Great Bend Aspect
Donald J. Blakeslee 2008

Table of Contents
Settlement Pattern
Kinds of Sites
Kinds of Features
Cache Pits
Council Circles
Chipped Stone
Ground Stone
Bone, Antler and Shell
External Relationships
Native Exchange
European Trade

As originally defined by Waldo Wedel (1959), the Great Bend Aspect contained two subdivisions, the Little River and Lower Walnut foci. More recent work has shown that the Little River focus needs to be subdivided. Sites near Marion County and those in McPherson County are two expressions of a single unit, while the remaining sites of the focus, on Cow Creek and the Little Arkansas, are somewhat variable and may require subdivision as well. Zehnder (1998) has proposed separating the McPherson sites from Little River and placing them in a Lindsborg phase. Two currently free-floating taxa – the Pratt complex and the Neosho focus – may eventually be assigned to the same unit as the various divisions of Great Bend. Sites in the vicinity of Augusta have not been analyzed sufficiently to allow placement..

Distribution (1)
Great Bend sites are found in Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri.
Those in (Vernon County) Missouri appear to be short-term camps, while some of those in Oklahoma are quarries. Others contain a fairly wide range of artifacts but lack pottery. Similar sites have been reported in Kansas, but their exact function is unknown. Hunting camps are widespread in central and eastern Kansas but do not occur west of Dodge City.

A large suite of (as-yet unpublished) radiocarbon dates suggest that Great Bend begins about A.D. 1425 and lasts until the beginning of the 18th century. Most Great Bend populations left Kansas by A.D. 1720, and they emerge in Oklahoma and Texas as various bands of the Wichita confederation. In addition to radiocarbon dates, occasional finds of Southwestern ceramics and trade goods help to clarify chronological relationships.

Settlement Pattern
Great Bend Villages are located in Rice, McPherson, Marion, Butler and Cowley Counties in Kansas. There are three major clusters of sites: in Rice and McPherson counties, in Marion and in Cowley County. A smaller cluster lies on the Walnut River near Augusta. Each cluster consists of a scattering of large and small sites Finally, near Neodesha on the Verdegris River, there was once an earthwork and related sites that appear to be of late Great Bend Aspect affiliation. Hunting camps are scattered all across the eastern two thirds of the state.

Kinds of sites
Great Bend village sites occur in clusters (2), while the sites themselves range in size quite dramatically. Part of the size variation may be a product of recording practices. Early Spanish observers recorded scattered populations living in clusters of houses separated by corn fields (M. Wedel 1982). Hunting camps, other than one at Larned, have not received intensive study and are known only from surface collections. Sites where stone was actually quarried from the ground rather than being collected from the surface include the Peoria quarry in northeastern Oklahoma and a series of sites in the southern Flint Hills.
Intaglios – figures carved into the surface of ridgetops – are known from three sites. The largest, in Rice County (Mallam 1984), is the figure of a serpent holding something in its mouth (3). Other sites likely to be associated with the Great Bend Aspect include cairns and petroglyphs. There are petroglyphs and three stone cairns at the Peverly Site, which lies between the Serpent intaglio and the Tobias site in Rice County, and there are other petroglyphs in the vicinity of the Lower Walnut sites. Rock art also occurs near Thompson Creek (a hunting camp) and in rockshelters in Woodson County.
There are no cemeteries, ossuaries, cremations or burial mounds associated with the very large and centuries-long Great Bend occupation of Kansas. There are hints in Wichita mythology that laying bodies out on the prairie was considered the most appropriate form of disposal of the dead (Blakeslee and Hawley 2006:xx).

Kinds of features

Both pit houses that are about 3 meters in diameter and larger surface houses (up to 8 meters in diameter) have been found (05). House pits average 30 cm in depth; i.e. the topsoil was removed Wall posts were not large; the average diameter is less than 10 cm. Most houses contain a single hearth slightly offset from the center but no internal cache pits. Other surface features indicated by post molds were probably arbors of the sort reported by early European visitors. Both the houses and the arbors were covered with grass thatch (7). A burned lodge will generate silica slag from the grass thatch (8), and this is occasionally recovered during excavations.

