Monday, November 13, 2006

12th Century Welsh Fortresses in Indiana?

Once in a great while one uncovers great treasure in the most unlikely of places: original Rembrandts in attics, an old ratty doll that turns out to be a priceless 16th century, European work of art, or, in this case, a ten dollar used, obscure local history book from a flea market.

Nineteen sixty eight, it turns out, was a banner year for the recurrent story of “Prince Madoc” having brought or sent Welsh colonists to North America.

As local southern Indiana rumors go, this one, also from that year, is a die-hard:
Dr. Barry Fell was lecturing at Indiana University regarding his research into epigraphic evidence of ancient Old World visitation and habitation in the New World. His audience consisted primarily of faculty and staff with only one or two students or other interested parties. Only about a dozen people in all attended. After the lecture, the senior members of the audience asked Dr. Fell if he would consider a side trip to examine an inscription in a cliff side written in a language that none of the Hoosier State academics had been able to identify. That inscription was at Clifty Falls at the mouth of Clifty Creek where it joins the Ohio River, near Madison, Indiana. The gist of what Dr. Fell found at that location was:
“I, Owan ap Zurinch, in the year of our Lord 1170, did bring to this place…” and goes on to list the number of people, cows, pigs, arms, tools and ships.

Nineteen sixty eight also saw the republication at private expense of a local history of the Falls of the Ohio, first compiled in 1882.

The following passages are excerpted from History of the Ohio Falls Cities and Their Counties with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches, Vol. I, Cleveland, O.: L.A. Williams & Co., 1882

A Reproduction by Unigraphic, Inc., 4400 Jackson Ave.,
Evansville, Indiana, 1968

From page 19

“But this tradition of the Delaware does not stand alone. That the prehistoric inhabitants of Kentucky were at some intermediate period overwhelmed by a tide of savage invasion from the North, is a point upon which Indian tradition, as far as it goes, is strong and explicit. It is related, in a posthumous fragment on Western antiquities, by Rev. John P. Campbell, M.D., which was published in the early part of the present century, that Colonel James Moore, of Kentucky, was told by an old Indian that the primitive inhabitants of this State had perished in a war of extermination waged against them by the Indian; and that the last great battle was fought at the Falls of the Ohio; and that the Indians succeeded in driving the aborigines into a small island below the rapids, ‘where the whole lot of them were cut to pieces.’ The Indian further said that this was an undoubted fact handed down by tradition, and that the Colonel would have proofs of it under his eyes as soon as the waters of the Ohio became low. When the waters of the river had fallen, an examination of Sandy island was made, and ‘a multitude of human bones were discovered’”.

Having been born and raised and living in southern Indiana all my life, I had heard variations of this story repeated many times. This book is the first time I’ve seen the story in print and it was first committed to print in the early nineteenth century (Campbell). But I had always heard more to the story, and, sure enough, it followed immediately in this flea market treasure.

“There is similar confirmation of this tradition in the statement of General George Rogers Clark, that there was a great burying ground on the northern side of the river, but a short distance below the Falls. According to the tradition, imparted to the same gentleman by the Indian chief Tobacco, the battle of Sandy island decided finally the fall of Kentucky with its ancient inhabitants. When Colonel McKee commanded the Kanawha (says Dr. Campbell), he was told by the Indian chief Cornstalk, with whom he had frequent conversations, that Ohio and Kentucky (and Tennessee is also associated with Kentucky in the pre-historic ethnography of Rafinesque) had once been settled by a white people who were familiar with arts of which the Indians knew nothing; that these whites, after a series of bloody contests with the Indians, had been exterminated, that the old burial-places were the graves of an unknown people; and that the old forts had not been built by Indians, but had come down from ‘a very long time ago’ people, who were of a white complexion, and skilled in the arts.”

The history has one further reiteration of the story, but no significant differences appear except these:
· A differentiation between “white Indians” and “black Indians” (as told by an Indian)
· And that the burial site, a short distance down river from Clarksville, was then (c. 1780) “covered with an alluvial deposition of earth six or seven feet deep”.

So we have at least three accounts of the genocide of the racially separate people who inhabited an area below the river. But the burial ground is either in the river on an island or is north of the river. And we have documentation of the Indians’ great leaders (Tobacco and Cornstalk) telling the same story, with the story ending in at least three different locations, Sandy Island, Corn Island, and a field down river from Clarksville. We have white accounts of bone fields being found in each of two of those locations. All we can conclude from the various differences is that the story was very old at the time it was related to the white settlers.

