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By Richard N. Corrow, © 2008
Photos by Mark Loper Photography, Mesa, Arizona


To My Fellow Artifact Collectors and Prehistoric American Readers.

Everything today seems to be political, and we collectors are not immune to controversy and must revisit our place in history. Political correctness has taken over common sense in much of our lives, and we collectors have not been untouched. New laws have affected every facet of our finding, collecting, selling, or keeping our "treasures". Native American activists have sided with political parties who then have initiated new laws. A disinterested general public is unaware of all this and blindly soaks up government-fed news releases that collectors are evil. This has become quite evident to me as I tried to research this report.

At every turn, academic institutions rebuffed me in an effort to get information on the Kee Mound, or as known in California, CA-SON-299. We, meaning private citizens, are not allowed access to archaeological records or reports for the sake of preventing looting and to not offend Native Americans. I must first apply to a Native American group having influence over the geographical area of which I had interest stating what material was to be reviewed and what my purpose was. The Kee Mound was recorded to have as many as 200 burials. Need I say more about my chances of getting Native American assistance to accessing records at University of California Berkeley? I am grateful to several California archaeologists for their cooperation at completing this report. Many are not in sway with current trends in this arena. All of them now work 3 privately or are retired, but most indicated that they have had issues regarding UC Berkeley's lack of cooperation in sharing information. The new elitist academia is in control, and friends, it will get worse.

With the implementation in 1990 of NAGPRA, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, much has changed. Our museums are being looted by Native American tribes claiming objects of cultural patrimony—sacred objects and funerary associated objects should be returned to the tribes. And museums are rolling over. Thousands of artifacts have been returned to tribes for installation in their own museums, destruction, reburial, or in some cases, resold. But individuals have suffered criminal prosecutions under NAGPRA by overzealous prosecutors. The "reverse looting" of our museums is a warning shot to private collectors as activist Native Americans get energized and look for more plunder.

We, as collectors, are now the caretakers of America's heritage. Any publicly funded museum can fall prey to this law and privately held collections may be next. We must be educated, alert, and active to protect our life-long efforts building our collections. This writer does not condone the digging of graves, but those artifacts that have been out of the ground for decades, and in some cases a century or more, should be exempt from this madness. All of the artifacts in the Chenoweth/Corrow collection were excavated over 50 years ago. My hopes are that they will be available for all to see for many more years.


The story of the Kee Mound had an inauspicious beginning and sad ending. Since the mound's demise in 1951, no formal report has ever been published, nor have photos of the artifacts been made public. It should not be underestimated how important this site was, and though not as well known as the great mounds of the Midwest, the Kee Mound has its place in California history. A unique culture once thrived at this site.


This Santa Rosa, (California) PRESS DEMOCRAT Sunday rotogravure article on collecting artifacts featured several Sonoma County collectors and was published January 27, 1952. Hardy Chenoweth, shown lower left, collected a wide range of Native American material and amassed an impressive collection of artifacts from the local area. His granddaughter, Nancy Chenoweth, upper left at age eleven, is shown wearing Native American regalia from his ethnographic collection. Nancy inherited her grandfather's collection in 1957 and she passed it to Richard N. Corrow in 1993.


The West Coast of North America exhibits an extraordinary range of archaeological treasures. The focus of this commentary is a stretch of California coastline in Sonoma County, 50 miles north of San Francisco on beautiful Bodega Bay. This location is less than a mile north of the site of the cottage featured in Alfred Hitchcock's movie thriller The Birds.

Here rose a great shell mound running 320 feet north and south and 140 feet wide, well-situated on the sheltered west side of the bay. The area enjoys mild, but wet winters, and pleasant summer days begin with morning fog. Nearby free-flowing springs provided ample water and the bay and coast an endless food supply. Truly a well-chosen home for a culture long since disappeared except for the secrets that lay up to 15 feet deep within the mound.


