By Farah Merchant, THC Preservation Scholar
University of Texas at Austin, English
Since 1984, the Texas Archeological Stewardship Network (TASN) considers the nominations of avocational archeologists from across the state to work with private property owners, private artifact collections, and preservation groups to assist with protecting and recording Texas’ archeological and cultural resources. The TASN is one of the largest volunteer programs of its kind in the U.S. and is an integral program of the Texas Historical Commission (THC). Nominees come from a wide variety of professional backgrounds, and many of them are active in the Texas Archeological Society (TAS), as well as local archeological societies throughout the state.
This year, nine stewards, nominated by colleagues, members of their communities, and other archeologists, joined the organization. Even with the pandemic and the shift to a more online presence and less in-person assistance, these members commit countless hours online and via phone and still manage to work in some capacity in trenches and labs.
Each steward hopes to use their background and work experience to help their community and the state protect and record archeological resources. Their integrity and efforts make them valuable and trusted members to the THC Stewards program. Given access to archeological resources from their collaboration with the THC, they can help uncover history as old as 12,000 years or as recent as 100 years ago and share that with the public.
Callan Clark—Coke County
As a child, Callan Clark dreamed of being a Civil War historian. After helping his father on an archeological investigation by the Concho Valley Archeological Society (CVAS) at Fort Chadbourne, Clark decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and continue his passion for history.
After graduating high school, he joined CVAS and worked on several projects, including some with professional archeologists across the state. His resilience, good work ethic, and interest in the field made him someone who “brought archeology to life in the Concho Valley,” according to his colleague Larry Riemenschneider. Hailing from the small Coke County, Clark is not only a community representative but also a true embodiment of the goals and expectations for a steward.
Riemenschneider recalls all the projects he and Clark worked on together. “He was one person that I could count on and, if I put him in charge of something, he would get it done,” said Riemenschneider.
For years, Clark was chair of the CVAS Archeology Fair, before serving on several CVAS committees. He has served as president of the organization for the last eight years.
Elizabeth Coon-Nguyen—Harris County
Elizabeth Coon-Nguyen always shared a dual interest in archeology and medicine. As a kid, she would buy old National Geographic magazines about mummies and Egyptian, Incan, or Bog people. After graduating Bellaire High School, she pursued a degree for both at Yale University. She did field work in Aguateca, Guatemala and earned her MD to become a physician. While she practiced as a doctor, she also participated in the HAS, becoming one of the most active members. She hosted many labs to process artifacts at her home. Her rationality and compassion are evident in her work and earned her a position on the HAS Board of Directors in 2017.
She is also involved in other organizations, including the TAS. Since joining in 2014, she has attended every field school, annual meeting, and academy weekend. From 2014–17, she worked with the Human Remains Committee until she became editor of the TAS newsletter in 2018. She also works with federal organizations such as the U.S. Forestry Service for its Passport in Time Project, which is a volunteer archeology and historic preservation program attempting to preserve the nation’s past with help from the public. As part of that program, she worked on a project in the Davy Crockett National Forest in 2018. Coon-Nguyen also participates with the Leakey Foundation, a nonprofit that funds research to explore human origin. As a member of many groups, she informs each organization of the activities of the others, combining her interests and connecting programs all involved in preserving and protecting Texas history. Not only is she an exceptional archeologist, but as a doctor, she always brings her medical bag assuring everyone is safe working in the Texas heat.
Janet Dye—Travis County
While on numerous family vacations to indigenous sites throughout the South, Janet Dye’s respect for those who came before and knowledge from these trips inspired her to pursue archeology and work with young students to protect Texas heritage. For 11 years, Dye taught at an elementary school in Austin, instilling a love for history and artifacts to her students. Now, while she takes classes to earn a degree in archeology, she volunteers for the THC, and works on sites in England. Her involvement at the THC began five years ago when she began to analyze, enter data, research, and repackage artifact collections. She currently helps with public outreach by participating in the Texas Archeology Research Laboratory (TARL) Archeology Fair and assists the THC in reviewing records from the Battle of Medina. She even assisted the Museum of Science and History in Corpus Christi and other places with re-inventory projects in her free time, making her an invaluable and committed THC volunteer.
