Spanish Hill is a large glacial mound located in South Waverly, PA. It is just 1/4 mile east of the Chemung River (the western branch of the Susquehanna above Tioga Point), and just south of Waverly, NY and the New York state border.
|Spanish Hill is private property - no trespassing.|
|Early photo of Spanish Hill, provided by the Tioga Point Museum|
|Spanish Hill: circa 1980's, courtesy of Spanish Hill.com|
Now covered with “No Trespassing “ signs, a large home and several out buildings, the site was once a favorite place for locals to take the steep climb to the summit for a Sunday picnic. The earliest of these would have picnicked on a beautiful flat lawn surrounded by strange earthen walls with an interior ditch that would later be erased by the plow of an overzealous farmer.
Apparently, the destruction of these fortifications was quite well known by locals as in 1870 Mrs. Perkins wrote in her book “Early Times on the Susquehanna ,” “Many now living remember the beautiful flat lawn of several acres on top of the hill (Spanish Hill) and an enclosure of earth 7-8 feet high, which was within a quarter of a century been leveled by the plow and harrow.” (Perkins, 1906:102)
But Perkins was not the only person to have recorded seeing these strange earthen walls – the earliest description known to date is that of Duke Rochefoucault de Liancourt, a French Traveler in 1795, who revealed that the name “Spanish Hill” was most likely derived from the fact that these fortifications existed. In route to Niagara, he saw the hill and thus wrote of it:
“Near the confines of Pennsylvania a mountain rises from the bank of the river Tioga (Chemung) in the shape of a sugar loaf upon which are seen the remains of some entrenchments. These the inhabitants call the Spanish Ramparts, but I rather judge them to have been thrown up against the Indians in the time of M. de Nonville. One perpendicular breastwork is yet remaining which, though covered with grass and bushes, plainly indicates that a parapet and a ditch have been constructed here.” (La Rochefoucald-Liancourt 1795:76-7)
The next earliest account is that of Alexander Wilson, celebrated ornithologist from Philadelphia who wrote in 1804:
“Now to the left the ranging mountains bend,
And level plains before us wide extend;
Where rising lone, old Spanish Hill appears, The post of war in ancient unknown years.
It’s steep and rounding sides with woods embrowned,
It’s level top with old entrenchments crowned;
Five hundred paces thrices we measured o’er,
Now overgrown with woods alone it stands,
And looks abroad o’er open fertile lands.
In 1878 Spanish Hill landowner, Mr. I.P. Shepard of Waverly, NY presented a paper for the Tioga Point Historical Society in Athens, PA. In that paper, he created the following illustration with the help of Charles Henry Shepard, whose residence throughout a long life of eighty-seven years, was close to the hill and who remembered “distinctly” the “Spanish Ramparts” before the plow of a farmer nearly leveled them to the ground.
|Map courtesy of SRAC/Cowles collection|
Fortifications on Spanish Hill redrawn by Ellsworth Cowles from early sketch
“Mr. C.H.Shepard described these fortifications as consisting of an embankment with a trench, giving a height of four or five feet inside. When he was a boy and first visited them, about 1820 or 1825, large trees were growing in the trenches, showing that a long time had elapsed since they were used. The double lines in the diagram indicate portions still clearly defined, and were evidently made much higher to protect those portions of the hill that were easily assailable…The dotted line inside this angle, Mr. Shepard thinks indicated a palisade for greater security…” (Murray 1908:58)
Later the infamous 20th century archeologist Warren K. Moorhead, whose experience with earthen embankments included those discovered at Fort Ancient , Ohio made reference to these fortifications at Spanish Hill. In the “Susquehanna River Expedition” he recorded that a site further south of Spanish Hill, (Sugar Creek) showed, “…traces of a fortified hilltop, there being distinct traces of embankments. This being smaller than Spanish Hill, but it resembled same.” (Moorehead 1936:70)
But most significant to the research of the site and the earthen walls was yet another witness to the embankments, General John S. Clark later in 1878. Unlike the other observers, Clark was a seasoned surveyor and mapmaker from Civil War times, and as a result drew the most significant evidence relative to the earthen walls that exists today. The nearly 150 year old old survey depicts the enclosure as follows:
The information provided by Clark in the first portion of the survey (shown here) illustrates the cross section of the enclosure wall with the interior ditch clearly defined.
The second portion of the survey illustrates the massive size of ten acres that was enclosed running the entire edge of the summit. Why Clark placed posts in the embankment remains a mystery however, because no post molds were ever recorded to support this idea.
Unfortunately, after the enclosure walls (as reported by early witnesses) were erased from the summit by annual plowing and cultivation, some researchers began to question whether they ever really existed at all. Furthermore, the researchers that did accept that the enclosure did exist would consistently deduce that they were indicative of an ancient hilltop/ palisaded village site.
