Local Archeologist Sheds Light on Stony Lake History

Local Archeologist Sheds Light on Stony Lake History

As we prepare to celebrate YMCA Storer Camps 100th Summer, we are humbled that our fair camp has such a rich history.  100 years seems like a long time and it is, as compared to and individuals human lifespan.  However, in the larger scope, we are reminded that Storer Camps establishment on the banks of Stony Lake in 1918 is a pretty recent event, compared to the overall history of the area, which spans 12,000 years.

Beyond naming the camper groups after the once local tribes of Miami, Ottawa and Potawatomi, did you know there’s a clearer historical connection between the land that camp occupies and these tribes? Did you know that the Stony Lake area is so rich in artifacts? Local Napolean township clerk and amateur Archeologist, Dan Wymer, reconstructs the environment around Camp Storer and Stony Lake to shed light on the history of the area.

“I have personally found hundreds of artifacts on the campsites and hunting grounds surrounding Stony Lake and the extensive wetlands that adjoin the lake. For 38 years I have walked the plowed fields and, when landowners permitted, conducted excavations. “My research indicates that at least 30 different groups of people occupied the Stony Lake area across a time span of 12,000 years.” – Dan Wymer, Amateur Archaelogist, Napolean, MI


Peek Through Time: Researcher has found thousands of American Indian artifacts in Jackson County

By Ken Wyatt | Jackson Citizen Patriot © 2017 MLive Media Group

Anyone familiar with Jackson County history knows about the American Indians who were here when the first settlers arrived.  Whap-ca-zeek and Pee-wy-tum are familiar names, as are those of great chiefs who played key roles in Michigan history—Okemos, Pontiac, Pokagon.

But what of the thousands upon thousands of nomads who inhabited this area long before tribal names such as Potawatomi, Chippewa, Huron, Wyandotte, Ottawa and others were registered in the annals of our history books?
In the historic sense, they were nameless phantoms. They lived, gathered food, mated and died, leaving nothing to mark theirpassage through this area’s ancient history.

Napoleon Township Clerk Dan Wymer, shown here as a teenager in 1965, has collected American Indian artifacts from more than 300 local sites.

But there are those who peel back the layers of time and have found thousands of remnants of that ancient past. Napoleon Township Clerk Dan Wymer was trained as a research scientist at Michigan Technological University in the late 1960s. Aside from a stint with the Army, he spent much of his career in information technology and is retired from General Motors’ EDS. However, his lifelong passion has been prehistoric archaeology in south-central Michigan — especially Jackson County.

Wymer has collected thousands of artifacts from more than 300 local sites.

“One of the first things people ask me is, ‘What tribe made that arrowhead?’ ” he said.
The answer invites a review of Jackson County’s Indian history — not the short history, but the long story.Wymer’s artifact collection contains items from three periods — the Paleo, Archaic and Woodland eras.

The Paleo period, roughly 9,000 to 14,000 years ago, was the first period in which American Indians lived in the “new world.” It was an era of “big-game hunters.” Caribou, mammoths and mastodons were the game, and artifacts include larger, fluted spear points and specialized tools for hunting large animals. The Archaic period followed the close of the Ice Age. It featured a shift from large to smaller game, with more reliance on seeds for food. Spear points from this era tend to be notched or stemmed. Finally, the Woodland period saw more movement toward agriculture, with the cultivation of corn, beans and squash. This was the era of arrowheads and smaller game. Wymer has found artifacts from each of these eras in Jackson County. They include spearheads, arrowheads, pottery fragments, knives, scraping tools, drills, engraving tools, axes, fire-cracked rock and even musket flints from more recent times.

Researcher has found thousands of American Indian artifacts in Jackson County

Wymer’s interest in archaeology dates back to childhood. “I grew up across from Stony Lake and started finding arrowheads at age 11,” he said. “As I became an adult and studied in college, I developed broader interests.My interest broadened more from the picking up of artifacts to the people — their way of life.” In a May 15, 2000, letter to the YMCA’s Camp Storer on Stony Lake, Wymer summarized the significance of the camp and lake: “I have personally found hundreds of artifacts on the campsites and hunting grounds surrounding Stony Lake and the extensive wetlands that adjoin the lake. For 38 years I have walked the plowed fields and, when landowners permitted, conducted excavations. “My research indicates that at least 30 different groups of people occupied the Stony Lake area across a time span of 12,000 years. The rarest sites in Michigan are those of the Paleo Indians — the first people to enter Michigan at the close of the Ice Age. Four of those extremely rare sites dating to around 10,000 B.C. are located at Stony Lake. “… To my knowledge, there’s no other location in Michigan with this many Paleo Indian sites clustered together.” Why is the Stony Lake area so rich in artifacts? Wymer reconstructs the environment to answer that question.

Dan Wymer Today

“The waters of Stony Lake covered a much larger area than today,” he wrote in his Camp Storer letter. “A combination of clearing the forests, artificially straightening creeks and rivers, and dredging ditches for swamp drainage lowered the water tables in this part of Michigan by about six feet in the 1800s.”

Wymer said he believes mammoth, mastodon, giant beaver and caribou were present in large numbers, making the area a magnet for hunters. Though the Stony Lake area has yielded many artifacts, there are many other productive sites in Jackson County. And though artifacts are the evidence of earlier inhabitants, they are not the aim of archaeology, according to Wymer. “Is the purpose to recover arrow points?” he asked. “No, the purpose is to recover data. When you’re excavating a site, you look for the distribution and association of other artifacts, all the elements of the data.”

