Back when the mighty Columbia was a wild river there was a falls, really more of a cascade, just a few miles south of the Canadian border. Named after an early military explorer of the area Kettle Falls is today under Lake Roosevelt, the impoundment behind Grand Cooley Dam. Shortly after the dam was completed I was a boy just old enough to explore the area which surrounded my home, the town of Kettle Falls. It was a very different world back then. My pals and I were permitted what today would be unheard of freedom for boys that age to wonder far and wide.
Each winter in preparation to receive the spring run-off from the enormity of the upper Columbia watershed the water level in Lake Roosevelt was dropped to nearly pre-impoundment levels. The narrow gorge in which the falls once ran was the only thing remaining under water; the surrounding area was exposed for several weeks each winter.
It was a boy’s dream because there was a treasure trove of ancient Native American artifacts scattered about he vicinity of the falls. Each year the wave action of the rising and falling water level would expose a whole new crop of arrowheads and other stone implements. Descendents of the Nez Pierce and Kalispell tribes had gathered to fish for Chinook Salmon here for many generations. These stone artifacts were highly prized by us boys but didn’t seem to bear much weight with most adults of our acquaintance. I had collected a two pound coffee tin full of nearly all perfect arrowheads. It was my most prized possession. Since those days most of us have come to realize the incredible worth of these cultural remains, not to be gathered but to be preserved. I was orphaned just after turning eleven and was allowed only one suit case of clothes. I’ve wondered whatever became of that coffee can.
While there have been many experiences in the intervening sixty years that have inspired a continuing interest and a fuller appreciation for these stone tools, it was that early experience that cemented a life long inclination to learn how arrowheads were actually made.
So to learn this primitive technology I turned to the most technologically advanced learning tool available – the Internet. There are many sites that were useful but he best was Flint Knappers.com. Since November I’ve managed to learn enough to shape arrowheads and knife blades that while not yet works of art are functional. Obsidian is the pre-eminent stone for knapping. Here in central Oregon it is abundant.
I also learned that it is considered by the practitioners of the craft to be a blood sport. Surgical steel can be sharpened to four molecules wide. Obsidian can be knapped one molecule wide. My first few efforts were bloody disasters, but I’ve learned to take the necessary precautions and seldom draw serious blood anymore.
It has taken some persistence to learn the basics, but it is not difficult to get your mind around. Anyone with an interest can do it. I hope to advance my skill to imitate the quality of the art I saw in that coffee can full of arrowheads.
It has also been very good medicine for cabin fever.
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