McKenna Process Company
Plant formerly located in Joliet, Illinois - ca. 1920.

Autobiographical Data
Anthropology: 1924-1930 by George Langford, Sr.
(written about 1964)

After several minor explorations of a preparatory nature, I became launched upon my five years of Fisher site excavations in 1924. [Note - George, Sr.'s grandfather, Col. Daniel Alexander Robertson, had excavated Indian burial mounds many years before in St. Paul, Minnesota - George, III.]
The Fisher site, about 18 miles southwest of Joliet, Illinois, on the DesPlaines River, comprised about 10 Indian mounds and 50 large saucer-shaped depressions or"Pits."  A thousand or so Indians were buried in this area.  I had a helper, Albert Tennik, and at times another, Thomas Dudley.  This exploration aroused much interest among laymen and scientists both.
Soon after the World War Armistice was declared in 1918, I made numerous attempts to interest professional scientists in the Fisher site but failed.  I presented it as a venture of great promise, although lacking in showy material.  But scientists were shy of it.  Northern Illinois was not a promising region for any outlay of time and money.  All begged to be excused and wished me luck.  The now much condemned "looting" of Indian mounds by "amateurs" had not then come into vogue, and mine was not considered an unholy venture.
However, I had no desire to tackle the job alone.  I had no intention of tackling it at all.  But the gradually increasing threat of destruction of the site for commercial purposes finally proved too much for me, and I began to dig in 1924.  Once started, I kept at it, because what I found was most unusual; and I stopped only when I was driven out by the new owners - Congress Construction Company of Chicago.  This was in 1929, and the gravel on the site was earmarked for construction of the Dresden Dam.
But meanwhile I had secured a vast quantity of human skeletons, clay pots, and artifacts of stone, bone, copper and shell.  I worked carefully and accumulated an extensive record of notes, maps, photographs, drawings and observation on everything I saw or found.  Every one of the thousands of relics was marked to correspond with the place where it was found.  I worked fast at the top and slow at the bottom, where I began to find things.  Although an amateur, I could see what was to be done and how to do it.
This Fisher exploration attracted a good deal of attention at the time for many reasons.  I found successive tribal occupancies by observing stratigraphical changes in the soil.  The human burials on the Lower Levels were crouching Long-Heads without relics.  Those of the Middle Level were extended Broad-Heads with many relics.  Some mounds were older than others.  One was Post-European with White Man's objects, the first ever found of this kind.  The "Pits" revealed many features of housing and domestic life.  The Fisher site told a long and complete story of aboriginal civilization.
Scientists began to take notice.  Dixon of Harvard was the first.  He got others going.  We had many visitors.  The University of Chicago asked to take part.  Their parties worked under my direction.
When I was ejected from the Fisher site in 1929, I soon undertook another exploration on the Adler site on the southern outskirts of Joliet.  There were 8 mounds; one large and 7 small ones.  I used men from the University of Chicago in addition to my stand-by Albert Tennik.  We found quite a lot, different in type from what we had found at Fisher's, and a good deal less of it.
By this time, my house and office were crammed with the fruits of all this digging and my records of it.  The records, as I knew, were of prime importance.  The University of Chicago was very anxious to have the material, and inasmuch as it had all come from near their doorstep, they got it, gratis.  For this they made me an honorary Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology.  I was invited into their councils and soon became aware that the Fisher exploration had given the Department a great impetus.
In 1930 I was invited to visit their exploration of the Jay Morton and other sites in Putnam County.  I spent a week there.  My scheme of records seemed to have become popular.  They were not finding much, and I was invited to join in the afternoon I got there.  So I joined in and got two fine clay pots in half an hour.  I will never forget the general consternation that ensued.  I dug fast where there was no danger of doing harm but was gentle where I had to be.
It was the fast part that caused the trouble.  On top of that, I scorned the orange sticks and camel's hair brushes and used a steel point and whisk broom.  I was never asked to repeat; in fact I was requested not to.  I could do the job well enough in my own way but not in their way.  By that time I was aware of the fact that digging up Indians had become big business and was done according to much ceremony and ritual.
