Civil War Books, Maps, and Research Prints and Graphics Book Bpublishing Store


Ancient Indian Walls

By Captain William N. Page

"Near the summit of the mountain dividing the waters of Loup and Armstrong creeks, in Fayette county, West Virginia, there is found the remains of a very remarkable stone wall, which was well known by the first white settlers in the Kanawha valley, and to the Ohio Indians who passed along this route in hunting and other expeditions, toward the valley of Virginia, where, according to their legends, the buffalo migrated periodically from the Ohio valley, and further west.

The late Dr. Buster, who was among the first white residents of the Kanawha valley, resided at the foot of this mountain, on the south bank of the river, during a long and active life.  No white man had ever occupied the ground upon which his father built his cabin, according to record; and history of the paleface here, is absolutely complete within this family.  Paddy Huddleston, probably the first white settler within the limits of Fayette county, lived just up and across the river, practically in sight; and from his house Daniel Boone trapped beaver.  In my last interview, about 1877, though a very old man, his mind and body were still active and vigorous.  He remembered talking to the Indian 'medicine men' in his boyhood, as they frequently passed up the river, and discussed this wall with the numerous relics of bones, stone implements and pottery found all over the surrounding bottom lands.  According to his statements the Indians knew of these monuments, but claimed no part in them.  One of their legends sets forth the fact that the Kanawha valley had been occupied by a fierce race of white warriors, who successfully resisted the approach of the 'red man' from the west for a long time, but had finally succumbed, and passed away in death.  The Indians claimed never to have occupied the valley, except for hunting expeditions; that they found these relics old when they first entered; and that their origin was beyond their records.

    Though such legends are not always reliable, a careful study of the conditions, habits of the people, and the bones found at the foot of the mountain, inevitably leads to more than the suspicion of a prehistoric race, differing from the North American Indian in physiognomy, character and habits.

    Loup and Armstrong creeks empty into the Kanawha from the south, and are nearly parallel - three miles apart - for a distance of about ten miles.  Like the river, both creeks have cut deep gorges through the nearly horizontal carboniferous strata, and the smaller tributaries, heading against the 'divide,' have also cut out to the creek level at the points of junction.  The result of this denudation is a mountain, rising 1,500 feet above water level, with ribs, holding their altitude well toward the creek, while the main backbone, or watershed, has alternate knolls and low gaps, with a difference of about 300 feet elevation between the high and low points.  As the hard sandstone or of the 'conglomerate series' are under water level here, the softer, overlaying strata of the 'lower barren measures' have been weathered so that the slopes are comparatively smooth.

The wall in question has been constructed along the approximate contour of the mountain, about 300 feet below the high summits and just under the low gaps, conforming as nearly as possible to such contour, it winds around each rib, or spur, until a low place is found through which to pass, when it finally crosses the main ridge and returning in the same manner on the other slope, makes a complete enclosure facing the river, of about three miles in length and varying in width from a hundred yards to a mile, or more.

    The total length of this wall has never been measured, but can hardly be less than eight or ten miles.  A single cross wall at a narrow point divides the enclosure into two nearly equal arms, in one of which there is an unfailing water supply of more than a half cubic inch of flow, from a coal measure which has been cut by a low gap at this point.  When I first saw this spring in 1877, the existence of this coal measure was unknown, and the old hunters of the neighborhood were under the impression that the water came from a well, sunk upon the watershed of this gap and filled up by leaves and time.  It was a circular pool about six feet in diameter, and three or four feet below the surface.  Dr. Buster stated that it was at least ten feet deep when he first saw it, and held to the opinion of a well; but I am satisfied now that it is only the drainage from the coal seam mentioned, upon a floor of impervious clay.  It is located on the dip side of the coal escarpment, which by actual survey covers an area of thirty-seven acres, with a maximum covering of about 200 feet.  The hole has probably been scooped out by bear and other wild animals, as marks upon the neighboring trees from bear claws is evidence that this has been, as is yet to some extent, a favorite wallow, in which they roll like swine, and in their gambols they claw the bark of trees so as to leave the marks as long as the tree may stand.

    Near this spring, however, and within the partition farthest from the river, there has been recently found two large circular heaps of stone, indicative of some kind of tower structure; and it is more than probable that their location had reference to the water supply, which is not found elsewhere within the structure.  These circles were about twenty feet in diameter, and their present appearance indicates an original height of about twenty feet.

