How I got involved.
When I was about 13, my dad was developing an apartment complex about 1/4
mile northeast of the Renner site on the original Brenner homestead.
On a hill overlooking Line Creek, the Brenner family had came from Germany in 1843 and built
a log cabin on this hill. They would live in this cabin for nearly 50 years.
I had known one way or another about how one could find arrowheads. I'd ride the school bus
to my dad's project and he'd have me ride with the bulldozer driver just to spot artifacts.
The dozer guy's name was Elmer Rose. Elmer would let me stop the machine if I saw something important. Most all the artifacts I recoverd that summer were Nebo hill type.
That summer, I collected about 30 artifacts which still remain among the best in my collection.
I don't recall ever seeing any remains of the old Brenner cabin except for a slight indention in the ground
where my dad told me the cabin was. At the age of 13, I didn't think about things like looking for the
old trash dump.
I should point out that the Brenner family came to the Riverside area in 1843 and settled pretty much
all of what is now called; Riverside, Missouri. The previous name for the area was Brenner Ridge.
My great aunt, Martha (Brenner) Noland, who is in her 80s, does remember the original Brenner log cabin
and when she was a child, recalled the cabin was used for hay storage. She told me there were two
buildings. The main house and a barn.
My archaeological career really began in 1977 when I first met Aunt Carolina Renner (Brenner).
I was only 22 in 1977. I knew of great Aunt Carolina and the fact she was the oldest living Brenner around.
I knew her property was on an archaeological treasure and that it was on the National Register of
Historic Places, which this web page is about.
At the time, I was mostly interested in my family history and she was the one that had it all.
I was working for my dad at the time and looking for side jobs. The word got out and one night Carolina called me about
painting her house. We had a great talk and I was there the next day to look at the project.
In that hour I spent with so valuable and I did get the painting job for $300
Over the next month, I painted on the house and she was very picky about this and that. In the middle of hanging off a
ladder, she would call me inside to look at old photos and review family history. Her husband, Leslie, had been gone for
10 years and she was grateful a young kid was interested in the family history. After a few weeks, my attention was being
drawn towards the archaeology. She brought out photos and recalled the Wedel and Roedel days. She specially talked
highly about Mett Shippee and that I should call him to learn more. I most definately became attached to her house. I loved
the design, the potential and wanted it for myself. But at $6. per hour, I'll just keep dreaming.
Beyond the family history and archaeology, the one thing about Carolina I remember most is that she cooked practically
every dinner with onions. To this day, I can still smell those onions cooked on a gas stove.
As far as archaeology, she understood it and put up with it, but their concern was always to keep the leased land functioning,
which means minimal impact to the ongoing farming operation.
I did finish the house painting and left with my mind filled with so much family and archaeological information, that I
became obsessed with both.
I wanted so bad to just hope she was asleep and grab a shovel and dig like a mole through her yard... I even dreamed it.
I dreamed how I would do it and all that.
Mary and I were married February 3, 1978. We lived in an apartment in the complex my dad built where I found my first
artifacts year earlier on the bulldozer.
I would continue to visit Carolina as I could and we had developed a close friendship. During one the last visits before
she passed away, she gave me a box of photos and had me go to the attic to look at a trunk. She was unable to make it
up the steps, but told me what to look for. In this attic, I saw this old trunk with clear markings on the face, "1843". This
was the trunk my family brought from Germany in 1843 with everything they owned. Inside the trunk was my
ggg grandfathers Civil War uniform and various other important family history items. To say the least, I was simply
overwhelmed. I might as well have been at Fort Knox. Later, I would get the trunk, which was emptied after Carolina
died and to be honest, I only got the trunk because no one else could figure out how to get it out of the attic.
Carolina died in the spring of 1980. By now, Mary and I had a baby girl- Heather. We were still living in one of my dad's
I was close with my Uncle Vern who was married to my Aunt Bernice. Aunt Carolina was also Aunt Bernice's aunt.
Aunt Bernice and Uncle Vern were the first keys to saving the Renner Site.
Carolina's estate involved 6 other relatives and found out the estate would be tied up in court for at least two years.
Mary and I moved into the home with the understanding we were renters and the home would be eventually sold.
Oh, my god. I was 25 and had a baby girl and suddenly had a house that I wanted and knew every bit of history about.
