Sartell man has grand collection of arrowheads, artifacts
Mike Trekell holds a case with a variety of arrowheads and knives that are worth thousands of dollars and are presently being sold at auction. Note the largest one, a ceremonial blade. Photo by Bill Vossler
When Mike Trekell, of Sartell, was 5 years old, his father took him arrowhead hunting. Not only did he find an arrowhead, he also discovered a lifelong love of American Indian artifacts.
“We lived across the alley from my grandparents and an aunt, and their thing to do was to go on family outings every weekend,” said Trekell. “One of my most favorite places to go was to the effigy mounds in northeast Iowa, the Dickson mounds in Illinois, and the Mohawk Chief Black Hawk Museum. I just loved that historical Indian stuff.”
Somewhere along the line he got it into his head that you could actually go out and find some of this stuff. So one day his father said he was going to take him up to an empty lot with a cemetery at the edge of Davenport, Iowa.
“I was tearing around the house looking for baskets, and I’ d gotten this basket that I thought we were going to get full of arrowheads.
“My dad said, ‘Most likely, son, we won’t find any.’”
So they marched the few blocks away, to an area that Mike knew well because the family used to hunt mushrooms there.
“I knew the area and the ravines, and after a while, my dad said, ‘There looks like a good spot. It’s a little washout, and that’s where you usually find them.’”
Trekell started searching, and shortly, sticking out of the mud, he found a rock. He pulled it out, and said, “Dad, is this one, is this one?” His dad nodded. “Wow, I can’t believe it! An arrowhead.”
I was a great feeling of joy and accomplishment.
“I still have that thing, and I cherish it,” he said.
Later in life, when his grandfather died, Trekell, learned the rest of the story.
“The day after my grandfather died, my aunt Lois asked me if I knew what had ever happened to grandpa’s arrowhead.
“He had an arrowhead?” I said. “She described it as ‘long’ and ‘without notches.’”
Mike Trekkel points to more “points” in his collection. Photo by Bill Vossler.
It was a perfect description of the arrowhead he found when he was 5.
“I’m thinking, well, you dirty dog,” he laughed. “So 40-some years after I found that first arrowhead, I’ m about 50 and dad is about 70. I hit my dad up, ‘Be honest with me,’ I said. ‘Did you plant that arrowhead for me to find?” His father laughed and admitted he had.
“You can’ t imagine how hard it was to get you to look in that right spot,” his father said.
So that’s how the Sartell man got interested in a hobby that has enriched his life for many years. Trekkel built a huge collection of arrowheads and other Indian memorabilia, ranging from 12,000 years ago to a few hundred years ago, and a wide variety of American Indian tribes. In the process, he learned a hard lesson.
“I started buying a few points to add for my collection, a dozen of them for about $200 each. Then I started going to some shows that specialized in relics, and met a man who told me how important it was that before I invested in these relics that I learn about them, learn what to look for, and where to get them. At that point I found out that there were actually authenticated relics. I didn’t know that there were bad people out there who wanted to make a buck out of fake relics.”
He found out quick enough, as the relics he had bought for $200 each, if authentic, would typically have cost around $2,000 each.
“I sent them in to an authentication service, and the guy said, ‘I’m sorry. They’ re not real. None of them.”
The guy felt bad for Trekell and didn’t charge him the full amount for checking their authenticity ($25/each at that time).
Trekell sent them to another authenticator, who said the same thing — they were fakes.
“The experts know that every culture flaked or napped their points in a very unique way, and that patina will indicate its age. They can look at an arrowhead, for example, by examining the patina. If it’s thousands of years old, it has a certain look. They can tell by the shape or where it’s thin and where it’s not. “Fakers also fake patina, but the experts can tell if the patina is real or not. “So after that, I started hanging out and conversing with people at these shows who would be reliable people to acquire relics from, and when I bought pieces, had certifications that came with them.”
Since then he’s watched modern people make arrowheads, and saw how quickly they could do it, so it was easier to believe that people could fake points and blades and claim them as real.
Over the years, Trekkel has added hundreds of arrowheads, knives, awls, drills, game pieces, and other American Indian relics to his collection, including some very rare and expensive ones.
“Those I’m selling at auction,” he said, “and they’ll be gone by the time this article comes out.”
This collection includes a 12,000-year-old Clovis point, so-named because the first ones were found near Clovis, N.M., in 1929.
“They hunted mastodon with them,” he said. “Clovis points are very distinctive. They have a particular fluting, the way flakes were removed from the chert or flint in the center of the point or knife.”
Other cultures made fluted points as well, he noted, but their flutes and flaking patterns are different, so they can be told apart from the Clovis points. One of the fascinating and little-known aspects of American Indian flint and chert artifacts is their progression. An arrowhead might not have started off as an arrowhead, but as a larger piece. He added that most of the pieces started off as knives, and then were chipped down as they became less usable, perhaps into an arrow point.
“They started out quite large, and when they dulled up or got chipped, they were resharpened. That made them smaller each time.”
Often experts can see how the flint or chert or hornstone was torqued, or twisted, from the resharpening. That made usable atlatl or later arrow points. Near the bottom of the point they left an unsharpened area so it could be connected to a particular bone in the deer to use as a weapon, without fraying the rawhide wrapped around and tied to the bone.”
One of Trekkel’s favorite pieces is a Knife River flint from a quarry by the same name in North Dakota.
“These pieces were probably used in an atlatl, because the bow and arrow didn’t come around until about 600 years ago. You can assume that by how the points were made.”
“They often carried a large piece of flint or whatever rock they had, called a cache, with them, because the flint quarries were few and far between. When they were out hunting and needed a point, they knocked off a chunk of the big cache they carried with them, and made an arrowhead when it served their fancy. The cache was a large blank, really.”
Many American Indians had a knife tied around their neck, he said, so when they were eating, for example, they would grab the knife and cut a piece off the larger roasted meat.
“They’d put the meat in their mouth, and use the knife to cut pieces off.”
Not all flint or chert pieces were weapons or tools. Mike also has a ceremonial blade in his collection. “When you see its size, you know it couldn’t have been used for anything practical. Instead it was probably put in a grave. It came from a museum, and you know it’s a ceremonial blade because it’s too big to do anything with, and besides that, it’s never been resharpened.”
Most artifacts are found in plowed fields, he said.
“Farmers found these stones, and then leased out their land to people, and in old-time pictures, you see people going crazy over looking for the stuff. Bones would have been there at one time, but the only things that would be left would be this stuff after the bones deteriorated.”
Besides the arrowheads and knives and such things, Mike has other American Indian artifacts. One of the rarest is a perfectly round, polished stone called a discoidal from a game called Chungke or Chunkey.
“This game piece lasted long enough into early history that it can be documented as such. For most unusual artifacts, experts can only surmise what they were used for. It was documented by early explorers and is also depicted on old petroglyphs and old stuff. But there are many different artifacts that you can only make educated guesses at. In the case of the discoidal, they’ve been found in eastern Iowa and Missouri, but rarely been found west of the Mississippi.”
One can only imagine how much work it would take to use a piece of rock and make it perfectly round and smooth. He added that the Ohio Valley is probably the cradle of high-end artifacts, where collectors have found more of them there than anywhere else. Trekell said his enjoyment comes from just holding the relics.
“Knowing that I’ve got something that’s real, holding it in my hand thinking somebody 5,000, 12,000 years ago, somebody with an old smoke-addled face chipped these pieces. Just holding something like this that is thousands of years old that humans held before, it just gives me goose bumps.”