The Prehistoric Indian Village Gives Back to the Community

The lights of the Thomsen Center Archeodome reflecting off Lake Mitchell. Photo by Rich Stedman

There are many challenges in operating a museum; whether it be a large one like the Smithsonian or a small one like the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village the challenges are similar.  Raising funds to keep our doors open, of course, is our biggest challenge.  Our responsibility to the community at large is great, due in part to our desire to give back to the community for the generosity it shows.  We are often challenged to think of unique and meaningful ways to give back to the community.

This fall, we are creating a research library for students to study and learn about archaeology, anthropology, Native Americans and more.  We are in the process of gathering books and other media through donations.  The library will be in the basement of the Boehnen Museum.  We are excited about this project and work on the library will begin once our season ends at the end of October.

The library will allow students to access our books and media.  Students will be able to check out some of the books.  Computers will be available for use by the students.  Our goal is to increase awareness of the sciences and disciplines involved in the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village.  Local libraries and colleges have offered to donate books, as well as the staff here at the Village.

We also look forward to the beginning of our prairie project.  A strip of land on the north side of the Thomsen Center Archeodome will be restored to native prairie to give visitors an idea of the what the early people saw around their villages.

Next spring will see the establishment of gardens designed to attract butterflies and other beneficial insects by planting native wildflowers and grasses.  These gardens will be located near the entrance to the Boehnen museum and will include sculptures from Native American artists.

All of these projects are just the beginning of many good things to come in the future for the community and for the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village.

A Story of Corn (or A Corny Story)

Corn is such an important part of our daily lives; we eat it, feed it to livestock, make fuel and oil from it;  it is a substance in plastics, papers, medicines and many, many other everyday products.  We forget its humble beginnings.

Primitive corn (Image from the University of Illinois)

Corn is a tropical plant, first domesticated about 7,000 years ago in what is now central Mexico.  The early domesticated corn looked much different from those giant cobs we enjoy on the 4th of July.  Small grassy seed heads fed countless people in Mesoamerica as the domesticated corn traveled from central Mexico to as far south as Peru and to the southwestern part of North America.  And, there it remained for thousands of years.

Just over a thousand years ago, Woodland Indians from the Ohio River Valley began to migrate west and north, following the great rivers through the plains.  They brought corn with them and settled along a small creek in what is now South Dakota.  Prior to their arrival at this location, corn did not grow much farther north than Missouri.  These people, the ancestors of the Mandan Indians, were able to do something that modern science has not improved upon: they were able to take this wonderful tropical food plant and adapt it to the very short growing season of the upper plains.  By the time Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World in the late 1400s, corn was growing as far north as southern Canada.

Although the inhabitants of the Prehistoric Indian Village had been able to adapt the corn to grow here, it was still quite small.  And that is what makes this story all the more impressive.  At any given time during the history of this village, there were up to 200 people living here relying on just a few basic food sources.  Hunters brought in game such as deer, bison, birds and fish.  The farmers raised several crops: beans, squash, sunflower, amaranth and, most importantly, corn.  The corn ears were not much bigger than a man’s thumb, yet these people had to raise enough to sustain them until the following year’s harvest.

This story, then, becomes one of not just a people who were able to develop a corn that would grow in such a short growing season but of a people who were growing corn and other crops on such a large scale that they could not be called “primitive” farmers.  While they did succeed for a time, ultimately they were forced to move on, perhaps after depleting this area of natural resources.

Why We Do What We Do

Enjoying an Evening of Storytelling and Friendship with Jerome Kills Small on the banks of Lake Mitchell at the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village.

This past weekend, my family and I traveled to Nebraska to visit the Ashfall Fossil Bed State Park.  What an amazing site.  Very similar in ideals to our own Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village.  Located out in the middle of nowhere we were surprised to find it, much less to find as many people visiting it as there were on that very warm sunny Sunday afternoon.  I met with the founding paleontologist, Mike Voorhies, and the park’s superintendent, Rick Otto.  We shared stories of museum life and the trials of raising funds.  I had wanted to see how Ashfall succeeded since they are a State Park.  I learned that while Nebraska owns the land and the park it does not fund the park.  Much like the Prehistoric Indian Village: the City of Mitchell  owns the land, which is a designated National Landmark and National Historic Site, but does not fund the Indian Village.  We have to raise the funds ourselves to keep the doors open.  Why, then, are we all doing this?

Here at the Indian Village, we offer school groups and other groups an incomparable experience in learning about our distant past – one that is not taught in the schools.  Community programs, such as our recent Evening of Storytelling and Friendship and our upcoming Skytelling Evening, bring inexpensive and unique entertainment and Native culture to the residents of our community.  It is, however, an ongoing struggle to raise funds for these community events.  The events themselves are not designed to raise money but to raise community awareness; they are for the community to enjoy.  When the community enjoys what we do, they support us in our endeavors.  Most importantly, though, when the community enjoys what we do, we want to do more for the community.  It is the same for all other regional and small museums.

Not everyone can be a “Fairy Godmother” for their community museum.  But everyone can show their support just by visiting the museum, showing it to visiting friends and relatives, attending the unique special events and, if the community museum has a membership plan such as ours does, join the museum to show continued support.  A little from many will go a long way!

Paleoindian Artifact Found at Prehistoric Indian Village

Archaeologists working at the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village last month uncovered an intriguing find, a Paleoindian point believed to be between 7,500 and 8,000 years old.  According to Dr. Adrien Hannus, principal archaeologist at the Village and director of the Archeology Laboratory at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, it is infrequent that such an old artifact would be recovered from a more recent site. The Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village is 1,000 years old.

The spear point is fashioned from brown chalcedony and is flaked in a style typical of the James Allen or Frederick points.  These styles are more recent than the better known Clovis points.

What is puzzling is how the Paleoindian point arrived at the Village.  Was it an artifact handed down for generations?  Or, was it something a warrior or hunter found and recognized as something old and special?  We may never know.  What we do know is that it was reworked and fashioned into something like a pendant – jewelry or a shaman’s object?  Again, it is likely to remain a mystery.

Paleoindian Spear Point from the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village

An Evening of Storytelling & Friendship



An Evening of Storytelling & Friendship

On July 30th, we will welcome master storyteller, Jerome Kills Small for An Evening of Storytelling and Friendship.  Mr. Kills Small is an instructor of Native Language Studies at the University of South Dakota, a recipient of the Distinguished Scholar of the Year award and a former Poet of the Year.  He is Oglala Sioux, a traditional storyteller and oral historian.  Jerome Kills Small tells the stories of his elders, and the stories they left for future generations. He tells of the memories of childhood, and stories for intergenerational history. Lakota oral tradition shows respect for animals, plants, the universe, and especially for the people. He sings songs with his elk hide drum to bring sounds of the heartbeat of all living beings, and invites the audience in a friendship dance.   This event is for “children of all ages” and will be held beginning at 7:00 pm around a campfire on the grounds of the Prehistoric Indian Village, 3200 Indian Village Road, Mitchell, South Dakota.  Refreshments will be served.  The fee is just $6 for adults, $5 seniors, $4 students and children under 5 are free.  for more information, please call us at 605-996-5473 or check out our website at