Wis. man loans part of his artifact collection to local museum
This wasn’t the case for Ron “Curly” Babler who began collecting American Indian artifacts in grade school. Now 84, his collection is in the thousands. He has an entire room of his house dedicated to this hobby.
Babler recently loaned roughly a quarter of his collection to Rogers Street Fishing Village after some prompting from his daughter, Theresa Franz.
“He has so much of this, so it’s neat to have it here and share it with the community,” Franz told HTR Media.
The museum lacked a Native American exhibit prior to Babler’s indefinite loan and executive director Greg Goodchild is excited to represent this important aspect of Two Rivers’ history. It was here where the French Canadians met the Native Americans and began a fruitful relationship.
Eleven-year-old Babler was entrusted with watching his Uncle Floyd Wiltgen’s arrowheads while his uncle went off to fight in World War II.
“Take care of these until I get home,” is what his uncle told him.
Wiltgen, however, never made it back. He died in combat in 1943.
But more than 70 years later, Babler is still taking care of the arrowheads.
The small gift ignited into a lifelong hobby for Babler, who began collecting Indian artifacts shortly afterward.
The Two Rivers native began his search in the farm fields of fellow classmates.
“I did a lot of walking,” he shrugged.
Babler’s collecting halted at an early age when he enlisted to fight in the Korean War. After serving, he joined the Merchant Marines and sailed the world for seven years. It was not until Babler, in his 30s, returned to the United States that he resumed his collection. He traveled all over the nation, visiting American Indian burial grounds and learning all he could.
He joined the Wisconsin Archeological Society and has been a member for almost 40 years, a fact he proudly displayed in his choice of clothing. The society T-shirt is printed with – what else? – an arrowhead.
His favorite part of collecting?
“You never know enough,” he said.
This might be hard to believe judging from the stacks of books in his makeshift museum room.
Babler said he loves finding an artifact and going through books to determine what its use was, how old it was and from what tribe it originated.
His collection includes not only arrowheads, but fish hooks, pottery, needles, scrapers and other tools the Native Americans depended upon for survival.
Babler’s pieces adorned with copper are worth the most. Even when in use hundreds of years ago, these pieces were heavily traded all the way down to South America.
His oldest pieces, the straight-edged Paleo points, are 12,000 years old. Eventually, the edges of arrowheads became fluted to better hold onto the arrow. This advancement of civilization is seen in the display at Rogers Street Fishing Village.
Though his collection at home is from all over the world, the pieces displayed in the museum are all local.
Aside from Babler’s collection, the exhibit also includes an authentic Ojibwe birch bark canoe dating back to the 1830s and a mural painted by Sister Mariella Erdmann and Erin LaBonte, art professors at Silver Lake College. The mural depicts the French meeting the Potawatomi on Neshotah Beach.
Goodchild said the exhibit has already been viewed by some visitors; all were impressed with the size of Babler’s collection.
Babler willed his collection to Franz, who took an interest in the collection after spending her childhood arrowhead hunting with her father.
“I didn’t know what I was looking for (back then), so I just kept asking ‘Is this one? Is this one?’ and throwing all of these rocks into my ice-cream pail,” she said.
Franz plans to maintain the collection in the future.
The loan opened up some room in his own personal museum, which Babler hopes to soon fill.
“I’ve got to hit the fields,” he said. “You know, now would be a good time with all the rain we’ve had.”
Rogers Street Fishing Village: http://www.rogersstreet.com
Information from: HTR Media, http://www.htrnews.com
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