But this story begins when a young Hardin (Hardy) Talman Chenoweth began to develop his lifelong interest in Native American artifacts. Hardy was born in Occidental, California, May 9, 1885 and lived his entire life in Sonoma County. He was first employed by the county as a roads foreman and fire warden. He then became a lumberman and rancher, finally owning his own lumber mill and substantial forestland. He died October 11, 1957. Hardy had a massive collection. He was one of the first to dig at the Glen Cove mound (CA-SOL-236) near Benicia in Solano County and dug at several sites in Sonoma County. Part of his collection was exhibited at the 1915 San Francisco Exhibition. Hardy was often interviewed by the local media as an expert in local Native American cultures and featured in a Santa Rosa Press Democrat Sunday rotogravure section January 27, 1952.

Fortunately, Hardy developed the discipline of cataloging his collection and he did a short biography of his experience at the Kee Mound, an experience that lasted 50 years!

In his own words, here is an insight on this lifelong collector written circa 1953:

The first time that I ever saw the Kee Mound was in the year 1895. My father and I drove from Occidental with a cart and horse to get abalone. In driving around an embankment I noticed a projectile point of obsidian where the tide had washed it out of the bank of a shell mound. We stopped and picked up eight net sinkers and some more pieces of obsidian but it did not occur to me at that time it was a burial mound.

Later I told a man named Ike Button what I had found and he went down and found a mortar in perfect condition. From then on from year to year when we went down for fish or abalone I would find a few artifacts.

By this time the owners had planted the mound to carrots and I found a lot of artifacts where they plowed the top soil. Let me state here that I had a small collection so this interested me very much. One time when I was passing the mound I saw a human skull in the bank. I started digging and uncovered the balance of the skeleton but found nothing with it. I could not dig far because there was a picket fence between the plowed ground and the Bay.

In the early 1920s some people came from Los Angeles and paid Robert Kee $20.00 to dig. They found some very valuable material but they would not let anyone see what they had except a curved obsidian knive [sic] about twelve inches long which are [sic] very rare. (1) At this time I would like to say that I will have a lot of information in regard to the curved blades later.

Now I got interested and obtained the rights to excavate the mound and immediately ran into trouble for the Indians of Bodega Bay maintained that their people were buried there. I had no defense for they had the Supervisors of Sonoma pass a law forbidding anyone to molest the mound.

In 1947 I went to Robert Kee and obtained permission to remove the mound for I found out that if the owner desired to use a mound to fill joining land he had the right to do so. Still, it wasn't clear sailing, for the Indians made trouble in every way possible. They were misinformed because in all of my digging I found no trader beads and trader beads go back 200 years with burials and maybe more. Also, I did not find any arrow points, which in my book put this mound a minimum of 800 years old that is on the surface. Anything that I could have said or done would not have accomplished what the University of California (did) toward making the excavating possible.

By some means Dr (Robert) Heizer of Archaeology at UC Berkeley found out about this mound and sent a man by the name of Frank Fenenga to see me and 1 gave him the right in writing to work the mound. Mr. Fenenga started in 1949. He had about ten students on an average working for about three months but he ran into the same trouble that I had had with the Indians although with his background and knowledge of Indian culture he convinced them that the mound was too old to have any connection with late burials. I am convinced that I could never have accomplished what Frank did and I could not have gone ahead with the work regardless of the agreement that I had with Kee. From here we will call the mound SON-299. SON represents Sonoma County and 299 is the number cataloged by UC Berkeley The excavating by Fenenga was on the southern half, about 30 feet wide and 90 feet long east and west. They collected about 4,000 artifacts.

In my excavating 'found most all burials on the eastern slope, in fact only five on the western slope. There are a good many west of the datum line but that was when the mound was small and as it grew the mound naturally built east and in so doing the amount of graves was more and more to the east. From what I found out it looks as all burials were in the morning and I picture the people dressed for the burial facing the rising sun which gives one the thought that these people worshipped the sun three thousand years ago.

There were two sets of four matching blades excavated by Chenoweth. Porter and Watson (1933) reported in their excavation of the Kee Mound, "In one grave, probably that of a medicine man since the bones and head were deformed, we found 24 beautiful spear heads averaging a length of 5", two 4//2" spears with the very ends sharply turned at right angles to the body of the spear"(1) The closest type of blade one might compare to these is known as the "Stockton Curve" found in San Joaquin County of California, some 120 miles distant. Stockton Curves "exhibit an expert level of knapping skill" (Justice 2002:359) and are extremely rare themselves and probably less than 200 have been found, but they are less than 2'/2" in length. Noel Justice indicates a Late Period association of "A.D. 700-1,100 to 1,500 and later". The earlier of these dates seems to fall into the tail end of the McClure Complex. The Stockton Curves are almost exclusively from the Napa obsidian source. Most of the lithics found at the Kee Mound and one set of the long blades are of Napa obsidian.


