Visual Reminders of Pittsylvania County's Native Americans

By Henry H. Mitchell

Artifacts and locations within present-day Pittsylvania County, Virginia, provide reminders of the Native Americans who once lived here.


Fish weirs


Bill Hathaway at Markham fish weir

Bill Hathaway is seen at the Banister River fish weir, alongside VA 683 at Markham. Pittsylvania's two mid-sized streams, the Banister River and the Pigg River, contain numerous stone dams (“weirs”) constructed for catching fish by Native Americans many centuries ago. Apparently the rivers were not only conducive to weir fishing, but the hydrological mechanics (related to size, depth, and both normal and flood-stage flow) of these rivers are such that the dams have been uniquely preserved.

There are two other weirs in the Banister within a mile's distance upstream. This is the only one of the group that is easily accessible. In fact, it is the most clearly defined weir that can be seen from a public roadway in Pittsylvania County.


Markham fish weir from downstream

The pool of the Markham fish weir is seen from downstream. The dam has obviously eroded and silted with the passage of time. It is thought that a platform made of saplings was originally positioned at an opening at the point of the dam. Its design was such that fish swimming upstream were unimpeded by the platform, but fish swimming downstream would be swept onto the platform, where they could be grabbed, netted, or speared by waiting fishermen.



Weir remnant at the VA 640 bridge

The Rev. Samuel Stone stands on the VA 640 Banister River bridge. At the right of the picture is seen the faint outline in the water of a remnant of a fish weir.



Close-up of weir remnant

The weir remnant at the VA 640 Banister River bridge is seen close-up.



Weir at Fitzgerald's Mill

The Rev. Samuel Stone stands astride perhaps the county's largest and most distinct weir, located about a mile downstream from the VA 640 Banister River Bridge. It is alongside the site of Fitzgerald's Mill, built in the early 1800's by an ancestor of the Rev. Stone, but long since destroyed, only a millrace remaining. The Rev. Stone grew up on the farm which includes this site, and recalls that residents of the community still used the weir for fishing during the early 1900's, the preferred method at that time being a wire mesh trap laid in the mouth of the weir, rather than the traditional sapling platform. (See the video History and Mystery on the Banister River.)

Just after this photograph was taken, a great blue heron glided along the river at approximately the location and height where the Rev. Stone had just posed for the shot. The incident underscored the location's ambience of natural and historical remoteness. Water rushing over the weir creates an almost startling roar, heard for quite a distance.



Pigg River fish weir

This very distinct weir is seen on the Pigg River near Snow Creek, northwest of Museville, off VA 741.



Stone points


Spear points

Stone points are common throughout Pittsylvania County. These examples, approximately seven and five inches long, are unusually large, and are often referred to as “spear points.” (Photo by Bill Hathaway, from the John J. Westbrook Collection.)



Quartz points

These two beautiful “arrowhead”-sized quartz points were found together by a young girl helping her grandmother set tomato plants in their garden near Chatham. The white quartz and clear quartz crystal are of jewelry quality, suggesting the possibility that these points were used decoratively or ceremonially.



Moore farm points

These are just a few examples of a large collection of stone points gathered by Doris Clapton (Mrs. Lindsey L.) Moore from the fields and roadways of her farm on the Milton Road in southeast Pittsylvania County, near the Dan River.



Mrs. Lindsey Moore and Sarah Mitchell

Doris “Dee” Moore shares the excitement of a Native American point with Sarah E. Mitchell, daughter of the author, on March 3, 1985. The photograph was taken just outside the museum on Mrs. Moore's farm, where she hosted many groups of school students.



Stone celts


Moore farm celts

The Doris C. Moore farm collection also includes these larger stone artifacts, or “celts.”



Stone celts

Heavy stone celts — including hoes, hammers, and hatchets (“tomahawks”) — seemingly performed many functions in hunting, farming, food preparation, and warfare. (From the collection of W. W. Simpson, Jr., of Hurt, Virginia.)



Game stones


Cylindrical stones

It is speculated that these biscuit-like stones from the Doris C. Moore collection may have once served as game objects, perhaps analogous to a hockey puck.



Spherical stone

This spherical stone, about twice the diameter of a golf ball, from the Doris C. Moore collection also suggests the possiblity of a game stone, or a lethal weapon if used in combination with a sling.



Miscellaneous shapes

These miscellaneous shapes indicate either game or gaming (gambling) stones. (From the Simpson collection.)



Bone artifacts


Fish hook

This apparent fish hook, made of bone, was found near the Staunton River in northern Pittsylvania County. (From the Simpson collection.)



Scrapers

These bones appear to have been modified for the purpose of scraping and working with animal hides. One can imagine that the resulting “blade” at right could be used to scrape a hide draped over the thigh and knee of the user. The tool at left appears to be an awl. The one in the middle may have served both functions. (From the Simpson collection.)



Harpoon bits

Found along a stream, these appear to be remnants of broken harpoon parts, once threaded with thongs. (From the Simpson collection.)



Tenderizers?

The function of these bone artifacts is unknown, although they do resemble modern meat-tenderizing tools. (From the Simpson collection.)



Pottery


Pottery

This delicate remnant of pottery was found shattered, but these pieces could be reassembled. (From the Simpson collection.)



Pottery shards

These shards of local pottery are decorated with mostly geometric shapes. (From the Westbrook Collection, photo by Bill Hathaway.)



Tobacco pipes

Remnants of Native American clay pipes, found near the Dan River in Pittsylvania County, are reminders of the fact that Native American tobacco became the economic foundation of Virginia from early colonial days to the late twentieth century. (From the Doris C. Moore collection.)



European ware

At times, fragments of imported china and glass are found intermingled with Native American artifacts. This may be simply later refuse from the households of European settlers and their descendants, or as the late John J. Westbrook suggested, it in some cases may be examples of adaptive reuse of European trading goods by local Native Americans. No attempt has been made to professionally determine the date of origin of this particular piece of chinaware. (From the Westbrook Collection, photo by Bill Hathaway.)



European glassware

This, as the item above, was found in an area rich with Native American artifacts. The glass is brown and contains fine bubbles. Some knowledgeable observers have speculated that it may be early Portuguese glass, but it has not been professionally analyzed. Again, it may be settlers' midden, or it may be trading goods reconfigured by local Native Americans. The precise and complex edge suggests purposeful reshaping by someone. (From the Westbrook Collection, photo by Bill Hathaway.)



Mounds


Potato Hill

There are a number of unusual earth features around Pittsylvania County which seemingly cannot be explained purely in terms of the local geology. Some appear to be entirely manmade; but most are more likely human elaborations on existing geological features. This mound (“Potato Hill”) near Hurt is one example selected by the late John J. Westbrook as a possible ancient construction by indigenous inhabitants. (Photo by Bill Hathaway.)



Notes


This website is sponsored by Mitchells Publications.