Alabama Archeological Investigations

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Alabama Archeological Investigations

 

LAUDERDALE COUNTY ARCHEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS

Smithsonia

There is a noted cave at Smithsonia, near Cheatham’s Ferry, 15 miles west of Florence. It was reported as suitable for a dwelling, but at the entrance the roof is not more than 4 feet high, and a stream a foot deep reaches to the wall on either side.

Key’s Cave

On the Buck Key farm, 6 miles west of Florence, Alabama, is a cave which may have afforded shelter to the earliest man in the region. There are two entrances or antechambers, separated by a solid rock partition a few yards thick. One is partially filled with huge solid blocks, some of them several hundred cubic feet in size; the other has in it and in front of it a mass of earth and loose rock whose crest is fully 20 feet above the highest part of the inside floor a few feet back from the front margin of the roof. From here an additional descent of 10 feet leads to the floor behind the first-mentioned entrance, and there is about the same descent to a nearly level floor in the cave a short distance beyond. The way is partially blocked by large rocks which, it is said, have fallen within a few years. For this reason persons in the neighborhood are afraid to venture in. There is a rumor that the corpse of a woman, coated with stalagmite, can be seen in this cave; also several bodies (sex apparently indeterminate) lying like spokes in a wheel, with heads at the center. No one could be persuaded to go in and point out the place where they lie.

From its position, high in a bluff but easy to reach, not more than one-fourth of a mile from the Tennessee River and the same distance from a clear creek, with a strip of bottom land between it and the streams, this cave seems worthy of exploration. At least a month of work by several laborers would be required to clean away the fallen material so that excavations would be practicable.

Colyer’s Cave

This is about 5 miles west of Florence. It faces a ravine that leads into the creek discharging near Key’s Cave. Human bones were found in it many years ago. The entrance is a round hole, through which one must creep a few yards, then by means of a pole or ladder descend 6 feet. From here the cave is nearly level, with several branches. In some places the floor is solid rock; in other parts it is covered with a thin layer of earth. The “human bones” consisted of one skeleton, lying on a rock floor, fully a fourth of a mile from the mouth of the cave.

Coffee Cave

This cave, 4 miles west of Florence, is said to be “like the Colyer cave, but smaller in every way.” It was not visited.

Shoal Creek

A cave is reported on Shoal Creek “3 or 4 miles above its mouth.” No one could be found who knew its location more definitely or was able to give a clear description of it.

Bluewater Cave

Bluewater Creek comes in several miles above Lock No. 6 of the Mussel Shoals Canal. A cave is reported to be near its mouth, but the only caves anywhere in that vicinity, so far as anyone living or working there knows, are a small hole a mile below on the canal, into which a man can crawl, and one some 3 miles up the creek, reached by climbing down a sink hole in a field. The opening to the latter results from fallen rock.

COLBERT COUNTY ARCHEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS

Newsom Springs

Numerous caves, most of them small, are reported in the county. The best known is at Newsom Springs, 8 miles south of Barton, Alabama on the Southern Railway. It is locally known as the “three-story cave.” The lower “story” is a cave from which water always flows. The second “story” is directly above the first. The two have no connection, unless far back in the hill. The floor of the upper cave is mostly rock. It is now fitted up by some people in the neighborhood as a camping place, where they spend a part of each summer. The third “story” is an excavation for a cellar under a house recently erected.

Murrell’s Cave

Tradition has it that this cave was one of the hiding places of a famous desperado and horse thief whose gang operated over all this country in early days. The only entry is by means of a ladder in a narrow crevice 20 feet deep. The place may have been a refuge, but never a residence. It is one-fourth of a mile from Bear Creek, not far above the mouth.

Two other holes or crevices within a few hundred yards, difficult to crawl through, reach small caves. Possibly all these are connected.

Bat Cave

One-fourth of a mile from Murrell’s Cave is a small cavern, the roof not more than 4 feet above the floor. It has been inhabited from time immemorial by myriads of bats. Several tons of guano have been taken out for fertilizing purposes, but no evidence has been discovered that it was ever a habitation for humans.

Pride’s Cave

In the river bluff a mile from Pride Station is a cave in which a fisherman has made his home for several years. There is a rather thin deposit of earth on the floor which may have recently accumulated.

Cheatham’s Ferry

Near the landing some boys, while hunting a few years ago, discovered a stone wall across the mouth of a small cave. Tearing it away, they found within some human bones, flints, pipes, including one “with a lot of stem holes,” and fragments of pottery. All these were on top of the earth or only a few inches below it. Various excavators or relic hunters have failed to find anything more. The cavity is quite small and difficult to reach, and is undoubtedly a burial place for modern Indians.