We moved in the summer of 1980, which was about the hottest summer ever recorded. Our rent was $50 a month as
long as we did the maintenance.
It was so hot that we lived in the breakfast room with a small air conditioner and closed off the rest of the house with bed
sheets. It was still a house and we were so happy.
But, the roof was so bad that when it rained we quickly learned where to place five gallon buckets and it took 5 buckets.
Okay, now we had a home that was on an archaeological treasure trove. All I knew then was the whole thing could be
sold and there was no way we could buy it. What would you do? In my spare time, I took a shovel and started digging.
My first digs were where the garage is now. I was no more than a treasure hunter and I freely admit that. I just knew if
the land was sold it could be destroyed in a heart beat based on my previous experience from riding on a bull dozer.
That same year, we went though one of the coldest winters ever recorded with temperaturs near -21 just before Christmas. We were heated with an old oil fired furnace, which I had to go hit with a hammer once in a while to keep it going. At -21, oil
consolidates and the furnace won't work. The furnace finally blew up Christmas Eve. It ruined Christmas dinner,
cookies and was a dark moment in time for sure.
My dad found a used gas furnace and we replaced the oil burner that Christmas weekend. The furnace cost $50 bucks
and my ex wife (Mary) is still using it today.
Through the winter of 1980 and into the spring of 1981, I kept digging when I could and taught myself how to keep maps
and records of what I was doing. The thinking was this whole thing could be gone in a heart beat or a fancy check from
the City or someone. We heard rumors all the time about this or that person wanting to turn the property into a commercial building....I just kept digging, sometimes till midnight by flashlights.
Through that winter, I had written letters to everyone that had the means to help. As in The Achaeological Converatory,
Senator Kit Bond, Gov. John Ashcroft and the works. Although I did get an answer from all, there was no help. At the time
my dad was mayor of Riverside and the council was considering buying the property to turn it into a baseball diamond.
I was like, Oh My God NO!!!!!!
Enter James Mett Shippee
I managed to gain media attention to the fate of the site and a reporter from the KC Star contacted Shippee for a story about
the Renner Site.
I got the phone call from the reporter about an hour before they were to arrive. I was freaking out about my simple dig and
knew Shippee would frown on my digs. By this time, Shippee was the "father" of KC archaeology and I hoped he would
certainly understand that I had no choice in what I was doing.
I have no excuses. There's
the father of KC archaeology staring at my poorly done hole in the yard. He was frail, but understanding
and we would develop a trust and friendship that would last the rest of his life. In the background you can
see how bad the roof of the house was. You can see I was using a sifter, but the shovel is not acceptable.
Mett knew the story and the circumstances. He never once put me down or called me a treasure hunter. He totally
understood. That day, I promised him I would find a way to either save the site or buy it myself. He just smiled.
He did invite me to his home where I went the very next weekend. I was a nervous wreck that morning. Could I find his
house? What would he be like? He obviously doesn't hate me..........He must see something in me. Reflecting, I truly
believe that he believed his only hope of saving the Renner Site was with me.
That morning I packed a cigar box full of pottery and artifacts and certainly knew this old man would be impressed.
As I pulled into his driveway, I saw this 80 something man on a ladder painting his house. Acting like a man half his
age, he got off the ladder and came to my car to greet me. You have to understand that I would have been more relaxed
meeting the President of the United States. It was so important to me to make some kind of impression on this man.
He apologized for having paint on his hands and invited me in. I took my cigar box and followed him to his livingroom.
I was in awe of this man and really did feel as privilged as walking into the White House.
His wife, Margaret, quickly offered me a glass of ice tea which I accepted.
At this point, I knew I was like a horrible writer having been invited into the home of Elliot Frost, Thomas Edision
and Thomas Jefferson, all wrapped into one person.
I was pretty much speechless.... I could see past the livingroom into his study where there were nothing but
artifacts everywhere. To me, that was pretty much Fort Knox.
We did the small talk as I found myself trying to be on his level. In that hour in the livingroom, I had a years worth
of crash course in archeology and nobody can say that better than me.
In the hour and a half I was there, I changed from being a treasure hunter to an archaeologist. I got to go into
Fort Knox and got access to everything. He handed me maps, personal notebooks and all access to everything.
He gave me several personal papers regarding the Renner Site, which I still have.