There are various descriptions of Central California Miwok and possibly Yokuts of "dance impersonators, not a bear doctor or shaman, (who) carried curved pieces of obsidian attached to his fingers in place of bear's claws. He imitated this animal in his dancing." (Kroeber, 1919). Also, the "Stockton Curves" were declared to be imitation bear claws worn on the left hand by the dancers of the uzumati or grizzly dance. Four of these curves were attached to sticks and these in turn lashed to the four fingers." (Barrett and Gifford, 1933).

For many California Indians, obsidian and obsidian blades were critical elements of shamanic rituals. The northern California Yuki had several kinds of shamans who all dreamed of supreme spirits, on whom their power depended. (Rust, 1905).

The obsidian (Yuki) shamans also treated diseases. Sometimes they built a kind of funnel of earth, perhaps two feet long. The patient reclined at one end and at the other, obsidian blades were set up. The doctor then blew tobacco smoke through the hole on the sick person. (Kroeber, 1925:193-8).

"Funerary contexts have typically produced Stockton Curves in groups rather than singly," (Justice, ibid) supporting the theory they were not used as a singular implement.

These accounts and others recognize the importance of obsidian in California Native American culture. But the McClure Complex, of which we know only of their material remains, must have had its own obsidian obsession. The only similarities provided by Native American informants about "curved obsidian blades" seems to be as listed above, but no real comparison can be made. It is curious that both caches of these curved blades found by Chenoweth in the Kee Mound were groups of four matching blades. Trade with distant tribes using Napa obsidian may have had cross-cultural influence, but the McClure Complex culture remains unique in all of California.

A most interesting object found within the mound was a 27" whale rib bone spatulae (see page 13). The sheer quantity and quality of objects found in association with the long blades along with this object compares with a burial of a 30-year-old man in distant Livermore Valley. Along with a similar but shorter bead appliquéd spatulae were quartz crystals, and approximately 30,000 Olivella saucer beads, the largest documented California bead lot. (Wiberg, 1988). Comparisons of other important California mortuary patterns can be made with those of the McClure Complex.

Dr. Robert Heizer, considered the father of California archaeology, made an infamous appearance at the mound in 1949. There is ample documentation of Heizer's visit both in oral tradition with the Chenoweth family and in written communications between Fenenga and his associates. It seems Hardy, working in one of his carefully laid-out grids, was digging deep in the mound and Heizer proceeded to drive a shovel through a packet of bird bone whistles. Heizer responded "They could be repaired back in the (UC Berkeley) lab!"(2) Hardy, rightfully enraged, threw Heizer off the mound.

It was Frank Fenenga who finally convinced Hardy to let UC Berkeley back on the mound. Hardy gave them a choice area in which to dig, some 2,700 square feet comprising part of the southern portion of mound. The agreement Hardy had with UC Berkeley was that Hardy would retain all of the artifacts after they were cataloged and studied. UC Berkeley has in fact several thousand artifacts from SON-299.

Frank Fenenga, (1917-1994) known fondly as "Finnegan" by his friends, was a noted California archaeologist with an illustrious career. He established a recording system for all state archaeological sites which was adopted by the Smithsonian Institution and is in use today. The Kee Mound, named after the landowner, Robert Kee, became CA-SON-299 in Fenenga's system, referring to first state, then county, then site. Frank was the first to suggest that the bow and arrow were recent developments to the New World, a view now accepted by all scholars. Fenenga and a list of his associates reads like a who's who in archaeology.

Among those exploring the mound in the summer of 1949 were Clem Meighan, Arnold Pilling, Robert Greengo, and Francis (Fritz) Riddell. This author is privileged to have received a copy of Frank Fenenga's unpublished site report for SON-299 from his son, Gerrit L. Fenenga, Ph.D., Associate California State Archaeologist.(3) It is unfortunate that the report of several hundred pages, so near to final editing, was not completed. Very comprehensive, it has far more information and detail for this effort.


