Hampson Museum Preserves Ancient Nodena Native Culture

Article follows the photos:
Exhibit from Hampson Museum Park
Exhibit from Hampson Museum Park
Exhibit from Hampson Museum State Park
Exhibit from Hampson Museum State Park
Exhibit from Hampson Museum Park
Exhibit from Hampson Museum Park
March 12, 2002

Hampson Museum Preserves
Ancient Nodena Native Culture

By Craig Ogilvie, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Arkansas's 10th state park, Hampson Museum, provides visitors a glimpse in to the lives of Nodena Native Americans, which thrived along the banks of the Mississippi River in Arkansas from 1400 to 1650 A.D. Hampson's exhibits feature artifacts collected from the site as well as interpretive displays. The museum is located in Wilson on U.S. 61, about 10 miles south of Osceola. For additional information, call (870) 655-8622, or visit ArkansasStateParks.com.

It could be said that the idea for Hampson Museum State Park dates back to 1887 when ten-year-old James K. Hampson traded a marble for an arrowhead. That was the beginning of his life-long study of the ancient Native Americans who lived along the Mississippi River centuries before the first Europeans arrived.

Hampson, who was reared in Memphis, added to his arrowhead collection during visits to the 5,000-acre family plantation at Nodena, in Mississippi County, Arkansas. In 1898, he graduated from medical school in Memphis and went on to study in New York City. Dr. Hampson later practiced in Fort Smith, Memphis and California before settling down at Nodena in the 1920s.

The country doctor soon returned to his hobby of carefully researching the ancient natives who had occupied a large village near his rural home. The Nodena were a highly organized and talented people who resided here from about 1400 to 1650 A.D. The name actually refers to a rare painted pottery type (Nodena Red and White) and a unique type of stone point called Nodena. Even the time period has become known as the Nodena Phase.

Dr. Hampson's hobby quickly became a family project with wife, Frances, and children Dixie, Mary Louise, and Henry Clay joining in the research. During two decades, the family collected, mapped, catalogued and studied more than 40,000 items. Dr. Hampson's work was considered remarkable by professional archaeologists who often visited and worked with the family at Nodena. At his invitation, the Alabama Museum of Natural History and the University of Arkansas conducted excavations during the 1930s.

In 1937, the Hampson family started moving the collection into an abandoned plantation store at Nodena. It opened to the public in 1946 as the Henry Clay Hampson Memorial Museum, in honor of the Hampsons' son who was killed in action during World War II.

Dr. Hampson died on October 8, 1956. His collection remained in the old store until 1959, when an adjacent building burned. Fearing for the safety of the artifacts, the Hampson family promptly donated the Nodena items to the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. The artifacts were stored until a new building could be constructed on land donated by Robert E. L. Wilson III. The new Henry Clay Hampson II Memorial Museum, which makes up the majority of the Hampson Museum State Park, was dedicated in 1961.

The museum gives visitors a glimpse of the Nodena village, which covered about 15 acres on a meandering bend of the Mississippi. It had two pyramidal ceremonial mounds connected by a plaza and an adjacent playing field where a game called "chunky" was popular. Houses, fashioned from cane and clay, surrounded the public areas and mounds. The Nodena people were excellent farmers who also hunted and fished.

But it was the beautiful pottery that made Nodena famous. Many experts rank it equal if not superior in construction and design to any prehistoric vessels found in North America. Effigies protruding from the finely tempered clay include fish, waterfowl, hawk, turkey, dogs, owls, pigeons, snakes and many other animals of the region. Highly intriguing, however, are the human depictions created in clay by the natives.

Perhaps the most photographed human effigy pot in the mid-South is displayed at the museum. The realistically sculptured head, with multi-pierced ears, facial decorations and a defined hairline may depict an important leader of the village.

Museum visitors range from inquisitive school groups to the nation's top archeological scholars. Many are vacationers traveling along nearby Interstate 55 or the Great River Road (U.S. 61).

The Museum Today

Exhibits include vintage photographs of archeological excavations at Nodena and the original artifacts from the Hampson plantation, a timeline of prehistoric populations and examples of items they left behind, a display of the beautiful artwork and weapons unique to the Nodena people.

Other museum cases illustrate the agricultural, hunting and fishing techniques used by the natives, the extensive trade regions of the period, work tools fashioned for specific jobs and the world-famous Nodena effigy and decorated pottery. Another display contains miniatures apparently crafted as toys, plus clay items made by youngsters imitating the master potters.

Seven workshops, all related to Native American culture, are offered each year at the museum. The emphasis at the museum has always been on the educational aspects of the collection and the scientific work of the Hampson family, according to park officials.

The park occupies a tree-shaded block at the northern edge of Wilson. With its business center made up entirely of Tudor-styled buildings and a park square, Wilson is a very unique small town. The post office, market, restaurants, shops and even a service station carry the distinctive British architecture.

Hampson Museum State Park also includes five new picnic sites and a modern playground. A small admission fee is charged for museum tours. Group and school rates are available with advance notice. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Tuesday-Saturday); 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays.


Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, (501) 682-7606
E-mail: info@arkansas.com

May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"