She currently divides her time between England and the U.S., which is evident from her academic journey. She has taken classes at Austin Community College as well as Leicester and Oxford universities in England. However, her fieldwork is exclusive to England. For three summers, she attended field schools with York Archeological Trust (YAT), working in a multi-period site located under a parking lot, excavating and recording sites with attention to detail. Last summer before the pandemic, she went to Nassington, where she worked on a perceived Roman farm for variation in training. But she felt “this pull to return back to York,” where she ended up connecting with her birth family and discovering that her fifth and sixth grandparents lived there. Currently, Dye takes online classes at home, while deliberating which country to focus her archeological work in.
Teresa “Terry” Farley—Kerr County
Like many other stewards, Terry Farley’s parents, Kay and Woody Woodward, cultivated her love for history and archeology when they took her hiking and camping to prehistoric and historic sites. Her parents’ involvement in the El Paso Archeological Association, and later in the Hill Country Archeological Association (HCAA) when they moved, increased her interest in the field.
Farley earned a degree in nursing from Denton before moving to Iowa with her husband. Returning to Texas after “brutal Iowa winters,” she earned her master’s degree and practiced as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner in Dallas, before moving back to Kerr County in the Hill Country to be closer to her parents.
Like them, Farley joined the HCAA, participating in archeological fieldwork during TAS field schools and on weekends while still working. After serving as a member for 14 years, she was elected vice president of the HCAA and joined the Kerr County Historical Commission (KCHC). She also worked on many private land excavations in Kerr County and surrounding areas. Along with caring for her parents, leading organizations, and working in field and lab operations, Farley joined long-time HCAA member John Benedict on a cemetery preservation project. Together, they recruited 15 people from the KCHC and HCAA to find, survey, and document lost cemeteries. When the pandemic ends, they hope to resume this important work.
Beth Kennedy—Harris County
The National Geographic magazines laying around the house and her parents’ interest in reading, history, and genealogy developed Beth Kennedy’s interest in archeology. Looking back at old memories, she found a 6th-grade paper with the word “archeologist” scribbled next to the question of what she wanted to be when she grew up. However, growing up in a small town with fixed gender standards, Kennedy rarely saw women archeologists, which led her to pursue a degree in English and history and ultimately became a teacher. She enjoyed educating students and having summers free to participate in paleontology digs. However, her childhood passion, cultivated by her parents’ interests, remained.
When Kennedy retired, she became a master naturalist. At one Texas Master Naturalist meeting, she met Linda Gorski, current president of the Houston Archeology Society (HAS), and joined the organization. She combined her interests for native plants and archeology by publishing a few articles on how Native Americans used native plants for survival in the HAS newsletter. For her, knowledge of native plants and historic artifacts are intrinsically related. Among other activities, she leads an archeology training class for Texas Master Naturalist. Her experience in many fields makes her a valuable volunteer. She assists the TAS and HAS field schools by processing and cleaning thousands of artifacts in the lab, as well as excavating, screening, and completing paperwork in the field. As part of her commitment to the group, she has served as HAS secretary for the last four years.
Casey Wayne Riggs—Dawson County
Casey Wayne Riggs’ family started his interest in archeology. He and his grandfather, Gene Riggs, would hunt for arrowheads on their family’s ranches. His teacher, Molly Yeager, further supported Riggs’ interest in archeology, but from a preservation perspective, taught him the importance of recording artifacts during an after-school program focused on archeology. These two influences stimulated Riggs’ fascination, which he supported with books and visits to Seminole Canyon State Park. He pursued bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in anthropology, with a focus on terrestrial archeology. He also began to utilize the ESRI and QGIS, new geographic information systems software that allow people to analyze and edit spatial dates and edit and compose maps. Riggs’ career took a different path after he completed graduate school, and he now farms and works a ranch in West Texas.
Due to his extensive experience in artifact curation, conservation, and identification from his work and study at Texas A&M and the Center for Big Bend Studies, he became a reliable resource for preservation in his county. He is currently working with a local museum to create a cemetery preservation project and examines lithics materials for the museum.
