Floodwater takes aim at Spiro Mounds

Spiro Mounds

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SPIRO, Okla. – Last month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a warning, saying an unprecedented amount of floodwater was on its way to Oklahoma’s only open prehistoric American Indian site.

The manager of the Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center, Dennis Peterson, says he was informed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the W.D. Mayo Lock and Dam, located about one-half mile from the center, on May 24 of a mandatory six-hour evacuation order for the center and manager’s house nearby.

Officials at the Oklahoma Historical Society, the parent organization for the Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center, along with community members, worked to get a truck large enough to haul artifacts, important documents and furnishings from the center.

Peterson’s wife left her work and started working on the house.

More than 30 Fort Coffee, Spiro and Fort Smith residents turned out and filled a 26-foot truck and many trailers with household goods and materials from the center.

Peterson’s son, David, also brought in a small crew who helped with unpacking at the temporary storage at the Spiro First United Methodist Church.

“It is overwhelming to see so many in the community and region who worked so hard to save as much as possible of this national treasure,” said Dennis Peterson.

Over the next few days, water from the Arkansas River started to cover the lower portions of the site until May 29, when the water was just 50 feet from the center. The river started to crest and then started to fall. By June 3, the water was away from the center’s impound area and still receding.

However, on June 6, the area was hit by hard rain, which dumped several inches of water in less than an hour on an already soaked ground, causing a flash flood.

Officials say water flooded the bottomland and ran through Spiro Mounds, “overwhelming the layer of sandbags at the doors and covering the floor of the center with about an inch and one-half of water, leaving the floor with a thin layer of mud and soaking insulation and walls.”

The damage was not deep but significant to the structure. And, Peterson’s house was not flooded.

“While we were preparing for the return of the artifacts before the flooding, we were lucky that almost everything was already out of the building, and that the water only got in a couple of inches and didn’t destroy the display cases,” said Rillis Howard, director of construction and maintenance for the OHS. “Although the center will be closed to the public for about five weeks, it will reopen better than before.”

For more information about how you can help the future of the Spiro Mounds, check their Facebook page or contact Dennis Peterson at spiro@okhistory.org. You can also donate to the Spiro Mounds by going to the Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center page here. 

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