"Uncle Bill" and Panhandle Paleoindians

December 5, 1997

Abstract: William “Uncle Bill” Baker deserves recognition as one of the pioneer avocational archaeologists of the Plains, with work spanning thirty years (late 1920’s-1950’s) in the Oklahoma panhandle and surrounding region. Although Baker published several of his important Paleoindian localities, such as the Nall site (34CI134), recent documentation of his collection revealed a large number of previously unreported Paleoindian sites. Clovis, Folsom, Agate Basin, and various late Paleoindian complexes are well represented, with many specimens recovered from stratified deposits. In this paper, Baker’s contributions to Plains archaeology are presented, as well as preliminary observations based upon recent work with his collection.

This is a paper written and presented at the 55th Plains Anthropological Conference (Boulder, Colorado, November 1997) by Jason M. LaBelle of Southern Methodist University. You can email Jason at jlabelle@lamar.colostate.edu with your comments. Tony Baker


Avocational archaeologists have made substantial contributions to our understanding of Great Plains prehistory, particularly in the case of Paleoindian archaeology, where many classic sites were discovered and reported by interested amateurs. In the Southern Plains, William Ellmore Baker (1877-1957), known to all as simply "Uncle Bill", was one of the premier avocational archaeologists of his day, assembling 1 a very large collection of Paleoindian artifacts from the region surrounding his home in the panhandle of Oklahoma.

Baker is most well known for his discoveries of the Nall site (34CI134), a large late Paleoindian site in southern Cimarron County, Oklahoma (Baker et al. 1957) and also for several small Paleoindian localities in northeastern New Mexico (Baker and Campbell 1960). However, my recent work with his collection and field notes housed at the No Man's Land Historical Museum (Goodwell, Oklahoma), has revealed that these known sites represent only a small fraction of his collection, which also includes Clovis, Folsom, Agate Basin, Cody Complex, and many other late Paleoindian and Archaic projectile points.

In the following paper, I have two points that I will address. First, I'd like to discuss W.E. Baker's contributions to Plains Paleoindian archaeology2 and second, I'd like to mention several of Baker's sites, both ones that are already known, such as the Nall site, but also other important localities which show the potential value of this large database. Although my analysis has just begun, the importance of his collection is readily evident.

Baker and his Paleo Contributions

Baker was 45 years old when he moved his family to Cimarron County, Oklahoma in 1922 and began work as the County Extension Agricultural Agent. It was during the first few years of this job that his interest in archaeology blossomed. Baker's duties took him to hundreds of farms around the county, and it was fairly common for him to pick up arrow and spear points from the plowed fields, but he knew nothing as to the age or meaning of the artifacts other than as "arrowheads". However, during a family picnic, Baker was examining a campsite discovered by his son Ele, and came to the revelation that the artifacts he was admiring were more than just arrow points-- they were part of someone's livelihood. As Baker reflected years later, "standing there that day there was born in me an admiration for this man who did not have to lean on thousands of other people for his existance [sic] in this world God had given him but could stand alone. I was filled with a burning desire to know more about this man. To me he was a hero. And more so as time goes on" (Baker n.d.).

Ever after, Baker's investigation into archaeology took a more intensive and directed path, resulting in a 30 year long amateur career 3,4. Being in the fields went hand in hand with Baker's paying job, so he was able to see a lot of land in his years on duty. But what would end up being the greatest boost to Baker's archaeological collecting would be, at the same time, one of the most difficult things he had to deal with as the County Agricultural agent: the Dust Bowl.

Cimarron County was at the heart of the Dust Bowl and was badly hit; it lost nearly a third of its residents, and a third of its farms and ranches during the period from 1930 to 1940 (Worster 1979:103-105). Many of the classic Dust Bowl images-- tragic landscapes captured by Arthur Rothstein and Dorothea Lange (of the Farm Security Administration)-- were photographed in Baker's Cimarron County and in Dallam County, Texas, where he also collected (Worster 1979: 101).

By virtue of extensive exposures and erosion in the region, Baker was able to locate hundreds of sites and collected, or was given 5, thousands of tools from a radius of about fifty miles of his home in Boise City. My estimates thus far, which are only preliminary approximations, show 124 sites with recorded locations in the Baker collection, as well as at least 14,300 artifacts from all time periods. Unfortunately, not all are from provenienced locations. The actual number of sites is likely several hundred more, as Baker tended to lump several blow-outs in a large area into a single site. This is an incredibly large collection of artifacts considering the majority of his collection are tools, and the fact that he estimated over 1500 of the artifacts were "ancient pieces" (Baker 1953:256).

