The History or the Puget Sound Knappers Association And It’s Impact on Flintknapping in the Pacific Northwest*
Chapter One - The Beginning
The history of the Puget Sound Knappers Association (PSK) is, to a large degree, the history of modern flintknapping in the Pacific Northwest. There is and has been for more than 40 years, a number of ‘modern flintknappers’ in the PNW, but with few exceptions there wasn’t much in the way of organized knapping activity. The sole exception was the annual ‘informal’ knap-in at Glass Buttes, Oregon which drew knappers from not only Oregon and Washington but all over the U.S.
That was until a few knappers from the northwest corner of Washington got together as a group to share their hobby of flintknapping and eventually form the Puget Sound Knappers Association.
In 1991, several guys, none of whom had any real experience flintknapping, got together to share what little they each knew. Joe Higgins, Ed Thomas, Dave Pehling, Gerry Swiney and Bill Grooms met on the Tulalip Indian Reservation near Marysville, WA.
While they quickly discovered that none of them knew much about flintknapping, they all decided to go about changing that deficiency. A copy of D.C. Waldorf’s book “The Art of Flintknapping’ ( (influenced by Callahan's "the Basics of Biface Knapping" ) was purchased and initially became the ‘bible’of the early PSK members.
Following the initial success of the first few meetings, Joe Higgins obtained a copy of the Flintknappers Exchange , a newsletter that had somehow compiled a listing of flintknappers across the U.S. Joe set about contacting, either by phone or mail (snail mail in those days) as many of the people on the list as he could. He arranged for everyone to meet at the Snohomish County Agriculture Extension office in South Everett, WA in late 1993. Thus began the Puget Sound Knappers association.
The first PSK ‘knap-in’ was held on reference needed, on Tulalip Indian Reservation, near Marysville, WA. Dr Joe Higgins is credited with organizing this first knap-in and is considered by most as the founder of the PSK. The first knap-in was attended by Joe, Dave Pehling, Gerry Swiney, Bill Grooms, ‘Crazy’ and Ed Thomas. It was a great success according to all who attended – if fact so much so that they decided to seek out other knappers to share and expand their hobby.
By 1993, the group had grown considerably, including such now famous knappers as Dave Rauschenberg, Harvey Hughett, and Stu Murdock. Meetings were move to the Snohomish County Agriculture Extension Building (where Dave Pehling worked) located near Silver Lake, South of Everett, Washington and in 1993, the first edition of the PSK newsletter ‘SPALLS” was published.
All of the initial group of aspiring knappers were brand new to the art of flintknapping so they relied on every source they could find to garner information on tools, techniques, rocks, rock locations, point types, etc. One of the earliest references was D.C. Waldorf’s The Art of Flintknapping – considered by many as the Flintknappers Bible.
Chapter Two – The Early Days
Following the recruiting efforts of Dr. Joe Higgins and the publication of SPALLS, and the formal organizing of the Puget Sound Knappers, members grew significantly as did the number of knap-ins.
In June of 1992, Joe Higgins and Ed Thomas trekked down to Glass Buttes, OR to obtain some of the famous obsidian. They camped out, explored the area, collected a fair amount of obsidian in a variety of sizes and colors and ate ‘lots of baloney’! This started what was to become an annual gathering of the PSK Clan at the Buttes.
This initial PSK/Glass Buttes gathering was not the now famous Glass Buttes Primitive Skills Gathering, hosted by Jim Riggs, but more of a traditional "Knap-in". However, over the years the two events have merged to become the quintesenntial "Knap-in". While knapping is the predominate activity, you can still find other primitive skills practiced and taught at this event.
Note: Although the majority of those attending are members of the PSK, athe members of the PSK organize the voluntary fundraising activities and provide for sanitation, i.e. porta-potties, this is not PSK event.
The traditional Glass Buttes Knap-in has been held during the last of March (corresponding to Oregon schools Spring Break week), since around 1980. As many as 100 to 150 knappers show up each year, dispite the austerem and sometimes frigid, conditions.
Later in the year there was a gathering of knappers at the famous Richardson Rock Ranch. PSK members who attended reported that some good knappers from Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana were present and made the trip a very valuable educational experience.
