- Associated Press - Friday, July 22, 2016

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) - Ten years ago - no, say, two years ago - Mike Norman never thought he’d be in the business of reconstructing bison.

Not that the field remains crowded with folks wanting to do this. The remains can be found, washed up in various places. Norman looks.

He doesn’t explain it with any more embellishment. Along riverbeds, against hillsides, in fields, the St. Joseph man observes. He spots fossils and can tell a bison bone from those of cattle and deer.

With the skeletal parts, Norman has a good start on rebuilding the bone structure of a bison. It will be a mixed-and-matched set. “He’s going to make up his own DNA,” Norman says.

An earlier Californian who has lived in Northwest Missouri since 1993, Norman came to this pursuit after becoming fascinated with the loess soils of this region.

Like carrying a portable museum, he brings along a wooden box that holds several bottles of dirt, different hues and different textures, all airlifted in from prehistoric places.

In the soil, over time, the man would find relics of the past, glass jars or lead balls from old armaments. So he would go to the library to study, then back to the outdoors for more exploration. Just looking around.

“Instead of answers,” he says, “I find more questions.”

Norman looks for patterns in things. He stares down at a map dated from the 1860s, and he compares it to what he sees now in the modern world.

No need, the man explains, defaulting to a complicated view. Those who settled the region would not travel over a hill if they could travel on flat ground. They would not dwell in a place of no water if a stream presented itself. Land segments got carved according to reasonable lines, not in haphazard geometry.

It pleases him, then, to point to a spot on the old map, then point to a place near the Second Harvest Community Food Bank where a baptism pool had been located more than 150 years ago.

A self-employed mechanic who has been at his artifact-hunting hobby nearly two decades, Norman measures his sense of continual discovery at about 90 percent.

“Since you never know what you’re going to find, everything is new,” he told the St. Joseph News-Press (https://bit.ly/29RqhKc ).

Norman talks with certainty about some things based on his research and human understanding. He believes that Fort Smith occupied a larger footprint on Wyeth Hill than is currently represented. (“They could take the room they needed. Why wouldn’t they?” he says.)

But he admits a willingness to be talked out of a position if presented with facts.

“I’m not going to compete,” Norman says of his self-training. “I teach myself, but my student’s not real bright sometimes.”

What the St. Joseph man wants more than anything is to share his discoveries, to be able to talk with school and other groups about his findings of amber and arrowheads and animal teeth. He does not want to squirrel away his collection.

The city has a history that led to much of the history out West. Giving it short shrift, he believes, discounts all that came before.

If young people can hold a fossil of ancient sea life, found right here in landlocked Missouri, Norman believes it will create a sense of wonder.

They might drop and break a few.

“I can get more,” the collector says. “The store’s always open.”

___

Information from: St. Joseph News-Press/St. Joe, Missouri, https://www.newspressnow.com

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