    The wall itself has been constructed of loose stone, without any kind of cement, and of such dimensions as could be readily handled, without any attempt at quarrying or facing.  Along the steepest slopes it has fallen and can be traced only by the bench of debris, but in some places where it crosses the ridges, and has level foundations, some idea of the original dimensions may be had.  It is safe to estimate a height of six feet, upon a foundation width of from six to eight feet.  Nearly all the loose stone within the enclosure seems to have been carried out for use in the structure; but in many instances blocks of 'black flint ledge' may be observed in the wall, and since the outcrop of this ledge is lower down the slope, it is certain that such stone had been carried up hill.  This fact alone is evidence of human labor; but no one can follow the traces far without ample proof of some crude architect.  Though at an altitude of two thousand feet above tide, huge trees abound, many exceeding five feet in diameter, with hundreds of years growth.  At points may be seen oaks four feet through, evidently sprouted since the foundation of this wall was laid, as the stones have been lifted and misplaced by their growth.  Wherever a cliff has been encountered, it has been utilized as far as possible, and as a rule the wall has been joined to such cliff at the foot, rather than at the top.  This would indicate an object to guard against entrance from without rather than to prevent escape from within, as in some instances the cliffs have sufficient slope to enable ordinary animals to descend, but are too steep to climb.  The wall has been built with so much batter and so roughly that it could never have been intended for any kind of fortification, nor to confine, nor to keep out, any but domestic animals.

    The flat lands along the south bank of the river, between the mouths of these creeks, and immediately in front of that portion of the wall facing the Kanawha, varies in width from five hundred to two thousand feet wide, while the bottoms on the opposite side are very much more extensive and better suited for agricultural purposes; yet the greater portion of the bones and relics are found on the south or wall side.  About two hundred acres of this bottom land, near the mouth of Armstrong, is literally filled with bones and implements of some human race, whose history has been buried with their dead.

    Four years ago, in the construction of a railway, it has become necessary to cut through a part of this ground, near where the old Buster cabin had stood.  This cut was about two hundred feet long, thirty feet wide, and with a maximum depth of ten feet.  Within a distance of one hundred feet there were uncovered about thirty skeletons, all buried in a like position, at an average of four feet.  There was no evidence of mound, or monument of any kind except a few loose stones piled upon each set of bones, below the surface, and there was no indication to point to this particular spot, which was near the river's bank.  Without exception the bodies had faced the east, or rising sun, in a horizontal position from the hips down, and reclining at an angle of about thirty degrees from the waist up.  The bones were in a fair state of preservation, but many crumbled with the hand.  The soil being a sandy loam, had filled every crevice and marrow duct, so that even the skulls were crushed with the weight of handling and it was with much difficulty that anything was preserved.

I measured several skeletons in position and found them to average about five feet, ten inches.  With one exception, the cranium was well proportioned, with broad and prominent forehead, and facial bones more nearly resembled the white, than the red race.  This exception was in all probability, a deformity, else it was a very much lower order of animal intellectually, though not physically.  The teeth indicated an age of about twenty-five, and imbedded in the front of the lower jaw bone was a fully developed tooth which had never penetrated the bone.  The skull was canoe shaped, sharp front and back, long and very narrow.  The occipital bone was out of all proportion, curved under, and terminating in a sharp point.  The parietal bones occupied nearly the entire skull area, as the coronal and lambdoidal sutures were so far forward and back of the usual position that both the frontal and occipital bones were curiosities.  The frontal bone was also pointed, and there was no break in the canoe curve from the eye to the nape of the neck.  Other bones denoted full and complete development; but he must have been a fearful sight in life.

Along with these bones were found those of many food animals, such as bear, deer, elk, &c., birds and fish scales.  About three feet below the surface, a regular stratum of phosphate, about eight inches thick, extended over the greater area of the cut.  Upon close examination, enough fish boned and scales remained to indicate its origin.  In places bits of charcoal, slag from melted sand, and pieces of charred bone showed that they feasted on cooked meats.  The implements found were all stone, pottery and bone.  The stone instruments consisted of greenstone celts, precisely the same as those of the Continental stone age, scrapers for dressing hides, flint spear and arrow heads in great abundance in various sizes and shapes, and a lot of quoit-shaped stones, which had been marked and evidently used in some system of weights, as many are exact multiplies of others.  The arrow heads were nearly all of the war variety, made to be left in the wound, but not notched fro a thong fastening, as was customary among Indians with their points for game.  Some of these points were the sharpest and slenderest specimens of flint workmanship I have ever seen; they were no more than two inches long and less than half an inch at the shaft end, or widest part, tapered to such a fine point that they could be used comfortably as pin to prick splinters out of the hand.  One, in particular, had three sharp, equal points, which at the shaft end (for which it was notched), made a cross, or four pointed star.  The spear heads were unusually sharp and made for business, as was the case with the edges of the celts.  The pottery, like that found in the valley, was made from the river mussel-shells, coarsely pounded and mixed with loam.  A great variety was found, some of the pieces were large enough and nearly perfect, showing the effects of use, and heat over a fire.  The bone implements consisted mainly of long needles, awls, etc., for the manufacture of skins.  The eye of the needle was notched to receive the thong, on the same principle as ours today.  Those which had been polished were as sharp and sound as when made from the small rib of a deer; but the unpolished portions of the awl had crumbled off.  In the same line of bone there was also found 'wampum' made from very small segments of the spine of some fish or reptile; and the value of each piece seemed to depend upon the amount of labor which had been bestowed upon it.  There were no holes through these beads, nor arrangements for stringing them together, consequently they could not have been intended for any kind of ornament.  They varied in size from a No. 8 to a No. 2 shot, but each had been carefully polished.  Imbedded in the sand, in the mouth of one of the skulls were found two pieces of thinly beaten copper, nearly three inches long, and rolled as if around an arrow shaft; they had probably been one, but broken in two.  This was the only metal found; and only one steatite pipe, with the stem very accurately bored and split in halves.  The nearest steatite in position lies east of the Blue Ridge, in Virginia, and neither this nor greenstone is found in the river silt.

