SALINE COUNTY -- Men in search of a myth will usually find one, but men in search of truth spend a lifetime searching and opening doors for others to continue the search.
Such is the case of the late Rev. Everett E. Gott, a Methodist pastor, amateur archaeologist and seeker of knowledge. Gott's wife, Ruth Dolores (Storey) Gott and his children understood their father's pursuit of knowledge and wanted his lifetime quest to continue, even after his passing.
The family of Gott, from Enfield, has donated his lifelong collection of locally found Indian arrowheads and artifacts to the Saline County Historical Society and Museum in Harrisburg. Gott began collecting in 1936 at the age of 12 when he first found an arrowhead near the foundation of a home he was visiting with his grandmother in the town of Enfield.
He kept finding and collecting artifacts until the age of 88 when he found his last arrowhead at his cabin in Hardin County. Gott died in 2014 at the age of 89. Because of his love of southern Illinois, the decision was made by his widow, Ruth, to donate the collection in its entirety to a local museum. She and the Gott family wanted southern Illinois residents to be able to see and enjoy their own history in their own locale. The gift is as much from Mrs. Gott as it is from her husband, for, as she says, "He found it all, but I kept it safe." The four Gott children grew up with the collection, hunting with their father and playing with the stone grinders, playing games on the unique table he made to display some of the best artifacts; it was a part of their everyday life. To honor his work ethic and careful curation, rather than selling the collection, they chose to donate it and make it available for everyone to see.
Gott and his wife were both born and raised in Enfield. As a young man, Gott worked during the war effort both in the production of the Thunderbolt and at the Evansville Shipyard on the Landing Ship Tank, better known as the LST. He then worked for the Carmi Times as a linotype operator. He attended Southern Illinois University Carbondale for his undergrad studies and earned his Master of Divinity from Eden Seminary. He then served as a pastor with the United Methodist Church in several churches in Southern Illinois until his retirement in 1989. The Everett E. Gott Collection includes an impressive array of arrowheads, tools, and pottery, many of which are arranged in frames handmade by Mr. Gott.
Mark Motsinger, a retired history teacher and president of the Saline County Historical Society and Saline Creek Pioneer Village and Museum in Harrisburg, has worked to catalog and document the artifacts, in order to make them available for display and further study. Dr. Mark Wagner, director of the Center for Archaeological Investigations at Southern Illinois University, Heather Carey of the Shawnee National Forest and Brad Koldehoff, chief archaeologist for the Illinois Department of Transportation and Illinois State Archaeological Survey, have expressed interest in studying the collection. Koldehoff, who has been studying artifacts for years, plans to visit Harrisburg to view the collection in the early spring. According to Koldehoff, collections that are this well documented and have been passed on by the primary owner are not easy to find and are extremely helpful in lithic resource studies, such as the one he is conducting. Until now, Koldehoff says, his study has been lacking well-documented material from the southeastern part of Illinois.
Gott was much more than a collector, but a steward; each artifact has been meticulously recorded, not just where it was found, but when. Collections like this often disappear after the owners pass away, or are sold off and individually scattered without any information about where it was found. Though not a professional archaeologist, Gott conducted his investigations in a professional manner, recording his finds, drawing diagrams of where he found certain objects, and even conducting experiments in how the items were made.
Gott's investigations of the area's salt springs during their private ownership days are an invaluable tool in studying the site. Some of the most interesting artifacts from Great Salt Spring include large ceramic pans used during salt processing, His collection even contained experimental pottery pieces, not intended to be faked, but experiments in order to study the processes used to make the pottery.
The Gott Collection will be available for viewing by appointment and during regular museum hours, along with special occasions such as the Life on the Illinois Frontier and the Bluegrass and Barbecue Festival. The Saline Creek Pioneer Village and Museum is located at 1600 S. Feazel St. in Harrisburg.