Discoveries from the Andy Kyle Archeological Collection at the Sam Houston Center

By Lisa Miesch, Archivist/Museum Curator, Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center


Over a period of many years, Liberty, Texas resident and avocational archeologist Andrew James “Andy” Kyle (1915-2014) collected prehistoric artifacts from numerous sites in southeast Texas. He eventually amassed a collection of more than 30,000 prehistoric artifacts from 95 southeast Texas surface sites in nine counties, including Liberty, Polk, Jasper, Tyler, and Hardin Counties. In 1977, he donated his collection to the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center.

Surface collections such as Kyle’s make up much of the archeological record in Texas. Because of erosion and damage from modern construction activities, there is little information available from stratified or buried sites. While not as complete as that from stratified sites, data from surface sites can still be significant. This is especially the case with Kyle’s collection, as he painstakingly documented and recorded his discoveries by site. The sites represent an area between the Trinity and Sabine Rivers and are representative not only of southeast Texas archeology, but include Louisiana influences as well.

Points from the Andy Kyle Collection on display in the Sam Houston Center museum.

In 2017, as the Sam Houston Center was planning the renovation of its museum, the Center requested the Houston Archeological Society (HAS) to examine the Kyle collection and assist in identifying and selecting artifacts for a new exhibit on the prehistory of the Center’s ten-county region. During this process and during subsequent examination of the collection, HAS made numerous discoveries that have increased our knowledge of the earliest inhabitants of southeast Texas, and their investigation continues.

The majority of the artifacts consist of projectile points (stone tools used for arrows, spears, and darts and commonly known as “arrowheads”), but also included are cutting and scraping tools, drills, grinding stones, and pottery. A significant number of items were constructed from heat-treated petrified wood. They range from the Paleoindian (ca. 13,500-8,000 BP*) to the Late Prehistoric periods (ca. 1,400-500 BP).

One of the most significant discoveries from the collection was the presence of Paleoindian projectile points, including the bases of two broken Clovis points. These points are from the Wood Springs site, only 0.4 mile southeast of the Sam Houston Center. (Wood Springs is a minor tributary of the Trinity River). This site was likely a seasonal site for Clovis-era nomadic hunters following big game animals, as opposed to a permanent campsite. The site’s abundant water would have been attractive to humans and animals alike.

Clovis Point 1 (obverse)
Clovis Point 2 (obverse)

The points represent the first reported occurrence of the Clovis culture in Liberty County, documenting the earliest occupation of the area to at least 13,000 years ago. Seven additional artifacts of Clovis affinity from the Wood Springs site were also identified as well as two tooth fragments from a mastodon and a mammoth. Large mammals like mammoths and mastodons were hunted for food by the Clovis people. These animals went extinct about 10,000-11,000 years ago. The larger fragment is highly polished and may have served as a tool. All of these artifacts may be viewed in the museum’s prehistory exhibit.

Fragments of mastodon tooth.

[Images are taken from The Prehistory of Southeast Texas: Observations from the Andy Kyle Archeological Collection, Power Point presentation by Wilson W. “Dub” Crook III, Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, October 2, 2018.]

The Savoy site is another of the more prolific sites represented in the Kyle Collection. It is located about 2.6 miles southwest of the Moss Hill community in north-central Liberty County. Among the significant items from this site discovered in the collection by HAS members were 58 sherds from a large oval-shaped vessel, that Andy Kyle had bagged separately from all the other sherds he collected at that site. The sherds have sweeping curvilinear designs made by a bone or wood tool (“stamped”). Two large sections of the vessel were retrofitted by HAS members, which indicated a large oval-shaped bowl about 12 inches across.

