News & Events




Press Release



November 10, 2014

Exploring the past: The City before Ark City


Wichita State University Professor Don Blakeslee wants to explore the ancient past of the Arkansas City area, and he needs your help to do it.

As an archaeologist, Blakeslee specializes in the history of the Great Plains, with a special interest on the Walnut River basin during all time periods. His current research could, in his words “rewrite the Great Bend culture.” The Great Bend Aspect, as archaeologists call it, refers to ancient Native American people who lived in several regions of the state, including Cowley County, from about 1425 AD to the early 18th century.

Many Great Bend sites and artifacts have been identified in Cowley County and in the Ark City area in particular. Blakeslee’s latest research suggests that present-day Arkansas City covers the southern end of a massive settlement that covered at least a 5-mile stretch to the north. Spanish records from the 17th century that Blakeslee has examined suggest that perhaps as many as 20,000 people may have lived in the settlement at one time.

Yet, very little of this settlement has been formally excavated. That’s where Blakeslee hopes the Ark City public will get involved. He proposes an archaeological survey to look for remains of the ancient city, beginning in the spring of 2015. This effort will include personnel and technology from the National Park service, WSU and Cowley College archaeology students, volunteers from the public, youth groups and school children.

Professor Blakeslee will address the Cowley Public Archaeology and History group Thursday, Nov 20, at 7 p.m., to discuss his research, and make some preliminary plans for the spring exploration. The meeting is free and open to the public. The meeting will be held in Room 102 of the Webb-Brown Building on the college campus. Everyone interested in the project is encouraged to attend. Blakeslee also extends a special invitation to area arrowhead and artifact collectors, asking them to bring samples of their collections for examination and identification.

“I’ve seen many collections, and I’ve learned a lot,” Blakeslee said.

He hopes that local collectors may have clues to the extent and history of the historic settlement.

“This is an amazing opportunity for the college and the community,” Chris Mayer, Social Science faculty member and head of the anthropology program at Cowley College said. “This is a chance for anyone interested in the archaeology and history of the area to get involved with large-scale archaeological exploration. Everyone can be a part of it.”

Mayer is acting as Blakeslee’s point man in Arkansas City, and will be reaching out to the Cherokee Strip Land Rush Museum, Arkansas City schools, and groups such as the Boy Scouts and 4-H.