SURGOINSVILLE — Back when farmers plowed cornfields along Hawkins County’s Holston River bottoms, it was fairly common to find arrowheads and other artifacts left behind by the Native Americans who previously occupied those shores.
These days, relics are harder to locate along the river bottoms that now are mostly hayfields, but 84-year-old Ural Ward says untold treasures are still there under the sod, waiting to be discovered by amateur archaeologists like himself.
Ward spent the past six decades searching for and collecting thousands of Native American artifacts along the Holston River shoreline from Long Island to Big Creek.
He estimates his arrowhead collection in excess of 14,000 pieces, but he’s also found substantial collections of jewelry, pottery, tools, knives, pipes, fish hooks and the rarest of finds — two medicine tubes.
Ward plans on loaning his artifacts for an exhibit at the new Surgoinsville Area Archive and Mu- seum, which is expected to open in September. It’s a collection that has been a lifetime in the making.
“You’d pick up a pocketful pretty quick”
“A long time ago they used to plow land up and down on the river and put in corn,” Ward told the Times News on Tuesday. “When they plowed it up and it came a hard rain, you’d go down on the river and hunt arrowheads where the water washed the dirt off of them. After they plowed, you’d pick up a pocketful pretty quick.”
As a schoolboy, Ward and his friends would hunt arrowheads and give them to their teacher. At one point, she took the classroom collection to a “show and tell” contest out of town where she had to stay all night. Ward recalled that sometime overnight someone stole everything she had. After that, Ward decided to start collecting for himself.
“I started around 1961, but I was working at the (Alladin) Plastics plant, and I could only go on the weekends,” Ward said. “I used to live on the river where they were going to build that nuclear plant at Phipps Bend, and that’s where I found most of my stuff.”
Ward added, “They lived along the river. They would travel up and down that river in canoes, and that river was their highway. When you see a lot of oyster shells or mussel shells, that was a good sign that was a camp. They got them things out of the river and ate them, I reckon.”
His last find may have been His best
Among the more unusual items he’s discovered were two medicine tubes, which are rocks with a hole bored through the long end. They were used for applying suction to wounds or infected areas, often with the inclusion of a medicine.
Ward sold one of his medicine tubes for $1,500, but he still has the other one.
His final discovery is also one of his more treasured items in his collection. About four years ago, Ward found a large completely intact pot buried in the ground near Christian’s Bend.
“This other boy was digging, and I was showing him how to use post hole diggers and dug right down on that pot,” Ward said. “It’s a big pot. It’s got a crack in it, but that’s all that’s wrong with it. I used Saran Wrap to get it out of the dirt. I wrapped it up tight to move it. It never did fall apart. It took me about a week to get it home.”
“I never wanted to be an archaeologist”
His collection has been studied by archaeologists, who told him his artifacts date from the 1500s to the 1800s.
Ward is looking forward to showing his collection to the public, meeting people who share his interest and talking about his artifacts and where he found them.
“Several people looked at it and said it was too big for a private collection, that I need to open it up for the public,” Ward said. “(The museum) is going to be nice, and when they get it set up, I’ll start moving my stuff in. They said I could have that whole corner back in there, but I’ve got enough stuff to fill that whole room. That corner is a drop in the bucket.”
He may not have a degree in archaeology, but there’s not much Ward doesn’t know about what Native American life was like in the Holston River Valley.
“I just got interested in it as sort of a hobby,” he said. “I never wanted to be an archeologist. It was just for fun.”