Hearths consist of shallow unlined basins filled with ash and charcoal and sometimes exhibiting a zone of red baked earth below the pit. Hearths have been found inside pit houses but surface hearths may have been common in sites but have been destroyed by plowing.

cache pits and midden mounds
Village sites that have not been plowed are marked by wide low mounds and smaller depressions. The depressions often turn out to be cache pits, while the low mounds are midden accumulations that appear to have accumulated after abandoned caches have been filled to overflowing with trash (10).

The cache pits in Great Bend Aspect sites are often quite large – up to 2.5 meters deep – and given the shallow nature of the houses are often the only remaining features in sites that have been plowed. Although originally designed for food storage, most were eventually used for trash disposal after insects, mold or rodents had invaded them. Many of the pits, called bell-shaped, widen near the base to create greater storage capacity in a pit that has a relatively narrow opening.

Clusters of cache pits, which may have been associated with now-destroyed houses, are sometimes uncovered (Lees at al. 1989).

council circles (12)
Several Great Bend Aspect village sites contain low mounds surrounded by shallow depressions -- features known as council circles. These consist of a central mound surrounded by sausage-shaped depressions. The central mound at the Tobias site consisted of earth mixed with midden material and underlain by some cache pits. The depressions were empty, but inside their perimeter Wedel uncovered two curving structures that apparently had earth and sod-covered superstructures. They contained cache pits, hearths, postmolds, sandstone slabs and human skeletal remains (13). The alignments of three council circles in Rice County point toward solstice sunrise and sunset positions (W. Wedel 1967)(14).

Subsistence was based on a mix of agriculture, hunting, gathering and fishing. Crops included maize (15), beans, squash and sunflowers. Tobacco was also grown. Wild vegetable foods included walnut, hickory, plum, hackberry and grape (Adair 1989).

The most important game animal was bison, but elk, deer and pronghorn were also hunted. Bison bones were frequently broken open for the marrow (16). Dog remains (17) are second only to bison in village sites (W. Wedel 1959: Table 13), and it is likely that they were eaten. Other medium sized mammals included muskrat, beaver, otter, raccoon, badger, coyote, wolf, jackrabbit and cottontail. The larger rodents such as prairie dog, thirteen-lined ground squirrel and pocket gopher were probably also eaten. Turtle remains are common in the sites, and a wide variety of fish, reptiles, amphibians and birds are also found, but they do not appear to have been important in the diet.


Great Bend Aspect ceramics consist almost entirely of utilitarian cooking vessels formed by the paddle and anvil technique. Also present are a few miniatures formed by pinching. The most common vessel form is an amphora-shaped jar, the maximum diameter of which is usually above mid-height (18). The rims are fairly tall and vertical to slightly flaring (19). Both flat and convex bases occur. Also present are shorter jars that have lower rims and convex bases (20) and water bottles, some of which have red slips and horizontally oriented handles (21).

Pottery from each of the three main village clusters is distinct. In the Lower Walnut sites, vessels are shell tempered, surfaces are usually smoothed, and flat bases are common (W. Wedel 1959:359-360). In Little River sites, temper type is usually rare, simple stamped surfaces occur (21a), and most bases are convex (W. Wedel 1959:233-239). In the sites near Marion, shell, sand and grog temper and mixes of temper occur, some simple stamping is present, and there are more flat bases than in the Little River sites (Rohn and Emerson 1984). A few cord-roughened vessels occur in both the Little River and Marion sites (21b).

Jars frequently have a pair of loop or strap handles (18). On the jars, the handles are usually placed at the base of the rim. The handles are attached by riveting (23), and some handles have a pinched node at the top (24) or at both the top and bottom (25). Some bottles have four or more handles (26).

Decoration is rare, especially below the rim. Incised and punctate decoration is usually restricted to the lip and handles (27), but applique nodes and fillets (some of which are pinched or incised) occur on upper rim exteriors (28). Occasionally incised or trailed line decoration is found on the rim face or upper shoulder (29).