Over the years, Baker was very active in communicating with professional archaeologists and inviting them to his home to examine his collection and visit his sites in the surrounding area. Many notable archaeologists, geologists, and paleontologists visited Baker, including Ernst Antevs, Loren Eiseley, A.V. Kidder, H.P. Mera, Warren Moorehead, and C. Bertrand Schultz, among many others. But perhaps the most influential archaeologist that visited and worked with Baker was Edgar B. Howard, of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia (and the University Museum). During the 1930's, Howard visited with Baker from several days to a week each summer, going to Baker's sites and discussing with him Howard's own latest findings in New Mexico (Baker n.d.).

Howard would be the first to reference Baker's Paleoindian work. In Howard's "Evidence of early man in North America", he discussed recent excavations at the Clovis type site, Anderson Basin, and Burnet Cave and then drew analogies to other similar situations in North America, such as Perry Anderson's work in northeast Colorado and Baker's work in Oklahoma and Texas (Howard 1935:98-99,119,123, Plate XXXVII). In both regions, deflated surfaces yielded palimpsests of artifacts, mixing materials of many different ages together. However, in Dallam County, Baker was able to identify the chronological order of the artifacts by carefully documenting the emergence of certain diagnostic projectile points following each stage of deflation. Baker's work would again be cited the following year in Howard's more widely distributed article in American Anthropologist (Howard 1936).

Baker also kept busy presenting his research to other scholars. He traveled to Philadelphia in 1937 to attend the International Symposium on Early Man (MacCurdy 1937) and displayed a portion of his collection at the meetings6,7. But not to let the importance of his other job slip by, Baker went on to Washington, D.C. the day following the Early Man conference and spent the next week with Congress and meeting with the Secretary of Agriculture in order to acquire relief aid for farmers in the Panhandle (Baker n.d.)8.

The following year, Baker presented two papers with his son, Ele, on "ancient flint artifacts" at the American Society for the Advancement of Science meeting in Albuquerque (Baker 1939). There is little doubt that "Uncle Bill" Baker's collaboration with his son would influence many of Ele's ideas on his work in the central Rio Grande Valley thirty years later (Baker 1968, Judge 1973). In 1939, W.E. Baker published his chronological sequence of diagnostic projectile points from the Cimarron County area, beginning with Folsom, Folsomoid and Yuma, through the Archaic or what he called "Bridle-tops" (Mallory dart points), and finally late prehistoric arrow points (Baker 1939). Bear in mind at this point, several years before the Paleo typology conferences, that Clovis was not identified as a separate type.

In addition to presenting and publishing his work, Baker was also very active in contributing to early regional studies. For example, data from his collection was published in early surveys of beveled and corner-tang knives (Poteet 1938:246-247, Patterson 1937:32-34). Baker's work was also beginning to find its way into a few synthetic articles such as Hans E. Fischel's Folsom and Yuma survey (Fischel 1939:250, 252, 255) and Frank H.H. Roberts' classic essay "Developments in the problem of the North American Paleo-Indian" (Roberts 1940:58). Yet, other than a few mentions in these Early Man studies, Baker and his collection would become invisible in the archaeological literature, especially following E.B. Howard's death in 1943. With his death, Baker lost a good friend, as well as the one archaeologist who knew more about his collection and sites than anyone else. Thus, subsequent classic syntheses of Paleoindian archaeology unfortunately ignored Baker's sites, such as in H.M. Wormington's four editions of Ancient man in North America (1939, 1949, 1957) and E.H. Sellards' Paleoindian bibliography (1940) and his seminal work Early man in America (1952). It was not until the late 1950's that Baker's work would once again be acknowledged, with a series of articles he published with Tom Campbell of the University of Texas on the Nall site, Paleoindian sites in Northeastern New Mexico, and metal arrowpoints (Baker et al. 1957, Baker and Campbell 1959, 1960).

The Nall site (34CI134)

The Nall site is probably the most well-known of Baker's sites because of its very large and typologically diverse collection of Paleoindian projectile points and tools (Gettys 1984, Hofman 1989, Holliday 1997, Hughes 1984) and the site is a very important key to understanding late Paleoindian prehistory and technological organization on the Southern Plains.

