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Credits & Sources

In this section:

The Bonfire site exhibit was written by TBH editor Steve Black.

Landowners Jack and Wilmuth Skiles graciously allowed the author access to Bonfire Shelter, provided photographs, lunch, and shared memories. Jack Skiles deserves special recognition for having the curiosity and foresight to invite archeologists to investigate Bonfire Shelter. The Skiles family, including the late Guy and Vashti Skiles, have been wonderful hosts to several generations of archeologists. Were it not for the stewardship of the Skiles family, all the sites in Mile Canyon would have been plundered long ago. The Bonfire site exhibit was to include Curtis Tunnell's recollections of working with the Skiles family. Sadly, he passed away before completing the project.

Interviews with Lee Bement, Elton Prewitt, and Solveig Turpin provided many stories and recollections about their work at Bonfire. Recorded interviews of Prewitt and Turpin are housed at TARL. Photographs of the field investigations and of the site were provided by Turpin. Other photographs featured in this exhibit were taken by Steve Black, the late E. Mott Davis, Dave Dibble, Grant Hall, Roy Little, and Jeanine McDonald. Ernest Lundelius introduced Black to the Bonfire bones and shared insights and contrary opinions. Michael Collins provided new identifications of several of the site's Paleoindian projectile points.

Photographs of the 1963-1964 artifacts from Bonfire Shelter appear courtesy of the National Park Service, Amistad National Recreation Area.

Nola Montgomery Davis of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department painted the mural scenes of Bonfire depicted in the Plunge of Death section. The Ice-Age-animal drawings that appear in several sections are the work of the late Hal Story and are provided courtesy of the Texas Memorial Museum. Other drawings prepared especially for this exhibit are the work of artist Charlie Shaw.

All of the artifacts, notes, and photographs from the 1963-1964 investigations are housed at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory on behalf of the National Park Service, Amistad National Recreation Area. All of the bones from the 1963-1964 and 1983-1984 investigations are housed at the Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory at UT Austin.

Source Materials

Much of what appears in this site exhibit is based directly on the work of the archeologists who carried out the field investigations at Bonfire, analyzed the materials, and wrote the published reports. Anyone with a scholarly interest in Bonfire should read the primary published accounts.

This exhibit was created before new investigations at Bonfire beginning in 2003 by researchers from SMU led by David Meltzer, a leading Paleoindian expert. Their new interpretations have sparked a lively scholarly debate. See 2005-2007 articles referenced below by Bement, Byerly et al., Cooper and Byerly, and Prewitt.

Bonfire References

Bement, Leland C.
1986 Excavation of the Late Pleistocene Deposits of Bonfire Shelter, 41VV218, Val Verde, Texas, 1983-1984. Texas Archeological Survey, The University of Texas at Austin.

[Report on 1983-1984 excavations. Published version of Bement's 1986 M.A. thesis from UT Austin. Available online:]

2007 Bonfire Shelter: A Jumping Off Point for Comments for Byerly et al. American Antiquity, 72(2):366-372.

[Response to Byerly et al. 2005]

Byerly, Ryan M., Judith R. Cooper, David J. Meltzer, Matthew E. Hill, and Jason M. LaBelle
2005 On Bonfire Shelter (Texas) as a Paleoindian Bison Jump: An Assessment Using GIS and Zooarchaeology. American Antiquity, 70(4):595-629.

[Article reporting the results of new Bonfire-related investigations by SMU researchers under the direction of professor Meltzer. The article presents two findings: (1) a GIS study has found that the Bonfire locality is indeed favorablly situated for a bison jump locality and that the most logical drive route is essentially the same one that Dibble had argued for in 1968; and (2) new faunal data and new interpretations are said to cast doubt on whether Bone Bed 2 was in fact a primary kill locality (even so, the Bone Bed 2 kill or kills must have occurred nearby.)]

Byerly, Ryan M., David J. Meltzer, and Judith R. Cooper
2007a Exploring Paleoindian Site-Use at Bonfire Shelter (41VV218). Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society, 78:125-147.

[More on new intepretations by SMU researchers. See Prewitt 2007 for defense of original interpretations.]

2007b On an Alternative Interpretation of Paleindian Site Use at Bonfire Shelter. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society, 78:159-160.

[Reply to Prewitt 2007.]

2007c A Further Assessment of Paleoindian site-use at Bonfire Shelter. American Antiquity, 72(2):373-381.

[Reply to Bement 2007.]

Byrant, Vaughn M., Jr., and Richard G. Holloway
1985 A Late-Quarternary Paleoenvironmental Record of Texas: An Overview of the Pollen Evidence. In: Pollen Records of Late-Quarternary North American Sediments edited by Vaughn M. Bryant, Jr., and Richard G. Holloway, pp. 46-66. American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists Foundation, Dallas.

[Summary of pollen data from Bonfire Shelter.]

Cooper, Judith R. and Ryan M. Byerly
2005 The Significance of a Second Folsom Projectile Point from Bonfire Shelter, Texas. Current Research in the Pleistocene, 22:41-43.

Dibble, David S.
1970 On the Significance of Additional Radiocarbon Dates from Bonfire Shelter,
Texas. Plains Anthropologist 15(50):251-254.

