December 16, 2022
Melissa and I decided to spend our “date night” listening to a presentation by Dr. Paige Ford, Station Archeologist at Plum Bayou Mounds Archeological State Park and sponsored by the Ark-Homa Chapter of the Arkansas Archeological Society (and yes, we did go out to eat after the presentation). The 18-mound Plum Bayou complex is the largest and most complex mound site in the state and has the tallest surviving prehistoric mound in Arkansas. The site was used as a ceremonial ground by the Late Woodlands culture from 650 to 1050 CE. An interesting aspect of the presentation was the name change that just occurred in November. Formerly Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park, Plum Bayou is one of four National Historic Landmarks in the Arkansas State Park system.
When I looked online, I found on November 2, 2022, the Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park’s name was officially changed to Plum Bayou Mounds Archeological State Park and the Arkansas Archeological Society (ARAS) research station was renamed the Plum Bayou Research Station. After a lengthy process involving meetings and discussions with Tribal Nations, a public comment period, and successive approval by State Parks commissioners, the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism officially changed the name to Plum Bayou Mounds Archeological State Park. This was not the first name change for the site, as it was initially referred to as the Knapp Mound Group, referencing the Knapp family who owned the land throughout the latter half of the 1800’s. During this time there were many theories regarding who built the mounds in the southeastern US, and supposedly the Knapp family supposedly the Toltec civilization of Mexico built the mounds on their property (one of the theories) and the site became known by locals as Toltec Mounds. When the property was acquired by the state in 1975 this common name was used, despite the researchers knowing it was not associated with the Toltec culture.
Martha Rolingson was the first station archeologist and conducted research on the site beginning in 1966 and continuing for the next 30 years. Rolingson named the people associated with the site the Plum Bayou culture and identified this ceremonial mound site as a “type site” for the Plum Bayou culture, meaning it is the place where the characteristic artifacts of this culture were first identified. When presented with changing the name of the park itself, it naturally follows to name the site after the Plum Bayou people who built it. The Native Garden exhibit at the park was already named the Plum Bayou Garden, attributing the Woodland varieties of plants to the very culture in this region who interacted with and used them.
THOUGHTS: I have been interested in sites like Plum Bayou since I researched the mound building Woodlands and Mississippian cultures in the central and southeastern US as an undergrad student. One of Melissa and my early trips after we were married was a joint tour of several of these mound sites combined with key battlefields of the Civil War. Along with fishing, visiting these sites is one of our shared joys. Through the years I have found that sharing what you enjoy with a partner not only makes the experience more enjoyable, but it can also strengthen your relationship. Spending time with others and creating shared memories builds bonds between spouses, friends, and can turn strangers and even enemies into lifetime companions. This is especially good to remember during the holidays. Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.