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The Curtsinger Spear

Story and photos by John T Pafford

It can be easily stated that much of the enjoyment of being a temporary caretaker of a great artifact can be derived not only from the intrinsic qualities of the piece itself, but also from knowledge of provenance. Much of the meaning that we subconsciously attach to an artifact is derived simply from the location of an arti­fact’s discovery and the history of its ownership. As a result, it is interesting to note that although many important artifacts have been seemingly scattered to the four winds, a great number of them work their way back into the hands of those close to home. Certainly, this is the case for the beautiful Clovis known as the “Curtsinger Spear”.


The “Curtsinger Spear” was discovered in 1932 near Chaplin in Nelson County, Kentucky, by Edd Curtsinger, while walking a plowed field on the property of his son, Earl. The terrain near Chaplin is typical of central Kentucky, with its rolling hillsides, meandering streams, and scattered springs. This type of terrain was well-suited to provide Paleo hunters with the necessary resources for the pursuit of large game in the area. The “Curtsinger Spear”, made from colloquially-named Carter Cave flint, was undoubtedly utilized as a hafted knife, indicated by its appar­ent edge wear patterns, and may have been used for carving, evidenced by a polished burin at the tip. The skill of the prehistoric knapper responsible for the creation of the “Curtsinger Spear” is apparent with the flute chan­nel having been struck through a dense fossil inclusion within the highly siliceous material.

The combination of rarity, size, qual­ity, and beauty in material ensured that the “Curtsinger Spear” remained in the family and was kept by Edd’s son, Earl. It was 30 years before the highly sentimental piece left the Curtsinger family when, on April 5, 1962, Tom C. Fuller persuaded Earl to relinquish the piece, but not with­out the help of James Gordon from Mount Eden, Kentucky.

The piece remained in Tom Fuller’s collection up until his death in 2005, at which time, during the annual Nashville, Tennessee G.I.R.S. show, the collection was liq­uidated. Fortunately, prior to the opening of the show, a friend of mine was given the opportunity to secure the “Curtsinger Spear” before any public offering. The transaction concerning the piece was to be kept as discreet as possible, so naturally everyone in theshow found out and began to disseminate the news.

A couple of months after the show, I decided to spend an evening making some telephone calls and decided to catch up with a good friend of mine, Willie Palmer. I assumed that the story of the Clovis changing hands was common knowledge and spent about half an hour of routine conversation before discussing the sub­ject. I was surprised by the fact that Willie was totally unaware of the piece or the fact that it had recently changed  hands; however, I found that he became completely beside himself when I related the history of the piece. James Gordon of Mount Eden, Kentucky, who helped Tom Fuller purchase the “Curtsinger Spear”, actually had been one of Willie’s close friends. Also, Willie’s wife, Donna, had grown up and lived in Nelson County, Kentucky prior to their mar- riage. Needless to say, it became Willie’s top priority to bring the piece back home! After about a month of grudge grinding, negotiating, and per­sistence, Willie managed to convince the owner to relinquish the “Curtsinger Spear” and allow its return to Kentucky.

As an epilogue, one day while Willie was looking through his contacts from years past, he noticed the name Tom Fuller and a note attached saying they met at an arrowhead show. He had also noted that Tom had invited him to his home to view his large Clovis point. Although at that time Willie thought it was either a fake or an exaggeration, he kicks himself to this day for not following up with Tom.