Discussion and Conclusion
As is evident from the preceding chapters, there is a wide variety of artifacts both from a Native American occupation and from the 1860s road ranch. The Native American assemblage is very small and it is difficult to draw any conclusions about it as most of the artifacts were non-diagnostic ceramic body sherds and chipped stone debris. The historic artifacts as a whole lead to some generalized interpretations. First, the relative and absolute dates from specific artifacts are consistent with the historic record of a short single occupation. Second, almost a complete lack of building material and the general composition of the assemblage suggest a site that has been heavily salvaged. Third, the types of artifacts, especially the ceramics, indicate a residence of some type at the site. Also from the ceramics it can be discerned that the inhabitants, while not wealthy, did have access to some finer and fancier decorated ceramics. Finally, the overall distribution of all classes of artifacts seems to be in two linear lines that are parallel to the trail.
Unfortunately, drawing any definite conclusions from the assemblage is uncertain for a few reasons. First, the assemblage contains a small number of artifact types. However, the number of certain types of artifacts is inflated because of their frequency (i.e., small metal fragments and pieces of daub or mortar). These artifacts have little informative value. Second, the current hypothesis is that the site was heavily salvaged when it was abandoned. This creates a very different type of artifact record, mainly because the artifacts left behind were done so by choice. Also, the possibility exists that the excavation has missed middens or other large concentrations of artifacts at the site. For these reasons it is difficult to draw concrete conclusions.
This said, there are some things that can be said for certain. While the artifact record is small, it contains surprising variety. This variety indicates a wide range of activities having taken place at the site. This is not unexpected as travelers along the trail would have needed to be somewhat self-sufficient as supplies could only be purchased at distantly located places. Beaver Crossing would have been a good location to do a variety of activities. First, the road ranch offered goods for sale as well as food for the animals, and the ford created a situation where wagons would have to stop and wait to ford the creek. These forced stops allowed the travelers to conduct maintenance or simply relax.
There are several examples of artifacts types which would indicate buying, selling, and trading occurring at the site. One of these, glass trade beads, was found at the site. These beads are found throughout the west and were used as goods for trading with Native groups. Their presence at the site could indicate a relationship with local Native Americans, the beads being shipped farther west, or they may have adorned some traveler's clothing or other personal items.
The faunal remains tell us that domestic animals were being eaten and possibly processed at the site. The largest number of identified specimens in the sample is Bos Taurus (cow). Of the 17 specimens, nearly all have either saw or chop marks. They likely represent on-site processing of animals, as it is unlikely that meat could have been shipped from elsewhere without spoiling. Again, this correlates well with travelers having to stop at the road ranch which then provided them with food.
The ballistics from the site are mostly ammunition types that could have been used for hunting. This suggests that the operators of the road ranch or the travelers were supplementing their domestic food sources with wild game. This again makes sense as overland travel was difficult and often lengthy. Wild food sources would not likely have been overlooked. Also, it may have been more economically viable for the road ranch to provide wild game than to raise the cattle or other livestock.
The general excavation goal for the first summer of excavation was to find the remains of structures. A large mortar feature was discovered and then, using written records and the historic photo, the dimensions of the building were estimated and an attempt was made to locate the other corners. When this failed, a strategy that involved chasing the wall was employed. This also proved ineffective. A conclusion was reached that the site was extensively salvaged. This has guided the excavation strategy for the summer of 2006 field season.
The second season of excavation will begin with several strategies in mind. First, more excavation will be done to fill in the spaces left by the initial excavation. This is a direct change in strategy that takes the salvaged nature of the site into consideration. More extensive use will be made of the geophysical information and more testing will likely be done. This is necessary as no artifacts or features are visible on the surface. Also, research will be conducted at other trail sites in Nebraska to see how they compare to Beaver Crossing and also to develop a general idea of trail archaeology in Nebraska and the Midwest in general. This report should be looked at as a work in progress. More excavation and research is required in order to fully understand the unique archaeology at 25SW49.