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Flintknapping on the Palouse
by Harvey Hughett

First, just what is the "Palouse?" Most people agree that it is the 4,000 square mile region of rolling hills that stretches from about Lewiston, Idaho to southern end of Lake Coeur d'Alene, including land in eastern Washington. If one includes additional areas outside of the Palouse, the larger area is generally known as the Inland Northwest Region. The name Palouse comes from the Native American tribe that used to roam the area's huge grasslands with their large herds of horses, the Palus Indians. They were sophisticated in breeding and are credited (along with other area tribes) with the widely popular Appaloosa Horse (the word originating from "A Palus" horse).

Flint Knappers in the Inland Northwest Region are widely scattered and very loose knit, only meeting occasionally, with travel distances being an issue. Because I don't have their permission, I won't list last names of a few key knappers that I've worked with in the region.

Although I've been knapping for more than 35 years, I'm certainly not the first knapper in the region, nor remotely close to the best. In fact, the late Don Crabtree was a distinguished teacher in the anthropology department at the University of Idaho and taught flint knapping classes years before I was born. Crabtree is world famous for his knapping skills and most flint knappers today could trace some of what they learned back to those who Crabtree taught. His personal library and much of his lithic collection are housed at the University and may be viewed by appointment.

Because flint knappers in the Inland Northwest are so widely scattered, I don't pretend to know even a fraction of them as I'm always running into someone new who knaps that I'd not heard of. Some that I do know in the immediate area are Dave Q. of Potlatch, ID (archeologist, excellent percussion knapper, and teaches knapping to students at the UI. There are very, very few people more conscientious and dedicated to teaching knapping than Dave); Dr. Lee S. of Moscow, ID (professor of anthropology at the University of Idaho who teaches "Abo only" techniques); Charles P. from the desert country west of Spokane, WA who learned knapping from Joe Higgins (founder of Puget Sound Knappers) and is one of the best knappers in the area; Andy B., of Julietta, ID who I met not too many years ago. I taught him the basics of knapping, we went to Oregon and California to collect rocks, and within 6 months he was a wonderful knapper, the fastest learner that I've ever met. Today, he can make about any style point well but prefers long blades up to 20"…and with flawless flake scar patterns…all with pressure flaking (his arm muscles are like steel bands). After teaching him the basics of knapping, he soon was teaching me new techniques that he'd learned on his own!; John H., a full-time archeologist for an area tribe;Then there is Dan S. of Weippe, ID who moved to the area from Redding, CA. Dan has forgotten more about knapping than most will ever learn (Really, he's unbelieveably talented and knows extremely well how to make rock respond to his caresses. He would be comfortable in any group of master knappers). I met Dan in the Electric Blue pit at Davis Creek, CA many years ago; and there's Jim C. of Palouse, WA, who is in his early twenties, just started knapping a few years ago and is already selling killer points and blades in area stores; Lynn, C. of Moscow who has gone to Glass Buttes with me and makes nice points and teaches others every chance he gets; Ray H. of Post Falls, ID (recently from CA) who is a long-time knapper who has gone way out of his way to spread the word that “Knapping is a Great Hobby”; Blaine K. of Pend d'Oreille, ID, who would rather make medieval weapons than stone ones but is known to “break rocks” too; Chuck S. of Benewah County who knaps and selflessly shares the hobby with his neighbors and friends; Joanne M., recently of Cottonwood, ID, an archeologist and budding knapper and atlatl enthusiast. She is especially interested in lithics and feels that she cannot understand stone artifacts well until she masters replicating the techniques herself. As you know, she's right on that. Last summer, on the Cooper's Ferry archeological dig she picked up a 9,000 year old arrow point and pointed out a hinge fracture and an overshot flake. By the way, that point was made of beautiful green rock and identified as being from a small source not far away in"the Snake River Canyon.

For sure there are many other accomplished knappers "out there." I once took knapping classes from Craig Ratzat and several of his students were from this area. I once hosted a knap in here in Moscow, ID and more than 50 people attended. And, there are always rumors surfacing about knappers in other areas of the region. You have to remember, much of the Inland Northwest is rural and a lot of people love this place so much they don't venture far from their homes in the hills except to pick up supplies. Making your own stone tools is a natural, and in some cases, a useful, hobby. In the last class I taught, a couple of guys made obsidian skinning blades to try out during the elk season. I gave them a few band aids with A warning that the blades were far sharper than their hunting knives.

As you might suspect, hunting is a strong tradition in Idaho and many new knappers just want to make a self-bow from local Yew or Vine Maple trees and their own bow hunting kit with their own hands, including stone arrow points. Others are simply fascinated by the craftsmanship and seemingly impossible task of making meticulous tools out of rocks as early Native Americans did.

To the end of increasing the interest in Flintknapping in the area of the Palouse, I and all of those individuals mentioned above have hosted knap ins or worked with interested groups of students to help train them in the art of knapping. We feel that we're getting close to having enough interested people so that regular knap ins around the region will be feasible.

In any case, group knapping classes are frequently given to scout troops; knapping rock is shared with those who show an interest and one-on-one training is increasing in the region.

A few examples: 1) I helped with back-up assistance for Charles P. during the past few years as he provided excellent training to scouts and interested members of the Spokane Rock Rollers Lapidary Club. That's become an annual event that attracts from 20 to 30 people. 2) I worked with Joanne M. to teach on-site knapping to archeologists at the Coopers Ferry archeological dig; 3) Just a month ago, Chuck S. rented the Benewah County Community Center and Chuck, Dave Q. and I taught knapping techniques to about 18 people in an all-day session, of which several were women and some genuinely serious and very interested teenagers. We went from breaking up 30 pound, dirt-covered obsidian rocks to carefully viewing and studying a display case full of extraordinary points made by some of the best knappers in the USA today.

As a side note, this last event took place within the boundaries of Coeur d'Alene Indian tribal lands and a couple of knappers may have been tribal members. We would love to see more participation by Native Americans, after all, they were doing this stuff many thousands of years ago in this same location.

In all training sessions, all rock and a full set of knapping tools are provided. Our intent is that, after we leave, those who are interested will be enthused enough to start down the road of eventually becoming an accomplished knapper. Follow up classes and knap ins are important and tentative plans are underway. A goal is to eventually have a large number of mature knap ins such as those held on the other side of the Cascades.

Along with safety and ethics issues, topics taught in these classes include choosing proper stone types, the selection and making of tools, the mechanics of concoidal fractures, spalling, pressure and percussion flaking, and varying techniques…all followed up with practice, practice, practice!

After a recent training session, a high school senior said, "Wow! This is really addictive and it's unbelievable that rocks can be made into beautiful tools."

Everyone learned, first hand, about hinge fractures, crumbling platforms, and end shock. Then, everyone went on to produce a serviceable point that they could take home. Having three roving one-on-one teachers was key to the process.

Puget Sound Knappers members, nearly 700 strong now, are proof of a growing, worldwide interest in flint knapping, and again in the land of the Palus.

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