On both sides of the river here are immense shell heaps. The shell is mingled with earth near the top, but below 2 or 3 feet the mass is of clean shell to a depth, as exposed by the river, of at least 10 feet. The bottom of the deposit is not visible, being concealed by mud piled against it in high water. The old ferryman says it is 20 feet deep. Although the shell piles are built up higher than the bottom lands to the rear or on either side, they are submerged several feet in great freshets. It is impossible to explain this fact otherwise than by the assumption that the bed of the river has been elevated in recent times, although there are no other indications apparent that such is the case.

Sheffields

In the river bluff 2 miles above the Sheffield end of the railway bridge is a crevice or joint which has been widened to 10 feet at the outlet by water percolating from the top of the bluff. When discovered, a rock wall was piled across it near the entrance. Behind this human bones were found with “pieces of pottery and other things.” They were close to the surface. Subsequent explorations have revealed nothing below them. It is plainly a burial cave for Indians. The river now reaches at flood tide to within 10 feet of the floor. The earth covering the bones may have washed over them, as there is some evidence farther back in the crevice that surface material is still carried in from the rear, in very small amounts, during rainy seasons.

Rock Shelters

Several very large rock houses exist on the southern slope of the hill or “mountain” lying a mile to 2 miles south of Pride, 7 miles west of Tuscumbia, Alabama. Water drips from the roofs, keeping the floors wet all the year and collecting in pools to which stock resorts when the little creeks or brooks in the ravines become dry.

It is useless to search in this part of Alabama for caves presenting indications that they may have been habitable, or the reverse, in ages past. The native rock is a cherty or flinty limestone, crumbling easily, and readily susceptible to changes from atmospheric influences, and especially so to the action of water. New subterranean channels are continually developing, with consequent changes in the interior of any cavern near them.

JACKSON COUNTY ARCHEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS

Isboll Caves

It was reported that habitable caves with spacious rooms occur on the Isboll farms, near Limrock, Alabama. They have entrances and front chambers of ample size to move about in, though not more than 15 feet wide. There are broader expansions back some distance beyond daylight. In both caves rocks up to 15 or 20 tons in weight strew the floor, until only narrow passageways exist between them. In addition, water flows from them in rainy seasons, being frequently 2 feet or more in depth.

Blowing Cave

This takes its name from an outward current of cold air which is so strong as to distinctly modify the temperature of the atmosphere at least 100 yards from the entrance. The opening and the front chamber are nearly 40 feet across, but the distance from the roof to the muddy floor strewn with large rocks is not more than 5 feet at any point. A creek flows across the cave 200 or 300 yards from the mouth, and there is evidence in the way of drift and mud to prove the statement by the owner that after very heavy rains the overflow comes out the front of the cave in such amount as to fill it to the ceiling, and with a velocity that will roll stones larger than a man can lift.

Culver’s Cave

This is somewhere on the side of a mountain about 4 miles from the station of Limrock. Owing to destruction of forests and subsequent growth of brush, the guide was unable to locate it. He described it as a room in which a man could walk about and reached by going in through an opening like a sink hole, which, however, is only about 5 feet deep. The locality, a rugged, barren hillside, near the head of a cove, is not one in which it is probable a cave would be used for any purpose.

Harrison’s Cave

This is 2½ miles west of Limrock. It has a large, high opening, an easy approach, and is quite accessible, being at the foot of a mountain with level bottom land in front. A stream flows directly across it some 30 feet from the entrance, emerging at the foot of one wall and disappearing under the other. The earth bank on each side of the stream is about 5 feet high, indicating at least that depth of deposit on the rock floor; as the latter is not visible the amount may be much greater. This earth is soft and wet. In rainy weather water from the interior flows along the floor into the little stream. Sometimes this can not dispose of the surplus, and the overflow rises until it makes its exit through the mouth of the cave. When this happens all the earth within is covered from 2 to 5 feet deep.

Saltpeter Cave

This lies 4 miles south of the railway, between Limrock and Larkinsville. It is described as being dry, with a large, high entrance, and “plenty of room inside right at the front.” But it was thoroughly worked during the war by saltpeter miners who took out all the dirt they could easily reach, going back “200 or 300 yards.” For this reason it was not visited.

