PIT Remembers James E. Brantley II: December 18, 1941–February 6, 2002
by Robert E. Reams, FS Archaeologist Jim Brantley volunteered for his first PIT project in Mississippi because of his wife, Chris—not because he harbored any desire to be an archaeologist. Chris had always wanted to go on an excavation. Jim and Chris chose a project from the PIT Traveler that was in Mississippi, because it was the closest to their home in Washburn, Tennessee. I didn’t realize how lucky I was for that one decision.
I picked everybody who wanted to volunteer for the second year at Camp Dantzler, the African American site of a turn-of-the-20th-century logging town. The Brantleys came to the De Soto Ranger District in the spring of 1998, stayed both weeks of the project, and wanted more.
Chris had caught the archaeology fever, but I’m not sure Jim did. Chris loved finding artifacts, peeling back the layers of dirt to reveal hidden treasures. Jim took notes and screened. He occasionally climbed in the excavation units to move some dirt, but he never caught the fever like Chris did. He did catch the archaeology bug in a different way. He pondered questions in archaeology that usually stump most professional archaeologists. He often asked “why,” which kept me on my toes. He also devised strategies to make the work go easier for the volunteers, such as electrical water pumps for washing artifacts at the field lab station or canvases for windbreaks or shade. He even went on sausage-biscuit runs to a local gas station and store for hungry volunteers.
Jim and Chris volunteered for every archaeological project on the district after Camp Dantzler except for one. My wife and I became their “Mississippi family,” and Mississippi became a home away from their Tennessee home.
Jim passed away in February 2002. I’ll miss his special way of viewing life and helping out on the archaeological projects. Thanks, Jim, for for letting me get to know you.