In fact, it wasn’t until the past decade when fresh eyes again reviewed these reports that any new discussions about the Spanish Hill site occurred. Specifically, the strange construction of the walls with the ditch on the inside of the wall became a point of interest, and when it was discovered in “Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley,” that author and ancient mound specialist E. G. Squier wrote, “the circumstances of the ditch being within the vallum (wall) is a distinguishing mark between religious and military works” things began to point in a totally new direction to explain what Spanish Hill actually was. Like Fort Ancient – some believe today that the enclosure on top of Spanish Hill had been mistaken to be a hilltop fort, and was actually a ceremonial space.
Unfortunately, the new information just didn’t jive with the current understandings of the region’s archaeological past and the idea that a ceremonial hilltop enclosure existed so far away from the Ohio Valley and what is believed by many as its counterpart, Fort Ancient in Ohio, is still unthinkable to many professionals even today. However, more and more evidence seems to be mounting that might someday overturn the current beliefs…
What We Know About the Fort Ancient Culture
Fort Ancient is a name for a Native American people that flourished from 1000-1600 AD who predominantly inhabited land in the region of Ohio and Kentucky. The Fort Ancient culture was once thought to be an expansion of the Hopewell and or Mississippian cultures, but it is now accepted as an independently developed culture of its own.
The name of the culture originates from the Fort Ancient, Ohio site. The fort is located on a hill above the Little Miami River, close to Lebanon, Ohio. Fort Ancient has earthen walls that are over 3 miles (5 km) long and up to 23 feet (7.5 m) high. The hilltop enclosure surrounds a plot of 100 acres (0.4 km). However, recently it was discovered that the southern “fort” was separately constructed much earlier than the much larger northern area of the site. Despite its name, most archaeologists do not believe that Fort Ancient was used primarily as a fortress by either the Hopewell or the Fort Ancient -- rather, it is becoming commonplace to accept that it was a ceremonial location again due to the construction of the ditches on the interior side of the enclosure walls.
Early historical records also indicate that only high ranking leaders or shamans actually used these spaces and that the other Native Americans would not climb to the summit of a ceremonial enclosure. Captain John Smith when exploring the Susquehanna River noted his experience at a ceremonial site, “This place they account so holy that none but priests or kings dare into it, nor savages dare go up in the boats by it…” and E. G. Squier stated in his “Aboriginal Monuments of the State of NY, Concerning Sacred Enclosures of North America,” “This sacred place, according to our authority, could not be approached by any but the magi or priests.” Coincidentally, Spanish Hill historian Louise Welles Murray also noted this strange behavior in her book “Old Tioga Point and Early Athens,” (1908) “Early in the last century, Alpheus Harris settled at the foot of the hill. An old Indian was a frequent visitor, but when asked to ascend the hill he always refused, saying a Great Spirit lived there who would kill him.”
The Fort Ancient people are also given credit for the largest effigy mound in the United States, Serpent Mound, in Ohio, and are believed to be responsible for hundreds of effigy burial mounds in the shape of birds, animals, and even “horned men effigies” found in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.
Until recently, it has not been commonly accepted that the Fort Ancients would have populated the regions of Pennsylvania but more and more evidence is mounting along the Susquehanna River that seems to be irrefutable.
Disappearance of Earthworks/Evidence
Sadly over the past two hundred years – the majority of the earthworks recorded by 19th century researchers like Squier and others have been demolished. Many in fact would be amazed to see the 1881 map of “Ancient Earthworks East of the Mississippi” created by Cyrus Thomas on behalf of the Smithsonian Institute to record the sites that even then were disappearing at an alarming rate. Dots pepper not only the Mississippi River Valley but also New York and Pennsylvania. In fact, Spanish Hill was included in the 1881 map and was recorded as an enclosure.
|Portion of 1881 map with Spanish Hill circled|
Yet even with the demise of the ancient earthworks over the last century and less and less hard evidence to support their existence, some researchers have found new hope in yet another type of evidence. Ancient rock art has been found which many believe irrefutably reinstates the belief that the Fort Ancients had a presence along the Susquehanna River.
Huge rocks in the Susquehanna River in Safe Harbor, PA show a striking resemblance to the Fort Ancient effigy mounds found hundreds of miles away throughout Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin. One of the most significant clusters of this rock art could be seen on the Big and Little “Indian Rocks” located at Safe Harbor, and were recorded by Donald Cadzow in 1934. Like the ancient earthworks, many petroglyphs have been lost. Fortunately, enough petroglyphs still remain to show that the same people or culture must have been responsible; for both the effigy mounds of the Midwest clearly have matching counterparts in the petroglyphs at Safe Harbor, PA (shown above.)
