By Julie Morrow (ARAS-ASU)
One of the most significant discoveries in archeology was made by a black cowboy named George McJunkin. He was born into slavery in Midway, Texas and was about 9 years old when the Civil War ended. He taught himself to read, play fiddle and guitar, he spoke Spanish, and was reportedly an expert cow puncher. He hunted buffalo throughout the Great Plains and worked at several ranches in the northern and southern Plains, eventually landing as the foreman at the Crowfoot Ranch near Folsom, New Mexico.
One day after a flood McJunkin was riding his horse in an arroyo near Folsom, New Mexico, when he noticed some very large bones eroding out of the arroyo. He probably suspected that they were unusual because of their large size and his familiarity with modern bison. At the time of George’s discovery, there was a great debate about human antiquity in North and South America. The foremost expert of the times, Aleš Hrdlicka, refused to accept human presence older than about 3,000 years. McJunkin’s observation came to be pivotal in this debate. He sent samples of bones and artifacts to the Denver Museum of Natural History in 1908, but scientists didn’t visit the site until 1925. McJunkin’s discovery of the Folsom site paved the way for scientists to interpret the geological context and the archeological association of human-made stone tools with bones of extinct bison. The scientific evaluation of the site in 1926 pushed the antiquity of human presence in the New World to the late Ice Age, at least 10,000 years ago, when extinct animals like Bison antiquus roamed the Great Plains of North America. The distinctive fluted spear points known as Folsom points captured archeology’s imagination and the image of big game hunting “Paleoindians” forever changed the story of Native American occupation in the New World.
This example from history highlights the fact that some of the most important discoveries have been and still are being made by amateur archeologists. George McJunkin died in 1922 before the significance of his discovery was realized. He is buried at the Folsom Cemetery in Folsom, New Mexico. Although Paleoindian artifacts in Arkansas, including fluted projectile points, vary from the Folsom type, they are equally fascinating; archeologists are studying them to learn about the early inhabitants of this area.
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