Category Archives: Collections Highlights

Drawing a Culture in Transition: Plains Indian Ledger Drawings


This richly detailed drawing from the Schild Ledger Book features two men, both carrying rattles and a fan and garbed in elaborate attire. Although a noted Plains Indian artist identified the figures as Kiowa dancers, the enigmatic German text written on the drawing reads, “Ollie Johnson daughter and grandson.” According to notes accompanying the ledger book when it was acquired by The University of Texas, Ollie Johnson was purported to be a Comanche woman who created the paintings. Labels such as these appear on most of the drawings, adding to the mystery of the book’s authorship. TARL Archives.

A new Spotlight feature on Texas Beyond History focuses on one of TARL’s most unusual collections. The Schild Ledger book comprises nearly 60 Plains Indian ledger drawings variously ascribed to the Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Comanche. Some are brilliant in color and detail, others mere pencil sketches that were never completed. Known as ledger drawings because of the paper on which they were drawn—typically ruled pages from account books acquired as a gift or through theft or trade—the art was created largely in the last third of the 19th century to portray heroic deeds, tribal traditions, and battles with U.S. soldiers and settlers as the Plains Indian way of life passed into history.

Much of what is known about the Schild Ledger Book raises questions—from the identity and tribal affiliation of the artist or artists who created the drawings, to the circumstances of the book coming into the possession of a purported Indian Agent from Fredericksburg, Texas, and ultimately to its being taken abroad to Germany.  In this Spotlight feature, we consider clues and possible answers and provide an online gallery of prime examples from the collection for researchers to examine further.

To read more and explore these drawings, see The Schild Ledger Book

Rhythm and Ritual: Traces of Music in Ancient Texas

By Susan Dial

Native peoples in Texas used a variety of instruments to create sounds and music throughout prehistory and into more recent times. Among TARL’s vast collections are a number of unusual artifacts likely used during rituals, ceremonies, and other events. Based on the contexts in which the instruments were found, many were used in burial rites. Ethnographic accounts provide additional insights about other circumstances in which similar instruments were played.

Crafted of wood, clay, bone, and other natural materials, the instruments’ design and construction provide clues to the powerful range of sounds they emitted. We can imagine the shrill notes of a flute or whistle, the eerily grating noise of a rasp, the quivering beats of a rattle, and hollow rhythms of a skin-covered drum. These otherworldly sounds accompanied shaman’s chants and set the pace for dancers and processionalists.


Engraved whooping crane whistle (top) and more than 350 black drum teeth found in a cluster within a small circular area. The teeth appear to have been confined within a circular container, such as a gourd, and may represent a rattle. These items were recovered from the grave of two juveniles at the Mitchell Ridge site. Photo by Robert Ricklis. TARL Collections. (Click to enlarge for more detail.)

Among the more fascinating music-related artifacts at TARL are 11 bird bone whistles excavated from Late Prehistoric and early Historic period burials at the Mitchell Ridge site near Galveston. All are made from the ulna, or lower wing bones, of the whooping crane (Grus Americana). The bones are hollow with very thin walls, making them good candidates for modification into wind instruments. Whistles have a single air hole, rather than several air holes, distinguishing them from flutes. According to archeologist Robert Ricklis, who investigated and reported on the site, several of the specimens have plugs of asphaltum, a natural tar-like substance emitted from oil seepages beneath the Gulf of Mexico, which partially cover and narrow the air holes. This feature served to control the air flow and cause the whistling sound when the instrument was blown. Four of the whistles are decorated with finely engraved lines in geometric patterns. Similarly engraved whistles made of whooping crane and heron ulna have been found in Louisiana.


Drawings of additional whooping crane ulna whistles from the Mitchell Ridge site showing the detailed geometric designs engraved on the bones. Image from Ricklis 1994 (Fig. 18).


These undecorated whooping crane whistles were placed in the grave of a young man, 18-20 years of age, at Mitchell Ridge. Note the rectangular air hole cut into each whistle. Photo by Bob Ricklis. TARL Collections.