A family story Dan Wymer’s interest in archaeology is rooted in his own past. His Grandma Marr’s family settled in the Irish Hills in the 1850s, and he tells a story she passed on from her grandparents:
“During one visit in warmer weather, there was a terrible tragedy. A group of Indians that included men, women and children had stopped at the farm asking for food. While they were eating, one of the mothers left her small child on a cradle board leaning against a tree unattended.

“At that time it was common practice to let pigs run loose on farms so they could forage for their own food. While nobody was looking, the pigs ate the Indian baby.

“When the Indians discovered what had happened, they were very upset. There was much shouting in the Indian language with none of the family able to understand what was being said. Her grandparents thought for sure the Indians were going to kill them in anger.

“Instead, the Indians left after a short while without harming anyone.”

“My brother and I both vividly remember listening to that story when we were small. The thought of being eaten alive by a pig waspretty scary.” The big book Dr. Wilbert B. Hinsdale was honored by his University of Michigan colleagues with the title “Father of Michigan Archaeology.” His masterwork, the “Archaeological Atlas of Michigan,” was published in 1931. Its dimensions — 19 by 24 inches — make it too large to be shelved with most books, but it is a prize for research collections in many Michigan libraries, including the Jackson District Library’s Carnegie branch.

For the first time, Hins-dale gathered data on American Indian sites in each county of Michigan, including Jackson County. He might have visited here, but his primary source of information was a network of farmers, guides and others acquainted with the fading record of the American Indian presence in each of the counties. Hinsdale documented at least 23 American Indian villages in Jackson County. He also mapped all known American Indian trails and river portages in the county, plus burial sites. A Jackson County map in Hinsdale’s atlas plots the general location of all of the villages. However, he was known to be devious — not giving specific locations, so as to frustrate amateur scavengers. Among Hinsdale’s sites are one along the Grand River in Jackson, two along the southwest shores of Big Portage Lake, one near Grass Lake, three along the Kalamazoo River just north of Concord, four in Tompkins Township and one near Spring Arbor now known as the “Falling Waters” Indian village. MSU research In the summer of 1968, a Michigan State University team of 13 students headed by Dr. Charles E. Leland, curator of the MSU Museum, conducted what was billed as the “first systematic site survey” of the Portage and Grand rivers. The survey started at Eaton Rapids and ended in Jackson. According to a Citizen Patriot report, the team discovered 12 large American Indian village sites and 25 camp sites. They collected artifacts dating from the 1800s back to about 9,000 B.C.

In the summer of 1973, a second MSU student team, under anthropology professor Joseph L. Chartkoff, returned to one of the large-village sites identified in the earlier project. It was located on the Grand River, on property 1.5 miles south of Berry Road, then owned by Rachel Clark and A.R. Stringham. The 10 students recovered artifacts from the late Archaic and early Woodland periods, about 3,000 to 300 B.C.

These artifacts were found in Rives Township and are evidence of the many American Indians who inhabited Jackson County for thousands of years.

Artifacts and Archaeology

What the artifacts tell us: Arrowheads and spear points are made from cherts — very hard rocks that can be sharpened. Flint is one kind of chert. Researcher Dan Wymer points out there is no local source of cherts in Jackson County. Thus, the arrowheads and other sharpened tools here were made from cherts mined elsewhere, such as Bayport (Saginaw Bay area), Mercer (Coshocton County, Ohio), Wyandotte (Harrison County, Ind.) and Flint Ridge (Licking County, Ohio). The presence of these cherts in Jackson County sheds light on the trade, travel and interaction between early inhabitants and those elsewhere.

Preserving history: What does a serious collector do with thousands of carefully catalogued artifacts collected over decades of archaeological digs? “I’ve begun exploring the possibilities,” Wymer says. “I want to preserve it (his collection) in such a way that it can’t be dispersed and sold, but will be available for archaeologists and others to study.” He is considering a couple of local
institutions — Camp Storer or the Ella Sharp Museum of Art and History.

Learn more: Anyone interested in Jackson County archaeology can find more information at the Michigan Archaeological Society website, www.miarch.org.

© 2017 MLive Media Group. Original Article


Dan Wymer will be a future guest on the podcast!  We are excited to sit down with him and talk about his childhood passion of Archeology and the many artifacts he has found around the banks of Stony Lake. More to come!

Dan will also be joining in on the 100th Summer Celebration June 30, 2018 speaking to his unique finds and the local history.

1 Comment

  1. Jerry Gray
    Jul 12, 2024

    Comment *Mr. Wymer
    My name is Jerry Gray. I happened across your piece recently and obviously very interested. My great grandfather Jester built Stony Lake farm in the early 1900’s and I spent a great deal of my youth there with my grandmother and grandfather Gray in th 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. You and I probably crossed paths in the farm fields and around the lake. Your archeology research is of great interest as I , at about 10 years old found a perfect spearhead point on the north shore of the lake just below the farm. Your research and the fact my great grandmother, maiden name Wright, first cousin with Orville and Wilber Wright has great meaning for me. Would enjoy talking with you. My number in Idaho is 208/830-1665

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Storer's 100th CelebrationJune 30, 2018
The big day is here.

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