The site is located a few miles south of the Beaver River in Cimarron County, Oklahoma and is situated in an area of small sand dunes along the northwestern side of a quarter mile wide playa. W.E. Baker discovered the site in 1931, after the land was first plowed and several areas began to blow. On his first visit, he recovered corner notched points, several knives, scrapers, and several pieces of groundstone (Baker n.d.). He continued to visit the site during the next six years, and by 1937, several areas of the site had deflated to a depth exposing Paleoindian materials, as well as lake deposits and fresh-water mollusks in the deepest blowouts ( Baker et al. 1957:2). The majority of artifacts were collected following the peak of the drought and deflation, from 1937 and 1941, and Baker continued to visit the site over the next fifteen years, occasionally collecting artifacts until the late 1950's ( Baker et al. 1957).

The Nall site is actually two localities, which are separated by about a 1/4 mile. Artifacts were also recovered from the area between these two localities, but not in any sizable concentration. In total, 750 tools, 74 flakes, and 2 pieces of hematite were collected from the Nall area, as well as several fossilized fragments of both horse and bison teeth9. Only a small portion of the flakes were collected from the site, the majority of which Baker reported as being partially or fully embedded in Pleistocene sediments (Baker n.d.).

Baker collected 2 Clovis, a single Folsom (which was actually a preform), 174 Plainview, 10 Meserve, 11 Milnesand, and 8 Angostura points. One hundred fifty nine medial and distal point fragments were also recovered, which are mostly from lanceolate projectile points, including several Eden midsections. In addition to the large number of projectile points, several other tools classes were well represented, including 146 end scrapers, including some spurred end scrapers, 13 gravers, and 61 tools identified as drills (Baker et al. 1957).

There are several interesting differences between the two Nall localities. Early Paleoindian materials, such as the Clovis and Folsom specimens, were only collected from Locality 1. However, later Paleoindian tools, such as the reworked lanceolate points identified as drills, were almost exclusively collected from the second locality. There is also a greater diversity10 in the tool types from Locality 2, with drills, gravers, and groundstone nearly exclusively related to the second locality. It is not presently known whether the two localities represent linked occupations, as there is no evidence that connects the two areas other than the temporally diagnostic artifacts. However, it is unlikely that one locality represents a kill site and the other a campsite based upon the proportion of tips and bases from each locality, as each locality has approximately an equal ratio of tips to bases. Nodule analysis might help in determining whether the two localities were occupied concurrently, as patterns of tool utilization might be comparable between the two localities.

The original analysis by Baker and Campbell separated the 174 Plainview specimens into four sub-types, based upon their morphological outline. These four sub-types included specimens having parallel lateral edges (81 specimens), those with lateral edges slightly "waisted" (48 specimens), points with lateral edges flaring outward at the base (26 specimens), and points with lateral edges tapering towards the base (19 specimens). Basal thinning techniques, extent of lateral and basal grinding, and types of thinning flaking (such as parallel oblique or parallel convergent) were not used to classify the points.

There is a tremendous amount of typological diversity within each of the four-subtypes, with some specimens resembling Goshen and Plainview points (Frison 1996), whereas others appearing similar to late Paleoindian complexes, such as Frederick or Allen projectile points (Frison 1991) 11. The incredibly large sample size, of 174 complete Plainview points and bases, as well as nearly 160 tips and midsections, makes the Nall site an extremely rare and important dataset in separating the temporal sequence of Paleoindians on the Southern Plains, as well as investigating patterns of technological organization between the several reoccupations at the site, such as in terms of raw material utilization.

The 61 artifacts identified as drills are also interesting. The majority of the artifacts are medial and distal fragments, however, the 26 bases are of two distinct forms. Five of the bases are very similar to late prehistoric drills, such as those found in Antelope Creek sites, however the other 21 specimens appear to be resharpened lanceolate points. These reworked points are very similar in appearance to the final stage in the "classic" Dalton reduction sequence as seen at the Brand site (Goodyear 1974). This is not to say that there is a culture-historical connection between the Nall site and Dalton points (i.e. Myers and Lambert 1983), but rather a similar resharpening sequence. In addition, the ten points labeled as Meserve might actually be earlier stage reductions (unifacially beveled) in the same sequence of point resharpening. Thus, the Nall site is also a useful assemblage for studying patterns of tool conservation and recycling, which might possibly be a widespread late Paleoindian pattern.

