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Modern Lives Dwell in the Indian Past
Sunday, October 20, 2002; Page C05
By LINDA WHEELER
Washington Post Staff Writer
"Indian Point thrusts into Potomac Creek like a muscular arm trying to hold
back the tide that has eaten away the shoreline of this Stafford County
peninsula, revealing intriguing bits of history while dragging acres of land
into the water.
For centuries, this spit 12 miles east of Route 95 was a Patawomeck Indian
village. This was the place where historians believe Pocahontas was
kidnapped in 1613 by an English seaman -- and now it is the place where a
dozen families, living in houses built 50 years ago, have become the
sometimes reluctant stewards of what the Indians left behind.
When they dig their gardens in the spring, they routinely turn up pottery
shards, pipe stems and arrowheads. But when domesticity makes larger
demands -- say, an addition to a house or an erosion-control project -- many
of them discover the conflict here between the living and the dead.
Chey and Robert DeBlasi learned that when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
told them they couldn't excavate their steep shorefront hill and create a
sweeping lawn down to a new bulwark that would keep their property from
disappearing. They were told that digging would disturb the remnants of the
historic village and burial grounds.
So the DeBlasis are getting used to the idea of building their seawall along
the existing shoreline and adding fill dirt to the hill to stabilize it. "We
are in compliance," Chey DeBlasi said. "We are preserving what is there. We
won't move or touch a thing."
Or, as U.S. Army Corps scientist Hal Wiggins put it, "we are entombing the
village." Entombing might work in some places to guard the buried history,
but in other areas that are more open, no trespassing signs are posted, and
relic hunting is not allowed.
Modern environmental and historic-protection laws mean that residents here
must make their peace daily with the past -- and some have done it more
comfortably than others. Charles "Chuck" Garrison built jetties when he
arrived in 1956, but now that they need repair, he must get permission.
"That's all garbage," he grumbled. "I have taken good care of my land. Now I
need a permit to build a birdhouse."
Garrison's land has eroded as far as the swimming pool, and he worries that
the creek will take his house one day. "Nature has taken away that land, and
I want to bring that sand back," he said.
Erosion has brought the shoreline right to the perimeter of the old village.
A 1996 archaeological study documented the trove of artifacts still
scattered across the point: In one relatively small excavation, 10,203 of
them were discovered. Most were pieces of pottery, some marked with the
distinctive cord impression favored by Indians here.
"American Indians have lived on that land as far back as we can document,"
Wiggins said. "There is a wealth of archaeology at Indian Point" -- and
residents don't have to dig to find it. All they have to do is walk the
beach to encounter artifacts that have washed away and been brought back by
Artist Linda Fellers, who lives with her family at the tip of Indian Point,
has display cases of the treasures she has collected. She knew about the
Indian legacy when she moved here eight years ago, and although she, like
Garrison, would like to restore some of her eroded property, she admires the
zeal of those who protect the claims of history. She said Wiggins, who
delivers the news about what may and may not be done, has become "a dear
Earlier archeological work, in the 1930s, also documented an extensive array
of burial plots. Before the houses, 134 bodies were unearthed and taken to
the Smithsonian Institution, and that is where a second front has opened in
this battle between time and tide: The descendants of the early Indians want
the bones back.
But Robert Two Eagles Green, chief of the 427-member Patawomeck tribe in the
Stafford County area, said the tribe must overcome a legal obstacle before
it can make a formal request. Having insufficient records of its history,
the tribe has not been recognized by the state, and William & Mary
anthropology students are helping in their research efforts.
"We want our ancestors to sleep in peace," Green said.
Lesley "Buddy" Oden is among the Indian Point residents who has taken pains
not to disturb the remains.
Although the county gave him a permit to build a new septic drain field and
a larger house on the four acres he bought in 1995, he delayed the project
after Wiggins asked for time to arrange a dig.
Where the drain field was to go, historians from the College of William and
Mary discovered a cache of arrowheads and pottery pieces dating to the
1400s, Oden said.
"When I bought the property, I didn't realize all that stuff was there,"
said Oden, who owns a heating and air conditioning business. "It makes me
feel a part of that Indian mystique, to walk where they walked. In the
summer, when we see the fireflies, we talk about whether the Indians are
He hasn't built that new drain field or the house to go with it."
© 2002 The Washington Post
Posted by Mikola 18 -- NDN AIM
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