Introducing our Western Regional Director, Cory D. Wilkins
I tend to describe myself as a desert rat. It seems that sagebrush and dust run through my veins. As a Native Nevadan, I am proud of my personal heritage. I was born in Winnemucca, Nevada, and moved around the state as a child. Finally landing south of Reno, I grew up in an area that was open and free, and great for a kid. There was still a bit of the Wild West feel to the place. It was a perfect place for me and my family to explore the desert and hills for Indian and mining artifacts. I now realize that this sparked my interest in archaeology, and perhaps set me on my way to my current position.
But, I did not take a direct path into the world of archaeology or preservation. After a short stint in college, and some considerable prodding from my dad, I joined the United State Coast Guard in 1985. Good choice for a guy from the desert, right? After bootcamp, I was stationed in South Portland, Maine on a 180’ buoy tender. I quickly learned that big ships in very cold places were not my thing, so I applied for, and was accepted to, Aviation Structural Mechanic School. After training, I was stationed in Barbers Point, Hawaii, and trained as a C-130 Dropmaster and Loadmaster. The C-130 cargo aircraft flies all long range law enforcement and search and rescue missions for the USCG. I enjoyed being a search and rescue air crewman, so I stuck it out for 22 years, eventually being stationed at Barbers Point, and Air Station Sacramento, California, twice. During my time in the USCG, I earned my bachelor’s degree in business communications, and my MBA. I had the privilege of retiring from the Coast Guard in 2006.
After departing the CG, all I knew was that I wanted to do something completely different from my military career. After looking around a bit, I was hired by a land trust called The Middle Mountain Foundation (MMF) as their executive director. The focus of MMF is to preserve agricultural land in Sutter, Yuba, and Colusa Counties in California, something that interested me greatly. I was fortunate to gain valuable real estate, government, and other experiences unique to a non-profit focused on preservation. Unbeknownst to me, those skills would end up serving me well in my next adventure. When the market collapsed in 2008, times got tough for MMF. Between 2008 and 2010, the organization lost half of its membership. As a result, I was understandably taken to half time.
It was at this point in early 2010 that I noticed an opening with The Archaeological Conservancy (TAC). I applied and was hired by TAC President Mark Michel. At the time, also because of the slow economy, the western regional office was unstaffed, but several preservation projects were still in the works. It was my responsibility to get the western regional office back up to full speed. Because of my previous experience with MMF, and the tremendous amount of support I got (and still get) from staff in the TAC headquarters office in Albuquerque, the transition was very smooth. We quickly had projects back on track and I was working on my first full acquisition ventures, one of which is the Redtfeldt Mound Archaeological Preserve.
I am particularly proud of the Redtfeldt Mound acquisition. Managing the project from beginning to end and knowing this archaeological site would be preserved forever was the most gratifying work I had accomplished in years. The site was brought to TAC by California State Parks archaeologist John Foster and local avocational archaeologist Mary Gordon. Together they put me in touch with Gordon Redtfeldt, who I was to learn is quite an amazing man.
Gordon Redtfeldt was a bomber pilot in World War II, and, subsequently, a commercial aviation pilot. He is also an avid archaeological enthusiast. As I understand the story, Gordon’s brother in law owned a piece of agricultural land near Hanford, California, and, upon initial plowing of the land, uncovered many Indian artifacts. Plowing ceased, and Gordon was called in to complete an assessment. Recognizing the importance of this site, Gordon purchased the property in 1956, and preserved it until TAC purchased it in 2012.
The 8- acre Redtfeldt Mound is dated to approximately 1500 years before present and was occupied by the Tache Yokuts at contact. The mound was created from all the items brought to and left on the mound over the time of occupation. This includes shells, animal bones, stone tools of all kinds, fire cracked rock, and burials. A research project in 1999 revealed a wealth of data and artifacts suggesting the site was extensively occupied.
Gordon’s foresight and passion preserved the last intact mound associated with ancient Tulare Lake. All other mounds in the area have been leveled for farming and development. It was a pleasure getting to know Gordon and creating the Redtfeldt Mound Archaeological Preserve, to fulfill Gordon’s wishes that the site would be preserved into perpetuity.
Since completion of the Redtfeldt project, we have added 12 additional preservation projects to The Archaeological Conservancy’s Western Regional inventory. Our current list of working projects includes 83 properties, in various stages of acquisition. To say that it is an extreme pleasure to work for TAC would be a gross understatement. Our board of directors and President Mark Michel foster dedication and passion in our work, leading by example. As with everyone in the organization, I fully believe in what we do.
Our work makes a difference. It makes a difference to Native American Tribes who can freely visit their sacred places. It makes a difference to the science of archaeology, which will have places to research in the future. It makes a difference to children and adults learning about different cultures at our preserves across the United States. And, it makes a difference to me, because I have come full circle and am now working to preserve those things I found so fascinating during my childhood.
In closing, I would be remiss if I did not mention our supporters. Without our members, donors, contributors, and helpers, we could not do our work. It is only because of the kindness and generosity of them that we are able to be out here, fighting to preserve these fragile, rare cultural resources. To them, to you, I say a very heartfelt THANK YOU!