By Don McAlavy: Local columnist
Lois Leslie, formerly from Melrose, now living in Clovis, has asked me to kick-up the tourist business in Clovis by way of telling more drama about the Clovis Man Site that was found in Blackwater Draw in 1929, by Ridge Whiteman of Portales and Clovis, the father of my wife, Kathy.
The December 2000 issue of National Geographic magazine tells of Ridge Whiteman writing a letter to the Smithsonian Institution in 1929 announcing his finding of fluted points in the Blackwater Draw. Ridge said he also found “elephant bones”, which were mammoth bones, dating back from 11,500 to 13,500 years ago.
Amazingly that letter is still on record at the Smithsonian. An archeologist, Tony Boldurian, found it, and came to Clovis twice in 1995 to interview Ridge and get his story. Boldurian wrote a book: “Clovis Revisited”, a new look on the Clovis site. Ridge’s 1929 photo is in it. The book was finally published in 1999.
A woman, Lienke Katz, writing for her doctorate degree at ENMU first published Ridge’s story in her 30 page history of the Blackwater Draw. She says: (page 7) “In 1929 a young man had sent a letter to the Smithsonian Institution with a ‘Clovis’ point that he had found together with a piece of mammoth bone. He thought that it would be of interest to the scientists of that institution. Ridge Whiteman, on the basis of the letter, is the original discoverer of the Blackwater Draw Clovis site.
The man who was given credit all of these years was A.W. “Pete” Anderson. You might remember he had “Pete’s Curio Shop” in Hotel Clovis. He also started the AA group. I painted a portrait of him way back yonder that, I guess, still hangs in the AA hall at 7th and Axtell.
Pete was working for the newspaper in Carlsbad in the late 1920’s and was an amateur archeologist who liked to look for arrowheads, etc. He met Dr. Edgar Howard in Carlsbad who was doing a dig at the Burnet Cave. In 1932 Pete moved to Clovis and came to work at Clovis Printing Co. on 313 Main (where he started his printing career) and managed the weekly Curry County Times.
Pete learned about Ridge’s find in Blackwater Draw and contacted Dr. Howard and asked him to come up and see what Ridge had found. He did and borrowed some of Ridge’s points and artifacts and hired Ridge for a field hand in the dig that Dr. Howard conducted in 1933, discovering that the site was the OLDEST EARLY MAN SITE in the new world, going back as far as 13,500 years.
Since then, of course, archeologists have discovered old Clovis sites, one supposedly being 25,000 years ago down in Chile, but as yet, in this day, the Clovis site is still the one and only PROVEN site in the world.
Yes, A. W. Anderson was instrumental in getting an expert to Backwater Draw, but it was Ridge Whiteman who first discovered it. The proof being the 1929 letter written by Ridge. When told of him being recognized in the National Geographic magazine article on early man sites. He said, “Well, it’s been about time!”
Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: email@example.com