DEKALB COUNTY ARCHEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS

Fort Payne Cave

A mile south of Fort Payne is a cave in Lookout Mountain, which, a “boom” company some years ago converted into a summer resort. The detritus in front of the entrance was leveled off, steps constructed to the top, and a heavy stone wall built across the mouth, leaving an entrance a little less than 7 feet in width which was closed by gates. Inside the barrier the floor, now made tolerably level, extends about 30 feet toward the rear, to the natural rock wall, and is 50 feet from side to side, with a roof from 6 to 15 feet high. In the wall at the rear are two small openings through which explorers can pass to large chambers farther within. To the right of the front chamber is a branch cave which is high and wide at the beginning but soon becomes impassable from the accumulated rocks and earth rising to the roof. The left side of the front chamber is continued in another branch going directly back into the mountain. The roof and floor have an equal slope downward to a point some rods from the beginning, the clear space between them being not more than 4 feet. Beyond here the roof is high and there are some large expansions. A creek flows from the rear of the cave to a point estimated as 200 yards from the doorway, where it sinks into the earth. The noise of its fall is distinct throughout the front part of the cavern. There is considerable drip, and though dry stalactites and stalagmites occur in some places, over most of the front chamber their formation is still in progress. Outside of the doorway the solid rock walls show on each side, nowhere less than 25 feet apart. At a depth of 30 feet water flows from the rock and earth between these side walls, but there is no sign of solid bottom, so the depth of the cave is probably more than 30 feet below the present floor.

Under existing conditions the cave would form an excellent shelter, being accessible, roomy, and with an abundant supply of fresh water. The drip from the ceiling could be avoided. But it does not follow that such was the case in the remote past. It is apparent that at one time the creek had its outlet through the mouth and down the gorge in front, the right branch of the cave being then open. From some cause, probably the formation of a sink hole above, water from the surface or near the surface found a way through this branch, carrying mud and rocks sufficient to fill the front chamber to its present floor, diverting the flow of the stream, and finally filling the cave through which it came. While the creek was flowing, occupation would be impossible, or at least inconvenient. When the mud began to settle in, the front portion would be shut off. This condition would hold until the stream found its new outlet and the branch cave had become entirely filled; and when these processes were completed the [138]floor of the cave would be practically at its present level. Under the circumstances exploration would probably, almost certainly, be fruitless. The company which owns the cave would also wish it restored to something like its present state.

Ellis Cave

On the estate of Dr. Ellis, 19 miles north of Fort Payne, Alabama and 3 miles from Sulphur Springs, are two caves known locally as Big-mouth and Little-mouth. The smaller is closed by a locked gate. The larger has a rather imposing appearance from the outside. From a ledge of rock, in place, in front of it, one looks down a steep slope in which rocks up to 40 or 50 tons weight are imbedded. At a vertical depth of 30 feet is a level space not more than 8 or 10 square yards in area. From this a narrow crevice goes to the right. Within a few yards it reaches a hole which can be descended only by means of a rope or ladder. Persons have, however, gone several hundred yards in it.

On the left of the level space and bounded on each side by solid rock walls is a pit 10 feet deep, caused by inflowing storm waters which have created this depression in seeking a small outlet, also toward the left. The height from the bottom of this sink to the roof of the cave is nearly 50 feet.

Crossing this pit on a foot log, which rests on loose rock and earth at its farther end, a crevice varying from 6 to 10 feet wide goes inward for 50 feet. Earth covers the loose rock at the level of the foot log almost at once, and this earth has a steep ascent toward the rear. The crevice widens beyond the distance mentioned, though irregularly, being in some places 25 feet from side to side. So far as progress is concerned, the cave terminates 150 feet from the doorway in a blank wall. It may be that if the earth were out of the way further progress would be possible.

Considerable digging has been done for saltpeter, but except near the front it has been only superficial.

The top of the earth at the extreme rear of the cave is almost or quite as high as the roof at the front, which means that, if the bottom should be level, the thickness of this accumulated deposit is not less than 35 feet. As the dip is toward the rear and quite sharp, about 10 or 12 degrees, the earth here may well be much thicker than indicated.

Excavation would be tedious and costly, as it would be impossible to dispose of the dirt except by blasting a deep trench through the rock in front to make room for wheeling it out.

Killian Caves

There are two of these, both on the west slope of Lookout Mountain. One is near Brandon, 6 miles south of Fort Payne. The entrance is a large sink hole on the side of the mountain, descent into which is difficult owing to the steepness and large rocks. At the bottom the water which flows in over the muddy floor from the slope above—several acres in extent—rushes into a hole choked with loose stones and disappears.

The second cave is about 3 miles northeast of Collinsville. Débris from the mountain has formed a wall across the entrance, which is naturally wide and high and opening out on a little flat in front. Some digging has been done for saltpeter at the front part of the cave, reaching about 30 feet back from the inner foot of the accumulation. In the pit thus formed water stands after every rain until it soaks away. Where it ends the “face” is about 5 feet high. On top, farther in, there is much travertine or stalagmite; in some places it extends entirely across the floor. In other places the floor is bare. There is constant drip, and in one room there is a little gully, where surface water in wet weather, entering from a small branch cave on one side, has cut an exit through the earth at the foot of the wall on the other side. The hole in which it disappears extends beyond the rays of a lamp, and a stone thrown in goes down a slope several feet in length. Very little working is needed to reduce any of the earth to soft, slippery mud, hence no excavation was possible.

