Teka R. McGlothlin
Arkansas Archeological Survey

Typeset keys with physical stamp in upper right hand corner, from left to right – "yu", "we", and "hi". Photo by Jared Pebworth.
Typeset keys with physical stamp in upper right hand corner, from left to right – yu, we, and hi. Photo by Jared Pebworth.
Of the many artifacts recovered in 2012 from a now defunct homestead in Cane Hill were pieces of type such as those used in printing presses to print reading materials. The uniqueness of this type resides in the fact the characters are those from the Cherokee Syllabary dating around the 1840s, and only 6 distinct sets of Cherokee syllabary type have been verified at this time. The finding of these pieces along with written historical accounts allowed us to breathe life into these artifacts from an archeological perspective.
A total of 14 type keys were found, some with clearly legible characters, some broken, and some blank which would have been used as spacers when typesetting. These type keys are made of a composite metal containing lead, tin, and antimony, and measure approximately 9/16” long, 1/8” wide, and 5/32” high. Of the type, three are distinctly characters of the Cherokee Syllabary, which was developed in the early nineteenth century by Sequoyah, inventor of the Cherokee “alphabet,” and adapted by Elias Boutinot, “editor of the first American Indian newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix,” (Cushman 2011:113) for use in the printing press. The introduction of the Cherokee Syllabary allowed the printing of newspapers and translations of European works such as the Bible into the Cherokee language. As such, the syllabary factored into Cherokee educational practices and is still in use today.
Original Cherokee syllabary courtesy of Sequoyah Museum, http://www.sequoyahmuseum.org/history/sequoyahs-syllabary/
Original Cherokee syllabary courtesy of Sequoyah Museum.
Given the vicinity of Cane Hill to Indian Territory, it is no surprise there was interaction between the citizens of Cane Hill and the Native Americans through trade and business. This is evident in the historic record, particularly “The Life of Preston B. Plumb 1837–1891,” in which William Connelley recounts a printing press “had been in use in the Cherokee Nation, and was sent to Cane Hill when the war began (Connelley 1913:126).” According to him, the press was acquired by Reverend Jones, a Baptist missionary located a few miles west of Cincinnati, Arkansas, for use in the education of the “Pin” Indians, and operated to print Bibles in the Cherokee language. Later the press would come to Cane Hill in lieu of debts owed by Reverend Jones at the beginning of the war (Connelley 1913).
In the fall of 1862, as the Union soldiers marched into Cane Hill to engage the Confederate forces, a group of Union soldiers, including Major Preston Plumb of the Eleventh Kansas, encountered printing equipment and type in “a small printing office in a log cabin at the edge of the town” (Connelley 1913:126). These accounts indicate the discovered press included both English and Cherokee characters which were scattered, or pied, upon discovery. Coming from printing backgrounds themselves, some of the men opted to take advantage of the discovered press in their idle hours and gathered the strewn pieces. With this new discovery, these individuals proceeded to produce a Union propaganda paper named The Buck and Ball.
Although there is no doubt of the biased attributes of this publication, it provides invaluable insight into the events of the Civil War in the Ozarks, particularly in Northwest Arkansas and Cane Hill. Accounts included in this paper mention how its publication was interrupted in order for the “publication staff” to march to and fight in the Battle of Prairie Grove. One compelling aspect about this paper is the fact that after this horrific battle, the men returned to Cane Hill to pick up the publication where they had left off. The results of this leave immediate accounts and sentiments both before and after the engagement of Prairie Grove by the Union troops. The discovery of these pieces of type, along with other Civil War related artifacts such as a Union Eagle button and .69 caliber Minie balls, indicate the likely presence of Union soldiers at the site either before or after the engagement of Prairie Grove, if not both.
Page one of Buck & Ball, Microfilm 1862:12:6, courtesy University of Arkansas Library.
Page one of Buck & Ball, Microfilm 1862:12:6, courtesy University of Arkansas Library.
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Materials: composite metal containing lead, tin, and antimony
Dimensions: 9/16” long, 1/8” wide, and 5/32” high
Age Estimate: 178 ­+/- years

 

Buck & Ball
1862    Eleventh Regiment Kansas Volunteers, Cane Hill, Arkansas.
Connelley, A.M. Honorable William Elsey
1913    The Life of Preston B. Plumb, 1837–1891, United States Senator from Kansas for the Fourteen Years from 1877 to 1891. Browne & Howell Company, Chicago, Illinois.
Cushman, Ellen
2011    The Cherokee Syllabary: Writing the People’s Perseverance. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma.
Scott, Kim Allen
1987    The Fighting Printers of Company E, Eleventh Kansas Volunteer Infantry. The Arkansas Historical Quarterly 46(3):261–281.
Shea, William L.
2009    Fields of Blood, The Prairie Grove Campaign. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Artifact of the Month Series

A first principle of archeology is that the significance of artifacts depends upon documented information about the context of their discovery. At what site was the artifact found? Can we figure out the age of the artifact? Where was it found in relation to site features (houses, trash deposits, activity areas, etc.) and the distribution of other artifacts? Only with knowledge of those facts can we assess further information about the manufacture and use of artifacts, and their role in other spheres of activity such as social organization, trade and exchange, and religious practice.
In this series, we feature select artifacts that are extraordinary both for the context of their discovery and for their unique qualities that contribute exceptionally important information about Arkansas culture and history. New artifacts will be added monthly. Find the list of artifacts here.