Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ellsworth Cowles and Spanish Hill

As most of you may know, for me, the beginning of my interest and later co-founding of SRAC all was the result of my interest (ok - some would call it an obsession...) in a place in South Waverly, Pa, called Spanish Hill.

Spanish Hill - around 1915

Spanish Hill in the 70's

The east side facing us in the picture above shows where they removed the side for highway fill. In fact, they were going to take the whole hill for highway fill at one time, but a bunch of concerned citizens teamed up with Mr. Ellsworth Cowles went to the state archaeologist and had that plan revamped to only take the side. Ellsworth also made some audio tapes seemingly for the radio to support the cause - You can listen to the first clip here and the second clip here in my podcasts in iTunes.

The way that the state archaeologist was convinced to change the highway fill plans was by having Ellsworth bring actual artifacts from Spanish Hill itself. You see, Ellsworth was our local amateur archaeologist and well noted historian for over 50 years, and he actually found the ancient village site that was located at the foot of Spanish Hill in 1933.

Ellsworth and his sons and nephew at the site in 1933


You can read his own 1933 description of the site here. As well as see a survey of the site here.

Ellsworth also was convinced that he had found an effigy shape of a horned animal around a fire pit made of coconut sized granite boulders that were not native to the river flats area that they were found on. Here is Ellsworth's drawing of the effigy hearth -


And here is an actual photo of the effigy hearth:


I found it strange then as I was doing so much work to uncover information about the hill..I mean it didn't exist anymore for the average person to find - and even more important - why wasn't I told about all this when I was there on my field trip in fourth grade? But when I fianlly read the past PA archaeologist Barry Kent's book "Susquehanna's Indians" the light finally came on - THIS was the source that said that Spanish Hill was not the site of Carantouan. (Which I later rebuked in PA Archaeologist) You see, I had studied enough to know what I was reading in this book was clearly incorrect. Strangely, I found myself in a place of knowing that although Mr. Kent knew ALOT about the Susquehannocks, he did not do the research I had concerning Carantouan and/or Spanish Hill, or the two sources he uses to make his claims.

Even worse, in just a few paragraphs over pages 300 and 301 in that book, Mr. Kent had closed the door on Spanish Hill and the story of Carantouan, and had made a comment about a local amateur archaeologist and historian, Mr. Ellsworth Cowles that I could not forget, because when I read this paragraph about Ellsworth, it sounded like a personal attack:

  • "...Cowles conducted investigations in the vicinity of Spanish Hill. As a result, the Carantouan myth continued to have at least some local perpetuation." (Kent:1984)

I had to wonder, "Why such strong feelings?" "Why so disrespectful to Mr. Cowles?" And most importantly...."Why call a documented historical event, a MYTH?"

By early spring in 2004, I had contacted Bobby Rockwell of the Rockwell Museum in Corning and asked him if he had any info on Ellsworth Cowles. Sadly, he told me that Ellsworth had passed in 1992, but his son Dick was alive and well in Caton, NY, and Bobby asked Dick to allow me to call on him. I did so a few months later, and to my surprise, Dick had all of his dad's artifacts still in his basement (which became the base artifact collection for SRAC later,) along with documents, letters, maps and just about everything that you could imagine...


When I finally brought up the Barry Kent quote about Ellsworth, his son Dick pulled out some old letters between Ellsworth and Ted Keir, who in 1984 had submitted a request to the PA Historical and Museum Commission to preserve Spanish Hill as a historical landmark. Interestingly, Barry Kent's book came out in 1984 as well, and in these letters that I read, Ted and Ellsworth actually were discussing what Kent had said about Spanish Hill and Carantouan, as well as what he said about Ellsworth.

Even more importantly in 1984, the same Barry Kent cast the deciding vote on the request made by Ted Keir to preserve the hill...His exact words on the "decision sheet" for Spanish Hill's need for preservation for it's historical significance can be seen here (at the bottom of the page.)

They say:
"This is not the site of Brule's Carantouan and very little archaeological material has been found on the hill. It is a significant geological feature, but only by misinterpretation has it become a place of historical interest." BCK 10/10/8

And so you now know why the hill found itself in jeopardy and could have actually been highway fill if it had not been for Mr/ Ellsworth Cowles...

