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Researchers find artifacts after Montana wildfire

Missoula, Montana (AP) 11-07

Ammunition for firearms and a tool for scraping buffalo hides are among artifacts found by an archaeologist and a graduate student at the scene of a major wildfire near Seeley Lake, northeast of here.

The student, Anya Minetz, recently saw an oversize cartridge on ground blackened by the Jocko Lakes fire, which started in August and burned more than 36,000 acres. Minetz called for archaeologist C. Milo McLeod to take a look.

“That’s from a Spencer rifle,” said McLeod, who owns one of the Spencer guns, produced in the 1860s.

In an area just 70 feet long and 30 feet wide, McLeod and Minetz found 17 more cartridges, most with casings and rounds intact; an ax head inscribed with the name of the Douglas Axe Manufacturing Co. of Douglas, Mass., in business from 1836-1897; a pair of scissors or forceps; a whetstone; a bullet mold; and the 14-inch hide scraper.

McLeod works for the Forest Service and said that in more than 30 years of work on the Lolo National Forest, in which the Jocko Lakes fire burned, he has never found a site with so many artifacts related to the fur-trading era.

McLeod and Minetz, a University of Montana graduate student in forensic anthropology, noted the distribution of the artifacts, mapped and photographed them and completed a metal detector survey. Then they hauled the treasure to McLeod’s office at Fort Missoula.

“I believe we’ve recovered all the artifacts,” McLeod said.

He said it appears they were “just left” in the 19th century.

“In 1870, you don’t lose 18 unfired cartridges,” he said. “You don’t lose your ax, your bullet mold, your scissors, your hide scraper.”

McLeod and Minetz discovered artifacts in a likely camping stop – near a trail, on level ground, with water nearby. There was no evidence of a camp, however.

“We speculate that maybe a grizzly bear ran the guy off, killed him and ate him,” McLeod said.

Minetz researched “buffalo hide scraper” on the Internet and found a picture of one similar to that taken from the fire scene. The scraper pictured was produced by the Hudson’s Bay Co. in the 1800s. A Hudson’s Bay post operated in the Flathead Valley’s Fort Connah until 1871.

During November the artifacts went to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ tribal preservation office in Pablo. Consultation with tribal officials is standard after an archaeological survey on traditional tribal homelands.

McLeod and tribal representatives talked, but the tribes issued no immediate statement about the artifacts.

“We have a process that we use,” said Francis Auld, a tribal preservation assistant. “There is a Salish-Pend d’Oreille elders advisory group, there is a Kootenai elders advisory group. When things like this come around we tend to take the story, or the theory, and intermingle it to see if anybody has any kind of connection that they can maybe recall in their family line, or in several family lines.”

McLeod said the artifacts that he and Minetz found are “pretty neat, but I don’t want people to go out and try to find stuff and dig it up.” Archaeological sites on federal land are protected by law.