I got a nice email the other day from Sam about the archaeological significance of the Osage Orange, so without her permission, but hopefully with her forgiveness, I’ll quote from that email:
North American archaeologists are quite interested in Osage
Oranges. The trees really had a limited range in late prehistory, yet
the wood makes the best bows around–positively legendary in the
chronicles of early exploration and settlement. Frank Schambach was
thinking about all the nifty goodies buried at Spiro, Oklahoma, and the
fact that archaeologists really didn’t have an explanation for how all
the high-value material derived from a wide-ranging long-distance
trading network had ended up there–more than anywhere else across the
contemporary Southeast. He figured they had to have something
of high value that they were trading for all the fancy goods they were
putting in the graves. He postulated that to be Osage Orange bows/bow
On another, but related subject, I’ve started reading Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick. I’m about halfway through it now. It certainly talks about the Pilgrims, but also about their Indian neighbors. Sick and somewhat lost, the Pilgrims landed on Cape Cod, when they had originally set off for what is now New York. Low on supplies, their first interaction with their new neighbors was to steal some of their corn.
They eventually settled at what is now Plymouth, MA. Plymouth was founded on the site of a deserted Indian village. It was deserted because in the years immediately preceding the Pilgrims arrival, European fisherman had brought European diseases to what is now known as New England. These diseases decimated some of the Indian nations. The effects of disease were not uniform, some nations were badly hurt while others were not. The Indians knew that the Europeans were the source of the disease. They thought of it as a European weapon. Some even confused the Pilgrim’s gunpowder barrels as the source of the disease. Probably because the Pilgrim’s matchlock guns were so ineffective that they couldn’t be the Pilgrim’s real weapons. An Indian with a bow could fire five times as fast as a Pilgrim with a matchlock and their respective weapon’s ranges were about the same.
The uneven ravages of disease precipitated an imbalance of power among the New England Indian Nations. As it turns out the Indian Nation most affect by disease made the first approaches to the Pilgrims. By this time the Pilgrims were also decimated by disease. After the Pilgrim’s first winter a peace treaty was made. Months later the Pilgrims decided that they should reciprocate and visit their Indian neighbors. They sent two men southeast and eventually found their Indian allies, near Fall River, MA, mine and my mother’s birth place. I’ve read up through the first Thanksgiving, in the fall of the Pilgrim’s first year and the arrival of the second wave of Pilgrims. We all know where this story is going, but it is interesting to see how it gets there.
Thanks for the shout-out, Marq—osage oranges are pretty darned cool among the myriad botanical wonders. I’m missing them! (none around here!). I have Mayflower and haven’t read it (next next, I swear), instead I’m reading Tony Horwitz’s A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World, which touches on the Pilgrims and goes on to cover much more (early colonial) historical territory.