The first question is: Who built this wall, when, and for what purpose?  It may be safely assumed that it antedates any historic records or legends in our possession.  The Indians found here knew of its existence, but nothing of its origin or purpose; and as far as we know they were not a race to undertake manual labor.  The theory among old hunters, that it was a game pen, is refuted early in examination, since nothing but a domestic animal could be fenced by such a structure.  That it could have been intended for any kind of agricultural purpose seems equally as improbable for the same reasons, and for the further reason that the location is practically inaccessible, while the valleys below were broad and fertile.  In portions of the enclosure there is a deep, rich soil; but a large part of it is barren, rocky crest, which would certainly have been left out where the same labor might have been employed.  There remains the question of fortification, which seems equally as improbable, except so far as it might have afforded immediate protection in actual fight; but with the weapons probably in use, a tree would have answered the purpose better.  Though the towers may have a war-like sound, as a matter of fact they were in a position where they would have been of the least service in defending the wall against an outside attack, though they might have served to defend the water supply.

It seems to me that we must look for some other object and conditions, entirely foreign to any Indian custom; and that not only the bones at the foot of the mountain, but the archaeological history of the entire Kanawha valley furnishes a clue.  That the Kanawha valley has been densely populated by some prehistoric race, differing from the Indian in intelligence, manners and customs, there can be little doubt.  The soil everywhere bears indisputable evidence of their numbers and handiwork, beside which the hundred years of white occupancy and monuments would sink into insignificance with a like test of time.  From Kanawha Falls to Charleston, a distance of forty miles, scarcely a post hole can be dug without disclosing some evidence of this people.  It has been asserted that the Aztecs, or some Arian race from Mexico, had followed up the Mississippi and Ohio to the Kanawha, and the numerous mounds found in this valley has been cited as one evidence.  Such a theory is plausible as the route is a natural highway, followed later by the Spaniards and French without much loss of time.  It is also natural to presume that a southern race would have settled in greater numbers along the Kanawha, than in the upper Ohio valleys.  But the question is, whether the bones found at the mouth of Armstrong creek, without sign or monument, belong to such a race, or to the North American Indian?  The physiological features are clearly against the latter assumption; and that they were Sun Worshippers is demonstrated by the sameness in position of all bodies found.  The quantities of fish and bones of wild animals, prove that they were an active race of meat eaters, and that they cooked their food in vessels of clay; and that they were bold is certain from the large portion of bear tusks, some of which were enormous, and must have been ugly customers to tackle with stone weapons.  If we connect these bones with the stone wall in question, it seems to me that it can be more readily accounted for in some Essenic religious rite.  The elevation of the mountain is such that the sun can be seen much longer than from the valley, and the position of the towers were favorable to such observation; and being near the center, they were doubtless sanctum sanctorum of the enclosures, and the abode of some high priest.  It is more than probable that some kind of serfdom or slavery existed, whose surplus labor was directed to such monuments, probably not so much for record, as for occupation or punishment, as the wampum shows that they placed some value on labor.

A comparison of ages between the wall and bones would certainly not place the latter ahead of the former, though the reverse might be the result; but it must be borne in mind that under certain conditions the decomposition of bone is no index to age or time, as it is pretty well authenticated that a period of two thousand years has failed to obliterate the human skeleton, probably as much subject to oxidation as there have been.  I am perfectly certain that the Armstrong bones are very ancient, but I am not competent to approximate any definite time.

