by Cori Hilsgen
Jeff Eiynck has a photo of himself when he was almost 2 years old dressed in a Native American headdress. He and his wife, Sandy, think this is when his interest in the Native American heritage began.
Eiynck is also an avid hunter and trapper so he can relate to some of the Native American traditions.
He has been collecting and making Plains Native American artifacts for more than 30 years and has many of them. The inventory changes continuously.
Some of the items he owns are arrowheads, hammer stones, an elk-bone scraper, trade beads, beaver top hats, assorted beads and other things.
Some artifacts are extremely difficult to find and are not legal to possess, so Eiynck makes many of the items himself after viewing them at museums or in books. He tries to replicate them as closely as possible to the originals. He does a lot of research and views several photos before making anything.
Besides making their own items, the Eiyncks have also visited a few auctions that sell collections and have been able to pick up some artifacts.
“He’s lucky his wife also has an interest in history and enjoys and supports his interest in the culture,” wife Sandy said, tongue-in-cheek, winking. “I have been known to collect and make a few items myself.”
Sandy has also started to add to Jeff’s collection by collecting women’s articles, such as scissor cases, knife sheaves and awl cases. An awl is an instrument used by Native Americans to punch holes in leather to help them sew.
Depending on their schedules, the Eiyncks often invite school classes to participate in field trips of their many artifacts. Some years they have had as many as four classes visit.
All Saints Academy fifth-grade teacher Tess Koltes recently took her class on a field trip to view the artifacts. She said this experience ties in well with the Native American unit the students are studying.
“This is by far my all-time favorite field trip,” Koltes said. “Jeff and Sandy are very gracious hosts, who are willing to share their wealth of knowledge about the Plains Indians that they have learned over the years. Every time I visit with my fifth-grade class, Jeff tries to add some new piece of information I don’t already know about. Or, he introduces a new addition to his collection that he has acquired over the years. All of the students love sitting inside the tepee. It’s an excellent educational opportunity. I feel very fortunate to be able to take my students to visit them year after year.”
Koltes said the students are always amazed by Eiynck’s wealth of knowledge.
Fifth-grade students Jimmy Young, Caleb Leinz and Eli Ebel commented on the field-trip experience.
“I thought Jeff’s collections and tepee were awesome,” Young said. “Going there helped me learn how hard a Native American’s job was. I now know how lucky we are to have technology and all the modern stuff.”
“I thought it was really cool people would give artifacts to Jeff because they know he was interested in learning more about Native Americans,” Leinz said.
“I thought it was fun because we got to feel the artifacts instead of just seeing a picture of one,” Ebel said. “We also got to go in a tepee and have a fire.”
The Eiyncks said they enjoy sharing their collection.
“I enjoy seeing the excitement of the children when they come to visit,” Jeff said. “They always have really good questions and they are always very respectful.”
The Eiyncks live near St. John’s University on Jeff’s family’s original home place where he has lived his entire life.
Jeff is a cook at SJU dining services, where he has worked for 28 years. For 25 years, Sandy has been the director of finance and operations for the SJU Liturgical Press. The Eiyncks have been married 24 years and have one son who is a senior at SJU. They also have a dog, Ellie.
Throughout the years, the Eiyncks have participated in rendezvous, which are re-enactments from the 1840 mountain era. They also participate in a trade show each year in New Ulm where Jeff sells, trades and barters items he has made.
“Not only are these events fun, but they are also very educational,” Jeff said. “The events are open to the public and take place throughout Minnesota, as well as nationwide.
The Eiyncks would like to visit many other museums and historical sites.
“You can never have too much information,” Jeff said.