As I read Ellsworth's letter to Ted that day that was 15 pages long with a whole time line drawn out of when the Carantouans (Susquehannocks) would have left this region and why, as well as when the fur trade and guns to the Iroquois had occurred and so on...I smiled and knew that Ellsworth Cowles - whom I found out also that day was also voted as one of the top ten people to ever live in Corning, NY - knew what he was talking about.

Unfortunately, Ellsworth's life by that time had other priorities, and he never went to battle with Barry Kent on the story of Carantouan and Spanish Hill. That year his wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and soon his eldest son would die as well...

While Ellsworth Cowles was as his granddaughter has told me recently "the type of man that when he walked in, he could fill the room," I know that he was not yet satisfied with all that he had hoped to accomplish in his life. I know of other research he was doing right up to the end of his life concerning Spanish Hill and Carantouan and that truly saddens me to think he died before having time to be able to do what he had set out to do...especially when he knew he could.

And so when Dick, Ellsworth's son handed me the piece of paper one Sunday at our SRAC board meeting, the realization of what my article in the Pennsylvania Archaeologist which challenges Kent's book "Susquehanna's Indian's" claims about Carantouan, Spanish Hill and yes - Mr. Ellsworth Cowles has meant, not just to me, but to everyone who has been involved with this issue for the past 100 years.

You see, the piece of paper Dick handed me was a copy of the front inside page of Ellsworth's bible...all tattered and torn with notes all over it and with just one quote above his name that I could now understand...



Note: This piece of paper now resides in my copy of "Susquehanna's Indians," between pages 300 & 301.

Thank you to the Cowles family for allowing me to be inspired by Ellsworth, a man I am sorry I never got a chance to meet.

Ellsworth Cowles (1897-1992) and son Dick Cowles (current Board Chairman and Co-founder, SRAC)
in 1933 at the Spanish Hill site.



I have since written a book called
"Spanish Hill and Carantouan: The History, the People and the Politics"
and it is available here
~~ALL proceeds benefit SRAC.~~





Sunday, November 25, 2007

Red and Yellow Ochre ( Ocher ) Use in the Northeast


SRAC is doing a little research and have a question we'd like to ask of our of our readers. We are looking for the frequency that red ochre has been found in the northeast and in association with a.) historic and b.) prehistoric sites. Any info or references we could use would be greatly appreciated and shared by all using this forum!

Ochre (Ocher) :
the common name for hematite, iron oxide (FeH3O,) a naturally occurring element. Hematite occurs in two colors: red and yellow. Ochre was used for painting and coloring purposes as well as in ceremonial and burials into historic times.

However, the study of it's use in the Northeast has never been studied deeply enough to help us understand what culture was using it in our region, or for what purpose. The following is one person's description of the use of Red ochre and it's significance in the Mound -Builder cultures:

Barbara Mann, "Native Americans, Archaeologists, ad the Mounds"

"White and red are the colors of the east and prayer. Thus east facing burials smeared with red indicate the prayerful repose of the dead. It interesting to think that part of the work of the red daub in Mound-Builder burials was to ensure that the spiritual wishes of the deceased were secured..."

Yet, the use of ochre outlived the Mound-Builders culture, and is found right here in the Twin Teirs region on NY and PA...Here are just a couple of references to red and yellow ochre that have been noted within a 10 mile radius of Spanish Hill and Waverly, NY that were easy for me to get my hands on:

Englebert Site Report, Nichols, NY (Burial 92)
"..after the removal of the stones and the pit fill surrounding the bones, revealed the skelton of the middle aged male. He is accompanied by two shell-tempered pottery vessels lying on his left arm...associated with the pots were large masses of red and yellow ochre, the significance of which is unknown."

Louise Welles Murray: Murray Farm, 1916
"In another grave beside the flexed skeletons were six bundle burials, a whole pot with them, and near the skeleton a smaller pot filled with oxide of iron..."