Reed flute from the Perry Calk site, a rockshelter situated high above the Rio Grande in southwest Texas. Unlike whistles, flutes have more than one air hole. The cane-like common reed from which the instrument was made grows in abundance along streams and rivers and was used for a variety of purposes. Photo by Monica Trejo and Matt Peeples (AMIS 2794b). TARL Collections.

Artifacts interpreted as rattles are rarely found intact. In some cases, the enclosing container, such as a gourd, deteriorated over time, leaving only the rattle contents—small, regular items such as pebbles or clay balls that would have made an impressive sound when the container was shaken. Prime examples of this sort of extrapolated evidence come from the Mitchell Ridge site where four tight clusters of black drum teeth—interpreted as the contents of rattles—were found in burials. More rarely, rattles are recovered intact or nearly so. At the Caplen Mound cemetery site on the Bolivar Peninsula, a decorated turtle carapace was found laying in the burial of an infant. Drill holes in the shape of a “U” suggest the carapace served as a breast plate or rattle. The presence of several glass trade beads indicates the infant burial occurred in the early historic time period. At other south Texas burial sites such as Morhiss Mound, deer antlers and modified antler tips were found in burials, and these have been interpreted as rattles or tinklers, the latter perhaps appended to the clothing of the individual.


Tortoise shell rattle found in a child’s grave at Caplen Mound on the Bolivar Peninsula about 25 miles northeast of the present-day city of Galveston. The small shell, decorated with a series of drilled holes and containing several small pebbles, was found in the neck area of the child, and may have been worn suspended from a cord. TARL Archives.


This odd-looking clay bowl from a Franklin County Caddo site was crafted with four protruding hollow nodes containing small pebbles or clay pellets. When shaken, the bowl produces a rattling sound. Listen to the sound The bowl is Late Caddo (Fulton Aspect), ca. A.D 1400-1650. TARL Collections.

In addition to burial ceremonies, music and rhythmic sounds were important in other rituals. The Spanish priest Espinosa describes a healing ritual among the Caddo in which flutes and rasps were used. To cure a patient, according to his early 1700s account, they make a large fire and “provide flutes and a feather fan. The instruments [palillos-rasps] are manufactured [sticks] with notches resembling a snake’s rattle. This palillo placed in a hollow bone upon a skin makes a noise nothing less than devilish.”

According to Caddo tribal historians, numerous types of instruments—rattles, drums, and flutes—were played during rituals and dances, and some of these rich traditions continue today among peoples of the Caddo Nation.


Marked with a series of carefully incised parallel notches, hollow bones such as these have been described as “tally bones,” or counting devices. More likely, they were rasps used as musical or ceremonial instruments. They were recovered from the Harrell Site (41YN1) in north central Texas.


This notched rasping stick from Conejo Shelter in the Lower Pecos region is made of mesquite wood. Photo by Monica Trejo and Matt Peeples (AMIS 23549).

Other historic accounts mention the use of musical instruments in battle and in hunting rituals. During a 1690s battle between the Cacaxtle Indians and the Spanish in what is now south Texas, an elderly Indian woman played a flute throughout, perhaps to buoy the spirits of the Cacaxtle warriors. As recorded by Spanish historian Juan Bautista Chapa, at the end of the battle more than 100 Indians lay dead and another 70 were taken captive. Noted Swiss-American ethnographer Albert Gatschet recorded peyote ceremonies associated with deer hunting among the Rio Grande Comecrudos. This ceremony was accompanied by music from drums and rattles and dancing from elaborately dressed shamans. Achieving a trance state through repetitive music, which typically involved rattles and chanting, was an important component of shamanic ceremonies.

