Tracking Native Americans is passion for man

July 14, 1997


Staff Writer, Chambersburg

ST. THOMAS, Pa. - Convincing successful artifact hunters like Gene Niswander to reveal their favorite spots isn't easy.

"I search mostly in Franklin County. But I won't give up my secret places," Niswander said with a smile.

A huge assortment of arrowheads and other Native American relics shows that Niswander knows where to go, though he admits to buying a few pieces to round out his vast collection.

Novice artifact hunters shouldn't be discouraged by Niswander's large collection.

There are plenty of relics left unturned, Niswander said. He's found several Indian artifacts in every township in the county and more throughout the state.


Though he just can't bring himself to reveal the county's greatest hunting spots, Niswander offers the next best thing in his new quarterly, Historical Indian Newsletter.

"I wanted to share my knowledge of history of our area with the public," he said.

In his first issue, published in January, Niswander gives his readers pointers on finding relics, including how to search for them and what to look for.

Hint: Native American tribes often settled, at least temporarily, near a water source like a natural spring, lake or stream, Niswander said.

"Look for small chippings - small pieces of stone that look like they've been hammered on," Niswander said.

January's newsletter also delves into Native American history, including a look at different theories of how Indians got to Pennsylvania and Franklin County.

It also features a piece written about the rhyolite chip, volcanic rock which is readily found in the South Mountain, Pa., outcroppings.

Local tribes used the thin, hard rock to make weapons and stone tools, according to the newsletter.

Future newsletters will cover topics like Native American farming, beliefs in spiritual matters and will describe different artifacts.

Besides mailing the newsletter, Niswander also has plans to put it on the Internet. He's also in the process of writing a book detailing the Native American tribes of Franklin County.

"There's a great, great interest of history in our area," Niswander said.

The Franklin County native got interested in the subject about 25 years ago when he attended school in St. Thomas.

Niswander's interest turned into fascination after researching and studying Native Americans and then applying his newfound knowledge outside, where he's  unearthed hundreds of relics.

Parts of his collection are displayed at the Open Door Church, 600 Miller Street, and at the 30 West Family Restaurant, 1021 Lincoln Way West, both in Chambersburg, Pa.

Niswander also takes his collection on the road, giving talks to school children and other groups.

A one year subscription to the newsletter is $12. It includes an invitation to an artifact hunt, a collector's picnic and directions to a local rhyolite quarry.

For more information, or to subscribe, contact Niswander at 1-717-369-2533.

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