Arrowhead collector Rodney Von Gruenigen has spent a lifetime looking for history
At age eight Rodney Von Gruenigen visited his grandfather’s farm in Stanford, Kentucky, an area once canvassed by the frontiersman Daniel Boone. One bright spring morning, Von Gruenigen’s grandfather was out in his garden, tilling the cool, black earth, getting it ready for planting. Von Gruenigen was playing in the grass nearby when his grandfather called out to him. He immediately ran to the garden in the way that only little children do, with innocent abandon. He arrived, out of breath, and saw in his grandfather’s hand a small milk-white rock in the rough shape of a triangle. “It’s a point, son, made by an Indian,” his grandfather said, then handed it to him. Von Gruenigen stood there, running his thumb over the coarse face of the half-dollar-size arrowhead, transported back thousands of years, not fully realizing that the moment marked the beginning of an obsession that would propel him through the rest of his life.
Seven decades later, in a house shared with his wife, Phyllis, in Powell, Tennessee, Von Gruenigen, who speaks in a soft, slow manner, says that each and every one of the arrowheads he has found “has just warmed me up inside.” Of the thousands of “points” (as they are known by aficionados) he has picked up, he’s pared his collection down to a stunning set of two hundred or so of his favorites (he’s given away the others to friends, Boy Scout troops, and churches).
His arrowheads range in size from those as big as a tea saucer to some tiny “bird points” no bigger than a dime. Some are rough and serrated, made to penetrate the hide of a hunted animal and stay there, like a barbed hook. Others are as smooth as river pebbles.
They come in different colors: ivory whites, oily blacks, rusty reds, flinty grays, and others with combinations of all four. He’s mounted some of his favorites in frames that hang over his fireplace. From afar, they look like photographs of orderly schools of tiny fish all swimming in the same direction. Up close, one sees the sometimes minuscule differences in the individual arrowheads and can easily picture the painstaking labor undertaken to make each one: the hammering, the chipping, and the shaping done by some industrious Native American thousands of years ago, to create points for hunting the smallest birds to the biggest bears.
When he holds a point, Von Gruenigen is still transported back to visions of Native Americans. “I’ve always been fascinated by American Indians, by the way they moved around so much and lived off the land,” he says. “They had so much influence on us,” from the names of states (Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama) to introducing settlers to corn, squash, and rice. “And they were also the first conservationists,” he says.