Bluff Dwellers People
Bluff Dwellers Native Painting by Steve Miller


Bluff Dwellers

The Original Missourians


The Paleo-Indians, beginning about 12,000 B.C., lived in small family groups. They are also called Bluff Dwellers because some lived in caves or under bluffs by streams. They probably moved frequently, following herds of mammoth and mastodon. They gathered greens, seeds, fruits, nuts, roots, and mushrooms. They hunted eggs, insects, small animals, and fish, as well as big game.


The recognition and naming of the “Ozark Bluff-Dwellers Culture” was first attributed to Mark Harrington, a representative of The Museum of The American Indian, Heye Foundation,. New York. In the early twenties Mr. Harrington, with a crew from the museum, and often assisted by local residents, conducted a series of trial explorations in the Ozarks. He subsequently centered most of his activity in Benton and Carroll Counties of Northwest Arkansas, where several dry shelters were found with the aid of native guides. Materials salvaged from these shelters, especially the Bushwhack site, were in a good state of preservation.

Later archaeological work was accomplished in the general Bluff dweller area of northwest Arkansas, northeast Oklahoma, and southwest Missouri by field crews from the State Universities. Amateur archaeologists have also worked in the area. A note of urgency was injected into the archaeological picture when plans were announced for the building of Table Rock Dam, which would put valuable Sites under water forever. Quick action preceding the sequential construction of the big dams resulted in significant salvage operations by the University of Missouri in the Table Rock basin; and by the University of Arkansas to the south.

Archaeological investigations have shown that the combination of dart and atlatl (throwing stick) was definitely the weapon of the bluff dweller. In addition to the atlatl and dart, which have been proven in recent tests to be formidable in taking large and small game, the bluff dweller’s state of cultural progress is bolstered by the evidence of his agricultural ability. His knowledge of the preservation and cultivation of plants such as maize, giant ragweed, sunflower, and many others, is unquestioned. The seeds have been found, well preserved, in the shelters. He was also an expert weaver of baskets, mats and nets. Many of these artifacts, together with a few well-preserved articles of clothing such as moccasins, sandals.