Manzanola

An African-American Homesteading Site – And the Community Who Cares

Over the past week a team of archaeologists from Avalon Archaeology, Denver University and Brown University have been surveying several African American homesteading sites in Southeastern Colorado.  Settlers moved to this area, known as “the Dry” from neighboring states, hoping for opportunity to lay claim to their own piece of land.  People began pouring in to the area around 1916, but many left by late 1930’s – once the local irrigation system faltered and the Dust Bowl ravaged many homesteads.  Some families did stay at the Dry, and several descendants still live in the area today.  Through archaeology, archival research, and descendant oral history interviews, we hope to learn as much as possible about the African American homesteaders who made the Dry their home.

In order to publicize our project and get the word out about the Day of Archaeology, yesterday we held a program for local kids about the work of archaeologists.  Children from Rocky Ford, La Junta, and Manzanola, Colorado came out to participate in a series of activities that taught them to think like archaeologists.  They learned how to recognize patterns in a survey, how to interpret garbage, and how to excavate with careful notes.

Today our work began at 6:30 am.  Because of the high temperatures and lack of shade on our site, we have been working  from dawn until around noon every day.  The task for this morning was to finish surveying a homestead owned by Harvey and Roland Craig, a couple of met at the Dry and lived on there from the 1920’s until the 1970’s.  With such a long period of occupation, there was a large array of features and artifacts.  Our four-person team spent the better part of the morning measuring features, counting surface artifacts, photographing objects, taking GPS coordinates (…and looking out for rattlesnakes).

This evening we held a community talk to discuss our project, field questions, and hear input.  Three descendants of some of the first settlers spoke about their memories of “the Dry,” and why they felt it was important for the stories of these settlers to be remembered for local, state, and national history.  Even after the speakers finished, the crowd stayed around for another hour or so to talk with us and with the descendants.  Some people even brought photographs or articles with them that related to the site, to help with the project!    A day in the life of an archaeologist can vary greatly.  We certainly don’t all keep 9:00 – 5:00 hours, and we don’t just spend our days digging.  Sometimes we get information from things besides artifacts and features – sometimes our sources are people themselves!