In December of 1993, Joe Higgins published the first issue of SPALLS, the official newsletter of the Puget Sound Knappers. As with most of the early editions, the first newsletter provided information on the next meeting, a program of sorts and driving directions. The ‘program’ in this case was percussion reduction of rough rock to a bi-face and percussion problem solving. Joe continued to publish SPALLS until 1997.
The first Knap-in published in SPALLS was also held at the Snohomish County Agriculture Extension Building on January 8, 1994, and was attended by twenty to thirty knappers. This knap-in, the largest in the PNW history, was attended by what would become some of the finest knappers anywhere. In addition to the founding members, soon to be well known knappers such as Webb Hammond, Dave Rauschenberg, Cole Hurst and Joe Greenwell attended.
It was the second edition of SPALLS, February 1994, really started to exhibit the developing culture of the PSK. Sharing of information such knapping techniques, tool making, material sources etc, were actively encouraged. Announcements of upcoming knap-ins as well as efforts to organize more knappers and regional knap-ins would be a primary goal. Clearly there was a very strong interest and somewhat organized effort to gain additional knowledge and improve techniques.
This issue of SPALLS also saw the first reference to the new PSK ‘Code of Ethics’ and request that each and every knapper register their ‘brand’ or knapper mark with which they signed their art.
Also in this issue was short-lived requirement for ‘dues’. The $5 fee was primarily used to defray the cost of mailing the newsletter and was abandon by the end of 1994. Today, email and the PSK website are the primary means of distributing SPALLS but the cost of ‘snailmail’ to those that don’t have computer access is still in excess of $20/edition.
The February 1994 issue of SPALLS marked the only time that the PSK was affiliated with any other organization, Primitive Archers Northwest and was quite short-lived. It is also the only time that the PSK charged to attend any PSK event.
The cultural ‘norm’ KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) was spelled out. Even in the more complex world of today, this continues to be the guiding principal. This KISS principal has also evolved into ‘KIF’, (Keep It Informal), few if any hard and fast rules, no fees dues, and no formal organizational hierarchy.
May of 1994 saw the organizing efforts of the PSK/SPALLS bear fruit with the addition of more new members and the creation of the ‘Cut Fingers’ clan, which represented the PSK at Tacoma Sportsman Club event.
PSK members continue to expand their knowledge through cross-pollination. Visits to Richardson’s Rock Ranch by PSK members and a visit to California to meet with Barney DeSimone and Bruce Goulette by Joe Higgins provided exposure to different styles and techniques.
The May issue of SPALLS marked the start of a debate that continues to this day – the publication of ‘lithic rock source’ maps. This debate centers around commercial exploitation of knappable rock and the potential for adverse reactions by State and Federal agencies that manage public lands. While the debate continues, the current ‘official’ position of the PSK is not to publish maps that are not already in the public domain. Maps such as the BML Map of Glass Buttes Quarries are available from the BLM and as such are ‘open source. Bottom line though – if you don’t want your ‘secret spot’ known to others, don’t tell anyone.
1995 saw the creation of more new knap-ins – Cole Hurst hosted the Wenatchee Knap-in, and the start of the now traditional ‘Pot-Luck’ Dinner. Community dinners were organized before 1995 but they now became the norm. One only has to attend a single PSK Knap-in to realize what gourmets knappers (or their spouses) are!
Cole’s knap-in further established the commitment to ‘free instruction’. Those with more advanced skills freely tutored those with less, and new techniques and tools were demonstrated and explained.
Cole’s knap-in also heralded the started of Paleo Art displays. Where at prior knap-ins folks sometimes brought their points and blades to share, there was a dedicated display area at Cole’s. Not only stone points and blades but finished knives, self-bows, and other Paleo Art.
PKS knappers also demonstrated other primitive skills – a common event at many PSK knap-ins – friction fire starting, bow making, etc.
The year 1995 was also very significant in that it brought several ‘Master Knappers’ 7 into association with the PSK. Steve Allely. Jim Hopper, D.C. Waldorf, Steve Behrnes attended the annual Richardson Rock Ranch Knap-in and passed along some ‘handy hints’.
In July1995, the late “Powder Monkey’ Dane Martin, hosted a ‘Day with D.C. Waldorf’ at his home. D.C. not only some of his techniques and knapping principles but became a member of the PSK!
