Historic Bentonsport . . in the Villages of Van Buren

Tony Sanders Indian Artifacts Museum

Indian ArtifactsWhile in Bentonsport, be sure to visit Tony Sanders' Indian Artifacts Museum, featuring over 4,000 arrowheads and other tools Sanders has picked up out of creed beds and woodland paths in Van Buren and surrounding counties. Some are more than 10,000 years old. You will also enjoy the stunning manner in which they are displayed as fourteen different types of wood have been used to construct beautiful inlaid wood display cases.

"Official" hours of business are Saturdays and Sundays (after church). And at other times by chance. If Tony is around, he will be glad to open the doors for you to enjoy this spectacular collection. There is no admittance fee. Donations are accepted.


Bentonsport Museum of Artifacts

A visual, historic, and craftsmanship wonder is open to the public

Tony Sanders parks his mountain bike on the back porch of his log cabin in Bentonsport. There is a five-gallon plastic bucket bunji-strapped to the back of his bike. From the bucket he takes a hunting knife he found along the road, and a few grocery items. It is Sunday, midday, and Tony has just returned from the ten mile bike ride to Farmington where he went to church. He is a lean man, belying his 63 years of age. Tony jogs five miles a day, and rides his bike 20 miles roundtrip on Sunday going to church. Never married, and having no telephone or television his life is unencumbered and close to the land. But one thing stands out: he hand built the Bentonsport Museum of Artifacts – Wood and Horns.

Indian Artifacts Bentonsport IowaOpen to the public, the Bentonsport Museum of Artifacts is a breathtaking experience of visual, historic, and craftsmanship wonder. Not only are there over 4,000 arrowheads and Indian artifacts such as ax heads, grinding stones, mammoth teeth, and deer-antler sheds; but everything—the display cases, walls, ceiling, floor, and rafters of the museum—are paneled in beautiful, handmade inlaid wood panels. Painstakingly crafted by Tony, using only a coping saw and rasp, there are 18 different types of wood, all taken from the dairy farm where he milked cows for 42 years and the countryside around Bentonsport. There is cedar, walnut, ash, birch, maple, cherry, white and red oak, red elm, honey locust, hickory, hackberry, Osage orange (hedge wood), Chinese elm, hard and soft maple, mulberry and apple. Each piece is hand fitted into intricate patterns that Tony designed, then varnished to a sheen that would make a master craftsman drool.

Why does Tony Sanders do this? Why does he hunt the creek beds for artifacts, put together beautiful inlaid wood panels, and build a museum open to the public? His answer is simple: "I spent my whole life tramping around other people's property. This is my way of paying back."

Living mostly off the land, and a self proclaimed "health nut," Tony Sanders' freezer is chocked full of organically raised fruits and vegetables. He grinds his own wheat and corn. He eats only wild game and fish. He cold packs or cans wild turkey and venison.

Never having time for marriage, he states with a twinkle in his eye, "Seems like every time I'd get interested in a lady, it would be fall and I'd take off hunting. Come spring she'd be gone."

He loves to fish, but not catfish as one might suspect, seeing how Bentonsport is on the Des Moines River. "Catfish are a scavenger fish. They'll eat anything. It's bluegill and crappie I like from the farm ponds. I throw the bass back. The bass keep the bluegill and crappies thinned out so they grow bigger. I use mainly Mister Twister, all different colors. The blue gill and crappie go nuts for Mister Twister. Catfish will ruin a farm pond. I think I love fishing more than hunting."

Where does he find his arrow heads? "Mostly creek beds after a hard rain. Minimum till ruined the fields for arrowhead hunting. I just park my bike along a creek, unhitch the bucket, and walk. Running keeps me in shape for artifact hunting."

So, if you want a beautiful drive, take J-40 from Bonaparte to Bentonsport. Look for the sign, "Bentonsport Museum of Artifacts – Wood and Horns." If you're lucky, Tony Sanders will show you around.

The above article courtesy of Curt Swarm writer of the Empty Next column.