Native American artifacts are a passion for Mt. Pleasant man
By A.J. Panian
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
In the early 1950s, Duaine Fuoss made a discovery that altered the trajectory of his life.
As a 6-year-old boy working on a farm neighboring his family home in the Fayette County town of Owensdale, Fuoss was hoeing the soil to plant sweet corn when his metal tool struck a solid, sizeable object.
“I remember almost exactly where it was at, the exact time ... it was probably late June or July,” said Fuoss, 65, a retired resident of Mt. Pleasant. “It was weird to see it, because I hadn't seen anything of that shape, and I didn't know what it was.”
What Fuoss found, he said, was later determined to be a side-notched spear point used by Native Americans living in the area roughly 3,000 years ago.
“I picked it up and took it with me. I showed it to Don Keffer, who was probably the best Native American artifact collector in the area, and he told me ‘You've really found yourself something here,' ” Fuoss said.
From that point on, Fuoss became a student to the teachings of both Keffer and the late Milford King, both of whom eventually advised him of the location of numerous Native American sites in south central Westmoreland County and beyond, he said.
“Those men were true mentors to me,” Fuoss said.
Beginning in the mid-1960s, a teenaged Fuoss conducted enough research to begin uncovering area sites where tribes, including the Iroquois, Shawnee and Monongahela, periodically dwelled and hunted, he said.
“Over time, I think I've found more than 50 Native American sites from Kecksburg to Broadford (in Connellsville Township, Fayette County),” he said.
Explorer builds formidable collection
The results of Fuoss' lifelong search for Native American artifacts in the Mt. Pleasant area are staggering.
“At one time, I'd collected between 5,000 and 6,000 spearheads and arrowheads, along with another 4,000 beads, stones and pendants,” he said.
All that equates to more than 40 wooden display cases, each containing dozens of items, which Fuoss has meticulously organized.
The items are made from a bevy of minerals, including flint, chert and jasper, which were produced over time as a result of a giant lake that covered the region for hundreds of millions of years, and eventually receded to a marshland before evaporating, Fuoss said.
Fuoss' research and explorations reveal that, following the end of the last Ice Age, when glaciers dominated the area, countless Native American tribes lived nomadically within the area now occupied by the county and surrounding region during the past 15,000 years, he said.
“There were 15- to 20-person clans which developed,” he said. “They moved around when the wood ran out or the game got scarce in particular places.”
Some objects in Fuoss' collection are derived from animals that at one time inhabited the area. These include jewelry made from wolf fangs and beads made from the bones of wild turkey and water fowl, along with a 32,000-year-old horse tooth.
“I'm sort of a self-taught naturalist and archaeologist,” Fuoss said. “I'm into everything outdoors. A lot of the Native American sites have been developed into things like trailer courts today.”
Fuoss discovered a three-foot long, fossilized stem of a fern in Bear Rocks, which he at one time shared with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, he said.
“I was told that was 300 million years old,” Fuoss said.
Fuoss even discovered an ax head carved from what he claims is a piece of a meteorite.
A highlight of Fuoss' collection, he said, is a bifurcate spear point he discovered near Broadford that he learned is 13,000 years old.
Discovering Native American roots
In the 18th century, James Logan Colbert emigrated from Scotland and eventually found his way to what is today known as Oklahoma, where he began trading with members of the Chickasaw Nation. He eventually married a full-blooded woman of the Chickasaw tribe named Mintahoyo.
Among the couple's five children was Levi Colbert, who eventually married and became a father to a son, Lemuel Colbert.
Lemuel Colbert eventually relocated to North Carolina, where he married and had a son, Issac, he said.
During the coal and coke boom of the 19th century, Issac Colbert moved to the town of Liberty in Fayette County to work as a blacksmith. He married and had a son, Henry Colbert, who was Fuoss' great-grandfather, he said.
His grandfather, Harry Colbert, had a daughter, Alice Colbert Fuoss, who was Duaine's mother, he said.
“The family of my grandmother (Kathleen Fuoss) would work six days a week in the coke ovens and coal mines, worship on Sunday and spend the rest of their Sundays looking for Native American artifacts,” Fuoss said.
Message of respect
Fuoss said he only explores the earth's surface for artifacts, a gesture made out of respect for his Native American forbearers and any area burial grounds.
“Springtime is the best time to search because the ground is thawed, but I don't believe in digging into the ground because you could disturb gravesites,” he said.
Last summer, Fuoss was invited to speak of his finds and searching practices during the Mammoth Park Youth Field Day, an annual event held each summer in Mt. Pleasant Township by the Pennsylvania Game Commission in conjunction with the Westmoreland County Department of Parks and Recreation.
“I was watching Duaine, and the kids were very intrigued with what he had to say,” said Jerry Trainer of Hempfield, a commission deputy who helped establish the event in 2004 with Mt. Pleasant Borough Police Chief Stephen Ober and Ed Bricker, a county park policeman.
During his talk, Fuoss said he attracted the attention of a family from the Lakota Sioux tribe in attendance with the Western Pennsylvania Native American Association.
“The father from that family told me after my talk ‘You told the truth, you've given me one of the best talks,'” Fuoss said.
“He told me ‘Your name is Meadow Walker, because you don't believe in digging into the earth to find what you're looking for.' That made me feel very good.”
A mentor donates his collection
In 2012, Keffer, a Dawson native, donated his entire artifact collection, along with several totem poles he had carved, to the Tri-Town Area Historical Society. Today, he is 94 and lives with his daughter, Susan Zearley, and her family in Bethel Park.
“I thought I should get it somewhere someone else could enjoy it,” Keffer said.
The collection is housed in the Don Keffer Room in the Tri-Town Area Historical Society building located at the corner of Main and Howell streets in Dawson.
Along with Fuoss, Keffer said he influenced many youngsters to start Native American artifact collections.
“When I had the Boy Scouts, I'd take them and neighbor boys along for company, and sometimes they would find something and want to trade, and I'd say, ‘No, you keep it, and start a collection of your own,' ” Keffer said.
“It was a very nice hobby for me,” he said.
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or email@example.com.
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