By Tony Baker
I was walking east and gradually upward over the dry, monotonous landscape. The wind was quiet and the late morning sun had warmed the day to sweatshirt weather. Footing varied from soft blow sand to blown hardpan. Winter had turned the precious little grass a brown-death color and the few animals had cropped some of it to the roots. Our German Shepherd trotted between me and my father checking the clumps of grass for a lizard, which she would occasionally flush, chase, and bite into two if she got lucky. Shadows from the clumps were nearing their shortest time of the day and rattlesnakes were of no concern. It was January 1965; Kennedy had been assassinated and Johnson was rapidly pouring soldiers into Vietnam. I was 20 years old, living at home, and avoiding the draft with a college deferment. The Sandia Mountains lay about 50 miles ahead in front of a bright, blue curtain.
It had been only nine months earlier when I had asked my father to take me arrowhead hunting for the first time. This would seem strange to anyone who knew how I was raised, since both my parents had been archaeologists before I was born. The hardwood floors of our home were covered with Navajo rugs and there was a pot in every corner. But, I had made it known from an early age that I wasn’t interested in walking in the hot, dusty desert looking for rocks. My interests lay in electrical and mechanical things. So, I was finishing my second year of engineering when I found myself sitting in the packed lecture hall of Anthropology 101. Yes, even engineers have to take a few humanities. The professor was Dr. Frank Hibben and he was mesmerizing the 300+ students with his facts and fiction. He aroused such an interest in me, about early man in North America, that I made this strange and wonderful request of my father, to take me arrowhead hunting. Years later my father would say this request was so unexpected that he had no idea where to go. So we went to the city landfill. And, believe it or not, I found my first arrowhead that day on the edge of the Albuquerque dump.
After that first day, we continued to go hunting one day a week, which was usually Sunday. We would pick a location to hunt and leave at daylight, returning after dark. I had spent little time with my father while growing up. He worked six days a week until recently taking a teaching job at a high school, but now I was working on Saturdays. For me, and I believe for my father, Sunday had become the best day of the week. I no longer was my father’s child, but instead his best friend, his arrowhead hunting buddy, and his archaeology student. He was teaching me textbook archaeology, as well as how to hunt arrowheads. He taught me about the Pueblo Indians, the Basket Makers who came before them, a little about the Archaic, but mostly about Paleoindian. He taught me to recognize Clovis, Folsom, and Yuma, which at the time was in the process of being split into Scottsbluff, Firstview, and Eden. He loved Paleoindians, but mostly he loved Folsom. Since we had not found any Paleoindian points, my education came from books—mostly Marie Wormington’s book, and the artifacts on display at the University of New Mexico. We did have two Folsom point fragments that were in my grandfather’s collection. I must have fondled those two a hundred times, trying to imagine hunting bison 10,000 years ago with these tiny rocks.
The original Folsom site was locagted less than 100 miles from my father’s hometown of Boise City, Oklahoma. It was excavated during his grade school years and the knowledge it provided the collectors and the small archaeological community came out while he was in high school. Here was proof that man had lived and hunted the huge, now extinct animals of the Pleistocene in his backyard. It was no surprise that an arrowhead hunter in that region at that time wanted dearly to find a Folsom point, or that it was their favorit point type. In my father’s case, it remained his favorite type for 30 years, even though he had never found one, or even a fragment, after moving to Albuquerque in the mid 1930s.
Over to my right was a shiner, a good shiner. I grudgingly turn toward it, and started down off the plateau I had planned to remain on. “Most likely it’s a rock, just like the others I have chased down today,” I grumbled to myself Most of the time I kept my head down and looked about four or five feet in front me while I walked. However, my father had also taught me to occasionally glance out ahead and look for something shining in the sun similar to a piece of broken glass. If the sun was right and the ground wasn’t covered with too much vegetation or shiny rocks, then shining was a good technique. Today, it was not working. As I approached the shiner, I could see it was in a small blowout in the sand. “Well, finally a flake, a brown flake,” I thought to myself. I reached down, picked it up, and flipped in over in my hand several times with my thumb. “A Folsom point,” I said in a hushed voice. “It’s the base of a damn Folsom point! ” I whirled around and started running as hard as I could, back up to the plateau where I left my father. The dog had heard me, ran down to meet me, and now was running back up with me. As I ran, I yelled nonsensical laughs, hoots, and other crazy sounds.