I have heard of a similar wall on one of the Paint creek mountains, ten miles down the river, but have never seen it.  As none of our race ever occupied these mountain tops and they have been rarely visited except by huntsmen, other evidence might easily have been overlooked; and since we have no records more ancient in connection with the human race, it is hoped that the subject will receive more attention in the future than in the past."

The following lines were written by Captain William N. Page, and express his conviction as to the antiquity of the relics mentioned in the foregoing article:

  "Entomb'd for ages, facts and fancies, here have risen
   From prehistoric records.  Breaking nature's prison -
   By steps as slow as forest growth, canyon deep,
   Cut through everlasting rock; with slopes too steep
   To climb with naked feet.  Nor can the truth be caught
   When fact is wing'd by fancy in the flight of thought.
   Kanawha's floods have buried race and name,
   By countless thousands, still unknown to fame.
   But written records in the sands, along its winding shore,
   Is record older than the tombs of Egypt's lore."

The Smithsonian Institute had an investigation by Col. P. W. Norris of the wall and of the ancient burial ground so graphically described by Captain Page.  Volume 12, Bureau of American Ethnology Report, pages 412 to 434, contains a paper by Dr. Cyrus Thomas, which embodies the report of Col. P. W. Norris, who died in 1885, while engaged in explorations in the Kanawha valley.  The death of Col. Norris ended the investigation, and comparatively few of the younger generation in the county know of the existence of the wall.

Some years ago, a company mine the coal from under the mountain on which this ancient wall is found.  The coal seam was nearly on a level with a part of this stone wall.  One of the miners related that when they had reached a point nearly under the center of this knoll, they found the coal gone from under same over an area of about one fourth of an acre, and that they failed to find any entrance to this excavated place.  It was also stated that within said excavated place they found several small cone-shaped mounds about two feet high which were formed of sand, which evidently had, in centuries past, dripped from the sandstone top and finally formed these cone shaped piles of sand, which in the lapse of time had become petrified.

    The mysteries surrounding these antiquated walls certainly provide a very wide and interesting field for investigation.

    A recent visit by the writers of this history finds the wall but little, if any, changed since the visit of Captain Page about fifty years ago.  Two things, however, they did discover - one, a great stone in the center of the enclosure which was probably the throne of the chieftain of the race or the sacrificial alter of the strange people whose beginnings and end are lost in the mists of antiquity.  The other disclosure was that the tower on the outside of the wall apparently covers the entrance to a cave, and the supposition is that the tower on the inside serves a like purpose.  Were these people, then, cave dwellers?  To what depth does the ancient passage way beneath the stones lead?  What would one find therein?  These questions we leave for the more intrepid to answer.

To show that the entire Great Kanawha river valley, heading in Fayette county, was the scene of early operations of ancient and distinct races, we give a few notes concerning finds of the life and activities of prehistoric people:

    Ten miles below the mouth of Armstrong creek, on the Kanawha river, is another wall similar to the one in Fayette county described by Captain Wm. N. Page.  It is on a high mountain, facing the river, just above the mouth of Paint creek.  The characteristics of the two works are so nearly alike that the foregoing description of the one at Loup creek renders unnecessary any description of the one at Paint creek, except to say that it is erected on a smaller scale.

At the base of the Paint creek mountain, too, is an extensive burying ground, similar to the one described.  It is just where the village of Pratt (formerly Clifton), now stands; and so numerous are the remains that excavations for any purpose are almost sure to unearth skeletons, as well as stone, bone, earthenware, copper implements, and relics.

Within the village of Brownstown, ten miles above Charleston and just below the mouth of Lens creek, is another such burying ground.  Some time ago two skeletons were found together here, one a huge frame about seven feet in length and the other that of a deformed dwarf about four feet in length.

Graves at any of these places are not marked with mounds or any surface indications.  The probability naturally suggests itself that those buried there, and who built these stone enclosures were a different race from the Mound Builders.

     Some young men, while hunting on the mountain near Cannelton discovered what seemed to be the walled up entrance to a cave in the face of a cliff.  Impelled by curiosity, they pried out the stones and effected an entrance to a cavity, where they found the remains of human animal bones, flint implements, a piece of coarse woven fabric, and some dried berries.  The berries were in flat layers between a course of small twigs or stems below, and another course above.  This is the only instance, so far as we know, of a cave burial in the valley.

There have been no recent examination and explorations of these ancient works here in the Kanawha valley, except as aforementioned, and the hundreds of ancient earth and stone works offer a rich field of study of the ethnologist and archaeologist.



     The History Of Fayette County, West Virginia.   This book was written by J. T. Peters and H. B. Carden.  It was published in 1926 by the Fayette County Historical Society, Inc., Fayetteville, West Virginia, and printed by Jarrett Printing Company, Charleston, West Virginia.



Gauley River Book Company Home Page