Quick, think of something you learned about Native Americans in grade school. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? The Battle of Little Big Horn? Happened in 1876. The Trail of Tears? That was the 1830s. Sacagawea guiding Louis and Clark? 1804.

Quick, think of something you learned about Native Americans in grade school. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? The Battle of Little Big Horn? Happened in 1876. The Trail of Tears? That was the 1830s. Sacagawea guiding Louis and Clark? 1804.


Whichever event or person you most associate with Native American culture, odds are it was something that happened or someone that lived in the last 250 years. In short, our understanding of the people who have inhabited this continent for 12 millennia is shaped almost entirely by very recent history.


It’s a perception problem that The Sherman Museum is hoping to rectify with its new exhibit entitled, "Tribes: Native American History and Culture." Through March 29, the museum is displaying Neolithic artifacts culled from several local collectors in an attempt to provide a glimpse of life in Texoma before the arrival of European settlers.


"It seems like when I was in school, the little that we did talk about it was, of course, after the white man arrived — more about the battles and things like that," said Alee McKinney, the museum’s office manager and one of the driving forces behind the exhibit. "We just want people to come and learn how they sustained their way of life, basically in the pre-Columbian period. … We’re just trying to highlight on customs and traditions that make up the Native American culture. In the process of putting it together, we ended up with some fabulous artifacts. "


Included in the exhibit are many items one would expect, including arrowheads and a child-sized teepee. McKinney explained that the museum geared many of the displays toward school groups.


"Everything’s kid friendly. We have a study guide for the kids, where they can come in, and they can fill out their little activity sheet, and they get like a free pencil if they do it. We’re just kind of hoping to draw some attention and bring some kids in."


But that’s not to say it’s all elementary. Adults should find plenty of interest as well, said McKinney.


"We’re always trying to find things the general public is interested in, and this sort of covers a lot of different things. You’ve got their craft in the basket-weaving or the pottery making of the rug weaving. Then you’ve got your rock hounds who are interested in the archeology standpoint."


Many of the artifacts on display are, in fact, on loan from local "rock hounds," chiefly Gainesville dentist Ernest Martin and Sherman retiree R.C. Harmon, the latter of whom spent more than three decades as an archaeological steward for the state of Texas. Harmon estimated that his personal collection includes in excess of 6,000 individual pieces of Native American finds.


"Initially, my association with Indian artifacts and things like that had to do with my family and our trips to Lake Texoma. We did things with my three sons; we’d either ski or fish or hunt artifacts," said Harmon. "Arrowheads, pottery, all of the above … the artifacts I find seem to be Wichita (tribe). It’s generally accepted that the Wichita Confederacy …. was in this area."


Harmon explained that as an archaeological steward, he agreed to forgo further growing his personal collection in lieu of group work on digs around the state. He said his research suggests that the arrowheads he and others have found in the area are all from the relatively recent past, as the bow-and-arrow was not used widely in the American South until circa AD 700.


"In sites I’ve worked, when I establish that we’re working in a site that’s older than 1,200 years, there’s two things I never find: one is the small arrowhead and two is pottery; I only find larger projectile points," said Harmon.


For his contribution to the exhibit, Martin loaned the Sherman Museum a dozen or so items from his lifelong efforts to collect and preserve Indian history, notably a Comanche cradle board and several intricately decorated pots.


"I’ve never gotten rid of anything; I’ve kept everything I’ve ever found," said Martin. "I’ve probably got 4 to 5,000 projectile points and 500 pottery vessels. Most of them come from private landowners’ land around the city of Gainesville here, and out in Grayson County, Cooke County, … some of them from Hamilton County down in central Texas."


Among his career highlights, in 1985 Martin uncovered a grave-site containing 13-well preserved skeletons near Moss Lake Dam. After consulting with state archaeologists, the skeletons were exhumed and moved to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C..


"I’ve been collecting (artifacts) since I was 12 years old," said Martin. "My father had some land southeast of Gainesville, and I started finding artifacts on that land and that got me interested in it. I’ve just been pretty passionate about it since then."


Both Harmon and Martin said they hope the Sherman Museum exhibit will help educate local citizens of all ages about a part of Native American history that often gets short shrift in history classes. Harmon, in particular pointed out that a better understanding of Indian culture could help current and future generations better identify and preserve important archaeological locations.


"Today, too many sites are being destroyed by construction, pillaging and other things — weather and Lake Texoma," said Harmon. "I once got … a list (from the state) of 30 sites in (Grayson) county that were recorded previously, and they wanted me to check the current status of those sites. Well, it was pretty easy, because some of them, all I would show was that it was under 100 feet of water with Lake Texoma! None that I could figure out … were in ‘good’ shape. There’s a lot of weathering going on and other things, and people collecting and so forth.


"My hope is that people will learn to appreciate that there was an intelligent society here prior to our arrival, and they will help to protect traces of those people."


The Sherman Museum’s "Tribes" exhibit is open 10 a.m to 4 p.m, Tuesdays through Saturdays. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors, $2 for school children and free for kids under five.