'Maryland Indian' Immerses Himself In Culture To Teach

December 08, 1991|By Margaret Buchler | Margaret Buchler,Contributing writer

Arrowheads and spearheads of the woodland people who roamed Howard County for 9,000 years are still being unearthed, with new finds reported monthly. More than 100,000 Indian artifacts have been found at the county's largest site, which in part lies below the waters of the Triadelphia Reservoir.

Although these peoples had either long sincedied or left Maryland before the 1830 Indian Removal Act, letters from settlers like John Smith and the Rev. Andrew White, along with artifacts of stone axes and hoes, spear-tips and bolas, tell tales of their culture.

Jim "Big Eagle" Roane, retired Patapsco State Park ranger who lives in an isolated house deep within the park, echoes these tales as he re-creates these long-gone natives, earning himself the title "the Maryland Indian."

Under sponsorship of the State Forest, Park and Wildlife Administration, Roane dons hand-sewn moccasins, deerskin clothes, bear's tooth necklace and the persona of an American Indian andintroduces the Indians' culture to groups throughout Maryland. Recently, he performed for the Elkridge Heritage Society at Cider Mill along Landing Road and at Guilford Elementary School.

Roane uses authentic Indian techniques to reproduce the traditional weapons, tools, carvings and ornaments so that his audience may study the artifacts in a "hands-on" experience.

Each artifact tells part of the tribal life story. For example, Roane explained, there is the drinking cup he made from a burl hollowed out by hot embers and then smoothed with a stone scraper, a technique also used to make canoes. The handle is carved and has a bead string for carrying on a belt.

"During that time, there were lots of enemies roaming through the forests here in Maryland . . . rangers that worked out of forts like Fort Garrison . . . and other Indian tribes," Roane said. "So when he came to a spring, instead of flapping prone on his belly and slurping up the water, leaving himself exposed to an enemy that might jump out from behind the bushes and bash his head in . . . he could (use the drinking cup to) constantly be on guard."

Similarly, turtles, symbolizing luck and long life, are frequently used or carved because of the native's myth that the earth is carried on the back of a giant turtle, Roane said.

"What brought so many Indians here to Maryland, the Iroquois, the Algonquin and all from up north, is that they were here in searchof the saltwater clamshell," he said. The Indians would use a bow drill to bore a hole in the shells, string them on sinew from a deer's legs, and shape them on a sanding rock to form ceremonial belts.

The native Piscataway tribes, who spoke the north Algonquin dialect, would trade the purple and white beads with northern tribes for such things as flint for starting fires and birch bark for containers. Narrow Indian travel routes traversing the county were eventually widenedby the incoming Colonists.

Although there were numerous local tribes, including the Kittamaqundis, Patapsco, Potomacs, Anacostans and Patuxents, Roane bases his research on the Susquehannocks tribe that claimed lands on both sides of the Chesapeake Bay up to the mouth of the Susquehanna River.

Many tribes came to this county to hunt, especially in the fall when the deer migrated north from the shore. ThePatapsco River was apparently a favorite location for generations, with evidence of a chain of hunting camps dotting the riverbanks.

Roane himself hunts and forages for native plants and animals to obtain the materials he needs to create his arrows, bolas, hoes, axes, dyes, pipes, pouches, quivers, needle and thread, combs from antlers, mats, rattles and other objects of daily Indian life.

He knows how to lure a wild turkey by imitating first an owl hooting and then the hen turkey's seductive call. He beckons deer bucks with the harsh clacking of antlers. He harvests dogbane for cordage and pokeberries and bloodroot for dyes to color porcupine quivers. He dries and cures animal skins, chips arrowheads and forges tools on an anvil.

"Hear that! Do you hear that noise . . . that's the pileated woodpecker and he's right over there," Roane recently said at the park. "I'm going tocapture him in wood."

Roane is an accomplished carver of wood andbone. He uses twisted mountain laurel roots to carve duck heads for decoys that the Indians would mount on mud bodies on the river banks.

There were villages of wigwams or long-houses in the county, according to Roane, including ones at Landing Road and near Race Road in Elkridge.

"The Indians were not dumb," Roane observed. "Fifty years after the settlers arrived in Maryland, most of the Indians didn't even know how to make a bow and arrow because they adapted to the early settlers' way of life . . . but they charged them too many beaver pelts for a musket."

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