America through the Windshield--Getting to Know the First Americans travel blog

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Museum of Southeastern Indians, Roberta, GA

As we travel and pick up brochures, visitor guides, state tourist publications we research each bit of information as carefully as possible as we attempt to discover those sites that contribute to the uniqueness of each state, region or county. Our discovery of a brief museum description was not impressive; however, it was intriguing to learn that a Southern Georgia collector had a private museum. We learned that the museum was available for viewing by appointment. Brenda logged the information in our state planner for later use. Greg made the call as we developed our March calendar and prioritized our day trips. We then left a message at the museum. We were on our way to the Peach Blossom Trail when we received the call. Greg was driving so Brenda answered the phone and spoke with Mike Stokes to schedule a mutually convenient date and time. He sounded much like the old southern farm men Brenda knew growing up in Southeastern Mississippi. He spoke slowly with a deep southern drawl very much like the other Georgia locals we met earlier.

We were eager to meet Mike and visit his private museum. We have happened upon phenomenal artifact collections on small college campuses, in personal museums, in the front rooms of private homes and have never been disappointed with the time spent viewing the collections or the often engaging conversations with the individuals who gave of their time and knowledge. We became absorbed as we imagined where the collection would be located and displayed. We recalled some of the more unusual collections and anticipated the story behind this new museum and this private collection.

The ninety-minute drive flew by as we continued to read from The Moundbuilders, a 1930 book that presents a wealth of information on archaeological findings throughout the Midwestern, Eastern and Southern states. The overviews in this lengthy book document completed studies, report findings, identify viable sites that existed in the 1930s and make recommendations for further study. Unfortunately, most of the sites are unknown to locals and can no longer be located on maps. The histories of the sites are often lost to the people who live in the towns, communities, cities and countryside unless a local has researched, documented and shared his passion for the past. (see FACT)

Mike Stokes is the owner, historian, artifact collector, museum curator and one of the most remarkable country gentlemen that we have ever had the opportunity to meet. We drove eight miles west of Roberta, Georgia. After finding the road for the given address, we drove up a steep and washed-out red clay drive past the fence and through a security gate. A few more yards up the forty-five degree incline and there we saw a nondescript gray cinder-block building having only a front door with a tiny shelter for stepping out of the sun. A small pickup truck was adjacent to the entryway but no sight of anyone, except the handsome pitch-black Lab who greeted us with welcoming yelps, a drumming tail and his rose pink tongue.

After we petted the friendly lab, we made our way inside and were grateful for a climate-controlled room. We called out “Hallo” and heard an older Southern voice response, “I’m here in the back”. Thanks to Miss GPS, we arrived at the correct time. We had purposely scheduled our visit at 1:00 PM in order to have the luxury of spending as much time as we needed without arriving in the early AM or hurrying through these unknown artifacts in the late afternoon. We were standing with our jaws near our knees as we turned around the room to view the professionally organized display cases and beautifully framed artifacts. This was unbelievable! Our initial words were “WOW, you have a wonderful collection!” We quickly made introductions and began talking, questioning, and letting our imaginations run wild.

Mike has collected Native American artifacts since he was nine years old. Initially he collected from the property of family and friends in southwestern Georgia. However, as he grew older and more experienced he began to attend flea markets and trade shows. He indicated that as his personal collection expanded he found other collectors who were willing to trade or sell. He has found, traded and sold artifacts in order to acquire pieces to expand his collection and to expand particular types of artifacts. His collections continue to multiply via donations, purchases, trades and loans.

He has been a student in the field throughout his life and now a leading expert at the local, state and national level. He has learned from the Native Americans who share their knowledge, wisdom and council with him. He knows too well the abuse the Native Americans have experienced in America. He has witnessed incorrigible treatment that is synonymous when Whites believe themselves to be superior in knowledge and wealth. He understands that Native Americans are a disrespected people. Historically labeled as inadequate, today many of their kin and fellow Native Americans have experienced so much discrimination that to attempt to educate their descendants appears as impossible as educating local communities, state politicians and federal bureaucrats.

Native American wise men, archaeologists, sociologists, graduate students, nationally recognized professionals and fellow collectors confer with Mike, consider him to be a friend and provide support for his words and deeds. His collections represent quality, beauty and rarity. His philosophy drives his passion. In prehistoric times, prior to Christopher Columbus Native American tribes’ ancestors demonstrated advanced thinking and accomplishments. Their trade networks, medical, astronomical, political, social, cultural, familial, and spiritual lives exceeded the Europeans in thousands of ways. However, their written language was not sufficient to document their knowledge prior to their exposure to the germs, warfare and political encroachments of the invading Europeans.

Mike strives to educate the locals and anyone else who wants to view his museum. His passion to educate others is a mission shared by his family, friends and peers. He wishes for these collections to be available at no cost to everyone who wishes to visit. He wants all Americans to have access to Native American artifacts and to recognize the sophistication that the artifacts represent. He wants young and old to know that America would be a better place for all if we had recognized the advanced knowledge of these people.

We loved the museum and the phenomenal artifacts. We saw many items that we have only read about and seen in books; however, we also had the opportunity to see artifacts that are extremely rare and precious for their unique characteristics and workmanship. We shared our excursions to prehistoric sites and our literature research/reviews as we learned of Mike’s expeditions, discoveries, friends, spectacular gifts from deceased collectors and anticipation of the future. One of the most memorable moments of the two hours we visited was when Mike stated, “These people lived closer to God than anyone we will ever know”. How true! These people recognized the riches of the heavens and earth. They believed in traditions that demonstrated their respect for self and others. Their concept of wealth was valued only as shared with others. They welcomed each day with celebration and thanked the Creator for all life and the gifts bestowed upon them in their daily routines. Our founding fathers learned of democratic principles from their governments in action. Their lives reflected the truth of their words, promises and deeds. They believed in love, beauty, equality and family. Life, death, special days and spiritual days were set aside for times of thanksgiving and praise. They believed in life after death and in the good for all regardless of age, sex, sexuality, or family status. They eventually lost their leaders, their families and their lands. However, they never lost their heritage. Today we need to recognize and honor their many accomplishments and face the atrocities that our great nation forced upon them and their way of life. We too need to join Mike and share the contributions of the prehistoric Native Americans.

We were so impressed with Mike and his contributions. We will plan more day trips to spend time with him and his most special museum in the red clay farmlands of southwestern Georgia. We too will forever be advocates to spread the facts regarding the prehistoric gifts of these great people. If you would like to see Mike’s museum, please contact us and we will happily provide the phone number and a reference for you to visit with Mike.

FACT: The first Europeans who settled in the New World claimed ownership of the lands and forests that were the homes and hunting grounds of the surviving Native Americans. Native American villages, crops, social centers, political hubs and sacred burial grounds now lay in ruin due to vandalism of saleable artifacts, worn down through agriculture, used as high ground for home sites and cemeteries, utilized as fill dirt for road construction, trampled by the feet of humans and animals, viewed as unimportant and ignored by American leaders and citizens since the 15th century. The founding fathers of our country and the writers of our American history have ignored and attempted to crush these people even though they had immigrated to and lived in North America for centuries prior to Columbus. How could a continent inhabited for centuries by Native Americans come to be The New World? When will our American history books address this fact?

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