Musical instruments played an important role in the rituals and spiritual life of native groups in the past. Witness accounts such as these help bring to life some of the mute artifacts in TARL Collections and provide colorful insights into how some of these fascinating instruments may have been used.
Learn more about sites mentioned in this entry:

For more information about the Mitchell Ridge site, see the multi-section exhibit on Texas Beyond History: The Credits page of this exhibit includes the full report of excavations by Robert A. Ricklis (1994 Aboriginal Life and Culture on the Upper Texas Coast: Archaeology at the Mitchell Ridge Site, 41GV66, Galveston Island; Coastal Archaeological Research, Inc., Corpus Christi) which can be downloaded as pdf files.
Caplen Mound
Harrell Site
Cacaxtle Indians Attacked by Spanish

Sex, Politics, and Archeology in Downtown Austin

by Susan Dial

History frequently repeats itself, often with an ironic twist or two.  Currently there is a minor furor brewing over a proposed “strip club” just blocks from Austin’s City Hall.  As reported in a February 13, 2015, article in the Austin American-Statesman, several members of a downtown Austin alliance are protesting the plan, arguing that this sort of business is not part of the vision held for that area. But 125 years ago, this sort of business was not only a “vision” for downtown Austin, it was the norm.

What has now become Austin’s trendy warehouse district, the headquarters of the City Council, and high-rise offices of Computer Sciences Corporation was once known as “Guytown,” an infamous red-light district peopled with prostitutes and sprinkled with bars and saloons catering to city and state leaders, among other visitors. Extending roughly from Colorado and San Antonio Streets on the east and west, and 1st and 3rd Streets on the south and north, the area originally had been a genteel neighborhood in Austin’s core; by the 1870’s it had begun its descent into a notorious red light district.


Prostitutes, such as these in Caldwell County south of Austin, operated from a variety of venues during Guy Town's heyday in Austin. While some women lived in comfortable, two-story bordellos, many more operated from run-down, one-room shacks such as the one pictured here. Photo courtesy of Texas Beyond History.
Prostitutes, such as these in Caldwell County south of Austin, operated from a variety of venues during Guy Town’s heyday in Austin. While some women lived in comfortable, two-story bordellos, many more operated from run-down, one-room shacks such as the one pictured here. Photo courtesy of Lawrence Jones and Texas Beyond History.


In 1876, the Austin Daily Statesman reported that two women arrested for keeping a brothel threatened to expose several of their high-powered clients, among them city council members, legislators and businessmen whose patronage tacitly supported the operations.  Although the area was a tinderbox for violence and drunken sprees, many other stories played out among those at the opposite end of the economic scale—the laundresses, blacksmiths, porters, maids, and others who lived and worked in Guy Town. Unlike today, affordable housing was not an issue; there were no restrictions on the size or upkeep of the wooden shanties and alley cribs in which many made their homes.

The growth of businesses such as Calcasieu Lumber Company, a gradual rise in industrial development, and a change in the city’s master plan in 1928 gradually changed the area and brought about the demise of Guytown.  Seventy years later, another city plan, styled as a “smart growth initiative,” was to bring about a wholescale and radically upscale change in character for the district.

In advance of the new construction, archeological and archival research investigations were conducted by Hicks & Company over a five-city block area, including the lot that now holds the modern, copper-clad City Hall building. Prior to excavations, most of the extant buildings were razed from their lots, including the iconic Liberty Lunch. Spared from the wrecking ball was Schneider’s Store, now home to an upscale barbecue restaurant.  Archeologists conducted only minor tests around the perimeter of that building, unlike the massive excavations on the other blocks.

TARL Associate Director Jonathan Jarvis and I were part of the project.  I ran the mobile laboratory headquartered on one of the blocks, while Jonathan worked on the complex series of excavations, which moved from block to block as each was completed.  It was a massive undertaking led by Project Archeologist Rachel Feit and Principal Investigator James Karbula.  I was amazed at the variety of artifacts that flowed daily into our small trailer lab—and the provocative and often poignant activities the items reflected.  Along with the remains of champagne and beer bottles, gaming tokens, bullets, and “hygiene” equipment for the prostitutes came pieces of china dolls and children’s toys.

Thousands of artifacts were recovered, quickly classified, counted, and logged into our mobile laboratory computer. The great majority—sherds of glass, rusted metal bits, and other unidentifiable materials that clearly had been mass produced and held no diagnostic value, were buried on the site, as part of a policy arrangement with the Texas Historical Commission. The most significant (or diagnostic) artifacts are now curated in TARL Collections, along with the maps, records, and photos accruing from the investigations.  It is a collection that holds enormous potential for researchers and students interested in urban archeology and demographic change.