For the past few years, Riggs has shared his work at regional, state, and national archeological conferences, including a talk at Permian High School in Odessa, inspiring teenagers to enter this field. He volunteered as an instructor at Sul Ross State University and Big Bend Ranch State Park to extend his audience to college students. Riggs also combined his interest of archeology with botany by assisting in the TAS Archeobotany workshop.
Jesse “Jay” Roussel—Fort Bend County
For at least 15 years, Jay Roussel has advocated for protecting and recording Texas cultural resources through his involvement in the Fort Bend Archeological Society (FBAS) and TAS. After joining FBAS, he regularly attended monthly meetings and participated in excavations. Soon, he became president of the organization and has been in that position for six years. His work with the TAS includes attending several field schools and working with the host committee for its previous annual meeting.
His involvement in the community is not restricted to archeology. Roussel also serves on the Fort Bend County Historical Commission and is a member of its cemetery and historic preservation committees. His holistic background in history and archeology, coupled with his work in IT, makes him a valuable member of the stewardship network.
Françoise Wilson—Gillespie County
Françoise Wilson’s interest in history and archeology began when she was a child. Her lifelong fascination with mythology—coupled with her exposure to Latin through reading, reciting, and singing the Latin liturgy at Mass in Catholic school—resulted in gifts of books on the Odyssey, Iliad, and the archeology of the Holy Land. However, it wasn’t until retirement that Wilson pursued her interest in archeology. After receiving her master’s degree in foreign language and romance linguistics, she worked as a high school teacher in Ohio, teaching French and Spanish.
Six years ago, Wilson retired and moved to Gillespie County, where she became a Texas Master Naturalist and from there learned about volunteer opportunities with the Hill Country Archeological Association (HCAA). She found happiness working weekly at the HCAA’s site south of Kerrville. From there, she met Steve Stoutamire, chairman of HCAA’s Field Work Committee, who created opportunities for her. Wilson has been a member of the HCAA for three years, a Texas Master Naturalist member for three years, and a member of the TAS for two years. She is a qualified principal archeologist after completing the five-part HCAA training course on field and lab methods. Her interest in archeology also took her out of Texas. She worked on a paleo dig in Montana and spent three successive summers near Granada in Spain with Earthwatch, a volunteer program that connects researchers and people with scientists to conduct excavations and protect history. Currently, she supervises field and lab work and serves as a board member for the HCAA.
Jim Wukasch—Burnet County
Jim Wukasch approaches life and archeology with a hands-on mentality. His interest in archeology began when exploring his grandfather’s ranch as a child and continued while he operated a private concrete construction company monitoring the soil for artifacts that could be uncovered during trenching. His time with his son, hiking and exploring the San Gabriel River looking for cretaceous fossils, also revolves around this interest. When he purchased a house upstream from the Lion Creek Site, he identified an archeological site on his property and invited the Llano Uplift Archeological Society (LUAS) to help record it.
His desire to learn more about the sites near his home led to a pursuit of self-education. He began studying, reading, and traveling to historic sites, such as Mesa Verde, Alibates, and Big Bend. He became involvement with LUAS and the TAS and participated in field schools and annual meetings. His commitment to uncovering and protecting the past resulted in his involvement at the Gault site, where he assisted in funding and construction of restrooms and a field deck house for participants in the Gault School of Archeological Research. From there, he focused on conservation, purchasing two sites in Burnet, one on Hamilton Creek and the other on Council Creek. He now monitors and protects both sites while educating adjacent property owners about the importance of maintaining the archeological integrity of these locations.
His action-oriented response to archeology led him to join five archeology organizations, becoming a life member of the Hill Country Archeological Association and president of LUAS. He also offers financial assistance to the Archeological Conservancy, Alexandria Project at SHUMLA, Friends of TARL, the Texas Wendish Heritage Society, and many more. He volunteers his time at the annual Wendish Festival, Texas Folklife Festival, and Wendish Heritage Museum. His avocational passion has resulted in a strong commitment to preserving Texas history, especially in the Hill Country.