If I had been more learned and of the school teacher type, I might have taken the rising wave of commercialism more seriously; and possible have gotten in on it.  There was money in it for the higher ups and jobs for the lower downs.  I had given the whole thing a big push.  I could see that; and in case I saw wrong, I was told so many times by the customers - the new students.  Quite a business had resulted in the name of education, which proceeds on the basis that anything we don't know is worth knowing.
Perhaps I was unfitted by temperament to go through the tedious process of excavating an Indian mound with an orange stick and camel's hair brush.  It may even be that I am wondering in my crude amateur way what does it all amount to anyhow.  However. I am not too dumb to see that there is money in it, as there generally is for a time at least in any newly developed business.  But I confess that it was hard for me to take it all seriously, and so my part in it became little or nothing.
The doings in Putnam County were published very fully by the University of Chicago, and a copy was sent to me.  It announced that, "in 1925, the University of Chicago started an archeological reconnaissance of Illinois."  There was a footnote to the effect that there had been two local investigations by professionals in 1881-2 and that Warren K. Moorehead, another professional, had done some investigating, but that was all.  The University of Chicago was on the march, and that was the big news.  I began to wonder a bit.  The Fisher investigations begun in 1924 were often referred to as a "major exploration," and by scientists, too.  They came in great number to see me and what I was doing.  Most of them praised the work.  Then again, there was Dan Dickson near Lewiston.  He opened up a mound on his farm and put on a show of 190 dead Indians with all their pots and things around them.  He made a good job of it.  Neither Dickson or I got a hand.  The "reconnaissance" announcement ignored us entirely; and the fact is that either job, Dickson's or mine, made their first "reconnaissance" job look pretty sick by comparison.  We were a bit short on the ritual and the technical terms, but we got the stuff and all there was to be learned from it.
The "reconnaissance, etc." opening was very bitter towards "amateurs" and "looters."  That is where the rub comes.  Dickson and I were "amateurs" and, therefore, "looters."  We stood without the charmed circle.  Neither one of us had ever learned from a doctor or professor how to dig up dead Indians.  No semesters nor seminars were chalked up to our credit.  We didn't have union cards.
And yet in many ways I have not been treated as an amateur in a derogatory sense.  The young men, in particular, and even some of the older professionals, have treated me with greater consideration than I probably deserve.  I had my way of doing things and got results.  They were very outspoken about that.  I never criticized their methods nor ever made any effort to foist mine upon them.  I think that the older men were apprehensive that I might do so, being well aware that I was not impressed by the new, laborious technique, ritual and terminology which was fast becoming the basis for higher archeological education.  In all this I was nevertheless a bad example to be followed in the present set-up.
In 1925 while I was excavating at Fisher's, the University of Chicago was doing the same near Galena, Illinois.  I went up there in the Fall with my wife for a week and saw the scene of activities after the University had spent a season.  All that they found was a much dilapidated skeleton which they called, "Oscar."  But they accomplished much in the practice of technique and proper methods; so I was told.
Several years later I secured permission from the cemetery trustees of the Oakwood Cemetery, authorizing the University of Chicago to excavate the big mound there.  The exploring party found so many human skeletons that the work was finally stopped by several owners of adjoining burial lots who feared that some of their relatives might be dug up by mistake.  The mound was then about 3/4 explored.  Practically no artifacts were found.  I watched the progress of the work and saw practically nothing of particular interest.  To me it appeared that very little had been accomplished that could be considered worthwhile.
In 1940 or thereabouts, the University of Illinois and Illinois State Museum jointly secured permission to explore the Fisher mounds.  This was getting back into my old bailiwick.  WPA [Works Projects Administration - George, III] were secured to do the work.  A boys' CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps - George, III] camp established close by was engaged in chopping down trees, clearing land and doing other useful work.  I was invited by some of the party to "co-operate," whatever that might mean.
I was engaged at that time in another exploration of my own about 5 miles down the line, in the strip mines west of Wilmington, but I often stopped at Fisher's going to and fro between Joliet and Wilmington.  Work began on one of the "Pits," which I had partly excavated long before.  There, the party came upon "post-holes," marks in the soil indicating the former presence of upright wooden poles which were the framework of Indian houses or shelters.  Hunting for "post-holes" was then a very important part in midwest exploration, and the finding of those post-holes created no end of excitement.  The job was so cautiously done that there was no time to complete it that season.