MARSHALL COUNTY ARCHEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS

Fearin Cave

This is in a bluff on the right bank of the Tennessee River, 10 miles below Guntersville. It has three divisions. Shortly after passing the spacious entrance a branch turns to the right. In a few feet a wall is reached which can be scaled only with a ladder. Climbing this, a large chamber is reached, totally dark, and the home of innumerable bats whose “guano” covers the floor and fills the air with a stifling odor. This branch comes to light again more than a mile away on the side of the mountain.

Returning to the lower chamber and going back about 100 feet from the main entrance, a wall similar to the first is reached, above which is another large cave. Bats never inhabit this, and the floor is of loose dry earth. But no ray of daylight penetrates it, and as a great amount of saltpeter was made here during the War of 1812 scarcely any of the earth retains its original position. During the Civil War the floor of the lower or main cave was also dug up for making saltpeter and much of the leached earth piled in front of the cave. This acts as a dam against encroachment of the river except in the highest floods. There seems, however, to be a passage between the cavern and a spring under the river bank, for water appears on the floor as soon as it reaches the same height outside and the two surfaces maintain a constant level until the freshet subsides. On account of these facts no excavations were made.

Hardin’s Cave

Nine miles below Guntersville, on the right bank of the Tennessee, is a ferry known as Honey Landing. It is at the lower end of a steep bluff which forms the river front of a high hill or mountain, as such elevations are called here. A few feet above high-water mark a narrow ledge or shelf projects, which can be reached only from a point on the side of the hill just above the ferry. About 100 yards from here the ledge reaches a cave, which has a high and wide entrance, with ample space for several families to live on a fairly level, well lighted floor. If the cave were dry, it would be an ideal primitive home. But water continually seeps down the hill above and falls over the roof at the entrance, while a gully through the cave and several minor washes, as well as the mud spread over the floor, show that a large amount of water flows through the cave in wet seasons and covers all the floor except an area some 15 feet in diameter. This is dry on top, but would be muddy at a depth of 3 or 4 feet, the level of the bottom of the gully, so no exploration was attempted.

Welburn’s Cave

Six miles northeast of Guntersville is a cave in which many human bones have been found. It is only a burial place and could never have been used as a dwelling. The entrance, barely large enough to crawl into, is at one side of the bottom of a large sink hole due to the falling in of a cave roof. It receives all the rainfall of more than an acre and is nearly choked with mud and driftwood. It may have been somewhat larger at one time, as there is a tradition that a deer was chased through the cave, coming out at Bailey’s Cave, a mile away. Within a few rods the water sinks into the earth, and the floor of the cave, rising beyond this point, is dry. It was on this dry earth, not in it, that the skeletons were found. The floor is uneven, at some places permitting a man to stand, and at others rising to within 3 feet of the roof. Explorations can not be made, as there is no method of disposing of the removed earth.

Bailey’s Cave

This cave is 7 miles northeast of Guntersville. The entrance is high and wide and there is a large, well-lighted area within; but the cave is flooded every time Town Creek gets out of its banks. Bailey’s Cave is the other end of Welburn’s Cave, as persons have gone through the hill from one to the other.

Barnard Cave

This cave, which is also called Alford’s and is still more commonly known as Saltpeter Cave, is on the left bank of the Tennessee 10 miles below Guntersville and opposite the Fearin property. The entrance is at the foot of a bluff overlooking a strip of bottom land a fourth of a mile wide, but the opening is above any flood that has occurred since the country was settled. At the foot of the slope is a bayou filled with Tupelo gums. Between this and the river the ground can be cultivated.

The cave is so straight and the walls so smooth as to look like an artificial tunnel. The entrance is in plain view from a point 380 feet back, and the change of direction, even at that distance, is very slight. The saltpeter miners started at the entrance and removed all the earth lying from 3 to 6 feet higher than the present floor, which is nearly level. They carried their work along the surface of a stratum of gravel, sand, and clay, which is so compact as to be difficult to remove with a pick, and seems to belong to the stream which carved out the cavern. The “face” where they quit work is 5 feet high, and the earth is quite dry, breaking down in angular fragments and separating from the walls so freely as to leave no residue on them. Its original depth at any point, however, may be very easily ascertained by noting the different tints or shading of the wall rock, the lower part, which was protected by earth, being distinctly lighter in color than that above, which was exposed to atmospheric weathering and, for a time, to the smoky torches and candles of the workmen.

