By the late 1920s Floyd V. Studer controlled access to most of the known Plains Village sites in the Texas Panhandle. How and why he did this is a part of the fascinating, but little-known story of a larger-than-life man. Studer was an explorer, promoter, civic leader, watchdog, and kingpin, a determined man whose impact on the study of Plains Village sites in the Texas Panhandle is hard to exaggerate. For over 50 years, from the first excavation at Buried City through the early 1960s, Floyd Studer had a strong hand in virtually all archeology done in the Texas Panhandle.
Studer was bitten badly by the archeology bug as a 15-year-old student during the 1907 expedition to Buried City. Perhaps it was really more of an exploration bug combined with natural curiosity and the pride of a native son of the Panhandle. Regardless, from that day onward Studer sought out any and all archeological sites in the Texas Panhandle, especially the Plains Villager sites with masonry ruins. He was also fascinated with the fossil bones of ancient animals; in the early 20th century, archeology and paleontology were seen as closely related studies—both involved exploration and digging. Studer had no formal training in archeology, but as he put it in 1955:
I have made of it a lifetime relief occupation. … For 45 years, whenever possible, I worked on those ruins—surveying, mapping, photographing, digging. … While engaged in commercial activities in Amarillo, this was my relaxation on weekends and holidays. Every means of transportation made available in those years was used—shanks’ mare, horseback, buckboard, motorcycle, Model T, later models—until finally the airplane solved a lot of the problems.
As Studer explored the Panhandle, he developed an extensive network of local contacts through personal, family, banking, and insurance connections. In the 1920s he obtained “scientific leases” from ranchers within the Canadian Valley that he believed gave him the right to decide who could investigate the sites. In part he was motivated by his sense of ownership—it was he who found and recorded most of these sites and he regarded the Canadian Breaks as his "turf." Studer also clearly felt a strong sense of stewardship—like Moorehead, Studer recognized that many of the sites were threatened by casual artifact seekers, museum collectors, and development.
Studer played an instrumental role in the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society and the establishment and development of the Society’s Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, the first state museum in Texas. In 1931, two years before the museum first opened to the public, Studer signed over his scientific leases to the society and its fledgling museum in exchange for a non-salaried appointment as the museum’s Director of Archaeology and Paleontology. This volunteer post gave him a headquarters and solidified his control of Panhandle archeology and paleontology for the next two decades. The museum was closely connected to West Texas State Teachers College (West Texas A&M University today) and it was Studer’s influence that led the college to create a teaching position in paleontology and anthropology in 1934.
In 1955, Studer stated that he had “located, mapped, and fully recorded over 200 Indian sites,” a claim that must be tempered by the realization that most of Studer’s written records were cursory even by the standards of the day. He did keep a master numbered list of 212 sites that would become the basis for the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum’s site records and that live on today in site names such as Alibates (Ruin) 28 and Antelope Creek (Ruin) 22.
Studer was famously secretive and kept much of what he knew to himself. His regional map that Warren King Moorehead published in 1931 was intentionally incomplete, an omission attributed in the report to the need to protect the sites and the landowners from unwanted visitors. Not noted is the fact that Studer deliberately mislocated some of the sites. He promised that one day he would publish a complete map and report on his survey work, but never did so.
Studer's secrecy and desire to obtain scientific leases seem to have been spurred by concern that professional archeologists from outside the region would plunder the sites for their own museums and institutions. This concern was well-founded. A.V. Kidder, the leading American archeologist of the day, decried the unscrupulous collection practices of some museums in his 1932 study, Artifacts of Pecos Pueblo.
Studer's suspicious attitude about outside archeologists was encouraged by Moorehead, perhaps because he himself felt slighted by (and in competition with) university-affiliated researchers. Studer always gave Moorehead credit as being his most important influence and chief advisor. Nonetheless, Studer did correspond with and cooperate with other archeologists, such as Alden Mason, Ted Sayles, and Curry Holden. He allowed these men to dig at certain of the largest village sites.
