University of Texas at Austin wordmarkCollege of Liberal Arts wordmark
Texas Beyond History
TBH Home
Plains Villagers Main
photo of expedition students in 1907
Expedition of students from the Canadian Academy camped at Wolf Creek in the spring of 1907. Led by professor of natural history T.L. Eyerly (who probably took the photo), this expedition to Buried City can be considered the first formal archeological investigation in Texas. Image from Eyerly's 1907 report.
photo of Floyd Studer
Floyd Studer, 1907 picture from The Student, published by the Canadian Academy, a men's preparatory school in Canadian,Texas. Studer learned of the Buried City in 1906 and began encouraging his natural history professor, T.L. Eyerly, to take the class there on a field trip.
map of Buried City
Eyerly's map of Buried City.


photo of Jesse Fewkes
Jessie Walter Fewkes of the Bureau of American Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution paid a brief visit to Buried City in 1914 or 1915. He apparently dug into at least one structure, finding a skeleton, but apparently did not find the site interesting in comparison to the more impressive ruins he was familiar with in the American Southwest. Image source: Smithsonian Institution.
photo of Peabody Museum
Postcard view of the Peabody Museum at Phillips Academy where the Department of Archaeology headed by Moorehead was housed. From
map of Handley Ruins
Moorehead's field map of the Handley Ruins, as he called Buried City. From Moorehead, 1931.

Anglo settlers had known of the archeological sites along Wolf Creek since the 1880s when the first land surveyors remarked on the stone-walled ruins while laying out land boundaries. As is often the case in small communities (and the Texas Panhandle at the beginning of the 20th century was a small community that extended over a large area), word of the unusual spread rapidly. At the time there was growing public interest in ancient ruins in the United States because of accounts of the exploration of spectacular architectural ruins like those in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico and Mesa Verde, Colorado, as well as the Hopewell burial mounds in the Ohio Valley. The ruins of masonry structures along Wolf Creek certainly qualified as unusual.

By 1906, Floyd Studer, a student at Canadian Academy, a Baptist men's preparatory school in Canadian, Texas, had heard of the Buried City on Wolf Creek and began encouraging his natural history professor, T.L. Eyerly, to take the class there on a field trip. Eyerly did so in March, 1907. Time has left us meager record of Eyerly's work, but apparently he, Studer, and other students dug into one or more ruins over a period of a week or more. At the end of his investigations, Eyerly rejected the idea that the Buried City ruins represented occupation sites and concluded instead that they were burial mounds, perhaps like those of the Hopewellian culture of the Ohio Valley. Eyerly's initial work at the Buried City of the Panhandle is considered the first formal archeological investigation in Texas. Eyerly published a least four similar accounts of his work in various small journals between 1907-1912 (download PDF file of 1912 article).

Learning of Eyerly's work, Jessie Walter Fewkes of the Bureau of American Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution paid a brief visit to Buried City in 1914 or 1915. He apparently dug into at least one structure, finding a skeleton, but apparently did not find the site interesting in comparison to the more impressive ruins he was familiar with in the American Southwest.

Young Floyd Studer's interest wasn't satisfied by Eyerly's brief investigation and his enthusiasm for archeology and Panhandle history continued to grow. Sometime around 1915, Studer learned that the nationally famous archeologist Warren King Moorehead was considering undertaking exploration of the Arkansas River Valley. Studer began writing Moorehead in hope that he would include the Buried City and Canadian River sites in his investigations.

Moorehead was then the curator of the Peabody Museum and director of the Department of Archaeology at Phillips Academy, a private preparatory school in Andover, Massachusetts. The museum was (and still is) devoted to the study of archeology and sponsored major expeditions to many parts of the country. Funding for expeditions depended on the support of wealthy New England patrons, such as Robert S. Peabody, who had founded the museum in 1901. By the early 1900s, Moorehead was a nationally known archeologist who had worked in many areas of the country. His two passions were archeological exploration and American Indians. As Douglas Byers put it in a 1939 eulogy, "He worked tirelessly to ensure fair play to Indians in many parts of the country, and was their champion to the last." Among the best-known archeological cultures and sites that Moorehead investigated are the Fort Ancient culture of Ohio (where he grew up), the Hopewell mounds, the great site of Cahokia near St. Louis, and Etowah in Georgia.

In 1917 Moorehead hired Harvard-trained archeologist Fred Sterns to begin explorations along the Arkansas River drainage system. As a result of Studer's letters to Moorehead, Sterns visited the Handley Ranch, where the Buried City ruins stood, and carried out some further excavations. As with Eyerly, there is no surviving record of the extent, duration, or areas of Sterns' excavations. Moorehead and Sterns had a falling out in late 1917 over who had ownership rights to the artifacts and notes obtained during the investigations but the fate of those records is not known.