The distinct lamination of the saltpeter earth, as shown in the “face,” proves it to have been laid down slowly and intermittently in still water. It could not be determined whether this was due to the river in flood periods, or to a gentle stream from the interior whose volume varied in accordance with weather conditions. There is also a small channel along the top of the earth, filled with gravel and sand, as if the overflow of a stream far back in the mountain had been diverted in this direction after the laminated deposits had become dry and settled.

The walls are 10 feet apart near the entrance, but are not more than 8 feet elsewhere and in some places the width narrows to less than 3 feet. They also have an inward slope at the bottom, so the cave is either shallow or else so narrow at no great depth as to be uninhabitable. This fact, and the character of the material deposited by the ancient drainage stream, make it hopeless to expect result from exploration.

McDerment’s Caves

There are two caves 100 yards apart, in Brown’s Valley, 11 miles southwest from Guntersville. The larger has a descent of 21 feet from the front to the general level of the first floor. All this part is well lighted. The drainage from several acres of the mountain side above pours over the roof at the entrance and runs down the inner slope. It has worn a gully, and the first level it reaches is quite muddy. Leaves and trash 3 or 4 inches deep are piled on and against the loose stones toward the side where the water seeks an outlet. It has worn a crooked channel along this side of the chamber, and falls into a hole which at a depth of 10 or 11 feet below the floor makes a turn and passes from sight. So it is certain that soft wet clay extends more than 30 feet below the level of the entrance. The drier deposits of this room have been extensively worked for saltpeter, and a much greater quantity of earth [142]would have been removed but for the fact that masses of stalagmite, too thick to break off with a sledge hammer, and scores of columns, some of them 6 or 8 feet in diameter and many tons in weight, cover a considerable part of it. The first room is succeeded by several others, all of which are dry and of large size, but in total darkness, and the floors in all have been more or less disturbed in the search for niter. The general direction of the bottom is downward. The last floor is probably 50 or 60 feet lower than the entrance, and is reached by a slope on which it is difficult to retain a footing. In nearly every part the earth is covered by stalagmite, much of it so heavy that the miners could not remove it, but were compelled to dig under it as far as they could reach; and in no place is a rock floor to be seen.

The thickness of stalagmite on the floor, and the great size of the columns, is proof of their antiquity, while the depth of earth beneath must have been thousands of years in accumulating before the deposits began to cover them.

Excavations here, while quite desirable, would be very expensive. Much stalagmite would have to be blasted; upward of a thousand yards of earth moved, and all of it taken out of the cave, because there is no room for it inside. As a man can not push a wheelbarrow up such an incline, a trench must be cut through to the exterior slope; and as solid rock lies not more than 5 feet below the surface at any point, blasting would be necessary the rest of the way. The task is equal to opening a stone quarry.

The second cave on McDerment’s place has a good opening. A trench 4 feet wide and 6 feet deep where the rock is thickest has been blasted out to make a level approach to the entrance. Masses of stalagmite on each side, sloping like solid rock from the walls, leave barely room for a man to walk for the first 30 feet. Here the walls recede somewhat, and a pit nearly 15 feet deep yawns before the explorer. After continuing for some distance with this depth, there is another drop of 10 feet which holds until the end of the cave is reached. This entire depression is due to the removal of earth for making saltpeter. It is evident that a vast amount of material has been carried out.

As in the first cave, excavation would be very difficult and expensive. All rock and earth would have to be carried up a steep grade, or a deep cut made to wheel it out. As the light is very dim at the first widening of the walls, it is not probable the space farther back would be occupied unless as a refuge.

Both caves were eroded by water running into the hill, and the end of each is abrupt, the roof being higher and the walls farther apart than at any point nearer the entrance. The original outlets are now filled with earth, and apparently have been so for ages.

Fort Deposit Cave

Six miles below Guntersville the highway to Huntsville crosses the Tennessee River at Fort Deposit Ferry and passes out through a narrow valley between two bluffs. Less than 100 yards above the landing, on the north, or right, bank, is a large cave from which the spot takes its name; there being a tradition that it was used by General Jackson as a storage room for supplies during the Creek Indian war. On either side the bluff is vertical to the water’s edge, making the cave now inaccessible except by boat. In front of the entrance the rock is worn in ledges which can be easily ascended.

 

Fig. 23.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 18 feet.

Fig. 23.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 18 feet.

The opening or mouth of the cave is oval in form, about 18 feet high and 15 feet wide. The sides are uneven, there being a projecting shelf on each side near the floor. At 40 feet from the opening these disappear, owing to the narrowing of the cavern. There is a gradual ascent of the floor toward the rear, the rise being about 2 feet in the first 60 and more rapid from that point onward. A thin deposit of dried mud on each side, where it escapes the feet of visitors, shows that the river enters the cave at times, but not to a depth that carries it back more than 25 feet. The present ferryman says the flood of 1867 is the only one which has reached so far within that period.