Other than vessels, fired clay was used to make simple cylindrical beads (30) and ceramic pipes. The latter (31) do not share the form of the more common stone pipes but have short bulbous bowls. Daub is sometimes recovered, but never in large amounts. Daub was placed on the grass around the smokehole in the roof of the lodge to protect against sparks from the fireplace. (32)

chipped stone tools
The primary sources of the chipped stone in Great Bend Aspect sites appear to be bedrock quarries as opposed to scattered sources such as upland and riverine gravels. Important sources are the Permian formations of the Flint Hills, especially Florence A chert from the southern end of the hills (33). Also found in at least some Great Bend Aspect sites are Smoky Hill jasper from northwestern Kansas (34), Alibates chert from the panhandle of Texas (35), the gray Permian age cherts from the Flint Hills (36), the Peoria variant of Warsaw chert (37) and Burlington chert from Missouri (38).

The lithic sources used vary among the village clusters. Sites of the Little Arkansas and Cow Creek have Permian cherts, Smoky Hill jasper and Alibates, while the sites in McPherson and Marion counties contain Peoria and Burlington cherts in addition to Permian cherts, while the Lower Walnut sites contain well over 90 percent Florence A chert. The lithic sources that dominate the village assemblages suggest that each cluster had its own territory (39).

Raw material was transported to the villages in several forms. These include large bifaces (40) and large percussion flakes that apparently were also blanks (41). The latter were often trimmed laterally at the proximal end to reduce the effect of large bulbs of percussion (42). A third form consisted of true blades struck from polyhedral cores (43).

Great Bend Aspect arrow points are small and triangular, both with (44) and without side notches (45). They usually have slightly convex blade edges and straight to concave bases. Partly worked points that broke during manufacture are common finds (46). Sometimes confused with points are small bifaces that are too thick to have been used as points; their actual function remains unknown (47).

Several forms of knives are present. Some are plain ovate specimens (48), while others are alternately beveled diamond-shaped Harahey knives (49). Others are notched (50) or with a short haft element (51), and the blade edges on both of these forms usually exhibit alternate beveling (52). Another form (which Rohn and Emerson (1984) called Marion blade knives) are true blades that most often are unifacially worked on one edge only (53). Other flake knives have the same kind of invasive unifacial flaking on one edge and are usually quite thin (54).

End scrapers are common. They are usually narrow and triangular to teardrop-shaped (55). The lateral edges are usually carefully straightened and worn from rubbing against a haft (56), and the proximal ends are usually fairly thin. Most of those from the village sites are quite short – the result of repeated resharpening of the working edge, but longer specimens also occur (56a). A rarer form is a heavier scraper with coarse wear on the bit from use on hard material of some sort (57).

Drills are also common, and they come in several forms. The most distinctive are large, straight, double-ended drills pipe drills (58). The ends of used-up or broken beveled knives were also used as drills (59). Pipestone dust still adhering to some specimens and the heavily worn edges demonstrate that both forms were used to drill stone pipes. Heavy rounded wear that can even obscure flake scars is seen on some bifaces and flake tools; it is the result of cutting pipestone during the manufacture of pipes (60).

Other smaller perforators are also common. Some are fashioned on flakes, others on broken knives, scrapers and points (61). They appear to have been used as awls during the processing of bison hides. A few appear to have been purposefully fashioned in the shape of a spread-out hide (62).
Choppers (63) and other heavy bifaces are frequently present. They include a tool type distinctive to Great Bend Aspect sites. These have the form of choppers and have heavily battered edges (64). In fact, the edges on some are so blunted that they appear to have been used as hard hammers. These tools may have been used to re-roughen the surfaces of milling stones that had become slick from wear.

Great Bend flintknapping is quite distinctive, and the presence of a Great Bend component can sometimes be recognized from the presence of flakes. This is especially true when the flakes are of the Peoria variant of Warsaw chert (41), which does not appear to have been used before Great Bend times. Some large flakes were created with a soft hammer, probably of elk antler (65a). Very thin unifacial knives, whether on blades or not (66), and the small, carefully crafted endscrapers are also distinctive. Flakes and blades were often blunted to prevent cutting of the pouch in which they were transported from quarry to village (67).