Moorehead then hired C. B. Franklin of Fort Smith, Arkansas to retrace Sterns' footsteps and do additional exploration in the Arkansas River. Franklin was untrained in archeology but observant and willing to travel by horse and buggy over rough terrain. As he noted on October 9, 1919 he "was advised by man just from there not to try and drive any further west as roads and country were too rough and there was too much sand for one horse outfit -- everyone seems surprised we got through this far." This belated advice came immediately after Franklin successfully spent some 11 days driving up to the Handley Ranch from Shattuck, Oklahoma, (7 miles east of the Texas state line) and returning. Franklin apparently did some additional work at the site (download PDF file of the original transcript of his field notes).

In 1920 Moorehead himself traveled to Wolf Creek to complete the work begun before the first World War. His investigations were hampered by a lack of available laborers and other problems, including a pending lawsuit against Sterns requesting that the field notes and collections he had gathered be submitted to Moorehead according to their contract. Moorehead's correspondence with Studer and Joseph Thoburn of Oklahoma indicates that the courts found in favor of Moorehead, but that Sterns planned to appeal the finding. No further information about the suit is known, but the courts may have kept the documents and artifacts pending Sterns' appeal. Because of these difficulties, Moorehead had to fund what would be his final season of work in the area by securing a mortgage on his own home. This allowed him to complete the work and placate his earlier sponsors.

Moorehead compiled a crude map of the site and, despite not having much help, carried out additional excavations "especially in Eyerly's "'Temple,' or No. 10, which we called Gould ruin." Apparently he also felt obligated to backfill the excavations left open by previous investigators as he wrote:

photo of T. L. Eyerly
T. L. Eyerly, principal of the Canadian Academy and professor of natural history. Although of modest scope, the explorations that he and a group of students carried out at the Buried City in 1907 are considered the first formal archeological investigations in Texas.

Click images to enlarge

photo of the cover of The Student
Cover of The Student published in 1907 by the Canadian Academy. It is in this volume that Eyerly's report on the expedition to Buried City appears.
photo of Warren Moorehead
Warren King Moorehead, director of the Archeology Department at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and curator of the academy's Peabody Museum. Moorehead and field archeologists he hired excavated portions of the Buried City between 1916 and 1921.
photo of the title page from Moorehead's study
Title page from Moorehead's 1931 study on the Arkansas River Valley.
photo of wall of unidentified ruin

View of wall of unidentified ruin at Buried City, apparently exposed by an earlier explorer, as photographed in 1920. From Moorehead, 1931. Click to enlarge


It should be recorded for the benefit of some future explorer that during our examination all excavations were filled by our party. We endeavored to replace the long flat slabs set by the Indians on either side of the walls. At present there is manifest an unsatisfactory condition which is due to indiscriminate digging on the part of visitors from the oil fields. Some archaeologist should devote 3 or 4 months to a very careful study of the entire group. Mr. Sam Handley informs the writer than he had great difficulty in preventing persons from removing every vestige of primitive occupation.

(Moorehead, 1931, p. 96.)

map of Gould ruin
Moorehead's plan of the Gould Ruin, also known as Eyerly's Temple. From Moorehead, 1931.
photo of Tom Ellzey beside historical marker
Tom Ellzey grew up on a ranch along Wolf Creek. As a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin in mid-1960s, Ellzey carried out additional explorations at the Handley Ruin identified by Moorehead. The granite historical marker for Buried City seen in this picture is apparently located on the Handley Ruin. Unfortunately, the results of Ellzey's work have never been fully reported. Photo by Chris Lintz.
photo of Harold Courson
Landowner Harold Courson at the 1987 TAS field school at Buried City.
photo of TAS crew
TAS crew in 1987.
photo of excavation of a pithouse
Excavation of a pithouse underway in the Courson D area at Buried City in August, 2003. Photo by David Hughes.
photo of pithouse excavation
Pithouse excavated in August, 2003 at the Courson D site in the Buried City settlement zone by the University of Oklahama. The feature identifications are clearly labeled. Photo and graphic by Scott Brosowske.

Although his Arkansas River Valley explorations were completed in 1921, Moorehead was soon distracted by work at several major mound sites including Cahokia and Etowah, and the results of his investigations of the Buried City languished until 1931 when his Archeology of the Arkansas River Valley was published. He remained at Phillips Academy until his retirement in 1938, shortly before his death. Moorehead is said to have been a sensitive and retiring person who took great umbrage at perceived (or actual) slights and professional criticisms. In an era of growing professionalization of the discipline of archeology, Warren King Moorehead was one of the last of the "old school" of 19th century, self-trained archeologists.

The friendly relations between Studer, also a largely self-taught archeologist, and Moorehead continued for many years after completion of these early investigations. Correspondence between them suggests that Moorehead may have played a significant role in encouraging Studer's participation in the founding of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum. Studer continued his interest in archeology through this new forum and was instrumental in arranging Works Progress Administration excavation of many archeological sites in the Texas Panhandle through the 1930s.

The creation of Lake Fryer on Wolf Creek not far downstream from Buried City in 1938 undoubtedly destroyed many Plains Village houses. The area was not studied prior to its inundation.