After clearing away the earth, roots, and rocks at the front, a straight vertical face at a distance of 18 feet from the entrance measured 9½ feet at top and 5 feet at the bottom between the solid rock wall on each side, and was 4 feet 4 inches high. The floor was not of solid rock entirely across, there being a crevice less than 4 feet wide which was not cleaned out, because no one could have lived in it. About the middle of this bank (vertically) streaks of red earth, burned elsewhere, extended 3½ feet out from the right wall; there was very little ashes and no charcoal mixed with it. Above this red the earth was dark like garden soil and contained a few shells and fragments of pottery, with a little charcoal and ashes; it had all been disturbed and apparently resulted from scraping the débris away from camp fires. Below this, the line of demarcation being very distinct, the earth was yellow and sandy, like river bottom land, and contained no foreign matter except roots of trees growing outside. Figure 23 shows a section on this line; the crevice is omitted from this and the subsequent illustrations.

 

At 20 feet in, a foot below the top of the dark earth, was some charred corn. The yellow earth became irregular, thinner, and higher against the side walls than at the center.

Fig. 24.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 20 feet.

Fig. 24.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 20 feet.

At 22 feet the yellow earth had nearly run out, there being only a small amount against either wall, while the darker earth reached down into the crevice that opened in the narrow strip of rock floor. In the lower portion were mingled a few shells, pebbles, and specks of charcoal, as if it had been thrown there. Across the upper portion of the deposit extended fire beds, burned earth, ashes, shells, broken pottery, and occasionally a fragment of bone. (See fig. 25.)

At 24 feet it was found that what had been taken for a solid floor in the last section represented was only a large flat rock which had fallen into the crevice and wedged tightly. When this was passed the yellow earth reappeared, at a slightly lower level.

Fig. 25.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 22 feet.

Fig. 25.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 22 feet.

At 26 feet the yellow earth became mixed with red. It was excavated to a depth of 5 feet in the endeavor to discover the reason for this. As there was not the slightest trace of ashes or charcoal, the red admixture must be a natural result of staining by iron in some form and not due to heat. Above the yellow was the usual stratum of dark earth, containing culinary débris. In the central portion of this was a mass, sufficient to fill a wheelbarrow, of angular, unburnt fragments of limestone from 3 to 15 pounds in weight. On the surface of the dark earth were some ten or twelve fire beds, reaching from wall to wall, the edges overlapping and interlacing in so confusing a manner that the exact number could not be made out. (See fig. 26.) At this stage it appeared that the crevice, or at least its upper part, had been filled by river floods and a slight ridge of sand thrown across the mouth of the cave. The Indians, it seems, occupied both this ridge and the lower area behind it, throwing débris to the rear to fill up the depression instead of carrying it all to the outside. It is equally possible, however, that this waste was brought from points farther back and thrown here to fill and level the floor. These heavy fire beds came to an end at about 28 feet on the right and 29 feet on the left. A section at 28 feet is given in figure 27. At their inner margin, among the ordinary refuse characteristic of such deposits, [145]were many fragments of human bones, including ulnas of two individuals, one much larger than the other. They plainly indicated cannibalism, as they were broken when thrown here. Besides the ulnas, there are pieces of ribs, scapula, tibia, and feet.

Fig. 26.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 26 feet.

Fig. 26.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 26 feet.

At 29 feet the underlying yellow earth became comparatively level across its upper surface, again closely resembling a river deposit. The darker earth above it contained a greater amount than heretofore of ashes, bones in small pieces, potsherds, mussel, snail, and periwinkle shells, and the like. More charred corn was found along here.

Fig. 27.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 28 feet.

Fig. 27.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 28 feet.

At 30 feet the yellow earth began to rise, and at 32 feet it was very little more than 3 feet lower than the top of the highest ashes. A section at this point is shown in figure 28. At 35 feet the strata became quite regular and uniform from wall to wall. The dark earth, next above the yellow, measured 3 feet in thickness at the center, and while showing by its admixture of ashes, etc., that it had been thrown here, had evidently formed the floor for a considerable time. The upper foot was burned red or dark from long-continued fires, the ashes above it being from 6 to 8 inches thick, and forming the present floor of the cave at this place. The dark earth contained much less of refuse than nearer the entrance; such shells and ashes as appeared were promiscuously distributed and not in little piles or masses as before. A section at 35½ feet appears in figure 29. It may be remarked here that this is the only sketch in which the upper line coincides with the surface of the deposits. In the others a thin covering, less than 6 inches at any point, of disintegrated material from walls and roof covers the ashes left by aboriginal fires. This is omitted from the drawings.