Chapter 3 - The Growth Years
Membership and attendance grew by leaps and bounds starting in 1995 and in accelerated in 1996, including the addition of new members from Idaho and California. By the end of 1996 there were over 50 member knappers of the PSK and the association went ‘International’ with a new member, Peter Skyes, from British Columbia, Canada.
This year saw the real beginning of the meaning of the PSK whose stated purpose is to ‘To serve as a platform from which to promote and practice knapping basics and skills’.
Various public events were attended by PSK members like the flintknapping demonstrations at a Puyallup school put on by Webb Hammond, Stu Murdock and Ralph Queen as well as knapping demonstration at the Everett and Oak Harbor Rock Club Gem and Mineral Show by Joe Higgins, Ron Correll, Dan Haigh., Gerry Swiney, Ralph, Groom Dennis Burkholder and Charlie Houston. These demonstrations were met with enthusiastic enjoyment by those in attendance!
In 1997, Joe Greenwell took over the responsibility for publishing and did so with the same enthusiasm and commitment as his predecessor, Joe Higgins.
1997 marked the start of the now annual Millersylvania Knap-in hosted by Mick and Holly Hill. Dubbed the ‘TurkeyFest Knap-in’, it is traditionally held over the first full weekend in November and has become a favorite among PNW knappers.
The Medicine Creek Knap-in, hosted by Cole Hurst and the Arlington knap-in, hosted by Dane Martin had become established annual events.
For the first (and only) time since it’s founding, the PSK invited/hired a real knapping instructor to demonstrated and teach. Renowned knapper Craig Ratzat put on a ‘Pressure Flaking Workshop’ at Dave Rauschenberg’s place near Enumclaw, WA. Cost of the two day workshop was $30.
Most, of not all of the attendees at this event, credit Craig with substantially increasing both th knowldge and skills who participated.
The annual March Glass Buttes Knap-in finally made it into the PSK newsletter! ‘Hosted’ by Jim Riggs, this knap-in always attracts some of the best knappers in the world. This knap-in offers easy access to largest concentration of knappable stone anywhere in North America (and perhaps the world) and traditionally is the best place to get free knapping instruction from the truly greats – Steve Allely, Jim Hopper, Jim Riggs, Emory Coons and the like.
Mick Hill and several other knappers continued to demonstrate knapping to the public, this time at the Ft. Lewis Armed Forces Day Rock Show.
The first PSK knap-in in Canada was hosted by Peter Skyes
The first PSK Knap-in in California was hosted at Davis Creek (Plum Valley Campground) by Richard Urata. Known for it fabulous Rainbow obsidian, the soon became a very popular event, attracting not only PSK members but knappers from as far away as Texas (Leroy Jines) and Arizona (Tom Dodge). Richard also became the publisher of SPALLS and continued the tradition of using this newsletter to encourage and promote knapping and the PSK.
Chapter 4 – Internet Age
Richard Urata, publisher of SPALLS for ten years, was a driving force in the growth of the PSK. Between Richard’s hosted knap-ins at Davis Creek and his inclusive view of the flintknapping community as evidenced in his tenure as SPALLS editor and publisher, the PSK continued to grow – in both awareness and number of members. It also grew in the number of knap-ins. This all led up to the creation of the PSK website http://pugetsoundknappers.com.
In 2010, after 10 years of dedicated work on behalf of the PSK Richard (and to a large degree his wife Joan) decided it was time to pass the torch to someone else. Richard asked Jim Keffer, who had submitted several knap-in reports to SPALLS, to take over the responsibility of publishing SPALLS and Jim agreed.
Unfortunately (or fortunately if you’re a positive minded person), the first SPALLS Jim issued had to be re-issued within two weeks of publication. One of the most popular and best attended knap-ins, the Moses Lake Knap-n hosted by Ken Calvert, had to be cancelled due to Ken’s declining health. After somewhat unsuccessfully trying to notify each of the almost 250 PSK members, Jim decided it was time to move into the ‘Internet Age’ and, with the help of PSK member Tom Sterling, created “PugetSoundKnappers.com”
The website went live in September of 2010. While the original intent was to serve as a means of ‘getting the word out’, the website soon took on a life of its own. Members started making suggestions on additional content – adding SPALLS write-up, ‘How-To’ articles, Member Mark Registrations, information on Rule and Regulations and much, much more. And members continue to support and provide content – everything from art for the Member Art Galleries to Knap-in Recipes, to PSK knap-in Humor.