Amulet found on the flats below Spanish Hill, South Waverly, PA smeared with red ochre: (more pictures can be found here)

Here is also a historic reference of red ochre being used in a burial by a witness (John Heckwelder) in PA in 1762:

"The lid was then fastened on the coffin with three straps, and three handsome round poles, five or six feet long, were laid across it, near each other, and one in the middle, which were fastened with straps cut up from a tanned elk hide; and a small bag of vermilion paint, with some flannel to lay it on, was then thrust into the coffin through the hole cut out at the head of it. "

Please use the comments link at the bottom of this page to send any info or comments you might have. By adding more accounts and/or reports, you will be adding to the understanding of the use of red ochre in the northeast, that will be available to all.

Thanks in advance for your help in this effort. Use the link below to subscribe to this discussion forum:

Note - the following information was sent to me by Brad Seymour, Office of Cartography & Publications, New York State Museum :

"I had to consult one of our archeologists to answer your question.

The following publications touch on this issue:

Ritchie, W. A., and D. W. Dragoo. 1960. The Eastern Dispersal of Adena. New York State Museum Bulletin 379. The University of the State of New York, Albany, New York.

Ritchie, W.A. Recent discoveries suggesting an Early Woodland Burial Cult in the northeast. New York State Museum Circular 40.

Funk, R. Upper Susquehanna Valley Volume (Volume I) "

Thanks to the NYS Museum for the info!

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Stone Soup

In mid August we began negotiations to buy the building located at 345 Broad Street in Waverly, NY, and in September we paid money down to hold the building and begin the closing process. The owner is financing the sale for us and has made the monthly payments affordable for a non-profit such as us. We are now only waiting for the lawyers to find an acceptable meeting place, date and time to sign the papers, which seems to be time consuming in itself...but we are hoping to close any time and start working!

Most recently the building was the Dollar Bazaar store, most of my life it was the Philadelphia Sales building. My older friends tell me that originally it was a supermarket. It has 4,000 square feet per floor (3 floors) and we will begin by renovating the main floor (off the street) immediately.

We have had the code person for Waverly in and we have been told what we need to get the building up to code..it will cost around $200. Contrary to popular gossip, the roof is fine, although it did leak but the current owner had it repaired a few years back. We had that checked over as well, and it is fine.

The main floor will house the visitor center/gift shop space as well as a lecture/workshop space and museum. We are also having public restrooms put in as there is only one bathroom in the whole building right now! Joe Vaselli of Waverly has donated all of the toilets, sinks and fixtures out of the public restrooms in the St. James School that he is renovating into an apartment complex...that in itself is a huge donation!

We are pursuing two different sources for grants to pay for the public restrooms and we could possibly have the $$ as early as January at which point the work will begin.

We will "T" off the front space from the back (see diagram) and that will house the visitor center and gift shop space. We will have some comfortable seats and tables as well and coffee available for weary travelers who come in to use the visitor center or need directions, etc. I have also made alot of friends that are artists that sell their items that will be very unique to have under one roof in our area...stay tuned. We have also received around $1,000 worth of books to add to our current inventory by WennaWoods Publishing. We will be looking for volunteers to man the visitor center or to be a part of many different events - if you are interested - please just let us know!

In the meantime, we will be working on developing "movable walls" for between the museum and the lecture/workshop space. This is because we want to be able to keep the museum space changing as well as be able to allow for different spacial needs for our workshops and lecture series. Have a hammer or a paintbrush and some time? Let us know if you are interested in helping us!

Lockheed Martin donated quite a bit of furniture to include desks and chairs and worktables, etc so that we have all the furniture we need to get the workshops started and will have to do with chairs that don't match for a while for the lecture series and other cultural events...but hey - - I am amazed at how much stuff we have already!

As for the museum, you know we have the artifacts which was initially made up of the Cowles collection, but now includes the Stafford Collection, the Rolfe Collection, and the Sloat Collection. However, I am not sure that you know that we have received 14 -6 foot long, 4 foot wide slant top display cases, 6 eight foot high, 6 foot wide antique oak display cases, and a handful of other cases all from the Corning Painted Post Historical Society. We plan to refresh our museum floor exhibit every 3-6 months so that we can show different stories of our past and show all of our different collections in different ways. Chances are that we will have a speaker do a launch presentation one night to explain that part of history we are depicting for that period and have a nice get together each time we make the change.

