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Ivory-Billed Woodpecker's Beak in an Indian Grave in Colorado

Alfred M. Bailey
Publication Information
4 (July-August)
From Field and Study

Ivory-billed Woodpecker’s Beak in an Indian Grave in Colorado

A WPA crew excavating near Johnstown, Weld County, Colorado, last January unearthed two human skeletons, male and female, probably either Arapaho or Cheyenne Indians. With the skeletons were various pieces of trade goods secured from whites, showing the remains were not of very great age; but of interest to bird students were the bills of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) and a Pileated Woodpecker (Ceophloeus pileatus). As there was no direct contact of the plains Indians with those of the Gulf coast area, it is probable that the beaks changed hands several times before reaching Colorado.

W. Z. Parks (Northwestern University Studies in the Social Sciences, no. 2, 1938) states that specific animals were thought by the northern Shoshone to be useful in curing speciiic diseases. Eagles were associated with fevers, bears with open and bloody wounds, and woodpeckers with venereal diseases. According to Parks, head-dresses of woodpecker scalps were worn by the Klamath and Shasta shamans, and in California they were donned by dancers participating in Yurok and Hupi jumping dances. Consequently, from the above, it may be judged that the finding of woodpeckers’ beaks in Indian graves should not be unusual, except for the geographic location of the find of a portion of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker upon the Colbrado plains.

Alfred M. Bailey

Colorado Museum of Natural History, Denver, Colorado, March 24, 1939

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