It was also at this time that two of the most significant and novel changes to the PSK took place. While the motivation behind the website was to keep the membership up-to-date on future events, it became clear early on that it could have a great deal more impact and value to the membership if it contained more than just schedules.
This brought about the first significant change. As it became clear that it had to be a ‘PSK website’, not just one individual’s website it also became clear that the membership needed to be represented and involved in the website. Clearly it was impractical to get input from all 250+ members (now over 540 active members), so an informal survey of some of the most respected flintknappers in the PSK was conducted. The result of that survey was that twelve of these members we’re asked to form an advisory council, soon to be called the “Council of Elders’8. These PSK members were noteworthy on several levels – all had invested a great deal of time and effort in the PSK and the flintknapping community in general and all were ardent supporters of the community. Some were founding members of the PSK, some were knap-in hosts and others were involved in many flintknapping related activities throughout the Pacific Northwest. And they all volunteered!
Because the PSK is, by choice, an ‘informal association’, which has no president, chairman, leader or any single person ‘in-charge’, the Council’s role is not to make ‘rules’ or dictate policy but rather to make recommendations on what should go into our newsletter ‘SPALLS’ , what content goes onto the PSK website and how we should conduct our events. The high regard in which the Council of Elders is held by the entire PSK membership and their clear commitment to the PSK community of flintknappers (or as Steve Allely so eloquently put’s it ‘Our Family’), their recommendations have been universally accepted and supported.
Council of Elders
Brad Baughman (host of the Illahee Flats Knap-in)
Dave Pehling (Founding Member of the PSK, host of the Winter Break Knap-in)
Ed Thomas (Founding Member of the PSK - host of the Thomas Hollow Knap-in)
Harvey Hughett (Founding Member of the PSK)
Jim Smith (early member and OogaBooga ‘Spirit Guide’)
Joe Greenwell (Founding Member of the PSK- former publisher of SPALLS)
Joe Higgins (Founding Member of the PSK- former publisher of SPALLS, host of the Fort Knapadonia Knap-in)
Mick Hill (early member and OogaBooga ‘Coyote’- host of the Turkeyfest Knap-in)
Richard Urata (OogaBooga Chief – former publisher of SPALLS - host of the Davis Creek and Bitterroot Valley Knap-ins)
Richard Kocan (early member and OogaBooga ‘Coyote’)
Steve Allely (former "host" of the Glass Buttes Knap-in)
Stu Murdock (early member and OogaBooga ‘Spirit Guide/Chief’ - host of the Cle Elum Knap-in)
The second significant change was not really so much a change as recognition of the core values and culture of the PSK. In discussions on how the PSK should conduct its affairs/events a number of guiding recommendation or precepts were established by the Council. Some of these precepts are:
1. Membership in the PSK is FREE
2.  .Admission to PSK events is both FREE and open to the public
3. Knapping instruction is FREE at PSK events
4. Knap-in hosts, with member support should provide free knappable rock at their knap-ins
5. Safety glass should be provided at all PSK events (hosts and members provide)
6. Free ‘loaner’ tools should be available at all PSK events
7. Knap-in hosts shall provide at least one free entrée for a Pot Luck dinner. However, it is becoming more and more popular that, in addition to the one hosted pot luck dinners, member supported pot luck dinners happen each evening
8. There is only one ‘RULE’ in the PSK – Safety Glasses must be worn in the knapping areas – no exceptions. Free Safety glass will be made available and people not complying will be asked to leave.
One offshoot to these precepts was the creation of the ‘PSK Knap-in Best Practices Guide’. This guide, initiated by Council member Harvey Hughett, contains input from all of the knap-in hosts (past and present) as well as members of the Council. It was also approved and endorsed by the Council.
The informal codification of the core values of the PSK is an incredible point of pride within the PSK. And their acceptance and adherence by the knap-in hosts and membership has had an enormous impact on the level of growth of the PSK. Since September 2010 up till December 2015, membership has grown to over 625 members, including 23 members from 8 different foreign countries! Participation in all areas of our community has also seen dramatic growth – the number of knap-in and members attending, the number and type of events, from schools and museums to rock club shows, have all increased! There have been more than 125,000 unique visitors to the website from 160 countries. There are a lot of knappers and people in general who also appreciate these core values.
©2010 J Keffer