Camp Dantzler Excavation
De Soto National Forest, Mississippi, 1997
by Robert E. Reams, Archaeologist
The sounds of shovels moving dirt and laughter echoed through the woods as a small, quiet section of the De Soto National Forest was invaded by volunteers. These people converged to work on a portion of a turn-of-the-century logging/turpentine camp called Camp Dantzler.
Around 1895, L. N. Dantzler started a logging mill along the newly built Illinois Central Gulf Railroad. A small town, Howison, sprung up next to the logging mill. The community worked, not only in the mill, but also at the turpentine kilns. In Howison, there was a church, a train depot, and a company store. Howison became a ghost town after the late 1920s when Dantzler moved the mill farther north to Perkinston. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the town was segregated into an African-American section and a white section. What was once the white section of town is currently in private ownership, and the African-American section, on the other side of U.S. Highway 49, is owned by the Forest Service.
During the first week of the PIT project, volunteers dug several units in and around the remains of one of the brick turpentine kilns. Brick fragments, mortar fragments, and nails were abundant in the screens throughout the week. Although the base of the kiln was disturbed, the crew was able to determine its general size and shape. In addition, large blocks of rosin, one of the two by-products from cooking down pine sap, were discovered.
The second week, volunteers moved to the African-American section on the south side of the camp. Here we hoped to find some of the dwellings. Throughout the week, the screens were filled with ceramics, pieces of children’s toys, window glass, bottle glass, nails, and other metal fragments. But on the last day, in the last unit, we finally found part of a drip line for a structure. This find set the stage for future excavations at the site.
The volunteers, the many visitors, and the local media should all be commended for helping to make this PIT project a success.