During the early to mid 1930s, Studer carried out limited excavations at numerous sites, including Antelope Creek 22, Alibates 28, and Coetas Creek 55. He was assisted by various friends and members of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society. Most of this work appears to have been done sporadically on weekends and holidays. The excavation and documentation methods were typical of the era, which is to say they were rather haphazard by today's standards. Essentially, Studer dug into and cleared obvious rooms, focusing on the major architectural elements such as doorways, fireplaces, and walls. Rich middens (trash heaps) and burials were the only features outside the ruined walls that were noted. Only select artifacts were collected and most animal bones and charred plant remains were routinely discarded. Studer published several summary articles on his work in the 1930s, with mention of select architectural details of certain rooms at certain sites, but none of his excavations were ever fully reported.
In the 1930s Studer also became a major civic leader in Amarillo and held posts in many community organizations. Archeology and the promotion of all things Panhandle remained his passion throughout his life. He did not relinquish his position at the museum until Jack Hughes was hired in 1952 to take over as curator of archeology and paleontology. Studer remained an active member of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society, served on its board and held its highest elected offices in the mid to late 1950s. Toward the end of his life he and Amarillo businessman Henry Hertner initiated the local efforts that led to the creation of the Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument in 1965. After Floyd Studer died in 1966, his widow turned over his remaining archeological records to Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum and the National Park Service, the federal agency that administers Alibates.
One notable, but understandable, aspect of Studer’s mindset was his insistence on viewing and interpreting the archeology of the Plains villagers of the Texas Panhandle through a Southwestern lens. He considered the Panhandle part of the American Southwest and emphasized this in many ways. Although he would later claim that it was Moorehead who coined the term “Texas Panhandle Pueblo Culture,” it first appears in Studer’s section of Moorehead’s 1931 report, and it was Studer who continued to use the term for decades. In a separate 1931 article, Studer described local ruins as “Post Basket Maker sites,” again implying a close relationship to the Southwest.
In the 1930s, the American Southwest was, as it still remains today, the best-known archeological region in the country. The abundant masonry ruins, the excellent preservation conditions, and the fact that numerous native peoples still lived there made the Southwest a scientific Mecca. Because of the intense archeological attention and the fact that many ruins had preserved timbers that could be dated through dendrochronology (tree-ring dating), the Southwest was also the only region that had a solid prehistoric chronological framework. The tree-ring dates and the pottery sequence developed by famed archeologist A.V. Kidder at Pecos Pueblo resulted in the Pecos Classification of 1927. This scheme was worked out by Kidder and the participants of the first Pecos Conference, an annual meeting of the top Southwestern archeologists. The proposed cultural stages/periods known as Basketmaker I through III, followed by Pueblo I through V, became widely used throughout the Southwest and beyond.
In the 1930s Studer attended several Pecos Conferences and was influenced by what he learned, finding much more of interest in the Southwest than he did in other areas of Texas. Studer had dutifully written the reigning archeological authorities in Texas, Abilene physician Cyrus Ray (lead founder of the Texas Archeological Society) and professor J. E. Pearce at the University of Texas, asking their advice on the architecture he was exploring in the Panhandle. But neither offered Studer much help because they were unfamiliar with the region and they did not know of similar ruins elsewhere in Texas. Studer had better luck when he wrote archeologist Frank C. Hibben at the University of New Mexico. Hibben’s willingness to give Studer guidance was probably one of the main reasons Studer adopted Southwestern terminology. (Later, it was Hibben who suggested to Studer that he hire a promising student, Ele Baker, to direct WPA digs in the late 1930s.)
Studer's strong belief in a Southwestern orientation influenced Panhandle archeology in profound ways for many years, but other researchers saw increasing indications to the contrary. In his later years, Studer seems to have struggled to reconcile his long-standing Southwestern bias with the mounting evidence that his beloved Panhandle ruins were built by Plains Indians. Near the end of a short 1955 review article, his last publication on the subject, he wrote:
The Texas Panhandle Pueblo Culture apparently originated from the pottery-making people who appeared on the Central Plains after 900 A.D., reaching the valley of the Canadian some two or three centuries later.
Yet, in the same article Studer attributed the origins of the “first American apartment houses” (i.e., Antelope Creek ruins) to the Southwest, an idea he never let go of.