Mabin Stamped var. Joe’s Bayou vessel

The sherds are from a “Mabin Stamped” vessel, an early ceramic type from the Woodland Period (2,000-1,400 BP). After extensive examination of the sherds’ decoration, the piece has been tentatively identified as “Mabin Stamped, var. Joe’s Bayou,” a rare variety of ceramics previously found at only five sites in eastern Louisiana and western Mississippi, adjacent to the Mississippi River. This marks the first known occurrence of this type outside the Lower Mississippi Valley as well as in the state of Texas. In each of the other cases, only a single sherd was found. Considering the number of sherds found and the likely size of the vessel, this piece in the Kyle collection represents the best-known example of this type of pottery. It is the only decorated piece of pottery in the entire Kyle collection. It was likely made in the Lower Mississippi Valley and traded or exchanged between various groups before ending up at the Savoy site. (This item is not currently on exhibit.)

Detail of stamping design on exterior of the vessel

[Images are taken from The Prehistory of Southeast Texas: Observations from the Andy Kyle Archeological Collection, Power Point presentation by Wilson W. “Dub” Crook III, Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, October 2, 2018.]

The Sam Houston Center’s museum is currently open by appointment only. Please call 936-336-8821 to reserve an appointment. For more information, please visit the Center’s web page at https://www.tsl.texas.gov/shc/index.html.

[*BP = “Before Present”] What do different date abbreviations mean? Crow Canyon Archaeological Center https://www.crowcanyon.org/

Sources:

Crook, Wilson W. III, ed., The Andy Kyle Archeological Collection, Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, Houston Archeological Society, Report No. 29, 2017.

Crook, Wilson W. III et al., “A Rare Mabin Stamped, Var. Joe’s Bayou Vessel from the Savoy Site (41LB27), Liberty County, Texas,” The Journal 141: 53-61, Houston Archeological Society, 2019.

The Prehistory of Southeast Texas:  Observations from the Andy Kyle Archeological Collection, Power Point presentation by Wilson W. “Dub” Crook III, Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, October 2, 2018.

SHC Museum Activity Book Available Online

Atascosito: The History of Southeast Texas is the permanent exhibit on display at the Sam Houston Center. The exhibit is currently closed to visitors due to the coronavirus. Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

While our Sam Houston Center exhibit, Atascosito: The History of Southeast Texas is not currently open due to the coronavirus, we are offering a bit of off-site fun and games for kids with a museum activity book available for download. Atascosito chronicles the region’s past through informative displays from the Center’s collections of artifacts, photographs, maps, and historical documents. Although the exhibit appeals to an audience of all ages, the displays serve as engaging educational tools for teaching the history of the area. Interactive devices built into the exhibit are aimed at capturing the attention of younger visitors. TSLAC celebrated in 2018 the museum renovation with a “grand reopening” party and tours. View images of that event here.

Interior view of Atascosito: The History of Southeast Texas. The large volume on display in the first exhibit case is the executive record book from Sam Houston’s second term as president of the Republic of Texas. Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

The exhibit showcases the developments of this corner of Texas, including its river economy, timber industry, rice agriculture, and expansive oil fields, while also sharing stories of the thousands of years of growth and movement of people through what has become the ten-county region of Jasper, Jefferson, Hardin, Liberty, Orange, San Jacinto, Polk, Newton, Chambers, and Tyler. Two bases of Clovis points dated to around 11,000 B.C.E. that offer the earliest evidence of human activity in the region are highlights of the exhibit, along with a tooth fragment from a Columbian mammoth. More recent items on view are an executive record book kept by Texas Republic President Sam Houston and artifacts from 19th century steamboats. The museum activity book references subjects covered in the exhibit and other Texas themes in word puzzles, coloring pages, and more.

DIY Museum Activity Book

Explore themes related to the Atascosito District of Texas with the puzzles, games, and coloring pages inside. Click on the image or the link below and print out your own color copy.

For more information about the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, visit: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/shc. Contact via email at SamHoustonCenter@tsl.texas.gov or call 936-336-8821.