Workshops and lectures will vary and we will try different things and see what works in our community. Some of the ideas we have for workshops are kids night, craft workshops like painting, healthy cooking, weaving, sculpting, carving, or anything we come up with and have teachers for. We will also have clubs for adults and kids that will cover archaeology, history, mineralogy, and even live wildlife. We will also host outside talents for lectures, music, art and other cultural events, and exhibits. We will also have a research library and two PC's setup with wireless internet (donated by CQ Services) for members to be able to use in this area as well. In the end, our hope is that our Center will not only be the stopping place for tour buses, field trips, and travelers, but that everyone in the community will have new options for things to do several nights a week.

We also have a grant request in to the DEC to do murals on the outside of our building, which was sponsored by the Village of Waverly since we do not have our address in NY state yet. The local artists involved with these efforts are Ron Nogar, Thomas Reilly, and Brian Denlinger. We will continue to work with local artists to do exciting things to enhance the downtown Waverly area. I think you can agree by this rendition of what we have called "Windows to our Past," that we will be doing some pretty exciting things very soon. We also have a grant in for a mural insde the building as well...

I have to tell you that when I think about all that we have had donated to us, and all that we plan to do for our community, I always go back to a story that I read when I was a kid called,"Stone Soup."

It was about a village that was very poor and were near starvation, but then a stranger wandered into town. He told the villagers that he would feed them his specialty called "stone soup." Then he asked the villagers to get a big pot of water boiling over a fire. Once that was going, he walked over and reached into his pocket, pulled out a stone and dropped it in.

As he stirred the hot water, a lady came to him and said she had a few pieces of cabbage that she would gladly add. Then another had a few pieces of meat. Another had a carrot which the chopped up and threw in...and so it went as each villager found something that they could add to the pot. This went on until the huge pot was bubbling up with the best stew that the villagers had ever tasted, and they all filled their empty stomachs.

I am sure that you get the moral to the story here, but I also hope you can see how much SRAC understands the value of having friends everywhere that are pulling together to make our Center a special place that our whole community can share and be proud of.

Thank you to all of you who have been there for us through the hard times and reached in to your own pockets for whatever you could give to support this cause.

Not a member yet? Joining SRAC is a great way to show your support. Please consider joining today by clicking the link on the left navigation bar of this page.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ancient Cooking Tip for Your Thanksgiving !

We've all seen them. Those perfectly round rocks that look like discs. They are no more than a quarter of an inch or so thick and have consistently been found around pots.

I was told that these are pot lids, and that they have been found on pots. But then I also heard that someone said that their Indian grandmother used them to scrape and clean the inside of their pottery pots…

Just recently though, I heard probably the most convincing idea, because some people today are still using things that look just like them and are even buying them on the internet!

One website offers the following description:

Boil Over Preventer
"This is a product that controls or protects liquids from boiling over while cooking, often referred to as a "pot watcher" that is used to keep the liquid contained to a rolling boil rather than foaming boil. Various types of kitchen utensils and tips are suggested to prevent liquids from boiling over, such as placing a wooden spoon in the pan or to add a small amount of cooking oil to the contents being boiled such as pasta. However, as a means to use some type of tool that will assist with the preparation of foods when boiling water or liquid, there are solutions that have been developed as Boil over Prevention tools that can be placed in pots or pans, thus eliminating the need to place added ingredients into the water.

A cooking tool such as a small, round glass disk is manufactured which rattles in the pan as the water boils, thus making a sound to indicate the boiling point has been reached. Other solutions include small ceramic or clay-like disks designed to lie in the bottom of pots and pans that actually help to prevent the water from foaming out over the pan as it boils. The disks may be produced as a round disk or be formed into the shape of a food item for marketing purposes only, but regardless of shape, the material contained in the disk does effectively work to prevent water or liquids from boiling over."

So for this Thanksgiving holiday before your gravy boils over again this year, you might want to add an ancient tool to your list of kitchen utensils !





