December 22, 2000
Serving Western Deschutes County
Sisters, Oregon

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The Nugget Newspaper, Sisters, Oregon.
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Eric Dolson, Publisher

Archaeology buffs study and help to protect Sisters sites
By Craig F. Eisenbeis

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When the Deschutes Basin Land Trust acquired the original site of historic Camp Polk, the primary purpose was to protect and enhance wildlife and fisheries habitat.

However, thanks to history and a dedicated group of archaeology buffs, the trust got considerably more in the bargain.

"This is a place that was the earliest settled spot in Central Oregon," said Brad Chalfant, Executive Director of the Trust.

He went on to praise the contributions by the Archaeological Society of Central Oregon. ASCO is presently in the process of conducting surveys on the historic site.

"ASCO has located some of the old Hindman homestead buildings," said Chalfant. "They haven't yet discovered the precise location of the military encampment, but they're narrowing it down."

Camp Polk was established on Squaw Creek in 1865 by U.S. Army volunteers from Polk County.

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At the time, there was a perceived Indian threat to construction workers who were building a road across the mountains. Since regular army resources were all committed to the American Civil War, the volunteer force was formed.

The Indian threat turned out to be nonexistent, and the camp was abandoned the following year. Left behind, however, were eight buildings and an excellent beginning for a future homestead.

Samuel Hindman claimed the site in 1870 and became the first permanent settler in what would become the Sisters area.

That is the site that now intrigues Central Oregon's archaeologists.

"The work of ASCO is integral to what we do," Chalfant said. "It tells us who we are and what we're doing here. This is a partnership that we will be working in for years to come."

Chalfant said that there will be a formal dedication of the Camp Polk site next spring.

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ASCO welcomes interest from the general public. While very few of the members are professional archaeologists, they all share an active interest in the study and preservation of archaeological sites. ASCO's programs and field trips are open to the public at no charge.

Susan Gray is ASCO's new vice-president, and she's in the process of planning future events.

In just the last few years, ASCO has sponsored field trips to rock art sites, the Glass Buttes quarries, Hell's Canyon, Ochoco cinnabar mines, John Day paleontology sites and many more.

"I am working right now on the field trip plans for next year," Gray said. "Possible trips include the Owyhee, Canyon de Chelley, Lava Beds National Monument, the Lost Forest, Fossil Lake, and the Alvord Desert -- to name a few.

"These field trips have served not only as a fun way to spend the summer," said Gray, "but also as a wonderful way to be educated, not only in archaeology, but also in geography, botany, history, geology -- you name it."

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ASCO's purpose is to promote the preservation and protection of Central Oregon's history -- and prehistory.

The organization offers professional quality training to interested persons and participates in a number of sanctioned research projects.

Most of the organization's projects are conducted under the auspices of the Central Oregon Heritage Group, with whom ASCO has a partnership. COHG is comprised of professional archaeologists from the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

The partnership has provided hundreds of volunteer hours to public agencies charged with protecting Central Oregon's heritage.

Camp Polk isn't the only Sisters area site on ASCO's agenda right now. Gray said that Don Zettel, archaeologist for the Sisters Ranger District, is their "professional advisor," and the organization has assisted him with a number of survey projects.

One active survey in the Sisters area is on yet another Deschutes Basin Land Trust holding -- their first acquisition, Indian Ford Meadow. The site is at the corner of Camp Polk Road and Indian Ford Road.

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Chalfant reports that ASCO's preliminary work at the Indian Ford site has helped locate and define remnants of the old wagon road through the area. Chalfant also says that ASCO is documenting historic Native American seasonal use of Indian Ford Meadow.

Bill Bancroft, ASCO President, lists promotion of Native American heritage among the organization's specific goals.

Stewardship is an important aspect of ASCO's work, so the organization has to maintain a constant balance between site preservation and public education.

"On the one hand," said Gray, "it is important to educate everyone about their cultural heritage and their responsibility for protecting it....But, on the other hand, because of unscrupulous members of the public...we are wary of putting too much information out there."

Gray's concern is justified. Local vandalism and graffiti have been on the increase, and rock formations and caves have been frequent targets. Public and private organizations are banding together to educate the public about the problem, repair damage, and help to prevent or reduce future incidents.

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ASCO is one of the groups using public education to prevent vandal attacks. The organization hopes to enlist community-minded members to help preserve the treasures that often lie, literally, at their feet.

For security reasons, sanctioned archaeological projects and sensitive sites are not open to the public.

ASCO holds only five general meetings each year, and one of them is coming up next month, on January 18. Details will be announced soon, and the public will be invited. Membership fees are nominal ($15 per year and $20 per family). Membership is not required to attend a general meeting or to sign up for a field trip.

Call 330-6326.

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