This 6" horseneck clam (Tresus nuttali) shell has been utilized as a storage container for asphaltum. A similar shell containing red ochre was found in the UC excavations. It was not until a later period that these shells were used for clam-shell disc beads. The charmstones, knobbed-stem type, have asphaltum remains preserved as found. Asphaltum was a universal adhesive for gluing and bonding. Found in naturally occurring seeps along the Pacific Coast, asphaltum held beads to ornaments, reinforced projectile point bindings, and anchored cordage to charmstones like those shown. 


The McClure Complex of the Tomales Bay Pattern spanned the time period between 1,000 and 2,500 years before present (YBP). (Milliken et al. 2007). This dating is based on shell bead types, which are almost as useful to California archaeology as are potsherds in other parts of North America for analyzing culture processes.(6) SON-299 was a Middle Period Olivella bead production center and the abundance of saddle beads corroborate the "C dates.(7)

Radiocarbon Dating ("C)

The earliest Carbon 14 date published for a McClure facies site, CA-MRN-115, (Meighan, 1953) ". . . indicates the McClure Complex to be something on the order of 800 to 1,000 years old". However, Meighan acknowledged some issues regarding the sample used in dating the site. A 14C date of 2,700 YBP was obtained from MRN-138 on the bay side of Marin, also considered to be in the McClure facies.(6)

Michael Kennedy (2004) utilized 17 shells excavated by Fenenga in 1949 from CA-SON-299. The shells were obtained from the UC Berkeley Phoebe Hearst Museum collection and produced a weighted mean "C calibrated age of 2,017 +/- 126 YBP, well within the Middle Period established for the McClure Complex.

This author submitted a sample of an elk antler wedge to the University of Arizona Physics Department AMS Lab for Carbon 14 dating. A corrected date was obtained of 1,834 +/- 36 YBP. Several antler wedges are in Hardy's collection and his notes indicate this one was recovered from the six foot level. Woodworking was one of the attributes of the McClure Complex, and wedges were useful tools. Their primary uses were probably for prying bark from redwood trees for roofing material for semi-subterranean shelters and splitting the soft inner wood into useful shapes.

Obsidian Hydration Dating (OHD)

Obsidian Hydration Dating is a sophisticated method of measuring in microns the rind or surface band created on freshly exposed surfaces of obsidian when exposed to air such as when broken off or after a flaking process. Rind growth is susceptible to many variables and requires cross-referencing various tables to arrive at an accurate conclusion. OHD is useful in determining relative ages and can be converted into an absolute age.

Several Kee Mound blades were submitted for dating by the author to Origer's Obsidian Laboratory(8) for hydration rim measurement. The results for the four large blades, specimens 299- #12A through #12D measured 2.3 microns, and, when adjusting for the cool temperature of the site location, yield a date of approximately 1,151 YBP. OHD tests of two other blades, specimens; 299- #12E & #13A, also from Napa and, according to Hardy's notes, excavated from the same pit, measured 2.7 microns to yield 1,580 YBP. All of these blades were from the Napa County source and verified by X-ray fluorescence tests at Geochemical Research Laboratory.(9)

Hardy found four beautiful curved matching blades averaging nearly seven inches in length, some 45 feet away from the long blades. Excavated "ten to twelve feet deep", he goes on to say, "ground worked over too much to give a depth". Obviously Hardy had some difficulty with his techniques. These blades, 299- #47A-#47D, are verified as Annadel obsidian and measured 1.6 microns converted to 960 YBP when adjusted for temperature. This author is not aware of any other obsidian hydration dating being performed on artifacts from SON-299.

The three dating methods—shell bead typology, radiocarbon, and obsidian hydration measurements—all yielded dates in the 900 to 2,500 YBP range, within the ranges posited by Meighan (1953), and Milliken et al.(10)


Asphaltum is an excellent adhesive and mastic. UC Berkeley scientists have suggested asphaltum existed at one time at a seep in nearby Tomales Bay, just a few miles to the south. Also likely, globs of the sticky substance may have floated great distances to be found along the coast. This happened before modern oil field pumping relieved natural stresses in the earth that once forced asphaltum to the surface.