Tuesday, November 20, 2007

SRAC - Who are we?

Back in 2004, I was working on a paper "REVISITING THE MYSTERY OF “CARANTOUAN” AND SPANISH HILL" that was later published in PA Archaeologist. Because I was trying to re-educate the public about this important part of our local history, I had begun to do presentations around the region as well, and had even decided to plan a 3-day event called "Spanish Hill History Days."

Presenters included Dick Cowles, well studied historian and son of Mr. Ellsworth Cowles, who was an amateur archaeologist that worked with all the professionals and even worked with Warren K. Moorehead during the Susquehanna River Expedition in 1916. I had met up with Dick when searching for Ellsworth and the work he had done on Spanish Hill.

Sadly, Ellsworth had passed away in 1991. But, when I was invited to the Cowles home, I was shocked to find that they had actually preserved all of Ellsworth's collection.


Dick and Marcia however were being tasked with trying to figure out what to do with it...Thanks to SRAC, today it remains still in tact.

Another speaker at the 2004 Spanish Hill History Days was Ted Keir, local amateur archaeologist, teacher, and geology major. Ted, in my mind, was the last "Ellworth Cowles" our region has known, and he was doing his part to continue to educate the region about the digs and artifacts that were found in this region. To me, Ted is the scientist of the group, still teaching all of us about lithics and pottery and all of the local sites that exist for miles around.



The three of us - Ted Keir, Dick Cowles, and myself are all lifetime board members. In other words, we have dedicated our lives to SRAC.

We are also blessed to have other board members that bring other strengths to SRAC. Susan Fogel is our newsletter and PR editor. Inga Welles is our Events & Sales lead and other "rock hound" in the group. Jessica Quinn is our secretary, AV specialist, and person who is willing to wear whatever hat we need. Sharon Franklin is our local school and business contact and adviser. Tom Valiliee is our other local amateur archaeologist and our lead for organizing many other efforts behind the scenes. I can tell you that other non-profits would die for the group we have. We are all VERY active, and loyal to the cause.

Add around 100 members with the same interests and concerns for our local history and prehistory and it's preservation and an advisory committee made up of professional archaeologists, anthropologists and scholars that find our region and mission just as exciting as we do. Together we make up the Susquehanna River Archaeological Center of Native Indian Studies, SRAC.

So - Who are we? We are a group of people who believe that our prehistory and early history is an incredible story that is not finished. We believe that our Center is needed not only to celebrate what we know, but to continue to research and learn about what we are not clear about yet. We believe that our artifacts our OURS, and that they should no longer be sold off, but kept here in order to allow us to continue to learn from them for generations to come.



Stay tuned for more about SRAC, our mission, and our future goals.


Monday, November 19, 2007

River, Rocks, and Time.

Why the Blog name "River, Rocks, and Time?"


Well - it is pretty hard to encompass all that I intend to cover here...so I thought it pretty well covered a broad territory!

My name is Deb Twigg, and I am just a person who has found themselves in a place in their life that they never thought they would be...


I was happily living my life when I got "the bug." As I write this, I have to wonder how many of you reading it can relate to what I am trying to say...and if you can - can look back and say when exactly it was when you "got the bug" for whatever you found as your passion in life.

For me, it was trying to figure out our local prehistory, specifically concerning how it all related to a place we call Spanish Hill.(http://www.spanishhill.com/)

I had bought a house right below Spanish Hill in South Waverly, and though I had known it's name forever, one day decided that I wanted to know more about it.

That's it.

5 years later, I am the Executive Director and Co-founder of the Susquehanna River Archaeological Center of Native Indian Studies (SRAC) that already has thousands of local artifacts, author of two books and published in "Pennsylvania Archaeologist," as well as author of a website on the subject that gets thousands of visits per month.

But this blog will not be about me, it is about that passion, that now has a name - SRAC.

I wanted a place to share thoughts, announcements, events, discussion topics, debates, issues, and anything else that might come up concerning our local prehistory, archeology, and of course, SRAC itself. I also will have guest bloggers for this forum as well.

I hope you not only find this blog thought provoking but inspiring...

I'll let you be the judge from here...