"Curiously enough, though many excellent arrowpoints and other artifacts are made for the "tourist trade" in many parts of the country, the writer has yet to meet anyone who can produce a Folsom point" (Howard 1935:110). At the time that Edgar B. Howard made the above statement in his Ph.D. dissertation, he was probably the most knowledgeable academic on the subject of Paleoindians. Commenting on the above quote in his book Folsom, Meltzer points out "he had obviously not encountered McCormick or his work"(2006:254).
Marvin McCormick was an early maker (knapper) and seller of arrowheads, and most knappers and collectors know his name. He made thousands of points of all types during his lifetime, but he was famous for his Alibates Folsom point. He was so skilled that many of his creations, believed to be authentic, have found their way into museum collections and displays. I personally know of three museums that unknowingly house his work.
I first heard the name Marvin McCormick as a child at Baker family gatherings. He was a subject that always came up when the conversation turned to my grandfather, William E. Baker, and his arrowhead collections. As a result, a large part my knowledge of McCormick came from these get-togethers and, to a lesser extent, letters and photographs I inherited from my father. Over the years I have considered sharing my knowledge of McCormick via my web site, but just never got around to doing it. Early in 2008 I discovered I had nine slides of McCormick making a Folsom point, and the chance to share these was the impetus to finally add this paper to my web site.
William E. Baker, affectionately known as Uncle Bill, was the Cimmaron County Extension Agent located in Boise City, Oklahoma during the 1930s and '40s. This was also the time of the Dust Bowl and The Great Depression, and Uncle Bill was in the center of both storms. Arrowheads were easy to find on the savaged landscape and since Uncle Bill was always on the land working with the farmers, he began collecting them. Over the years his collection grew and, simultaneously, he became quite knowledgeable about the early man archaeology of the region.
My first story has Uncle Bill seated at his Extension Agent's desk with an unknown individual sitting on the other side. This unknown individual has brought a number of arrowheads for Uncle Bill to see. They are laid out on the desk and Uncle Bill is picking through them. He ultimately separates them into two piles and tells the individual that "this group was made by Indians and that group was made by a white man."
Another story occurs at the home of an unknown individual. Uncle Bill is looking at this person's arrowhead collection. After a time, the individual goes to his closet and brings out a cigar box filled with his prized pieces. Uncle Bill looks at the arrowheads in the cigar box and declares that they were made by a modern knapper.
These two stories are quite similar and may be different versions of the same story, but I have never believed that to be the case. A story that dovetails with these two comes from the archives of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (047-11-01-94, Huscher Papers). In September 1938 Vincent Dale, a collector and attorney from Guymon, Oklahoma, writes a letter to Marvin McCormick. He asks McCormick if he had made the "4 Folsom, 1 Yuma, 2 drills" that Dale had purchased from him several weeks earlier. McCormick does not respond. Subsequently, in August 1939 Dale writes a letter to J. D. Figgins, director of the Colorado Museum of Natural History (now the Denver Museum of Nature & Science). In this letter Dale details his purchase of these artifacts from McCormick and suggests "... this craftsman could explain the growing number of Folsom points which have appeared from southeastern Colorado the last few years..." In October 1940 a brief article titled "Archaeological Frauds from Southern Colorado" by Betty Huscher and her husband appears in American Antiquity. Betty was Wormington's assistant and Wormington was the curator of archaeology at the Colorado Museum of Natural History (Baker 1995:4, Cassells 1983:251). In this article the Huschers do not name McCormick but write:
Joe Ben Wheat, Paleoindian archaeologist and curator of the University of Colorado Museum from 1953 to 1982 (Cassells 1983:249) told me a story at the 1988 Pecos Conference of another method McCormick used to sell his arrowheads. He said McCormick's kids would go around to the small towns and stop at service stations, etc, and look for arrowhead collections. They would marvel over the collections and ultimately indicate they, too, had found a few. What they would then show the proprietor was some of their father's work and soon they would have the individual drooling so bad that he would offer $5 or so for them. The kids would negotiate until they had the individual worked up to $50 or $60.
