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Amazing Arrowheads

0702
 2018


Most of the artifacts in the Arnold Smith Collection at the Giddings Public Library and Cultural Center were found in Lee County while Smith was an employee of Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative.

By Denise Gamino

GIDDINGS — Beginning in 1924, at age 7, Arnold Smith walked the land in Lee County with an eagle-eye gaze that made him one of the best hunters in Texas.
He wasn’t looking for animals.
He was searching for history.
 

Arnold Smith worked for 36 years as a utility pole digger for Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative.
Some of what he found is 10,000 years old: spear points made by the earliest humans who lived in what is now Texas — Paleo Indians — who hunted prehistoric bison, mammoths and giant ground sloths. Over decades, Smith unearthed thousands of other American Indian artifacts, including arrow points, dart points, knife blades, tools, smoking pipes made of stone and other objects chiseled by hand from native materials.

Much of the more than 2,400 artifacts came from numerous peanut fields that once blanketed much of Lee County. Peanut farmers would tell Smith, “We’re getting ready to plow, so come out and pick up all these dang rocks.”

Over the decades, Smith amassed one of the largest privately owned American Indian artifact collections in Texas. And before he died in 2014 at age 97, his personal obsession became a public collection.

Smith’s artifacts are permanently displayed at the Giddings Public Library and Cultural Center, just a block off U.S. 290. It’s a convenient stop for anyone curious about how ancient people hunted at the end of the Ice Age and how Tonkawa, Comanche and Apache Indians survived on the blackland prairie hundreds of years ago.

“Arnold Smith’s quest for arrowheads and other American Indian artifacts started out as a money-making venture,” the exhibit text states. Smith and his father, Leslie Martin Smith of Giddings, used to lay out lines to fish and then hunt for arrowheads while waiting for the fish to bite. They sold the vibrant-colored arrowheads to dealers, according to the exhibit, and the “extra cash came in handy in the mid-1920s.”

The collection’s curator, professional Indian artifact collector Chad Roesch of Pflugerville, visited Smith many times to learn about the collection. Smith told Roesch, “I was a boy when the Dust Bowl was happening. It wasn’t anything to go out and pick up 100 (arrowheads) a day. Wind was eroding the terrain down pretty quick.”

It is difficult to match one arrow point or artifact in Smith’s collection to one tribe, Roesch said, because American Indians were often nomadic and traded with each other.

“Many times you’ll find an arrowhead in Central Texas that belongs in Oklahoma,” he said. “There are some rare pieces in there.”

As an adult, Smith worked for 36 years as a utility pole digger for Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative. Early on, he had to dig 5-foot or deeper holes by hand. He met many Lee County landowners who let him hunt for Indian artifacts on their property in his spare time, Roesch said.

Smith had good luck finding arrowheads and artifacts around the communities of Manheim, Fedor, Lincoln and Loebau. He also liked to hunt along Rabbs Creek, Paint Creek and West Yegua Creek.

The collection eventually outgrew Smith’s house in Giddings. By the time he donated his collection to the City of Giddings, the arrowheads and artifacts were in frames, shadow boxes, buckets and plastic storage bins in a backyard shed.

“He said for awhile after he retired that he had a few places that he could go to search for artifacts, and he did,” said Pamela Hutchinson, director of the Giddings library. “And then he said, ‘I had so many, I didn’t have any place else to put any more, so I just sat at home.’ ”

“He was a real humble person,” Hutchinson said. “He was so humble he didn’t really recognize the value of what he had in his storage shed.”

On opening day of the Arnold Smith Collection at the Giddings Library in 2003, Smith choked up. “He couldn’t even talk he was so overwhelmed,” Hutchinson said.

Fellow collector Roesch knows about the emotions that come with building a large arrowhead collection. Someone who finds an arrowhead realizes that “no one has touched this since an Indian left this here, and that’s a pretty overwhelming feeling,” he said.

Smith was enthusiastic about sharing his collection with others. He even brought little bags of broken arrowheads to the unveiling ceremony and gave them to children to nurture their curiosity, Roesch said.

The collection at the library “has been a wonderful asset,” Hutchinson said. “It’s famous throughout Texas, and so we’ve had school students come through and tour the collection. And people from all over the United States have come by to visit.

“This is a real big attraction.”

The Giddings Public Library and Cultural Center is at 276 North Orange Street in Giddings. Find out more at giddingspubliclibrary.org.




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