Fig. 28.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 30 feet.

Fig. 28.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 30 feet.

At 38 feet the yellow earth had risen until it was within 3 feet of the top of the entire overlying deposit. The latter contained little of the dark earth, being mostly composed of ashes and burned earth, some of which resulted from fires made on the spot, but the greater part being thrown from other points. The rise of the yellow earth, consequently, is more rapid than the rise of the material covering it.

Fig. 29.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 35½ feet.

Fig. 29.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 35½ feet.

At 40 feet there was a dip in the yellow earth, extending for 4 or 5 feet and descending 2 feet at the deepest point. This may be due to drainage at a lower level.

At 47½ feet a pocket of the dark earth extended a few inches into the underlying yellow earth. A hole seems to have been dug into the latter. There was no more of foreign material in this hole than elsewhere in the dark earth above and around it. It is shown in figure 30.

Fig. 30.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 47½ feet.

Fig. 30.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 47½ feet.

The amount of shells, pottery, etc., had been decreasing for several feet before this point was reached; indeed, from 40 feet onward there was very little of it—enough, however, to show that all the dark earth had been disturbed and thoroughly mixed. The fire beds, too, while holding their depth of about a foot, contained more earth between the successive layers of ashes, showing as great age, probably, as those nearer the entrance, but less continuous occupation. This condition prevailed to about 60 feet from the entrance, at which point the yellow earth, now mixed with sand and gravel, was only 3 feet below the surface of the floor. The appearance of this line is sketched in figure 31.

At 62 feet there was a dip in the yellow earth, extending to 67 feet and 2 feet deep at its lowest point; it then rose to the usual level.

Fig. 31.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 60 feet.

Fig. 31.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 60 feet.

At 70 feet ashes appeared in greater quantities; at 73 feet the dark earth was only a foot thick, the ashes and burned earth being 2 feet thick and apparently all dumped, as there was no definite arrangement of the various parts. (See fig. 32.) A small perforated disk and a double-pointed bone needle were found here.

The fire beds now began to thin out rapidly, the dark earth also diminishing in quantity, until at 80 feet, from which point the entrance was no longer visible owing to curvature of the walls, there was only 5 or 6 inches of them in all, resting directly on the yellow earth, which contained much more clay than farther toward the front. The walls began to diverge here, forming a room whose greatest width was 11 feet 6 inches at 95 feet. At 100 feet a reverse curve brought the cavern on a course parallel to that which it had held up to 60 feet.

Fig. 32.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 70 feet.

Fig. 32.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 70 feet.

At 90 feet there was evidence of fire at one side, the ashes and burned earth being 5 inches thick at the wall, and thinning out to a feather edge within 4 feet. This was the last fireplace discovered which may not with certainty be attributed to white men. The yellow earth, presenting no evidence of having been disturbed since originally deposited, reached from the superficial layer of loose dry earth to the bottom of the trench, a depth of 4 feet 8 inches. Below this point the walls were less than 4 feet apart, and the space filled with gravel, as shown in figure 33. This gravel had exactly the appearance of that in gullies on the hills outside, and plainly dates back to the period at which the cave was formed. The stream which aided in the erosion, or which flowed through from some sink hole or other outside opening, carried this gravel into the crevice. Consequently, even if the space between the walls had been ample for dwelling purposes, an attempt to live here when the gravel was being carried in would result in the intending settler having his effects washed out into the river.

At 93 feet the side walls confining the yellow clay narrowed to a little less than 5 feet apart. The upper portion of the one to the left has been eroded into a recess or cavity, forming the chamber above mentioned. The earth on the rock floor in this recess is nowhere more than a foot deep. A section is presented in figure 34.

Fig. 33.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 90 feet.

Fig. 33.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 90 feet.

At 100 feet the room came to an end. The space between the walls was 7½ feet at the floor level and 4 feet at a depth of 4 feet. At 105 feet the nearly vertical walls were only 5 feet apart on the floor; at 112 feet the space increased to 7 feet. A section showed about a foot of loose earth mixed with ashes; 3 feet of yellow clayey earth, rather compact; then gravel and sand. The latter was dug into for a foot, at which level the walls were converging and it was useless to go any deeper. Enough was done, however, to verify the supposition that this stratum was due to the action of running water seeking its outlet at the mouth of the cave.

At 103 feet, at the bottom of the yellow clay and on top of the gravel, was a chalcedony pebble about 2½ inches in diameter. The material is foreign to this locality. It had plainly been used as a hammer stone, and is the only object of human origin found anywhere below the dark earth. There was not the slightest evidence of any disturbance of the clay in which it rested.

Fig. 34.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 93 feet.