His work in Dallam County, Texas

In addition to Cimarron County, Baker collected extensively in the dune fields just south of the Oklahoma line, in Dallam County, Texas. However, little of his work there has been presented, because Baker's articles focused primarily on his collections from Oklahoma and New Mexico.

Although little professional fieldwork has been conducted in the county (Simons 1988), it is known that the dune fields north of Dalhart, Texas have produced Paleoindian materials, primarily because projectile point surveys have documented limited numbers of Clovis 12, Folsom 13,14, and late Paleoindian points15 (Hofman 1993, Meltzer and Bever 1995). However, Baker's collection adds substantial data on Paleoindian presence in the region, with a record spanning the entire Paleoindian sequence and extending into the late prehistoric.

As already mentioned, Baker's generalized stratigraphy of the dune fields in Dallam County identified three strata, subdivided into upper, middle and lower sections. Stratum 1 was a caliche bed without an associated human occupation. The lowest sub-s tratum of 2 produced slightly fossilized bison, horse, and camel bone, but again, no archaeological materials were associated with this fauna. Above this, in the middle layer of stratum 2, Baker encountered his "greatest portion of 'ancient' artifacts" ( Howard 1935:98), and in six different locations, encountered mammoth remains. In the upper most portion of stratum 2, Folsom-like and Yuma point types were predominate, as well as bison remains. No mammoth remains were located abov e the upper portion of stratum 2.

Baker's stratum 3 contained deposits of Archaic age, with bison bones associated with two types of projectile points: "leaf-shaped points with constrictions above the base" or what Baker called "Owl-ears" and also notched triangular points that Baker called "Bridle-tops" (Howard 1935:98). Above these deposits, Baker recovered late prehistoric artifacts and also Plains pottery.

Several sites serve to illustrate the types of sites Baker collected from Dallam County. For example, Baker's 3-T site 16, located 33 miles south and 8 miles west of Boise City, is one of the more robust assemblages from the county, similar to the Nall site in terms of its diversity of point types and assemblage size (approximately 214 pieces) (Baker n.d.). Several Paleoindian types are well represented at the 3-T site, such as complete Agate Basin points, made of Alibates, petrified wood, and quartzites (likely derived from Cimarron County). In addition to complete points, bases were common as well, again made of Alibates and petrified wood. Several different stemmed points were also recovered from the 3-T site.

Recent work with Baker's collection has also produced additional data on the distributions of Clovis and Folsom points in Texas. A single Clovis point and 10 Folsom points have been recorded from Baker's collection, coming from six different localities in Dallam County.

Other periods are also well represented in Baker's collection. For example, the 18-T site contains abundant numbers of "Bridle-top" points, which are one of the more common projectile point types in the collection. Bridle-tops share many similarities to Mallory points on the northern Plains, which are associated with the McKean complex at sites such as Signal Butte and Scoggin (Frison 1991). In addition, the position of the Bridle-top points in Baker's stratigraphy lends evidence for their possible middle to late Holocene age.

The county has also produced a very rich record of late Quaternary faunal remains. As of 1935, Baker had already located several mammoths, camels, horses, and bison in the dune fields (Howard 1935:98). Baker did not collect much bone, (likely) due to its highly weathered state, but on several occasions he collected teeth, including two camel molars. Although many of the late Quaternary faunal remains were not directly associated with archaeological materials, the sheer volume of remains is staggering.


The archaeological record of the western Panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas was already known to contain large amounts of Paleoindian materials (Hofman and Wyckoff 1991, Largent et al. 1991, Lintz 1978, Meltzer and Bever 1995, Saunders 1978, White 1987). However, the density of Paleoindian sites in the region will increase significantly when the Baker sites are added, such that the densities in the northern Panhandle might perhaps rival those recorded in the Blackwater Draw area of the central Llano Estacado (Hester and Grady 1977).

Fieldwork designed at relocating these sites, however, will be very frustrating given that the government programs designed to end soil erosion in the 1930's have worked amazingly well. Today, many of these lands that at one time blew quite extensively are now well vegetated and protected by either National Grassland status or are in the Conservation Reserve Program, and look much as they did in prehistoric times. For example, the current tenant on the Nall site property has not seen a flake on the surface of the site in many years (D. Meltzer, p.c. 1997).

However, the relocation of these sites is of secondary importance to the analysis of the extensive collection of Paleoindian materials in "Uncle Bill" Baker's collection. His collection is truly unique because of its tremendous volume, the number of sites in the collection, the large assemblage sizes (such as the 3-T and Nall sites), and the number of time periods represented.

