Pioneer Farms opens Tonkawa Exhibit

“Make sure to look around. See if you find anything,” Seth Ashley said, peering down at his ten-year-old grandson.

The two walked in silence, brushing past tall rows of corn stalks on their family farm in Waco. Suddenly, Steve stopped.

“Look, Grandpa!” he exclaimed, scooping up an arrowhead. “I found one!”

Later, Steve discovered a coffee can filled with arrowheads his grandfather had found while plowing the fields. “He’d actually taken them out there and thrown them down for me to find,” Steve says. “But it sparked my imagination.”

Years later, Steve Ashley still has a profound appreciation for Indian artifacts and culture.

His passion led him to create the new Tonkawa Exhibit, a permanent collection at Pioneer Farms in Austin that includes handcrafted replicas of Tonkawa walking sticks, spears, bows, and arrows, as well as various Indian artifacts that Steve has excavated.

Steve Ashley

“We find the arrowheads and the knives, but all the wooden things—the spears, the bows, the arrows—rotted away. All we see is a few flint pieces, and we wonder how they used them,” he says.

Steve found most of the artifacts at Walnut Creek in Austin, Gunpowder Creek in Waco, and Crystal Falls in Leander, he says. He estimates he’s found several thousand items, many of which are featured at the exhibit.

“This is one of the largest, thinnest flint tools ever found in Texas,” Steve says, pointing to a replica of a biface, a hide-scraping tool he found at the Ashley Site. The site, along lower Walnut Creek, was named for Steve after he arranged for the site to be listed as protected. Since Steve found the original biface on City of Austin property, he was not allowed to keep it. Instead, he cast a silicone replica.

The Tonkawa Tribe has been “advising us on the accuracy of some of the [replicas],” Steve says. “They were most helpful with information and images.”

The exhibit is open Fridays through Sundays during Pioneer Farms hours, but on Saturday mornings Steve will be there, teaching and telling his stories. Lucky visitors might learn how to say “red stick” in Tonkawa, hear about the time Steve attended a Tonkawa powwow, or get instructions to make their own Tonkawa spear replicas!


The Tonkawa are a nomadic tribe famous for its strong warriors and hunting prowess. Tickanwa-Tic, the name the Tonkawa call themselves, means “They all stay together.” For more information on the Tonkawa Tribe, visit TonkawaTribe.com.

For more information about Pioneer Farms’ hours and Steve Ashley’s Tonkawa Exhibit, visit pioneerfarms.org.

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