ground stone tools
The glacial drift in the northeastern corner of Kansas provided cobbles of Sioux quartzite (69) and Kansas pipestone (70). Some of the quartzite cobbles used for hammerstones may also come from this source, as well as from riverine and upland gravels. Dakota sandstone from the Smoky Hills was used for arrow shaft smoothers and other abrading tools (77). Limestone for milling stones and manos probably derives from a variety of sources.
Ground stone artifacts include elbow pipes with very tall bowls (72), including miniatures (73). This form of pipe was usually fashioned from Kansas pipestone to form an angle of slightly less than 90 degrees. Also present in large numbers are stone mauls with either flat (74) or convex (75) working surfaces. Large, heavy metates are present (76) along with a variety of manos including specimens intended for use with one (76a) or two hands (77). Paired arrow shaft smoothers (78) and nutting stones (79) are also present. Rarely, fetishes are found, either purposefully carved (79a) or naturally occurring (79b).

bone, antler and shell
A variety of bison scapula hoes are common in the village sites (80), as are more or less triangular tools that functioned either as squash knives or digging tools (81). Flaking tools (82), arrow points (83), shaft wrenches (84), beaver incisor chisels (85) and bone and antler end scraper (80) and knife handles (81) are all found. Animal bone was also used to make hide grainers (88), beamers (89), awls (90), grassing needles for the thatched houses (91), beads (92) and pendants (93). Awls with blunt tips were probably used in the manufacture of basketry (94). Incised bison ribs may have functioned as musical rasps (95). Thin, narrow bow guards or bracelets were fashioned from antler (96).

A variety of rarely found items of bone seem to indicate a richer lifestyle than seen in previous complexes. A tool of unknown function that is found occasionally is a polished bison hyoid bone (96a). Another rare item is a serrated bone knife blade (96b).

Turtle shells were sometimes used as containers (96c) and perhaps for rattles. Mussel shell was used primarily for making beads and pendants (97)..

External Relationships

Native Exchange
Exchange was the source of a variety of exotic goods, and exchange with the puebloan peoples of the Southwest was especially important. Southwestern pottery (99), New Mexico obsidian (100), occasional pieces of turquoise (101), Southwestern style shaft straighteners (102) and tubular pipes (103), and Olivella shell beads all derive from this source. Other marine shell beads could come from either the Pacific or Gulf coasts (105).

Occasional sherds of Lower Loup (106) and Caddoan pottery (107) also occur in Great Bend Aspect sites (Perttula et al. 2001). Talco points are also of Caddoan origin (107a). Coronado found a copper pendant in the possession of a Wichita chief in Kansas, but the few cuprous artifacts that have been found (108) have not been analyzed, and some of them may be made from pieces of European-derived brass (108a).

European goods show up in small numbers in some Great Bend Aspect sites. Spanish chain mail (109) has drawn the most attention, but an axe head, glass beads and beads of copper or brass are also present. Most of these materials appear to derive from the Spanish, as befits the early historic age of the sites.

The Onate expedition of 1601 provides a record of hostilities with Apache groups as does the La Harpe expedition of 1719, but direct evidence for warfare does not exist in Great Bend sites unless the very late Neodesha “fort” was included. It may be better to class this site with the Deer Creek and Bryson sites of northern Oklahoma, and there is an apparent moat at the Deer Creek site (M. Wedel 1981). Some of the few human remains in Great Bend sites, including those in the council circle at the Tobias site (W. Wedel 1959:220-222) may have been the victims of violence.

The origins of the Great Bend Aspect lies in a series of complexes in southern Kansas and Oklahoma. Ceramic, lithic and bone technology all point in this direction. The earliest complex in Kansas that exhibits some of these traits is the Bluff Creek phase (Meier 2008). The Pratt complex just to the west of the Great Bend villages may actually overlap Great Bend in age; Pratt sites contain some Great Bend ceramics (W. Wedel 1959:504), and some Great Bend sites contain cord-roughened pottery that may derive from Pratt (fig). The poorly-known Zyba site in Sumner County may also be ancestral. More distant complexes that have a good chance of being ancestral to Great Bend include the Odessa Yates phase (Brozowski and Bevitt 2006) and the Redbed Plains variant (Drass 1997). Since there is considerable variation among the Great Bend village clusters, multiple points of origin are likely.