“Wish You Were Here!” Exhibit Opens at Sam Houston Center

The Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center presents the exhibit, “Wish You Were Here!” now on display in the Center’s museum. “Wish You Were Here!” highlights historic Southeast Texas vacation spots, industry, culture and recreational opportunities through a selection of postcards, tourism publications and historic documents curated from the research collections.

Among other sources, the exhibit pulls from the substantial Don Kelly Southeast Texas Postcard Collection, which covers almost the entirety of the 20th century and features visual documentation of the Southeast Texas oil refineries, architecture, rivers, railroads and much more.

An illustration of the front of the Pleasure Pier amusement complex in Port Arthur, located on Lake Sabine. The pier is pictured as completed, even though it was unfinished at the time of publication. 1991.183-964, Don Kelly Southeast Texas postcard collection. Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Postcards promoted tourist attractions in the region and tell us about what appealed to those seeking leisurely adventure at a particular moment in time. Pleasure Pier in Port Arthur entertained visitors to the Gulf Coast and became a hot-spot for the local young people after the Pleasure Pier bridge was constructed in 1931. The amusements included a roller coaster, midway games and a dance hall with live music.

A color-added photograph of the Jefferson Theatre in Beaumont. 1991.183-236, Don Kelly Southeast Texas postcard collection. Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Built in 1927, Beaumont’s historic Jefferson Theater was the site of a world premier of the film “It’s a Wonderful Life” twenty years later. The lovely theater is still in operation and stands as an impressive reminder of the glamorous era of film in the United States.

Sour Lake’s springs and hotel were a draw because of the purported health benefits of the sulphur in the water. The sulphur was also an indicator of oil in the area and the petroleum industry transformed the community into a boomtown in the early 1900s.

A photograph of Springs Hotel in Sour Lake. 1991.183-1384, Don Kelly Southeast Texas postcard collection. Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Postcards and promotional materials contribute to our material culture and reveal how people interacted with their environment and each other. Visit “Wish You Were Here!” for a fascinating view of the past.

A component of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC), the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center houses local government records, rare books, manuscripts, archival materials, photographs and other media formats covering a wide range of Southeast Texas history. In addition to the archives and museum, four historic buildings and the Jean Price Daniel Home and Archives are located on the Center’s grounds. Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit https://www.tsl.texas.gov/shc for more information.

New Exhibit Coming Soon! “Women’s Power, Women’s Vote” Opens in June

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) will unveil its new exhibit, “Women’s Power, Women’s Vote” on June 17, 2019. On display through March 2020 in our lobby gallery, this exhibit is timed to coincide with the centenary of Texas’s ratification of the 19th Amendment. Texas ratified the constitutional amendment on June 28, 1919, making it the ninth of the 36 states needed for national approval. This exhibit explores the motivation for and evolution of this struggle and is documented through the personal collections of Texas women and government records. The 19th Amendment officially became law in August of 1920.

A group of women registering to vote in the primary election of 1918 pose in front of the Travis County Courthouse.
Travis County Women Register to Vote, 1918. W.D. Hornaday Collection, Prints and Photographs Collection, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission. #1975/70-5449

The grand opening event will take place on Tuesday, June 18, from 3 to 5 p.m. with refreshments and selected items on view from our collections, in addition to the main exhibit. We will also host a panel discussion, featuring:

  • Nancy Baker Jones, PhD (moderator), President, Board of Directors, Ruthe Winegarten Foundation for Texas Women’s History;
  • Grace Chimene, President, Board of Directors, League of Women Voters of Texas;
  • Nikki Van Hightower, PhD, former Women’s Advocate for the City of Houston, Harris County Treasurer, city liaison for the 1977 International Women’s Year National Conference, and activist.

Located in Austin, TSLAC offers ongoing exhibits in the lobby of the Lorenzo de Zavala building at 1201 Brazos St. Monday through Friday, 8-5 and monthly on Second Saturdays from 9-4. For directions and parking information, see https://www.tsl.texas.gov/visit. Exhibits are free and open to the public.