Following Moorehead's investigations, no archeological research was carried out along Wolf Creek until the mid-1960s when Tom Ellzey, who had been raised on Wolf Creek and was then a graduate student at the University of Texas, undertook to explore the Handley Ruin identified by Moorehead. Ellzey's investigations were conducted because of his interest in the area and increasing interest in anthropology and archeology as a profession. He also recorded several other sites in the immediate vicinity. No final report of Ellzey's investigations has ever been published.

Sam Handley (who sometimes spelled his name Handly) had owned the Buried City since the early part of the nineteen-teens. During the past few decades of his life (1950s and 1960s), Handley opened his ranch on Wolf Creek to the public. For a small daily fee, local people could come picnic, fish, and hunt or dig for artifacts. As a result, virtually all of the house ruins obvious on the surface were dug into repeatedly and many artifacts were removed.

In the early 1980s Perryton resident and oil man Harold Courson purchased the old Handley Ranch, including the Buried City and related archeological sites, from the estate of Sam Handley. One of the reasons Courson purchased the property was that he knew of its significance and the local awareness of its importance and, paraphrasing his own words, he wanted to give something back to the county that had given so much to him. Harold Courson and son L. Kirk Courson devised a development plan for the ranch's livestock, renovation of its historic structures, and archeological investigation.

In 1985, Kirk Courson called archeologist David Hughes (author of this exhibit) to inquire about salvaging two Buried City sites that were rapidly eroding into Wolf Creek on the newly acquired ranch. (Each of the major concentrations of ruins are now considered separate sites.) Hughes began investigation of sites, dubbed Courson A and Courson B, in the summer of 1985 with a small professional crew supplemented by Perryton High School students. Because of the size of the effort and the potential remaining in Buried City studies, the Courson family invited Hughes back in 1986 and a more comprehensive investigation was begun to complete the work at Courson B and expose the house at Kit Courson, a third locality.

Because of public interest and the archeological potential discovered in these heavily disturbed sites, the Courson family and Hughes invited the Texas Archeological Society (TAS) to hold their field school at the Buried City in 1987 and 1988. Hundreds of volunteers from all over Texas and many surrounding states came to the Wolf Creek Valley to help secure information about this unique archeological area. TAS investigations completed the work at Courson A, Courson B, the Kit Courson Site, two additional localities, Courson C and Courson D, and began new explorations of "Eyerly's Temple," the structure Moorehead called the Gould Ruin.

The final major field season Hughes directed was in the summer of 1990 when Wichita State University held a 3-month field school to complete preliminary evaluation of the unusual Eyerly's Temple in the original Buried City site area.

Analysis of these findings and preparation of the reports is continuing under the direction of Hughes at Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas. When all analysis is completed, all collections and photographs will be returned to the Courson family who plans to make the information available through a public museum and interpretation in the area.

In 2000, a new round of investigations at Buried City began under the direction of Scott Brosowske, a Ph.D. student at the University of Oklahoma. Brosowske was invited by the Courson family to carry out geophysical survey work along Wolf Creek to search for buried structural remains. A consulting firm, Archaeophysics LLC, carried out the survey using several different sensing devices including a soil resistance meter, a gradiometer, and a ground penetrating radar. Each of these devices detects anomalies (irregularities) in the soil such as those caused by the excavation of pits, fired surfaces, and buried rock alignments. Among the numerous anomalies were many the team thought were likely the signatures of cultural patterns, such as trash pits and pithouses.

The following year (2001), Brosowske, aided by avocational archeologists, began to "ground truth" the geophysical data, meaning they began to sink test pits in and around the anomalies they felt were most promising. The initial results were very encouraging, but the need for more extensive excavation was obvious. So in the summer of 2003, Brosowske and fellow University of Oklahoma archeologist Susan C. Vehik returned to the area with an archeological field school aided again by volunteer archeologists.

The Oklahoma team excavated two areas and in both cases came down on deeply buried pithouses that look very different from the stone-based houses built on the surface that are considered typical of Buried City. The analysis is just beginning, but the artifact assemblage seems to be very similar to that found in the stone-based houses. In other words, Plains Villagers were also living in pithouses. It is not yet known whether, as Brosowske suspects, some of the pithouses date a century or two earlier than the stone-based houses. But what is obvious is that the history of the Buried City settlement is much more complex and interesting than has been known for almost a century.


Arrow link to Buried City Settlement

photo of pots from the Gould ruin
Cordmarked jars from the Gould Ruin. From Moorehead, 1931.
photo of Buried City historical Marker
Buried City historical marker erected by the State of Texas in 1936. Photo by Chris Lintz.
photo of TAS members at work
TAS members at work in 1987.
photo of TAS crew water screening. This technique allowed improved recovery of small bones and other tell-tale evidence.
TAS crew water screening. This technique allowed improved recovery of small bones and other tell-tale evidence. Photo by David Hughes.

photo of artist Charles Becker , who is painting  scene of TAS dig and Wolf Creek Valley.

Artist Charles Becker painting scene of TAS excavations in 1987. Photo by Wallace Williams.
photo of Scott Brosowsky excavating
Scott Brosowske pauses to discuss his excavation strategy. As the accompanying photo shows, in this excavation area, a deeply buried pithouse was found. Photo by David Hughes.