Fort Knox was amazing. At that time it still pretty much contained everything Mett had ever collected. I suspect
I was one of the last to experience it.
I walked out of that house a different person, if not a zombie. As older trusting people do, I was given Mett's
personal shovel, prodding rod and a simple sifter.
More importantly, I left that house with a sense of heavy responsibility.
To skip ahead, I didn't fail Mett and it wouldn't have happend if he haden't put his faith in a 25 year old kid.
I kept digging, but now with trowels and better sifters. I set up grid lines and made maps of everything to the
centimeter. I was reading every bit of archaeological material I could get my hands on.
That same summer, Dr. Walter Burks showed up at the door. He was a professior of archaeology that had
somehow gotten permission to dig in the back yard. I was furious until he said I could be a part of it. He was
working with Maple Woods Community College with a summer community education program. Dr. Burks
was a guy with words. I'm not talking about speaking right, I'm talking about a guy who spoke fluently with
well chosen words that made you listen. All the same, he liked young women and by the end of the summer,
I had the Maple Woods job. I would eventually have that community education job for 13 years!
So to speak, I was suddenly a professional archaeologist and a teacher---and being paid for it very welll.
In 1981, I was paid $16 an hour which is probably comparable to $40 an hour today.
My wife and I wanted a new garage as the old one had fallen down at this point. I chose to conduct my first
professional excavation where we wanted the garage. The excavation plans were to excavate a 30x40 area.
This is a photo of the students in the fall of 1981
working the area where the future garage would be.
This spot would provide some of the best artifacts
ever recovered from Renner.
Students sifting artifacts to the side of the excavation
that you can see in the background.
During the garage excavation the most important thing discovered was the fact there appeared to be post holes
lined with rocks the extened around the Renner house. I used a prod rod to find that these did appear to go
around the house. It's not very scientific and I have no evidence other than where we excavated at the garage,
but I do know my Aunt Carolina said when the house was built, the contractor placed the house on the highest
point available for drainage. This brings up several points. First, it made sense. Second, that means probably
the house construction could have destroyed the most valuable part of Renner. Third, maybe not. The possible
fence holes I found may show the "center" of the village site was indeed a significant find.
I began to realize the Renner home was built on the highest ground available and that it was built upon the most
significant portion of the site. The Renner home, 2,000 years ago, was a fortified structure surrounded by a fence
of some type.
I would later believe the Renner site wasn't a village at all, but more of a "farm" like farms we think of in the first
part of our century.
A clay effigy of a male. I never found the head.
The artist left a thumbnail impression about half
way down the effigy.
Front view. Notice the detail adding
a belly button. What struck me most,
was the effigy is of a portly male.
A beautiful deer antler
A rare photo of J. Mett Shippee [aout 1984]
Before he became too ill to walk. He's standing about the the current location of the gazebo, or right above Wedel's
excavation. This photo was taken in 1982.
FLASHBACK: Between 1980 and 1982, several things happened in my life. All those events in 24 months
would impact my life forever.
Mary and I had been renting the Renner home and in 1982 we got the chance to buy the home. That chance,
with what we could afford, was only the house and one acre. Eventually, we did get that one acre. By 1982 we
had two babies and a leaky roof, but we owned a house.
I had become obsessed with saving the rest of the site. It consumed my every moment, often till past midnight.
I read everything there was to read and still taught for Maple Woods every Saturday.
The year of 1982 was the critical point in my life to do something important and in the back of my mind was
always Mett Shippee who thought I could do it. Actually, nobody else cared.
Between the winter of 81-82, I wrote letters to Christopher Bond, the Archaeological Conservancy, Governor Ashcroft and everywhere else I knew of to ask for federal help. Everyone responded with a letter saying how I was doing a great job, but there were no money available. Only a guy from the Archaeological Conservancy actually came from Arizona to the house and explained that they only accepted donated land. Okay, that ruled out all the help. I'd have to take matters in my own hands.
I decided I had to run for Riverside City Council with the sole purpose of having the City buy what remained of the site and to turn it into a park.
I signed up, did my best and won first ward seat that April of 1982.
To me, I looked like a kid. But I had a goal.
am at the Riverside council meeting which met every
Tuesday or every other Tuesday, often till midnight to
2AM. Back then, the City had no money to speak of.
Their annual budget was about 1 million. 26 years
later, their park budget alone would be one million!