This small sample of the thousands of artifacts recovered from excavations in Austin’s 19th-century Guytown district reflects the area’s notorious past. Shown in clockwise order are a stoneware ale bottle, blue and white spittoon, an amber snuff jar, cartridge casings, a vaginal syringe (perhaps belonging to one of the area’s prostitutes), a bone handle of a makeup brush, a ceramic pipe bowl with anchor motif, and fragments of a fancy glass mug and goblet. TARL Collections; photo by Kerri Wilhelm.
This small sample of the thousands of artifacts recovered from excavations in Austin’s 19th-century Guytown district reflects the area’s notorious past. Shown in clockwise order are a stoneware ale bottle, blue and white spittoon, an amber snuff jar, cartridge casings, a vaginal syringe (perhaps belonging to one of the area’s prostitutes), a bone handle of a makeup brush, a ceramic pipe bowl with anchor motif, and fragments of a fancy glass mug and goblet. TARL Collections; photo by Kerri Wilhelm.



  • A two-volume report of the project was published by Hicks and Company in 2003: Boarding Houses, Bar Rooms and Brothels: Life in a Vice-District by Rachel Feit, et al (Hicks & Company Series #104).


  • To learn more about the currently proposed “adult” business, see Austin American-Statesman Feb. 13, 2015: “Downtown strip club plan receiving early opposition” by Gary Dinges.



Ancient Rock Art: TARL’s Trove of Historic Paintings and the Online Tools for Viewing Them

by Susan Dial

Above image: Forrest Kirkland’s watercolor depiction of the art at Rattlesnake Canyon in the Lower Pecos is one of the dozens  in TARL’s collections that have been scanned for viewing online on Texas Beyond History.

In 1933, artists Forrest and Lula Kirkland began a study of the extraordinary rock art of Texas. Working chiefly on weekend camping trips, the couple’s interest developed into a mission that was to span 10 years. Their epic journeys took them across much of the state, from the mountains of the Trans Pecos, to rocky bluffs along the clear streams of the Edwards Plateau, to the rugged canyonlands of the Lower Pecos.  Wherever prehistoric peoples had found a stone canvas for their expression, the Kirklands traveled to examine and document the artwork.  Early on, the two perfected the recording techniques that allowed them to capture the ancient pictographs and petroglyphs on canvas: Forrest carefully measured and sketched the art to scale in pencil, then adding water color to match the paintings on rock.  Lula, meanwhile, drove, scouted for sites, photographed the art, and performed many camp chores.

The dozens of watercolor paintings that emerged from this near-Herculean effort are preserved at TARL for researchers to examine and compare to the ancient art today. Because of the careful documentation techniques the Kirklands employed, these paintings—now over 80 years old—constitute a critical record of the ancient art and are treasures in themselves.  Much of the rock art observed and painted by Forrest Kirkland has since been damaged if not destroyed by natural forces and human vandals. Small details and even whole sections of paintings copied in the Kirkland watercolors no longer exist today.

The great majority of the Kirkland watercolor collection have been digitally scanned and is available for viewing on TARL’s website, Texas Beyond History, along with substantive discussion about the prehistoric and historic period painters and their cultures. Galleries of Kirkland’s renderings of the monumentally scaled Lower Pecos rock art can be viewed in detail at;  that of the surprisingly diminutive works at Hueco Tanks in the Trans Pecos can be seen at  Further discussion is provided in a section on artistic expression of the Trans Pecos: and Lower Pecos Spanning at least 4,500 years, Texas’ ancient rock art paintings are a window into the spiritual beliefs and cultural traditions of the past.  At the other end of the spectrum, we can view through native artist’s  eyes the  coming of early Spanish explorers and priest and mull the cultural upheaval that lay in store at that long ago time.

Online galleries on Texas Beyond History enable viewers to view small details of Kirkland’s watercolor paintings, such as the tiny mask paintings at Hueco Tanks in the Trans Pecos region.