Beginning in the early 1930s, Studer speculatively identified what he felt were close architectural parallels between the houses he and others excavated at Antelope Creek 22 and other Panhandle sites with Southwestern Pueblos. Among these were what he called ventilator shafts, stone deflectors, sipapus (symbolic spirit holes), and kivas (underground ritual or assembly rooms). Although there is little doubt that Antelope Creek villagers did incorporate some broad architectural ideas from Southwestern peoples, Studer consistently downplayed or ignored the equally compelling architectural similarities with Plains Village sites up and down the Plains. Studer’s Southwestern bias can still be seen today in the scale model reconstruction of the Antelope Creek 22 ruin that is on display at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum. Under his direction, WPA workers reconstructed the site as a Southwestern Pueblo complete with flat roofs, roof entries, and attached kivas. Today few experts accept this reconstruction, because there is little convincing evidence for the existence of kivas, sipapus, or flat roofs with roof entries in Antelope Creek architecture.
Even so, Floyd Studer’s legacy lives on in the Texas Panhandle in countless ways. He literally and figuratively put the region on the nation’s archeological map. Throughout his life he worked to protect the ruins left by the “Texas Panhandle Pueblo Culture” and to call public and scholarly attention to their importance. It was he who had the vision to tap into the New Deal funding to develop archeological and paleontological programs at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, and he was largely responsible for uniting the museum with the West Texas State Teachers College. From this union he was able to hire C. S. Johnston and Ele and Jewel Baker, and these people worked miracles in securing funding for programs and rigorously documenting large-scale WPA excavations.
New Deal Archeology
The 1930s was tough time in the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles. The entire country was mired in the Great Depression that followed the 1929 stock market collapse. Simultaneously, a prolonged drought (1931-1934) turned much of the Southern Plains into a “dust bowl” and sent many farming families to ruin (and to California). In response to the country’s woes, the Federal government under Franklin D. Roosevelt created an unprecedented series of relief programs known collectively as the New Deal. Because the main goal was to put people back to work, labor-intensive archeological and paleontological projects were seen as effective ways to do just that. To land such a project, a state or local institution, usually a university, had to sponsor and administer the work. Through this process, the New Deal resulted in massive archeological excavations in the Southern Plains and many other areas of the country in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
A four-part series of articles recently published in Oklahoma Archeology (the journal of the Oklahoma Anthropological Society) tells the intriguing story of the New Deal work projects carried out at the Stamper site, a large Plains village along the Beaver River in Texas County in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Trial excavations sponsored by the University of Oklahoma in 1933 led to funding from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) for major excavations carried out in 1934-1935 under the direction of C. Stuart Johnston and then Fred Carder. Their work showed the slab-house construction typical of Antelope Creek sites was also present in the Oklahoma Panhandle. FERA also supported Oklahoma Historical Society excavations at the Roy Smith site, another slab-house ruin, near Turpin, Oklahoma.
In the fall of 1934, Johnston was hired away from Oklahoma by the West Texas State Teachers College (WTSTC) in Canyon, Texas, to teach geology and anthropology courses. Floyd Studer was almost certainly responsible for Johnston's hire. Young, handsome, and brilliant, C. Stuart Johnston soon became a popular teacher and an effective administrator of WPA grants. He and his wife, Margaret Johnston, 11 years his junior, were the talk of the town. Using his Oklahoma experience with FERA, Johnston successfully won federal funding for a series of major paleontological surveys, digs, and fossil restoration projects as well as archeological projects in the Texas Panhandle. After mid-1935, the funding came from the Work Progress (or Projects) Administration (WPA) for projects sponsored by the college and the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society and headquartered at the museum.
Stuart Johnston oversaw many WPA paleontological projects over the next few years as well as several archeological projects. Meanwhile he continued to teach and was under increasing pressure to finish his dual Ph.D. in paleontology and anthropology at the University of Oklahoma. Johnston had completed a paleontological dissertation and for his anthropology degree he only needed to write a publishable paper. To satisfy this requirement, he wrote a preliminary report on the WPA work at Antelope Creek 22, but ran afoul of Floyd Studer, whose permission he had failed to obtain. While Johnston was the official scientific administrator of the WPA work, Floyd Studer was the sponsor’s (WTSTC) representative in charge of the archeological investigations and he was determined to maintain his proprietary interests in the region.