This photo was taken a few hours before I proposed
the city buy the remainder of the Renner Site.
[circa April 1985] In front of me was all my notes
and prep work. At 2am that night, I made a motion
for the City to purchase what remained of the
Renner Site. The only stipulation from the estate,
who gave the city an excellent deal, was an
appropriate marker be placed on the land that had
something about the fact it was on the National
Register of Historic Places and have Carolina
Renner's family name on it.
The motion was approved by all.
Mayor Mike Holmes made a second motion to make me in charge of creating a marker. Former mayor,
EH Young had given the City $6,000 just for parks. Mr. Young was founder of Red X and the main retail
income for Riverside before Argosy would come 13 years later.
At this time there was no park board and no real rules like there are today.
For a short span of time, I was the park board and had $6,000 to create a park and an appropriate monument.
I got right to work right away with designing the monument and the park (which you see most of it still today).
All the time, I kept teaching, had my real job working for my dad, I had my city council responsibilities, my wife
and kids, the leaky roof and alway had money problems. I had conducted three major excavations. All work
was published and little did I know the biggest excavation ever to be done at Renner was in the future.
The wording on the monument had to be right. At some point I found the right contractor which was Johnson
Momument Company. I worked with Jim Feagins who is a professional KC archaeologist. We worked together
for some time to get the wording just right. At that time, Mr. Feagins worked for the KC Museum.
On July 25, 1985, Feagins sent a three page letter to myself the the Riverside City Council which not only included
suggestions on the wording on the monument, but how to adapt the site as a park.
Exerpts from his letter are extremely important. A scan of the first page appears below. This was an extremely profound
and insightful letter that seemed to already indicate Mr. Feagin's prediction of the site.
Feagins emplored how
the Renner Site is "one of the most significant archaeological sites in all of the Kansas City metropolitan area,
and is a non renewable resource. Once gone, it would be gone forever."
His letter went on to give emphasis on interpretation in that the park be developed in "the bare minimum
necessary to meet the goals and objectives of proper management of the park and site. Any ground disturbing
construction that may be necessary in the park should be done outside of the archaeological site and boundaries...."
Here is the wording:
RENNER VILLAGE SITE
THIS AREA WAS FREQUENTED BY PREHISTORIC PEOPLE AS EARLY AS 5,000 BC. THIS SITE IS BEST
KNOWN AS THE REGIONAL CENTER OF ABORIGINAL POPULATION IN HOPEWELL TIMES. A.D. 1- 500. AND
OCCUPIED THROUGHO THE WOODLAND CULTURE INTO MIDDLE MISSISSIPPIAN TIMES 1200 A.D.
DISCOVERED IN 1921 BY J. METT SHIPPEE ON THE PROPERTY OF MR. AND MRS. L.R. RENNER.
IN RECOGNITION OF ITS OUTSTANDING SIGNIFICANCE ANDD TO ENCOURAGE ITS PRESERVATION THIS
PROPERTY HAS BEEN PLACED ON THE
NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES.
The photo of me next to the monument on the first page, was taken election day in Riverside. Instead of the
annoying hand shaking, etc. My concern was getting the monument placed, instead of being at the
City Hall voting place, I felt like I was doing more of a community service helping to set the monument. I was up
for election. It tied and went all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court, where they ruled there had to be another
election within 30 days. By this time, I honestly didn't give a crap. I already saved the park and had the green
light to finish it. The judges ruled that one person was mis registered and had voted for me. Although that person
had done nothing wrong and thought he was voting for me, when the judges threw that vote out, my opponent won.
In the second election 30 days later, she ran a campaign like I had done something wrong, or as if I had personally
registered that person. Well, dirty words worked and she won. Six months later she resigned to go to college and
the mayor did not reappoint me to the position because of the publicity involved. I think the mayor (Michael Holmes)
knew I have filled my dreams of saving the site and was doing my thing at building the park.
After loosing the election, I was now a park board member. There were about 6 of us and I was never the president.
I was always the secretary or something. But I never hit a roadblock or any problems getting my way on how the park
should be built. After all, the city had no money and I was donating about 40 hours a week gitting' er' done myself
Saturday excavations continued by me through Maple Woods for 8 weeks each spring and fall. But my moment in
Riverside history came in 1990 when the park was dedicated.