Fig. 34.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 93 feet.

At 120 feet the side walls were only 5 feet apart. At 125 feet they again diverged slightly, and a recess on the left forms a chamber 12 feet across. At 150 feet they had drawn in to 8 feet at the widest interval. A section showed loose dry earth, some of it cemented by drip from the roof until about as hard as lump chalk; then compact clayey earth, also with travertine in small lumps; below this the gravel and sand. The latter, at this point, seems to have been deposited in the last stages of the formation of the cave. Occasionally, along here, a small patch appeared that seemed to be ashes; but none of it was more than 6 inches below the top of the ground, and the substance may not have been ashes at all, but the fine white limestone dust that wears off from the stone. There was nothing in the trench, at any depth, after the chalcedony pebble, that could possibly be due to human intervention, except these small patches of ashes, if ashes they are.

At 165 feet from the entrance the cave made its fourth turn and expanded into a chamber about 15 feet wide. Along the sides of this and in the various crevices opening from it were great quantities of clean ashes, plainly enough thrown there from fires made in the central part. The gravel came to within 3 to 5 feet of the top, [149]being quite irregular. On the gravel was dry clay, seamed and fissured in all directions so that it fell out under the pick in clods like angular pebbles from an inch to 3 or 4 inches across. This was clearly the result of muddy water settling in a hole and thoroughly evaporating. There was also some travertine in small lumps here and there through the clay, and above it was a mass fully 2 feet thick at one side of the trench but running out before it reached the other side. It was porous, almost spongy, and seemed to be the lime dust from the roof and sides cemented by dripping water. Above all this, so far as the trench extended toward the sides of the cave, was an inch to 4 inches of loose, dry, dark earth, which on the left dipped down to the clay, thus replacing the travertine.

Fig. 35.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 175 feet.

Fig. 35.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 175 feet.

At 175 feet the gravel had leveled down and was more or less mixed with clay and sand. Above this was another “mudhole deposit” of clay which had thoroughly dried out and become checked and cracked in all directions. On the right this was covered with travertine slightly mixed with earth and clay; on the left, above it and also at one place within it, was a coarse gritty earth fallen from the roof but not converted into a compact travertine. The section appears in figure 35. At 180 feet the trench was carried to a depth of 6 feet. This exposed a fine clay and sand, or silt, like that deposited in the eddies of streams. Above this was another deposit of “mudhole” material which had thoroughly dried out, checked and cracked in all directions so that it formed angular masses of various sizes, and had then become wet again so that it was now soft and sticky. To the left of this, on the silt also, was a small amount of the gravel. It had the appearance common to a bank of such material on the side of a little stream which has undermined and carried away part of it. Clearly, these three formations were of an age that witnessed the erosion of the cave. Next above them was a stratum of loose dark earth similar to that noticed in the front part of the cavern; but here were found no traces whatever of man’s presence. Into the right side of this stratum projected the wedge-like edge of a mass of travertine, which was not traced to a termination. Over all lay a deposit 3 or 4 inches thick of dark, nearly black earth, mixed with ashes. This is quite modern. The section appears in figure 36.

Fig. 36.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 180 feet.

Fig. 36.—Cross section of Fort Deposit Cave at 180 feet.

During the Civil War the cave was continuously resorted to by deserters, refugees, moonshiners, fugitives, and “food for powder, dodging the conscript.” All these sought shelter in this chamber and behind it, in order that their fires might not be visible from the river. The piles of ashes in the crevices and corners were thrown there by these hiders-out, to get them out of the way. Similar but smaller piles of ashes are to be seen all along as far as the spring, 200 yards from the entrance.

The presence of pottery of a type common to this region in fields and shell heaps, and of maize, denotes that all the fire beds, etc., are the results of habitation by the modern Indian. Where these ceased nothing else was found. In or below the yellow earth, clay, or gravel, nothing can be found; for until these were laid down and the stream of the cave had sought another outlet, there was no dry place in which to live.

It may be worth recording that a dead mulberry tree stood about 20 feet in front of the entrance to the cave. Under it was a narrow crevice filled with earth, but all around it was bare rock. A root, larger than the tree, grew into the cave and followed along one side wall as if fastened there for a distance of some 60 feet. Here the earth floor of the cave came high enough to cover it. This root was exposed for 160 feet in the trench, or 180 feet from the tree; at this point it was 3 inches in diameter and turned aside into a crevice. As the root could not have grown in the open air, it furnished proof that much deposited material has been carried out of the front portion of the cavern and away from the ledge since this tree was a sprout.

Credits: 

SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION
BUREAU OF AMERICAN ETHNOLOGY
BULLETIN 76
WASHINGTON
GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
1922
by Gerard Fowke

 

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