Obsidian has two principal local sources. One is near present day Santa Rosa in Annadel Park—the stone is recognized by having faint but distinct striations. However, most of the blades found in SON-299 were made of a deep black obsidian, free of inclusions and discolorations, which was quarried in neighboring Napa County.

Red ochre or hematite (ferric oxide) and cinnabar are principal traits of the McClure Pattern. It was used ceremonially as face and body paints and often lined burials and coated artifacts. One source was the New Almaden mine near San Jose. In 1845, when a shaft was sunk, there was discovered an ancient tunnel some 50 or 60 feet in length at whose face, covered with caved roof material, were several Native American skeletons and rude stone milling tools.(4)

Steatite, or soapstone, primarily used for pipes during this period, was not found locally and was probably traded from distant sources in the Sierra Nevada and Coast Range mountains. Mica, actually muscovite, has a source to the south in neighboring Marin County on the Tiburon peninsula.

California prehistoric culture material is not as sculptural as the artifacts found in the Midwest. California Native Americans had minimal atl-atl weights, if any at all, and lacked the bannerstones, birdstones, spuds, and celts found in the East. Pottery was mostly restricted to the southern part of the state and watertight baskets served as the primary cooking utensil, water being heated with hot rocks. Historically, local Native Americans made world class baskets which are highly sought after by collectors.

Lithics, however, may have less variety in material, but outstanding examples of workmanship can be found throughout the state. In much of northern California, where obsidian was readily available, artifacts of remarkable quality were produced. Other materials used included cryptocrystalline quartz, such as cherts and jasper, and basalt, schist, and metamorphic stones.


In introducing California material culture to an unfamiliar audience, the reader should bear in mind that the State covers a large area and encompasses many cultures. This is best summarized in California Prehistory, edited by Jones and Klar, 2007. Moratto and Chartkoff's contribution to this epic effort best condenses this reality:

As we are now aware, there is no single cultural sequence (i.e., chronology)for any region of California, and most regions encompass many localities and sequences. Moreover, each region has its own peculiar history and traditions of archaeological work so that theoretical orientations, research foci, methods, and taxonomic schemes vary enormously.

SON-299 is no exception to this statement. However, it may represent one of the most complex cultures in California prehistory as demonstrated by the wide variety of excavated material and diagnostic features.

The destruction of the Kee Mound, ca. 1951. After years,of controversy with archaeologists, collectors, bureaucrats, and Native Americans, Robert Kee accepted an offer from a nursery in Santa Rosa for the mound to be used for compost and mulch. Sadly, this most important site was completely destroyed. Sifted piles left from pits dug the previous year can be seen, showing how little was actually dug during the latest excavation period. Porter and Watson were the first to excavate the Kee Mound in 1932, then Chenoweth, and lastly UC Berkeley in 1949 and 1950.

The author understands the importance of this collection from one of the most significant archaeological sites on the West Coast of the United States, and this collection will always be available for study. It is sad that, due to politics and ignorance, museums, academia, and Native Americans will not reciprocate in sharing their knowledge. Artifacts from CA-SON-299 in the collection of the Phoebe Hearst Museum at UC Berkeley—rightfully belonging to the Chenoweths—may be eligible for repatriation under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, (NAGPRA). The day may come when private collections shall be the keepers of America's heritage.

Shown in the background of these pages, Hardy Chenoweth's site map of the Kee Mound is exemplary of the efforts he made to document his collection. A self= taught amateur with no academic training, Hardy accepted remarkable responsibility excavating one of the major archaeological sites in California. His grid layout, though unique, was effective and placement of each artifact to its mound location was easily discerned by marking his artifacts with the grid number. Realizing its importance, Hardy shared a portion of the mound for excavation with the University of California Archaeological Survey conducted by Frank Fenenga. The approximately 2,700 square foot area is clearly outlined.


The destruction of the Kee Mound, ca. 1951. After years,of controversy with archaeologists, collectors, bureaucrats, and Native Americans, Robert Kee accepted an offer from a nursery in Santa Rosa for the mound to be used for compost and mulch. Sadly, this most important site was completely destroyed. Sifted piles left from pits dug the previous year can be seen, showing how little was actually dug during the latest excavation period. Porter and Watson were the first to excavate the Kee Mound in 1932, then Chenoweth, and lastly UC Berkeley in 1949 and 1950.