In the meantime, CCC boys stumbled upon human skeletons in what I had called the "Gravel Mound" group.  Albert and I had done some exploring there, but having had our fill of human skeletons, we had decided to leave that portion intact.  But the CCC discovery put an end to that, and the WPA moved in.  I judge that 150 or so human beings were buried there.  There were some clay pots and bone relics, also a few flint artifacts and a little copper.  These and the black earth filled-in graves were much heralded as new discoveries of great significance, although it seemed to be the same later Pre-European culture of my "Upper Level."
The Joliet newspapers always consulted me about the numerous important "finds,'  and I found that rather embarrassing.  I enthused as much as I could, but the reporters could not seem to find much news in it, and neither could I.  I did try to interest them in the orange stick technique, but that fell rather flat.  I wasn't news.
Evidently, the discovery of the mound was to my discredit.  The powers that were, suspected that I was holding out on them.  My advice was asked very frequently, but invariably when I suggested one course to pursue, an opposite course of exploration was followed.  They wanted to find some of the "concealed Long-Heads," that had caused so much speculation during my explorations.  Several areas between the "Two Big Mounds," "EM" and "WM," were staked out.  "Had I dug there ?" "No."  "Were they promising places to dig ?"  And when I again said, "No," and suggested digging somewhere else, they followed their hunch and dug anyhow, finding nothing.  "How about Mound EM; did you leave anything there ?"  When I answered, "Yes, a few," they wouldn't dig.  One of the young students in charge became impatient and asked me to pick a spot for him.  I did, and he took one of the WPA and sailed in.  Next day, he was glum.  They were in a fine place, but the boss got wind of it and made them fill the hole up again.
I was finally consulted about the small "Southeast Mound SE."  This purely Post-European mound, the first one ever found with both aboriginal and White Man's relics, had received national publicity.  I advised them to pass this one by.  I had gotten about all there was in it.  So they dug there with a vengeance.  Some 14 men spent nearly two weeks on it, mowing it down with jack-knives and dust brushes.  The take consisted of several bones of a human foot, bits of a skull as I remember, and parts of an infant with a few china beads.  The WPA were bored with the whole thing, and disgruntled with me, thinking that it was all my fault.  So I kept away from the place and went about my own business.
As I look back upon my archaeological activities, it seems as though what I got out of it all was mainly the satisfying of consuming curiosity.  I hunted for novelty and found it.  Coupled with this was healthful outdoor exercise and mental relaxation.  In this I do not belittle the attention and consideration shown me by many people, laymen and scientists both.  I made many new friends.  The bulk of my Fisher and Adler collections was presented to the University of Chicago, where it still figures prominently in the newly revived teaching of mid-west archaeology and anthropology.  In return I was given the honorary position I have held for over 12 years.  I have been admitted into the councils and welcomed as a guest member of the Faculty.  My appreciation of all this is unquestioned.
But, as far as my own personal satisfaction is concerned, it seems to me that I might have done better.  Professionals have profited by it, but their number is comparatively small.  Laymen or people in general should have been given first consideration.  When my Fisher diggings were widely publicized, the interest of laymen predominated over the interest of scientists 1000 to 1.  The public is not interested particularly in higher learning, but it is interested in things that attract their attention, particularly in things that are unusual.  Anyone more gifted than I in the art of holding and moulding public interest could have done much better with all the stuff that I accumulated.
When I presented my Fisher and Adler collections to the University of Chicago, I assumed that a part of it would at least be conveniently arranged so that the public could see it.  That never happened.  The material was placed for study only and was buried forever, as far as the public was concerned.
In 1929-1930 while considering the disposal of my collections, I had talks with several Joliet men who asked me if I was considering keeping these things in Joliet.  I made it very clear to them that, with my collection as a starting point, a museum of this region might be built up that would interest our local population and outsiders both, not a general museum, but one restricted to Joliet and vicinity.  My collection could be a starting point, and I would do all I could to add to it.  The idea met with general approval, but it was up to me at that point to campaign and arouse public interest.  It could have been done, but I was not qualified for such a task, and nobody else chose to undertake it.  And so that idea went by the board.  Had it been acted upon, nothing could have given me greater satisfaction from then until this day.