Once a year, usually the first weekend in June, like grizzled salmon swimming upstream to spawn, Texas arrowhead collectors convene in the small town of Temple, about an hour north of Austin, for one of the largest Indian Artifact shows in North America. Hosted by the Genuine Indian Relic Society, the gathering is held at the Mayborn Convention Center on the north side of town - a sprawling civic center that is the size of two football fields and holds two hundred and fifty eight-foot-long tables, arranged in rows, groaning beneath the weight of tens of thousands of arrowheads, spear points, grooved axes, celts, scrapers, flint knives, fossils, rare minerals, Spanish artifacts, and every other sort of ancient tool you can imagine.
I've gone to the Temple Show every year since it began. Generally speaking, there are three kinds of people in the collecting world. There are guys like me - the "arrowhead hunters" - who find all of our stuff ourselves and display our cases with pride, even if our artifacts aren't necessarily as pretty or as big as some of the stuff other guys have. We go out and walk riverbeds and wade in creeks and hike plowed fields and comb shorelines to rescue these bits of the past, and we are DARNED proud of them! Then there are the dealers. These are guys who buy entire collections for resale. They may keep a few pieces, but to them, an artifact is primarily a way to make a quick buck. They will find some old farmer's collection and give him a few hundred dollars for it, which he will gratefully accept. Then they will pull out one or two pieces that they want to keep, and put a price tag on all the rest. When you consider that a single perfect Clovis or Scottsbluff point can sometimes be worth over $10,000, dealers can make big profits on their investments. But the vast majority if points in any personal finds collection are common examples of common types, so often dealers will buy an entire collection just to get a half dozen really good pieces. Of course, they also get burned by fake relics sometimes, since people have been knapping out "modern" points since the 1890's! Finally, there are the buyers. These are guys with pretty big money who collect the best of the best, or maybe they are looking for specific artifact types. Many of them don't sell at all, but they come to the show to scour collections of the "hunters" and "dealers" that are there. Unlike the dealers, buyers will pay top dollar for a piece if it is something they really want, and they may chase the same artifact for years, gradually raising their price until the finder finally caves in and sells it. (For the record, I try to keep most of my personal finds, but when the money gets downright stupid, it is, after all, just a rock I found on the ground!)
So Thursday afternoon, June 1, 2017, I packed up my cases of points, boxes of fossils, and multiple copies of my books, and then Patty and I headed down to Temple together. It's a three hour drive, and we got there around 9 pm and checked into our hotel. We crashed almost immediately, since we'd put in a very busy day long before we left Greenville. The next morning we got up, ate breakfast, went to the Mayborn Center, and set up my tables. While I am primarily a hunter, I did sell a few of my very best personal finds back in the early 2000's when we were pretty poor and our daughters had a lot of medical bills. Around 2008 I decided enough was enough - out of my ten all-time best personal finds, I had sold seven! So I began buying a few points here and there, mainly on EBay, so that I could sell them at just enough of a markup to at least pay for going to the show. More recently, after I became an author, my arrowhead business declined to the point (ha ha! pun!) that I pretty much quit buying. I didn't have much sales inventory left at all this year, in fact, so I after setting up I wandered over to the table of a dealer who is a good friend of mine and picked up a few pieces that I knew I could turn a small profit on. By noon I had sold one arrowhead, a nice fossil, and a sword that my daughter's boyfriend sold me the year before that I no longer wanted. Then it was time to go to Doug's!
My friend Doug S. has a nice little ranch just east of Temple built on top of a large Indian camp. We met in 2007 and he invited me to come out and dig for points on his place with him. He has found thousands of points there, some very nice. Over the next ten years, I found maybe fifty or sixty nice points on his place, going down to hunt with him once or twice a year. Honestly, most of the best camp is now dug out, and even with a screen table and a front end loader we only found one whole artifact this afternoon - a nice Clear Fork Gouge that my wife pulled off the screen. But, it was a beautiful day, and we got to play in the dirt and have a little fun and hang out with some nice folks.
After that, we went to the hotel and cleaned up, ate a very nice dinner at Texas Road House, and then hit the sack early, watching a movie together in bed before fading off to sleep. Saturday was going to be a big day!
The next morning we rose early, grabbed a quick bite, and were at the Convention Center by 8 AM. I uncovered my tables and set up. I got to see a ton of old friends and some very beautiful artifacts (I never have time to walk around all I want; I'm too busy hustling books and stuff at my table!). I sold seventeen of my novels, almost all my nicer fossils, and a few decent points, making enough money to pay for all the trip's expenses and come out about $200 in the black at the end of the day. I saw collectors from all over America, got to hold some incredible artifacts, and thoroughly enjoyed seeing many of my friends again. By four in the afternoon the show was winding down, and I began to slowly pack away my stuff. We carried the heavy cases and frames of points and spears and boxes of rocks and stacks of books back out to the car, and by 6 PM we were on the road, headed north, back to home.
But the call of the flint is strong, and I imagine that come next June, I'll be on I-35 heading south with a carload of flint and high hopes of rocks and friends and fossils and pointy things and adventures in the dirt . . .