Although I've only been able to briefly touch upon some of the artifacts in the Baker collection, I think it is very obvious that "Uncle Bill" Baker's contribution to Panhandle Paleoindians is only beginning to be realized and that his "ancient" sites will be of even more importance in the years to come.


I wish to sincerely thank Ken Turner and the No Man's Land Historical Society for his permission to examine the Baker collections and his willingness to let me crawl through the depths of the museum in search of yet another Baker box of artifacts. I would also like to thank the Baker family, especially Tony Baker (Uncle Bill's grandson), for his generosity and for sharing his family history with me.

Thanks also to Michael Bever, David Meltzer, Joseph Miller, and Frederic Sellet, for their ears and thoughts about matters Paleoindian. Funding for my preliminary research was supported by a dissertation seed grant from the Institute for the Study of Earth and Man at Southern Methodist University as well as help from the Quest Archaeological Research Fund.

References Cited
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    1 Baker would be the first to acknowledge that a great number of people often went out on trips with him, such as his wife, Delcy Baker; his children, Beulah and Ele Baker; or his grandson, Al Baker.

    2 Baker had other interests in archaeology, for example, his work in the Kenton Caves, which is well documented in Lintz and Zabawa (1984), and in his own writing (Baker 1929a,b, 1953; Baker and Kidder 1937).

    3 Baker was a member (affiliate member 1936-1941, active member 1944-1956) of the Society for American Archaeology from its beginning and he held his membership for the rest of his life (Anonymous 1937, 1939, 1941, 1945, 1947, 1949, 1951, 1953, 1955).

    4 Baker was also very active in the Oklahoma Anthropological Society since its founding and served as its 1st Vice President during the year preceding his death (Anonymous 1957).

    5 Baker was also given artifacts by farmers in the area and on occasion bought artifacts.

    6 Baker’s trip to the Early Man conference was likely related to his close friendship with E.B. Howard, who was the conference organizer (Howard 1938).

    7 Baker’s notes are very detailed in some ways, for example, on his Philadelphia trip, he kept a record of the artifacts he brought with him to the meetings.

    8 At this time, the government was active, through the Farm Tenant Act of 1937, in buying up highly eroded land. The land was turned over to the Soil Conservation Service and was returned to pasture and grassland, eventually stabilizing and vegetating many of the sites that Baker had collected (D. Meltzer, p.c. 1997).

    9 In addition to Baker’s published specimens from the Nall site, at least 10 other artifacts were collected from the site following Campbell’s analysis, and therefore remain unpublished.

    10 Sample size might have something to do with these patterns, as only 144 tools were from Locality 1 (22.5%), 365 tools from Locality 2 (57%), and 131 tools from the unknown contexts in the surrounding area (20.5%).

    11 A good deal of the differences in typology are due to the publication of type sites in the decades following the original analysis, for example, the Hell Gap type (Agogino 1961).

    12 Isolated Clovis specimens in the Haynes collection at SMU/ISEM (TFPS notes, SMU), Pat Glasscock collection (TFPS notes, SMU), and Floyd Studer collection at the Panhandle Plains Museum (TFPS notes, SMU) (referenced in Meltzer and Bever 1995).

    13 Porter Montgomery, a friend of Baker’s living in Dalhart, Texas at the time, was described by Wright (1940:34) as having “sixty-two gravers which he has collected in Dallam and Hartley County, Texas, and Texas County, Oklahoma. Nearly all of these specimens have come from blow-out sites in what were once Pleistocene lake beds. They are found on the surface with Folsom and Yuma artifacts and fossil bones of the horse, camel, elephant, bison, and several species of unidentified fresh water shells”.

    14 Isolated Folsom points in the Charlie Rhoton collection (Hofman 1993:95).

    15 Isolated late Paleoindian (identified as Angostura, but possibly Frederick?) specimen in the Haynes collection at SMU/ISEM.

    16 The 3-T was an important site to Bill Baker, as it once again confirmed the Pleistocene antiquity of some of his artifacts. For example, during the summer of 1935, Baker was examining the site with J.W. Stovall and they found two distal fragments of projectile points on erosion islands that were topped with blue marl (in Baker’s Stratum 2). Nearby, in the same stratum, they uncovered camel, mammoth, and horse (Baker n.d. “Ancient Culture Memorandum”, pp. 28-31.).

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