[Short article affirming Bonfire's status as a Paleoindian mass kill site and the earliest definitive bison jump site in North America.]

Dibble, David S. and Dessamae Lorrain
1968 Bonfire Shelter: A Stratified Bison Kill Site, Val Verde County, Texas. Texas
Memorial Museum, Miscellaneous Papers No.1. The University of Texas, Austin.
Part 1: The Archeology by David S. Dibble
Part 2: Analysis of the Bison Bones by Dessamae Lorrain

[Major site report on 1963-1964 excavations. This two-part report is the published version of Dibble's Ph.D. dissertation from the University of Washington and Lorrain's M.A. thesis from UT Austin.]

Forbis, R. G.
1969 Review. Bonfire Shelter a Stratified Bison Kill Site, Val Verde County, Texas.
American Antiquity, 34(1):90-91.

[Generally favorable review from Northern Plains bison-kill expert.]

Hevly, Richard H.
1966 A Preliminary Pollen Analysis of Bonfire Shelter. In: A Preliminary Study of the Paleoecology of the Amistad Reservoir Area, assembled by Dee Ann Story and Vaughn M. Bryant, Jr., pp. 165-178. Final Report of Research under the Auspices of the National Science Foundation (Grant GS-667).

[Short article in this limited-distribution report.]

Johnson, Eileen
1982 Paleo-Indian Bone Expediency Tools: Lubbock Lake and Bonfire Shelter. Canadian Journal of Anthropology 2(2):145-157.

[Little-known article comparing bone tools from the Paleoindian deposits of these two sites. Johnson identified at least 10 bone tools, most of them choppers made on broken leg bones, from Bone Bed 2 at Bonfire.]

Lorrain, Dessamae
1966 Bonfire Shelter Fauna. In: A Preliminary Study of the Paleoecology of the Amistad Reservoir Area, assembled by Dee Ann Story and Vaughn M. Bryant, Jr., pp. 221-226. Final Report of Research under the Auspices of the National Science Foundation (Grant GS-667).

[A short article in this limited-distribution report. It provides the only published list identifying all of the animal bones found in various deposits at Bonfire during the 1963-64 work.]

Prewitt, Elton R.
2007 To Jump or Drag: Reflections on Bonfire Shelter. Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society, 78:149-158.

[Critique of new interpretations by Byerly et al. 2005 and Byerly et al. 2007a and defense of original intepretations.]

Robinson, David
1997 Stratigraphic Analysis of Bonfire Shelter, Southwest Texas: Pilot Studies of Depositional Processes and Paleoclimate. Plains Anthropologist 42(159): 33-43.

Popular Books Mentioning Bonfire

Acker, G. Elaine
1996 Life in a Rock Shelter: Prehistoric Indians of the Lower Pecos. Hendrick-Long
Publishing Company, Dallas.

[Easy to read with many pictures and drawings; appropriate for children.]

Shafer, Harry J.
1986 Ancient Texans: Rock Art and Lifeways along the Lower Pecos. Texas Monthly Press, Austin.

[Nicely illustrated book with short articles by archeologists and other experts. Includes vivid fictional accounts of daily life based on archeological findings.]

Skiles, Jack
1996 Judge Roy Bean Country. Texas Tech University Press, Lubbock.

[Highly readable history of Langtry, Texas, based on interviews with old-timers and historical sources. Most of the stories take place within a few miles of Bonfire Shelter. See also January, 2008 article The Sage of Langtry Texas on Southwest Texas Live! by Bill Sontag to learn more about Jack Skiles.]

Related Links - Bonfire and Bison
Article in The Handbook of Texas Online on Bonfire Shelter.
Article in The Handbook of Texas Online on buffalo hunting.
2004 Presentation by SMU graduate student Judith Cooper entitled 'Using a GIS Approach to Understanding the Accumulation of an Archaeological Deposit." (in Bonfire Shelter).

Bison Kill Sites
Website promoting Head-Smashed-In, perhaps the most famous bison jump site in North America and a UNESCO World Heritage site, located in Alberta, Canada.
Website for Lee Bement's Cooper Bison Kill, western Oklahoma.

Bison Behavior, Ecology, and History
Search the Library of Congress for prints and photographs on bison from the American Memory Project and find out how you can purchase copies of these historic items.
Official Yellowstone National Park website article about the park's bison; also visit the "Questions about Bison" link.
Learn all about wood bison in the Canadian Northwest Territories including predators, diseases, population status, preserves, and links.
Bison Economy of the Southern Alberta Plains. Interesting website from the University of Calgary with a timeline and features on many aspects of the importance of bison in the prehistoric and historic economies of the region.
Montana State University- Bozeman's Center for Bison and Wildlife Health site has information on bison, lists of source materials, and links.

Raising and Hunting Bison Today
Website of the National Bison Association, a "non-profit association which promotes the preservation, production and marketing of bison." Contains information on bison history, current status, bison meat, and more.
Website of the Texas Bison Association, a group devoted to commercial bison production.
Website of a ranch in Colorado where bison can be hunted. Includes information about bison hunting, history, and behavior.
Explore the late Ice Age in the Midwest at the Illinois State Museum's website.