So who might have been these “white Indians”?
This history also contains one clue to that:

Page 35
“Mr. Thomas S. Hinde, an old citizen of Kentucky, neighbor and companion of Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton, wrote a letter in his old age from his home in Mount
Carmel, Illinois, dated May 30, 1842, to the editor of the American Pioneer, in which is comprised the following startling bit of information:

“It is a fact that the Welsh, under Owen ap Zuinch, in the twelfth century, found their way to the Mississippi and as far up the Ohio as the falls of that river at Louisville, where they were cut off by the Indians; others ascended the Mississippi, were either captured or settled with and sunk into Indian habits. Proof: In 1799 six soldiers skeletons were dug up near Jeffersonville; each skeleton had a breast-plate of brass, cast, with the Welsh coat of arms, the mermaid and harp, with a Latin inscription, in substance, “virtuous deeds meet their just reward”. One of these plates was left by Captain Jonathan Taylor with the late Mr. Hubbard Taylor, of Clark county, Kentucky, and when called upon by me, in 1814 for the late Dr. John P. Campbell, of Chillicothe, Ohio, who was preparing notes of the antiquities of the West, by a letter from Hubbard Taylor, Jr. (a relation of mine), now living, I was informed that the breast-plate had been taken to Virginia by a gentleman of that State – I supposed as a matter of curiosity.

“Mr. Hinde adduces other ‘proofs’ in support of his theory of the advent of his countrymen here half a millennium before La Salle came; but they are of no local importance, and we do not copy them. This may be added, however:”

‘The Mohawk Indians had a tradition among them, respecting the Welsh and of their being cut off by the Indians at the Falls of the Ohio. The late Colonel Joseph Hamilton Daviess, who had for many years sought for information on this subject, mentions this fact, and of the Welshmen’s bones being found buried on Corn Island; so that Southy, the king’s laureate, had some foundation for his Welsh poem.’
The editor of this history closed this passage with this statement:

“The story of the Jeffersonville skeletons, we hardly need add, is purely mythical. It is not probable that any pre-Columbian Welshman was ever at the Falls of the Ohio.”
Editorializing on the history one is compiling is what drove Napoleon to ask, “What is history but a fiction agreed upon?” and that quote appears at the bottom of the
”Prefatory Note” (Introduction) of this book.

The rest of the oral tradition version I have heard over the past forty years or so includes the existence of twelve cut stone fortresses spaced a days’ march apart and stretching all the way across Indiana from Clifty Creek on the Ohio to Merom Bluff on the Wabash. The history book only includes the one phrase “old forts” one time and offers no further details.

So there we have the bulk of the known evidence on this side of the Atlantic for the
Welsh having emigrated to what later became Indiana, and most of that evidence is documentation of oral tradition. And that, sadly, is not much to take to any university’s history and archeology departments.

So my quest now is to locate the “OLD FORTS”. I knew of three locations before reading this history:
· Clifty Creek, a bluff overlooking the Ohio on the Indiana side, now part of Clifty Falls State Park. According to the oral tradition in my lifetime, all the stones of this fortress were used to build a railroad trestle over the Ohio.
· Merom Bluff overlooking the Wabash River, but in an area of controlled access owned by a power utility. A few of the flooring stones of this site are supposed to be still in place, but since I can’t access the site easily, I am unable to verify that.
· And Five Points Trail aka Saddle Creek Trail in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area (National Park Service managed property). All the flooring stones and about half the stones of two walls remain intact at this site according to one witness I trust implicitly.
All these areas have some governmental or other factor restricting easy, on-the-ground research. So I set out to find one or more of the twelve that might be on real estate I could more easily access. I examined topographic maps and waterway maps. I used the idea that a “one day march” between the sites meant that all the sites were chosen using a military, defensive mindset. That mindset would include, as evidenced at the previously known sites, that the military planners wanted at least one side that could not be assaulted and that they therefore would not have to defend. They would also require easy access to water. That meant I needed to look for high, steep bluffs overlooking free-flowing rivers or tributaries. I think I found one, and I am now initiating conversations with the property owner for access. It is located in Lawrence County, very near Fishing Creek, and within a half mile of the East Fork of White River.

The locations of all twelve fortresses would have been in the territories of the Shawnee and at the edge of the affiliated Miami. Those were not tribes one would want as enemies. The chiefs Tobacco and Cornstalk relating the tradition in the history book were tribal chiefs of the Shawnee (Tecumseh was a war chief).
Note about my relationship to some of the figures associated with this article: Both General George Rogers Clark and Mr. L.A. Williams, publisher of the history, were distant relatives of mine. General Clark was the “hero of Ft. Sackville (Vincennes) and Kaskaskia” during the War for Independence and was elder brother of William Clark of the Corps of Discovery with Merriwether Lewis. The two had another brother, Robert, who was my direct ancestor via my paternal grandmother, Edith (Clark) Osmon. Mr. L.A. Williams, the publisher, was a cousin to my paternal great grandmother Maude Williams Osmon.

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