The proto-Wichita populations that created the Great Bend sites appear to have been driven south by the better-armed Osage early in the eighteenth century. French visitors in 1719 found some Wichitas near Neodesha (M. Wedel 1972, 1973) and others on the Arkansas River near Tulsa, Oklahoma (Odell 2002). The Deer Creek and Bryson sites in northernmost Oklahoma date to this period. This period is marked in the artifacts by a rapid shift to the use of European-derived material culture and a change in the form of end scrapers to large, crude specimens used without hafts (110). A few of these large scrapers were found in the surface component at the Lewis site, which indicates continued use of this hunting camp into the 18th century.


The original definition of the Great Bend Aspect can be found in W. Wedel (1959), while the most recent summary of it is in Blakeslee and Hawley 2006. An annotated bibliography of Great Bend archaeology by the same authors is Hawley and Blakeslee 2003.
Adair, Mary J.

1989 Faunal Remains. In Lees, William B., John D. Reynolds, T. J. Martin, Mary J. Adair and Steven Bozarth, Final Summary Report: 1986 Archaeological Investigations at 14MN328, A Great Bend Aspect Site along U.S. Highway 56, Marion County, Kansas, pp. 90-103. Archeology Office, Kansas State Historical Society.

Blakeslee, Donald J., and Marlin F. Hawley
2006 The Great Bend Aspect. In Kansas Archaeology, edited by Robert J. Hoard and William E. Banks, pp. 165-179. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press.

Brozowski, Scott and Tod Bevitt
2006 Looking South: The Middle Ceramic Period in Southern Kansas and Beyond. In Kansas Archaeology, edited by Robert J. Hoard and William E. Banks, pp. 180-205. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press.

Drass, Richard
1997 Culture Change on the Eastern Margin of the Southern Plains. Studies in Oklahoma’s Past No. 19 and Oklahoma Anthropological Society Memoir No. 7. Norman: Oklahoma Archeological Survey.

Hawley, Marlin F., and Donald J. Blakeslee
2003 An Annotated Bibliography of Great Bend-Wichita Archaeology and Ethnohistory. Kansas Anthropologist 24:107-145.

Lees, William B., John D. Reynolds, T. J. Martin, Mary J. Adair and Steven Bozarth
1989 Final Summary Report: 1986 Archaeological Investigations at 14MN328, A Great Bend Aspect Site along U.S. Highway 56, Marion County, Kansas. Archeology Office, Kansas State Historical Society.

Mallam , R. Clark
1984 Site of the Serpent: A Prehistoric Life Metaphor in South Central Kansas. Occasional Papers of the Coronado-Quivira Museum 1. Lyons, Ks.

Meier, Marcia
2008 thesis

Odell, George H.
2002 La Harpe's Post, a Tale of French-Wichita Contact on the Eastern Plains. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.

Perttula, Timothy K., Marlin F. Hawley and Fred W. Scott
2001 Caddo Trade Ceramics. Southeastern Archaeology 20(2):154-172.

Rohn, Arthur H. and Alice M. Emerson
1984 Great Bend Sites at Marion, Kansas. Publications in Anthropology No. 1. Wichita State University.

Wedel, Mildred M.
1972 Claude-Charles Dutisné: A Review of his 1719 Journeys, Part I. Great Plains Journal 12(1):4-25.
1973 Claude-Charles Dutisné: A Review of his 1719 Journeys, Part II. Great Plains Journal 12(2):147-173.
1981 The Deer Creek Site, Oklahoma: A Wichita Indian Village Sometimes Called Fernandina, An Ethnohistorian’s View. Oklahoma Historical Society Series in Anthropology No. 5. Oklahoma City.
1982 The Wichita Indians in the Arkansas River Basin. In Plains Indian Studies: A Collection in Honor of John C. Ewers and Waldo R. Wedel, edited by Douglas H. Ubelaker and Herman J. Viola, pp. 118-134. Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge No. 30. Washington, D.C.

Wedel, Waldo R.
1959 An Introduction to Kansas Archaeology. Bulletin of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 174. Washington, D.C.
1967 The Council Circles of Central Kansas. Are they Solstice Registers? American Antiquity 32(1):54-63.

Zehnder, Jon
1998 Relationships between Two Little River Focus Sites in McPherson and Rice Counties of Central Kansas Based on Excavated Lithic Debitage. M. A. Thesis, Department of Anthropology, Wichita State University.