A collector of Native American artifacts

James Gleason and his granddad’s original collection.

By Jef Rietsma

Collector? James Gleason

Collection? Arrowheads and other Native-American artifacts.

How did your collection begin? “Our family came to Michigan in 1849, and they purchased and cleared land that today borders Three Rivers city limits. When my forefathers plowed the land behind a team of horses, they would find arrowheads and other artifacts. About halfway to Constantine, on the east side of the road on the St. Joe River, was supposedly a pretty large Indian village. So, I have to believe many of these items recovered pretty randomly through the years in the fields that we farmed could possibly be traced to that settlement.”

Gleason went on to explain that his grandfather assembled a collage comprised mostly of arrowheads. The collection of more than 100 pieces rests on a flannel backing and hangs in Gleason’s home. In all, he has more than 300 arrowheads saved by his forefathers.

So, artifacts of this nature have been a lifelong attraction? “No. I inherited this collection that my grandmother gave me after my grandpa died. He had obtained it from his father and, to be honest, I didn’t get too interested until I retired and started to develop a greater appreciation for the historical significance of this collection.”

Where will the collection end up next? “I have a daughter who became really interested in archeology, but since then I’ve had a granddaughter who has become very interested in the collection and its history.”

Your collection is comprised primarily of arrowheads. What else is included? “The framed collection features a knife carved out of stone, as well as something called a gorget. That is another word for a pendant and I’m always fascinated how expertly they drilled holes. Anyhow, it was probably the centerpiece of a ceremonial cape. I also have stones carved into shapes that would be used as scrapers or cutting tools, which they would have used to skin an animal, of course. I also have some spear heads.”

Gleason has a well-preserved stone ax that was unearthed when digging a basement on his former Three Rivers-area farm.

Do you have any idea how old some of the artifacts are? “I’ve had a couple people look at one arrowhead in particular. I’m going to call these people ‘experts,’ and they tell me that little arrowhead is at least 7,000 years old.”

How is the value of these items determined? “The value has to do with what they’re made out of. If you go to a national show, you’ll see quite a few people there with telescopes, and they can look at one of these stones and tell you what state the rock came from. Probably the most valuable item in the (collage) is something called a lancet, which is used to lance something and it is placed right in the center. Its value, I am told, is based on several factors, including the type of stone, its uniqueness as a double-edged tool and its age.”

Gleason did not speculate its monetary value. He is aware of a rare, well-preserved tool called a Popeye birdstone sold in the estate sale of a South Haven-area collector that netted $28,000.

Your collection probably has more sentimental value than it does monetary value since so many of the arrowheads came from your family farm. “That’s true. I call the items that my great-grandfather, grandfather and father unearthed and set aside ‘The Gleason Collection.’ But I enjoy going to shows and I have, on occasion, paid more than $100. In a few cases, even more than $200 for an item that I don’t already have in the Gleason Collection. But if I had to evacuate the house in a hurry, I’d grab the framed collection my grandfather put together.”

How do you acquire items to add to your collection? “There are shows for collectors, regional shows and there’s also a national show, which I went to this year … it was in Paducah, Ky. Those collector events are called ‘point shows.’ Also, there are publications that have a lot of information, like upcoming auctions, for example.”

What is your most memorable purchase? “A metate, which is a concave-shaped bowl made out of granite. The women would use it to ground up grain or seeds, or whatever. Why I found it at a garage sale in Constantine, Michigan, when these are known to originate in the Southwest part of the country, is beyond me.”

Gleason paid $175 for the item.

What would you attempt to purchase if money was not an issue? “A Clovis spearpoint. It’s named after the area of Clovis, New Mexico.”

Footnotes: Gleason, 84, is a Kline’s Resort resident. The love for his collection of arrowheads and artifacts has developed to a greater appreciation for Native American Culture. “I’m more convinced now than ever that the Indians are right. You can’t own land, you just sit on it for 80 years, eventually you die and then somebody else sits on it.”

Gleason is a Three Rivers High School and Michigan State University graduate.

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