Flint has been used to make knives for over 12,000 years. And there is no better quality flint than what can be found in Alibates Flint Quarries in the Texas panhandle near Lake Meredith. Distinctive for its colors, Alibates flint has been found as far as the Great Lakes. Early Native Americans quarried the stone to be used as tools and weapons, and also for trade goods. Today the quarries are protected by the National Park Service and can only be visited on ranger-led tours with advance reservations. Reservations must be made by phone at least one day prior to arrival. Tours are offered twice a day and take about two hours.
Alibates flint is a form of agatized dolomite. It is very hard and very beautiful. The stones vary in bright colors such as pink, gold, purple, and blue and can be streaked with several colors or flaked with shiny speckles of quartz. Alibates flint is smooth, tough, and firm, but can be shaped into points by chipping at it to make very sharp cutting edges. This is called flint knapping. The flint is knapped, or chipped, to make tools and weapons such as knives, dart points, arrowheads, and spear points.
Walking the one-mile, moderately steep trail, it is not difficult to imagine what the area was like over 500 years ago. The tour of Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument passes many small, circular pits located on the hills and mesas where flint formed within the grey dolomite rock. The entire archeological site is littered with flint waste pieces called tailings. The best flint lies just below the surface of the rock and Native Americans dug it by hand or with sticks or bone tools. The waste pieces would be tossed aside and left on top of the dusty soil. I admire the beautiful “trash” flint, each piece unique and colorful. If this is trash, what is quality Alibates flint?
As we conclude our tour, the ranger stops once again. We look out over the mesa and imagine what it would have been like to be an early Native American, sitting, digging up the hard flint, listening to the sounds of people talking softly and of rock hitting rock. We look out towards the horizon and see a sight so frightening we think the world is ending! We see strange shapes that blind us as the sun reflects off metal. We see large and small domesticated animals and hundreds of people that don’t look like us and are wearing unusual, heavy, bright clothing. Coronado’s expedition of over 1,000 men and 1,500 horses and mules, cattle and sheep passed by the flint quarries in 1541. Searching for wealth, the Spanish marched through what would later be known as the Texas Panhandle; and unknowingly marched right past two of the riches of Texas: oil and Alibates flint.