The third story from my family history also dates to about these times. Uncle Bill suspected that McCormick was the knapper of the arrowheads that were showing up in the area of western Oklahoma and surrounding states. He would, therefore, drive from Boise City to McCormick's house in Pritchett, Colorado. Uninvited and unannounced he would almost burst into McCormick's house trying to catch him making arrowheads. He was unsuccessful. My impression is that Uncle Bill did this more than once.
Attachments 1 and 2 are copies of letters between E. B. Howard of the University of Pennsylvania and Uncle Bill. These are dated October, 1940 and coincidentally this is the same month and year as the Huscher's article above.
The following is from the second paragraph of Howard's letter dated 10/25/40 to Uncle Bill. See Attachment 1. Note that Howard seems to still believe that a Folsom point cannot be made by a modern knapper.
Uncle Bill responded almost immediately on 10/31/40 and this is the third paragraph of his letter. See Attachment 2. Note the last sentence. Is this party, who lives in Guymon, Vincent Dale?
The day before the appointment I drove from Denver to Pritchett, Colorado and spent the night in a nearby motel. The next day I met McCormick and his wife. They lived in a small simple house, and I remember it was without an indoor toilet. They had a pet magpie that they had raised from a chick and it flew freely around the house and out into the yard through the open doors. The cats avoided the bird.
McCormick was a big man and both he and his wife were very gracious and seemed to enjoy my visit. I inquired about the relationship between him and Uncle Bill who had died in 1957. To my surprise his perspective on the subject was much more amicable than the Baker family stories had led me to believe. He even commented on how knowledgeable Uncle Bill was on the subject of Paleoindians.
To my question on how he made a Folsom point, he answered that when he first started making them he used percussion. And, he added that it produced a thin, realistic point. However, the failure rate was too high for him. He said he couldn't get a job during the depression and never had one. He fed his family by making and selling his arrowheads. So, to reduce the failure rate, he developed a levered pressure system that would press off the channel flakes. This greatly reduced his failures, but it produced a thicker, less realistic point. He also said that in the recent years some of the universities had asked him to make for them study-collections of all the Paleoindian points. In his desire to be as authentic as possible, he had attempted to return to percussion for the channel flake removal on the Folsom points. However, he discovered that he had forgotten how to do it, and was forced to stay with his leveled pressure technique.
He had one complete Folsom point in the house and he was not real proud of it. So, he sold it to me for $10 and it is the one pictured at the beginning of this paper. He also gave me some channel flakes and broken preforms. When I left that day, it would be the last time I ever saw or spoke to him.
During the preparation and writing of this paper, I learned of a Roger Crabtree of Boise City. He had spent some time with McCormick before he died. I immediately contacted him and he told me that McCormick told him that he made his first Folsom point in 1929.
Finally, McCormick was "... also one of the first to use heat treatment" (Whittaker 2004:49). I had heard this from a number of people, but since I am uneasy about when and where heat-treating was used, I had intended to omit the subject. However, when Mike Collins of the University of Texas read a draft of this web page, he again reminded me that McCormick used heat-treating. He pointed me to an obscure 1963 article by J. M. Shippee and suggested that I add its information. Shippee is reporting on finding a cache near Manhattan, Kansas. It was a "... cache of flint flakes and cores capped by three limestone boulders, spread evenly over a bed of ashes which remained from a fire of considerable intensity." Shippee further writes:
Collins believes McCormick may have been the first modern knapper to use heat-treating and asks the readers of this article to inform him or the author if they know otherwise.
As I stated at the beginning, I found a set of nine slides in a shoebox full of my father's (Ele Baker) old slides, showing McCormick making a Folsom point. I know my father did not take these slides, and they are not originals. They were reproduced in December of 1967, so they were taken during or before 1967. My father wrote a brief description on each slide, which I have included with each image. Additionally, I have included Bob Patten's observations of McCormick's techniques that he deemed from the slides . Bob is an experienced knapper and a maker of Folsom points. Larger version of the images can be opened in a separate window by clicking on the images.
When I began to write this web page, Jeb Taylor directed me to Roger Crabtree. Roger relayed the information that McCormick made his first Folsom point in 1929. Jason LaBelle provided the information about Vincent Dale. Finally, Mike Collins pointed me to the heat-treating article.
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