Kirkland’s rendering of the 100-foot long panel at Myers Springs in far western Terrell  County  includes numerous details which have since been obliterated. The paintings include expressions in early Pecos River style to depictions at the time of contact with Europeans.
Kirkland’s rendering of the 100-foot long panel at Myers Springs in far western Terrell County includes numerous details which have since been obliterated. The paintings include expressions in early Pecos River style to depictions at the time of contact with Europeans.


Did You Know?

The first paintings done by Forrest Kirkland were of Paint Rock in central Texas.  Not knowing who to consult about them, the artist sent J. E. Pearce, then chairman of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Texas, black and white photographs of the paintings. Pearce was enthusiastic about Kirkland’s work and invited the Kirklands to visit him in Austin before archeologist A. T. Jackson left for a summer in the field. Jackson was then collecting data for his work on The Picture-Writing of Texas Indians and Pearce thought a meeting of the two men should be profitable for both.   Lula Kirkland wrote:

“We went down and showed him the original paintings and enjoyed a very pleasant visit with them. Mr. Jackson considered getting Forrest to go with him on field trips as an artist, to paint the pictographs. But we preferred to go out on our own during our vacations.”

From The Rock Art of Texas Indians by Forrest Kirkland and W. W. Newcomb, Jr. (University of Texas Press, reprinted edition 1999).




Research on the Horizon

Wilson-Leonard Remains to be Revisited

by Kerri Wilhelm

The remains of the individual discovered in Williamson County near Leander, TX are in the process of being assessed and re-examined by two University of Texas researchers who are also on faculty in the Anthropology department.  TARL has loaned the cranium to Dr. John Kappelman for research into whether new CT imaging technology and techniques can reveal more of the original anatomical orientation of the vault fragments which were brushed with an adhesive in situ to prevent any loss during recovery in the field.  The partially jacketed cranium, including the vault fragments, could potentially all be scanned using computerized tomography (CT) equipment and then reconstructed in software back into the orientation they would have occupied during the life of this archeologically significant individual.   Dr. Kappelman also came by TARL in the fall, with some of his undergraduate students in tow, to assess the state of preservation of the post-cranial material for  CT scanning.  It is our hope that digitizing this material will provide new data sets and anatomical information that can be utilized to increase our understanding of the physiology, physical and environmental stressors and any indicators of trauma and pathology endured by this Paleoindian young woman.  Further study will allow anthropologists like Dr. Kappelman to fit the Wilson-Leonard woman into the larger spectrum of the prehistoric-modern evolutionary timeline that will shed light on the origins of the first people in North America.

'Leanne' burial
One of the oldest and most complete human skeletons in the Western Hemisphere, the Wilson-Leonard burial known as “Leanne,” or the “Leanderthal Lady,” was found by TxDOT archeologists in 1982. A well-worn tool, used for grinding or chopping, and a limestone boulder—perhaps placed on the body as a marker or to secure a wrapping around the body—also were uncovered in the grave. Image courtesy of TBH.


Dovetailing with the loan of this important TARL collection is the potential for genetic analyses to be performed, should the state and manner of preservation support the requirements of this type of study.  Dr. Deborah Bolnick, genetic anthropologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at UT, will be meeting with me very soon to discuss the possibility and application of genetic testing of the Wilson-Leonard woman’s post cranial material.  Currently engaged in two other genetic investigations involving TARL collection materials, if testing is feasible, any resulting data could be used to contribute valuable information for research into the genetic origins of Paleo-Indians and the first inhabitants of Texas in particular.

These are just two of the research projects currently in discussion here at TARL.  Our collections, the breadth of cultural diversity and archeological depth of time represented in them,  makes them a good choice for researchers interested in investigating the numerous aspects of Texas archeology and history.  Please visit the Texas Beyond History virtual exhibits focusing on the Wilson-Leonard site and associated burial for more information about the significance of this site in Texas’ archeological record.

Check back with us regularly as we continue to post about the TARL collections being used in research, new and ongoing research projects and investigations, and highlights in the collections as we use artifacts to keep moving Texas history forward.



