One advantage of using Whiteside as a case study as opposed to other Anglo-American settlers is the accessibility of his former property. Because it is now part of a public university, the land is available for study by historians, anthropologists, and archaeologists that work at SIUE.
My personal experience with the SIUE landscape certainly informed my argument about the Whitesides’ impact on that landscape. Still, there is much more to be learned about that impact, and much of it could be told by the landscape. Aside from the Whiteside grave, their precise occupation of the land is unknown. This includes the location of their farmland and cabin, along with other possible structures.
Perhaps the Whitesides have left more behind than a grave. Yet whatever that might be, it has yet to be discovered, with the possible exception of a buckle.
The anthropology department at SIUE has conducted a number of excavations on the Edwardsville campus, uncovering both pre-contact and post-contact artifacts. The post-contact artifacts include brick and glass remains. Without doing more extensive study it is difficult to determine if these are from Whiteside’s era, but likely most are from after his time.
One example is the discovery of a root cellar at the Gehring Site, believed to be from the 1870s. The Gehring Site, 11MS99, is an archaeological site located on the western floodplain of the SIUE campus and Whiteside’s former property. More recently, it was on the property of farmer Wilbur Gehring until the land was bought for the SIUE campus in the 1960s, though Gehring continued to farm the land as a tenant farmer. It was first identified as an archaeological site by Patrick J. Munson and Alan D. Harn, who conducted an archaeological survey of the American Bottom, and SIUE in particular, in 1971. Since the early 70s, SIUE faculty have conducted a number of investigations at the Gehring Site. Starting in summer 2009, SIUE Anthropology Professors Julie Holt and Gregory Vogel have conducted annual archaeology field schools at the Gehring Site.1
In the summer 2012 field school, the first historic structure was found at the Gehring Site: a root cellar. Archaeology student Anna Marie Wright wrote her senior project on the root cellar shortly thereafter, with the goal of determining who used the root cellar. She examined the artifacts found in the cellar: remnants of earthen ware, ironstone, and stoneware, and used secondary sources on when those particular ceramics were available and popular in America. This led to the 1870s estimate, nearly a half century after Whiteside’s death. In 1873 Whiteside’s former property was owned by William Tyler Brown, meaning the cellar was likely used by Brown, or, more likely, hired farm hands, as Brown lived in Edwardsville.2 Brown was the husband of Mary E. Swaggart, William Bolin’s granddaughter, which is likely how he came to own the land.3
Numerous other post-contact artifacts have been found at the Gehring Site, which were analyzed in Jessica Robart’s 2010 senior project. The only artifact she identified from Whiteside’s era is what she identified as a belt buckle. She writes:
One buckle was found at the site. It appears to be a belt buckle from the 18th century after closely comparing it with other buckles found at historic sites in the area.4
Because the supposed buckle may have belonged to Whiteside, I examined and photographed it myself to show to history professors. SIUE history professor Robert Paulett believes it might have been a harness buckle for a horse, due to its large size. In any case, it is possible the buckle did not belong to Whiteside if it is, in fact, from the 18th century, as Whiteside did not arrive until 1802. It might be remains of French occupation.
Still, the buckle is an indication that Whiteside artifacts other than the obelisk have survived to the present. Robart analyzed many other post-contact artifacts, some of which she was unable to date. It is very possible some of them were Whiteside’s. The root cellar too indicates that structures relatively close to Whiteside’s time have survived, meaning that the remnants of the Whiteside cabin might be waiting to be discovered.
My hope is that the anthropology department continues to excavate the SIUE campus, perhaps with greater collaboration with the history department. Having scanned the gravesite numerous times (as discussed on Whiteside Cemetery), perhaps they could scan other areas near the cemetery in search of the cabin. More generally, archaeology at SIUE could further enhance our understanding of the land’s history, and not just William B. Whiteside’s occupation. Many different groups of pre-contact Native Americans, post-contact Native Americans, French, and Americans after Whiteside.
My hope is that I am not the last history student to write about William Bolin Whiteside. In particular, I invite future students to analyze and critique the argument I presented on this website. No doubt there are flaws or gaps in evidence, some of which I am aware of. For example, I am wary of my over-reliance on the writings of John Reynolds and on primary sources that relate to Whiteside directly. There are numerous other primary sources from frontier Illinois that would further shed light on the natural relationships of Anglo-Americans. These include, but are not limited to:
I used all of those as sources, but I primarily used them for documents directly related to the Whitesides in general and William Bolin in particular. Expanding the focus to other settlers would enhance further studies on the settlers’ relationship with nature.
In addition, Whiteside could be used as a case study for a number of other topics. These include:
No doubt there are others. However future scholars study the Whitesides, I hope they continue to enlighten our understanding of frontier Illinois.
3. William R. Whiteside, “The Family of William Bolin Whiteside.”
4. Jessica Robart, “The Gehring site: An Analysis of the Historical Artifacts Found on the Site,” (senior project, SIUE, 2010).
Borderlands: The Goshen Settlement of William Bolin Whiteside by Ben Ostermeier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.