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What Is an Atlatl? How Is It Used? October 28, 2010

Posted by Wapello Warbler in History, Louisa County.
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At first glance, the picture above may look like a simple stick, but it is actually an atlatl (pronounced AT-l-at-l).

An atlatl is a Native American spear chucker than can add distance and velocity to a spear without sacrificing accuracy. Back in the days when David was using a sling to wing a softball-sized stone at Goliath, the folks living in southeastern Iowa were using these for hunting and possibly warfare.

To use one, you place the butt of your spear on the tongue of the atlatl (that’s the short little stub of branch). You grab the shaft of the atlatl and lay your index finger over the shaft of the spear. if you have a fancy atlatl like the one above, you can rest the spear in the little Y shaped twig at the other end, otherwise rest the spear on your knuckles. The next picture shows how it’s done.

Holding and atlatl

You throw the spear as you would without the atlatl except that, as your arm comes over your shoulder, you take your finger off the spear and snap your wrist. Finish with your hand pointing at the target.

If you want to add a little more pop to the atlatl split the end of the atlatl and place a leather thong across as shown below.

Atlatl with thong

My thanks to Kathy Dice, a naturalist with Louisa County’s Conservation Board, for teaching a dozen of us how to make and use spears and atlatls last Sunday. You can find out about upcoming LCCB events by visiting Naturally Louisa and subscribing to their newsletter.


Thoroughwort, Boneset, and Joe Pye Weed September 6, 2010

Posted by Wapello Warbler in Edible Plants, History, Louisa County, Wild Flowers.
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The flower in the picture above is Tall Thoroughwart. I found it growing in the wetlands north of town. It’s a member of the same genus as its more famous cousins, Boneset and Joe Pye Weed. Boneset has very similar flowers but (more…)

A Visit to Long Creek Cemetary August 8, 2010

Posted by Wapello Warbler in History, Louisa County, People.
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Long Creek Cemetary

There are many small cemeteries scattered around Louisa County. Some of them are very old. Sunday afternoon my wife and I paid a visit to Long Creek Cemetery. It’s located off 105th St., about a mile east of X61. To get to it you have to drive a grass lane that skirts a cornfield.

It was interesting to walk among the stones and see who was buried there and when. Many of the stones dated back to the mid-1800’s when Louisa County and the city of Wapello were just getting organized. (Wapello was incorporated in 1858). Several of the stones appeared to have been home made, others were quite expensive.

A small fenced grave site held the remains of two children from the same family. They had died within a year of each other–a reminder of how frequently children died then. I didn’t do a detailed survey, but many of the other graves also held children.

Many of the family names, such as Williams and Odle, are still well known in Wapello and the surrounding area. Others have been long forgotten.

Here are some more pictures of Long Creek Cemetery

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Who Built the Toolesboro Indian Mounds? April 5, 2010

Posted by Wapello Warbler in History, Louisa County.
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The burial mounds at Toolesboro are approximately 2000 years old. They date to a time archaeologists call the Middle Woodlands period and a trading network of indigenous peoples who have been dubbed the Hopewell cultures.  The Toolesboro mound builders were part of a regional group archaeologists call the Havana Hopewell. They lived along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers from about 100 BCE to about 400 CE.  Some think the Havana Hopewell culture was the root from which the Mississippian culture grew a few centuries later.

The burial bounds at Toolesboro are cone-shaped and vary in size.  They are eight to ten feet high and from 35 to 80 feet in diameter. Most, like the one in the picture below, are in the woods.  The two nearest the visitors’ center have been cleared and are mowed regularly.

Similar mounds have been found as far east as New York, as far south as Florida, and as far west as the Missouri river. You can get a sense of the extent of the Hopewell trading system and the variety of cultures it included from the map at this link.

Since they did not leave any written artifacts, no one knows what the mound builders called themselves, however there are some things that can be learned from the mounds that have been excavated here and elsewhere.

First, the people lived in settlements in wooded areas along the rivers. Their food came from agriculture, hunting, and gathering.

Second, they traded over wide areas.  Many of the goods buried in the mounds were made of materials that had been brought long distances.  Items have been unearthed made from seashells, Rocky Mountain obsidian, copper from Lake Superior, and pipe stone from Illinois.

Third, the articles were made by skilled craftsmen. You can seen photos of artifacts taken more than a century ago from one of the Toolesboro mounds here.  The Ohio historical society also has numerous pictures and videos of artifacts taken from Hopewell mounds. The main article is here. Be sure to check out the links, especially the video of the Wray Figurine, the obsidian blades, and the article on effigy pipes.

Fourth, only selected people were honored by being buried in a mound and each mound contains the remains of only a few people.  The sign at the visitor’s center says:

Archaeological evidence indicates that the mounds frequently contained an individual burial and then subsequent burials. Log tombs were often constructed for the internment.  When the tomb was filled it was covered with small mounds of earth and the wooden structure was burned around it. Then a large mound of earth was piled over the whole area.

For more information, check out the links below or stop in the visitors’ center at the Toolesboro mounds. Click here for the museum hours.

Related Links

One of Wapello’s Early Legal Eagles March 4, 2010

Posted by Wapello Warbler in History, Wapello.

Hey, look what turned up on a California web site! A nineteenth century business card for Charles M. Wright of Wapello, Iowa.

RefreshMyBusinessCards notes:

This is a business card for one of the many attorneys specializing in pension claims, circa 1895. SSA History Archives. This attorney specialized in Civil War pensions in Wapello, Iowa.

It’s amazing that business cards have stood the test of time as a reminder of those we have met and the services they offer. Although paper, printing and design have changed over the years, many parts of the business card remain the same. Notice how Mr. Wright has his photo and information about his company on his card (phone numbers were obviously not around at the time).

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