Caddo Connections at TARL

Research in the Collections

by Kerri Wilhelm

Dr. Timothy Perttula, owner and cultural resources director of Archeological & Environmental Consultants and author of both The Caddo Nation (1992) and Archaeology of the Caddo (2012), is accessing TARL’s vessel collection.  Citing it as one of the largest collections of intact prehistoric Caddo ceramic vessels, Dr. Perttula is documenting the vessels and their various stylistic and compositional design elements.  Aside from his visits to the TARL collections over the years, Dr. Perttula has also contributed to TARL’s virtual museum, Texas Beyond History, which presents the artifacts in their proper historical and archeological context.  Dr. Perttula wrote the Lake Naconiche Prehistory exhibit ( with contributions from Bob Wishoff.  He serves on the Smithsonian Institution’s Native American Repatriation Review Committee in addition to being an Adjunct Associate Professor of Anthropology in the Anthropology Department at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX.  Specializing in Caddo ceramics and East Texas archeology, Dr. Perttula is also the tribal archeological consultant to the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma.  He has produced dozens of reports and publications and with TARL’s Head of Collections is engaged in coordinating the release of these valuable texts about the archeology of East Texas and Caddo archeology.

Efficiently documenting both the intact ceramic Caddo vessels, as well as the decorated sherds, Dr. Perttula is providing valuable new inventories of the materials excavated during the WPA era.  The documentation that he provides, in addition to his knowledgeable insights about the people who created these artifacts, will enrich our understanding of the Caddo, their history as a people and their continuing importance in the modern Texas cultural landscape.


Dr. Timothy Perttula.
Dr. Timothy Perttula.


Dr. Perttula's 2012 publication, The Archaeology of the Caddo.
Dr. Perttula’s 2012 publication, The Archaeology of the Caddo.


Dr. Perttula's most recent work, as a co-author of Caddo Connections, published in 2014.
Dr. Perttula’s most recent work, as a co-author of Caddo Connections, published in 2014.




The George C. Davis Site

by Marybeth Tomka

The George C. Davis Site, Dr. Dee Ann Story (photo below), and TARL all resonate with Texas archaeologists. The site was originally recorded by the father of UT archeology, J.E. Pearce and systematically excavated during the Works Progress Administration in 1939-1941. Dr. Story worked on this site through the 1960s and 1970s and it is now administrated by the Texas Historical Commission as a state historic site. Many years of UT student archeologists have had the experience of working with Dr. Story at the Davis Site, located along the El Camino Real where present day Texas Highway 21 runs between the ceremonial mounds. This ceremonial center was utilized between AD 780 and 1260 as determined through the analysis of radiocarbon, but has evidence of earlier Paleo-Indian and Archaic peoples as well.

People living and using what was to become Caddoan Mounds State Historic site grew corn, cultivated or gathered wild plants, and hunted the forests of East Texas for their subsistence. The Caddo at this site were known to have trade networks with bison hunters to the north and west, exchanged materials with the gulf coast and peoples in present day Arkansas. Georgetown flint was traded from central Texas; it is a highly knappable and attractive chert varying from sky blues to very dark grays or blacks. In case you are wondering archaeologists call “flint” chert for reasons that make geologists cringe!

The featured picture accompanying this blog (above) illustrates the Caddo craftsmanship in chipping stone tools, working exotic stones into celts or adzes, and axes, stringing hand-made shell beads as personal adornment, and lastly what sets them apart from all other Native Americans, the elaborately engraved, incised and burnished ceramics in a variety of forms, but most recognizable as the bottle pictured here.  For more information on the Caddo Peoples, including descriptions of their origin stories, languages and ceramic vessels, please visit and explore the Texas Beyond History Caddo Fundamentals website at:

The archeologist who excavated the anthropomorphic figure during his field school many years later married the woman who made of replica of the figure for exhibit?

Dr. Dee Ann Story in 1964.  Dee Ann served as the Director of TARL from 1965-1987.

Dr. Dee Ann Story in 1964. Dr. Story served as the Director of TARL from 1965-1987.