Cracking under the pressure, Johnston fled to Boston in the summer of 1939. Not long thereafter, he was found dead in a Boston boarding house. Ironically, Studer had apparently relented. Shortly after Johnston’s untimely demise, his article on Antelope Creek 22 appeared in the 1939 Bulletin of the Texas Archeological and Paleontological Society.
Despite Johnston's death, the WPA continued to fund archeological investigations of eight of Studer’s Antelope Creek sites. Under Studer’s supervision, the fieldwork was directed by the husband and wife team of Ele and Jewel Baker. Ele was the son of “Uncle Billy Baker,” a Soil Conservation Service agent in Cimarron County, Oklahoma, and avid amateur archeologist. Ele had directed the 1934 FERA excavations at the Kenton Caves in the Oklahoma panhandle before going to the University of New Mexico to begin his undergraduate degree in archeology. While in New Mexico, he participated in field schools run by Frank Hibben at Chaco Canyon and Paako. Running low on money, Ele and Jewel ran Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) projects in northern New Mexico, excavating and restoring two Spanish missions, Quarai and Jemez.
Arriving in Texas in 1938, the Bakers proved to be a capable and hard-working pair. Ele’s official title was Project Superintendent, while Jewel served as Assistant Archaeologist in charge of artifact handling and cataloguing (she also seems to have excavated most of the burials). The field crew consisted of 20 laborers from the relief rolls of Potter County plus two professional workers; three additional workers labored in the laboratory at the museum. Early each morning the Bakers each drove a project truck around Amarillo picking up WPA workers at their homes and then out to the sites under excavation, returning late in the day. They also scavenged building materials on these morning drives to construct the field laboratory at Alibates Ruin 28 modeled after the Antelope Creek houses they were digging. From 1938 to 1941, the WPA teams carried out extensive excavations along Antelope Creek (Ruins 22, 22A, 23, 24), Alibates Creek (Ruins 28, 28A, 30), and Corral Creek (Chimney Rock Ruin 51).
Because of the Bakers' experience, their sizable workforce, and procedures introduced by the WPA, the work was far more systematic and better documented than previous archeological excavations in the region. As they excavated and documented house after house at site after site, the Bakers were able to see both consistent patterns in architecture among Antelope Creek villages as well as lots of variation.
Following up on suggestions made by famed Plains archeologist Waldo Wedel, the Bakers noted similarities between the Canadian River sites and sites along the Republican River in Nebraska. With the exception of building techniques and the use of local resources, the material culture of the Antelope Creek sites closely resembled that of Plains Village sites in the Central Plains. The Bakers noted that the Stamper site (“a single site of the same culture found near Guymon, Oklahoma”), 100 miles to the north, was the only other known locality where Antelope Creek style architecture occurred. (Actually, several other Oklahoma Panhandle sites, such as the Roy Smith site, were also known to have similar architecture.)
With World War II looming, WPA funding ended abruptly in 1941. The Bakers were able to prepare the required quarterly reports and complete two final WPA project reports on their work, but these would remain unpublished for almost 60 years. The reports contain careful descriptions of each room with sketch maps and tabulations of artifact counts, but little real synthesis and interpretation. Like so many WPA-funded archeological projects, the notes and collections languished for decades in a half-finished state. Things became separated, photographs and maps were neglected, and no one stepped in to take on the onerous task of finishing the work and synthesizing the findings.
In the early 1940s, Studer wrote a formal report on the Alibates sites (much of it taken from the Bakers' WPA reports) and apparently hired ghost writers to write a report on the Antelope Creek sites (also heavily dependent on the Bakers’ work), intending to publish these under his own name. Unfortunately, neither report was published. Through the succeeding years, sections from the WPA reports were disassembled—some portions of them ended up in the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum and some went to the National Park Service. In the 1980s, the WPA documents were reunited by Chris Lintz during his dissertation research. Another positive development is that the federal government through the National Park Service has provided funding in recent decades to consolidate and upgrade the WPA records and collections at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum.