibians (snakes, frogs, toads, and salamanders) are some of the most popular and well-attended presentations of the summer season.
The first Saturday Program I ever attended at the Nature Center was Jim McGrath’s presentation on Michigan’s frogs and toads. There was no power in the building
that day, and so instead of playing a recording of each anuran’s call, McGrath simply did the vocals himself. To say I learned a lot about frogs and toads that day would
be an understatement.
I am no expert on anurans, but thanks to McGrath, I can at least recognize two of
the frogs in the early spring chorus: the spring peeper and the wood frog. They are usually the first and arguably the best, because to winter-weary residents in my neighborhood and around the Thumb, their songs unmistakably announce the real coming of spring.
Notes: Jim McGrath has a CD for sale entitled “Frogs of the Great Lakes Region.” It contains the recorded sounds of Michigan’s thirteen frogs and toads and is a great
help to identifying their spring mating calls. The CD can be ordered from Nature Discovery at: www.naturediscovery.net. The cost is $15, plus a $3 shipping fee.
The proper names of the thirteen anurans featured in McGrath’s “Frogs of the Great Lakes Region” are: Western Chorus Frog, Northern Spring Peeper, Wood Frog, Northern Leopard Frog, Eastern American Toad, Fowler’s Toad, Pickerel Frog, Eastern Gray Tree Frog, Cope’s Gray Tree Frog, Green Frog, Blanchard’s Cricket Frog, Bull Frog, and Mink Frog.
On July 14, 2018, Jim and Carol McGrath will be back at the Huron County Nature Center for a Saturday Program entitled “Reptiles & Amphibians.” It will cover
Michigan snakes as well as the state’s frogs, toads, and salamanders. The McGraths will return on August 4, 2018, for a presentation called “Michigan Mammals.” Again this year, both of these Saturday Programs are sponsored by me and my website, Schock McCoy Productions.
A complete list of topics for this year’s Saturday Programs at the Huron County Nature Center can be found on their website: www.huronnaturecenter.org.
For more information on spring peepers and wood frogs, visit my website at: www.schockmccoyproductions.com. Also LIKE US on Facebook. I am also on Twitter: @JohnHMcCoy41.
Up close, the spring peeper (left) with the "X" on its back is easily distinguised for the "robber-masked" wood frog.
"In June as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day. No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them."
ALDO LEOPOLD (1887-1948)
"June is bustin' out all over! / All over the meadow and hill"
RICHARD ROGERS from "CAROUSEL" (1902-1979)
Raccoons are usually nocturnal, but if they are hungry enough, they will start foraging early, especially in the spring. Last week just before sunset, I looked out in the backyard and saw a raccoon hanging upside down from my tubular feeder. It was holding on like a furry acrobat and busily eating black sunflower seeds.
I started opening a window to yell at it and scare it away, but the raccoon heard me and dropped to the ground. It ran into the nearby cedars and disappeared. In a few minutes, however, it was back.
I watched as the raccoon climbed up the shepherd’s hook and skillfully maneuvered around my new squirrel guard. The large, upside-down “funnel” worked well on squirrels, but it was completely useless with this larger and more powerful “bird seed burglar.” The raccoon simply pushed the guard against the steel pole and then reached above it with its clever hands and continued climbing. Soon, it was back hanging under the feeder and calmly eating sunflower seeds.
Again, I opened the window, and the raccoon dropped down and ran. It must have been hungry because it kept coming back.
Raccoons are native to North America. Long before Europeans established settlements in the New World, the indigenous tribesmen hunted them for their meat and fur. Christopher Columbus was the first European explorer to mention the animal in his writings. He probably saw one of the raccoon subspecies on the newly-discovered islands in the Caribbean.
When the English established a colony at Jamestown in 1607, the Powhatan natives supplied them with their name for the strange, new animal with the long tail and masked face. They called it “aroughcun,” meaning “one who rubs with its hands.” Captain John Smith (1580-1631), leader of the Jamestown expedition, transcribed the sound of their word into English and included “aroughcun” in a list of Powhatan terms that he was compiling.
William Strachey (1572-1621), a writer who arrived in Jamestown (1610) after being shipwrecked off Bermuda, also mentioned the raccoon in his account of the colony. However, he spelled the Powhatan word differently; his version was “arathkone.” Eventually, the aboriginal name was anglicized and added to the English language as “raccoon.”
The raccoon is one of the most numerous and widespread animals in North America, and everybody knows what it looks like. The Kaufman Field Guide to Mammals of North American includes several colorful illustrations of raccoon activity and some good descriptive details:
“Size varies with climate: very small in the Florida Keys, much larger and stouter in the cold northern zones. When walking, appears hunchbacked in profile. Usually grizzled gray-brown, but sometimes much darker or paler overall. Tail is long (but shorter than the body length), bushy, banded with black and white, and tipped with black; black face mask is surrounded by white fur.”
Because the fur around its eyes resembles the black mask sometimes worn by robbers and outlaws, the Kaufman Field Guide humorously refers to the raccoon as a “masked bandit,” and mentions its “nighttime raids” on “garbage cans and garden plots.”
It also states that raccoons are omnivores and then lists some of their favorite food items:
“…their diet on land includes nuts, fruits, insects, small rodents, and birds’ eggs and nestlings, while near the water they will take frogs, fish, mollusks, crayfish, insects, and practically anything else they can catch.”
The Michigan Mammals Field Guide by Stan Tekiela mentions two additional food items that raccoons are especially fond of: “suet” and “birdseed (especially black sunflower seeds and thistle).” That explains the raccoon’s stubborn persistence and my habitually empty bird feeder.
I scared the raccoon away a couple more times, but it kept coming back. I knew that as soon as it got dark, it would clean out my feeder once again. So I simply went out and took it off the shepherd’s hook and brought it in the house. That’s one way to turn the tables on a “masked bandit.” And it might be the only way!
Notes: More information about raccoons from the Michigan Mammals Field Guide:
“[Raccoons are] able to climb any tree very quickly and can come down headfirst or tail end first. Its nails can grip bark no matter which way it climbs because it can rotate its hind feet nearly 180 degrees so that the hind toes always point up the tree.”
“Known for the ability to open such objects as doors, coolers and latches. Uses its nimble fingers to feel around the edges of ponds, rivers and lakes for crayfish and frogs. Known to occasionally wash its food before eating, hence the species name loctor, meaning “washer.” However, it is not washing its food, but kneading and tearing it apart. The water helps it feel which parts are edible and which are not. A strong swimmer.”
“Active at night, sleeping in hollow trees or other dens during the day.”
“Usually a solitary animal as an adult. Does not hibernate but will sleep or simply hole up in a comfortable den from January to February.”
“Emerging from winter sleep, males wander many miles in search of a mate. Females use the same den for several months while raising their young, but move out afterwards and find a new place to sleep each night. Males are not involved in raising young. Young remain with the adult female for nearly a year.”
RACCOON AKA "MASKED BANDIT"
from THE MINDEN CITY HERALD (5/17/18)
"Caught in the act" - a raccoon, aka "masked bandit," raids a bird feeder in broad daylight.
LAC STE. CLAIRE VOYAGEURS AT AN ENCAMPMENT IN PORT SANILAC
REDESIGNED MEMORIAL IN MINDEN CITY - 50TH ANNIVERSARY - 1968-2018
NATIVE AMERICAN ARTIFACTS AT
THE HURON COUNTY NATURE CENTER
Last week, the newly constructed outdoor amphitheater at the Huron County Nature Center was the setting for the first Saturday Program of 2015, “Native American Artifacts.” Kevin Roggenbuck from Harbor Beach displayed his impressive collection of primitive arrowheads, hand axes, scrapers, and grinding stones. His enthusiasm and his lively commentary about his career as a self-taught amateur arrowhead hunter fascinated the audience and keep them in their seats for almost two hours.
Roggenbuck said his interest in Native American artifacts dated back to the spring of 1965 when he was two years old. His older brother Chris, only four at the time, found a well-made arrowhead on the family farm just north of Harbor Beach. In the following years, this unique object became the focal point of family discussions and a venerated souvenir from the farm’s prehistoric past. No doubt, the Roggenbuck boys often wondered about the identity of the primitive hunter who once stalked wild game in the very fields which they now called home.
