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2. Emergency Archeology in the Missouri River Basin:
The Role of the Missouri Basin Project and the Midwest Archeological
Center in the Interagency Archeological Salvage Program, 1946-1975.
Thiessen, Thomas D.
Nineteen ninety-nine marks the thirtieth anniversary
of the establishment of the Midwest Archeological Center, a professional
of the Midwest Region of the National
Park Service. Thirty years earlier, the Center was created from the staff and
facilities of the former Missouri Basin Project office of the River
Basin Surveys program of the Smithsonian
Institution, which was established in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1946. During the
first half-dozen years of its existence, the Midwest Archeological
Center continued the mission of its predecessor,
the Missouri Basin Project: "emergency" or "salvage" archeology at water resource
development projects within the vast Missouri River Basin, primarily along
the Missouri River in North and
South Dakota. For nearly thirty years, these two offices oversaw the investigation
and recovery of archeological data threatened by the water resource development
programs of other federal
bureaus, primarily the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation.
As a result of new federal legislation as well as program shifts within the
National Park Service, the
Centermission, funding sources, and organizational structure changed over time.
Eventually the Center evolved into an office designed solely to support the
management responsibilities of National Park System areas. After 1975, it no
longer engaged in archeological salvage investigations in conjunction with
water resource development projects.
Together, the stories of these two offices represent a rich tradition of archeological research in
Americaheartland. What follows is a brief review of the role of the Missouri Basin Project
and the Midwest Archeological Center in the Interagency Archeological Salvage Program
between 1946 and 1975. The history of the River Basin Surveys program has been summarized
by Jesse D. Jennings and James R. Glenn, but their papers do not focus exclusively on the
Missouri Basin Project.1 The present work grew out of an effort initiated by the author several
years ago to compile an administrative history of the Midwest Archeological Center, an undertaking
that is still incomplete. However, two articles and this review have resulted to date.
This brief history has been compiled largely from records that survive at the Midwest Archeological
Center. Documents archived at the National Archives and the National Anthropological
Archives in Washington, D.C., as well as at the National Park Service's Harpers Ferry Center
in West Virginia, were also utilized. Unfortunately, lack of funding precluded the author from
visiting these repositories in person, forcing a reliance on correspondence and telephone calls
to identify relevant holdings. Consequently, important documentation was undoubtedly
overlooked because of this limitation, but may someday fill the gaps that are evident in the
information presented below.
Many individuals assisted this retrospective in different ways. F.A. Calabrese provided encouragement
and made available his extensive personal archive of documents dating back to his
1973 arrival at the Center. Mark J. Lynott also provided encouragement and volunteered to
search for key documents at the National Anthropological Archives during visits to Washington,
D.C. W. Raymond Wood and the late Wilfred D. Logan furnished documents from their personal
archives and shared their memories of important events in the Center's history. Dr. Wood also
graciously allowed me to select prints from his personal photograph archive, as did Robert K.
Nickel. Wilfred M. Husted loaned a photograph of his 1969 Fort Union Trading Post excavation
crew for inclusion. Lawrence Tomsyck, former Administrative Officer of both the Missouri
Basin Project and the Midwest Archeological Center, also shared his recollections. Special
thanks are due Bobbie H. Ferguson of the Bureau of Reclamation for sharing archival documents
she discovered during her own research into the history of the archeological salvage program
and for clarifying my understanding of the complex arrangements by which the salvage program
was funded. The late Robert L. Stephenson and Jesse D. Jennings read and offered comment
on drafts of this paper, as did J.J. Hoffman, William B. Butler, Stanley A. Ahler, and W. Raymond
Wood. Calvin R. Cummings, David Nathanson, and Douglas R. Givens provided information
for the study. Richard E. Jensen helped identify River Basin Surveys staff in photographs.
Gratitude is extended to all of these individuals.
Recently a number of reminiscent articles by persons who participated in Interagency Archeological
Salvage Program work in the Missouri River Basin have appeared in print. Articles of
this nature, which hopefully will continue to be published, illuminate the personal experience
of doing archeological salvage work in the Plains and complement the program history presented
in this study.
What follows is only a general summary of the history of the Interagency Archeological Salvage
Program and the interrelationships that developed among the participating organizations.
The salvage program was of long duration, organizationally complex, geographically far ranging,
and highly productive of research results. Its operation and resulting contributions to
knowledge can be assessed from a number of perspectives, both historically and scientifically.
A detailed history of the program, or of the specific involvement of any of its participating
organizations, remains to be written.