Reaching the plateau, I saw the top half of my father, who was standing in a blowout about 30 yards from me. He heard me, turned toward me, and watched me run to the edge of the blowout. I slowed down and walked out into the blowout toward him. There was an unusually large grin on his face. “Guess what I found?” I asked with all the excitement of a little kid.
“A Folsom point?” He answered.
Surprised, I asked, “How did you know?”
He slowly extended his hand, opened it, and there lay another Folsom point. A gray base, not as nice as mine, but a Folsom point. I asked, “Where did you find it?”
“Right here. I just picked it up as you were coming over the ridge. “
“And you said there were no Paleoindians around Albuquerque,” I giggled.
Still smiling he replied. “That’s what I said. Guess I was wrong.”
We proceeded to look in his blowout and the surrounding area very slowly. Now, we had reason and motivation to go slow. Then, we made our way back to my find spot and searched that area. We spent the entire day at the site and only left because it became too dark to see the ground. At home that night, we counted 37 fragments of Folsom points and preforms that we had found earlier that day.
This site was my first Folsom site and, for my father, it was his first in the last 30 years. After that glorious day we began to find more Paleoindian sites, and not just Folsom. We found Clovis, Helen, Eden, Scottsbluff, and more. We got so good, or so lucky, that it seemed we could find at least one Paleoindian point on every trip to the field. By the time I graduated from college, we had amassed a large Paleoindian collection. So large that Jim Judge, a Ph.D. student, wrote his dissertation on it. Judge’s dissertation “. . . won the Tom L. Popejoy Prize as the most distinguished doctoral dissertation accepted by the Graduate School of the University of New Mexico in 1971.” It was then published in 1973 as a book titled Paleoindian Occupation of the Central Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico.
I graduated from college and left home to work in the Texas oil fields. However, because of that simple request in January 1965, my life was changed forever. Of course, I continued to hunt arrowheads, but I started reading archaeological literature. I returned to school in the 1980’s and earned a master’s degree in anthropology. In 1999 I retired from the oil industry and early man archaeology became my new, non-paying job. I have traveled to numerous countries and the great state of Alaska to study the early archaeology. I am a member of the Society of American Archaeology and the Paleoanthropology Society and attend their annual meetings. Plus I write and maintain an extensive webpage on the subject at www.ele.net.
To close, I want to return to that evening in January 1969 when my father and I were fondling our magnificent finds of that day.
I asked, “Have you ever found a complete Folsom?”
“No,” my father replied “I’m still looking for one.”
Since that night the Baker collection grew to over 370 fragments of Folsom points and preforms from over 100 sites. My father died in 1991, still looking for his first complete Folsom point. I am 62 years old and I, too, am still looking for my first complete one. That said, the next time someone shows you a complete Folsom, just imagine how lucky the person must be that found it.
Tony Baker was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1944. He earned a BS in civil engineering from the University of New Mexico in 1967 and went to work for Texaco that same year. Tony worked as a petroleum engineer in the oil fields for the next 32 years and retired from Texaco in 1999. During those 32 years, he married, raised two children, and earned an MA in anthropology from the University of Colorado in 1990. Since retirement he has spent his time researching Pleistocene archaeology in both the Old and New Worlds. This has involved not only office work but also excavating and surveying (arrowhead hunting) in foreign countries as well as the USA. A specific example of this is his last eight summers working on the North Slope of Alaska doing survey archaeology for the BLM.