Perhaps trying to equal his brother’s accomplishment, Kevin Roggenbuck also began looking for arrowheads, but he was not successful, at least in the beginning. It wasn’t until he was thirteen that he actually uncovered his first authentic artifact, and it was not an arrowhead. Rather, it was a hand ax, a stone carefully shaped to fit a man’s grip and used for chopping, cutting, or perhaps self-defense.
As the years went by, Roggenbuck’s interest in Indian artifacts continued, but it did not develop into a full-blown hobby. Then about twenty-five years ago, he visited an old friend in Florida, and everything changed. Suddenly, he refocused on his earlier interest, and the “hunt” was on.
Dave Cass, a former classmate at Harbor Beach High School, then living in Florida, showed him his extensive collection of Indian artifacts and gave him a few tips on how to find them. Together, they hiked through places in the state where primitive objects were much easier to find than they were in Michigan, and Cass added several more items to his Florida collection.
Returning to the Thumb, Roggenbuck began applying some of his friend’s techniques to an area which he had known all his life. He spent long days and countless hours walking the fields of Huron County and other parts of the Thumb, scanning the ground for any items left behind by the primitive tribesmen who once lived here. Eventually, his efforts resulted in the collection which he brought to the Nature Center - actually only a small part of the many items which he has found in nearly a quarter century of looking.
Roggenbuck not only displayed the artifacts which he unearthed over the years, but he also gave his audience some tips on how and where to find them. He said that almost ninety percent of his collection had been discovered in farm fields and that spring was the best time to look. The melting winter snow and early spring rains often reveal objects which have been buried for centuries. He added that erosion may be the farmer’s enemy, but to anyone who hunts for prehistoric artifacts, it is an important “benefactor” and “friend.”
Ironically, Roggenbuck advised potential arrowhead hunters “not to look for arrowheads” when they are in the field. He said they should watch for a sharp edge or a small chip in a stone, something that does not look natural. Most of the time, an edge is all that is visible because the rest of the object is still buried. It is not often that you find an arrowhead or spear point lying on the ground in plain sight.
He also told his audience to pick up anything that looks out of place and to examine it carefully. Prehistoric artifacts are made of stone and basically will last forever. To find them, all that is needed is the right set of circumstances and a trained eye.
Roggenbuck said that digging for artifacts is another strategy that he has employed from time to time. While archaeologists disapprove of this method because it destroys the historical context associated with the find, often it is the only way that valuable items can be recovered and preserved. He indicated that he found his first large spear point while sifting through a pile of sand in a quarry near Bay Port. The sand was scheduled to be moved to another location and used as fill. Had he not dug through it, the artifacts he found probably would have disappeared forever.
During his presentation, Roggenbuck gave his audience a short tutorial on the types of stone used by native people to make arrowheads and other useful implements. He said one of the stones they most prized was chert, a type of sedimentary rock found as a nodule or layered deposit inside other rocks. Chert breaks with a kind of fracture which produces a sharp edge. Indian workmen simply took advantage of its flaking action and used it to make cutting tools, scrapers, and even weapons. “Flint” is a common name for a type of chert used by early toolmakers.
Roggenbuck also mentioned in passing that the bow and arrow was probably not the weapon of choice for most of the prehistoric hunters who first stalked game in the Thumb. He said that more typically they would have used an atlatl, a type of throwing stick attached to a leather thong and used to hurl a spear or a long dart at the intended prey. His conclusion is partially based on the thickness and weight of the “projectile points” found in the area – many were too heavy to be shot from a bow.
Roggenbuck’s enthusiasm for his subject was definitely contagious, and several members of the audience stayed behind after the presentation to talk about their finds and to show him some of their “treasures.”
“Native American Artifacts” was the first Saturday Program held in the new outdoor amphitheater at the Huron County Nature Center. It was not, however, Kevin Roggenbuck’s first appearance as a presenter; nor is it likely to be his last. He has become a perennial favorite at the weekly summer series, not only because of his unique collection of prehistoric objects, but also because of his great reverence and respect for the indigenous people who made them. This year’s audience is already looking forward to his return engagement in 2016.
Notes: In the interest of full disclosure, Kevin Roggenbuck was one of my students at Harbor Beach High School when I taught English there. He graduated in 1981.
THE DOWNBOUND "JOSEPH THOMPSON" PASSES BY SAND BEACH TOWNSHIP
from JUNE 18, 2015