Common Fort Ancient Effigy Mounds
Below is a collection of effigy mound shapes, all found in just one county in Wisconsin.
|Display at the Sauk County, Man Mound 100 Year Anniversary (of discovery)|
Below is a collection of petroglyphs found along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania at Safe Harbor.
|Early photo of the Man Mound –provided by Sauk County Historical Society|
|Other “Horned Man” Effigy Mounds in Wisconsin|
A unique character in the Fort Ancient belief system is referred to as the water spirit or water “panther.” The Fort Ancients believed that water spirits controlled the underworld and especially the waters and that they were hunted by the thunderbirds of the upperworld. “Earthmaker created the Waterspirits and the Thunders first among the spirits, giving the Thunders control over the waters of heaven and the Waterspirits control over those of the lower world.” Foster, Foster's Indian Record, vol. 1, #2,: p. 3, col. 2 Waterspirits were believed to be found in rivers, lakes and springs where they could make whirlpools and rough waters that could topple a canoe. For this reason, this particular petroglyph seems fittingly placed along a river that could be treacherous to navigate. “Waterspirits can be very dangerous, creating whirlpools that have sucked under many a canoe. In the deep water off Governor's Island in Lake Mendota, there lay a den of Waterspirits who caused great disturbances in the water and overturned canoes. The Waterspirit of Green Lake created whirlpools by swirling her arms up. Those who did not make the proper offerings would be sucked under.” Charles Edward Brown, Wisconsin Indian Place Legends (Madison: Works Progress Administration, Wisconsin, 1936) (Note that the Safe Harbor horned men found along the Susquehanna River are raising their arms up.)
An interesting side note is that many believe that the humanoid effigy forms that also take on thunderbird or water spirit qualities (i.e. horned men or thunder birds with human legs) represent shaman who had great spiritual powers or connections to either form. (Watch my video at a Man Mound and a Bird Man Mound a few years ago.)
Sites other than Safe Harbor have also shown evidence of the Fort Ancient water panther and belief system in Pennsylvania.
|Parkers Landing Petroglyphs -Located on the east shore of the Allegheny River approximately 1.6 miles downstream from Parker City in Clarion County, Pa – Provided by Kris Wenning, SRAC Member|
Were the Fort Ancients in Pennsylvania and the Likely Creators of the Earthworks on Spanish Hill?
The truth is that even E.G. Squier noted that he had seen evidence that the Fort Ancients had travelled as far eastward as the Susquehanna River when he stated, “Some ancient works, probably belonging to the same system with those of the Mississippi Valley , and erected by the same people, occur upon the Susquehanna River, as far down as the Valley of Wyoming, in Pennsylvania. The mound builders seem to have skirted the southern border of Lake Erie, and spread themselves in diminished numbers, over the western part of New York State, along the shores of Lake Ontario to the St. Lawrence River. They penetrated into the interior, eastward as far as the county of Onnondaga where some slight vestiges of their works still exist. These seem to have been their limits at the north-east.” (Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, E.G. Squier , page 1)
Archaeological Evidence at Spanish Hill and Surrounding Sites
Burial grounds near Fort Ancient were reported to be made up of stone graves such as those reported by Moorehead in his "Primitive Man in Ohio" shown here:
|Drawing courtesy of Primitive Man in Ohio (Moorehead:1892)|
|Fort Ancient Pot Found in Murray Farm Site|
During Moorehead's expedition in 1916, his crew actually found a Fort Ancient pot in the Murray Farm site which is just a stone's throw below Spanish Hill, which was reported by PA's authority on pottery, Charles Lucy in 1951 as, "a double pot grit tempered, and decorated in cord-wrapped paddle designs on the rim and neck. It is similar to specimens found in the Ohio Valley and identified as Fort Ancient..." This pot went with the rest of the artifacts from that expedition to the Heye National Museum of the American Indian in NYC which was just breaking ground in 1916. Moorehead's "Susquehanna River Expedition" was funded by that Museum's founder, George Heye in return for all of the artifacts and skeletal materials found or bought during it.
|SRAC's Fort Ancient axe found on top of hill|
Sadly, this was the way of early archaeology in America - leaving sites in our region without the original archaeology that could give us clear scientific evidence of the people who lived here and created the sites like Spanish Hill...and clearly why I have had to work so hard trying to figure this all out...
The artifacts preserved today are quite sparse compared to what was found in Moorehead’s day, but there are ongoing efforts to preserve what can be located in order for more research to continue.
The Susquehanna River Archaeological Center (SRAC)
This research has been an ongoing passion. I began chronicling the research on SpanishHill.com in 2003, which lead to an article being published in the PA Archaeologist Journal in 2005. In doing the initial research on Spanish Hill for that article, it became evident that just as with the earthworks, the artifacts are slowly disappearing because of constant artifact collecting in the region by private collectors.
|SRAC's slate amulet/tablet found below hill|
the region. SRAC also has a list of professional archaeologists and anthropologists from NY state and surrounding universities act as professional advisors allowing SRAC to continuously remain up-to-date about new finds, excavations, and research. SRAC is committed to maintaining a line of open communication between professionals and avocationals by sharing important information openly between the two. (The ongoing differences between professionals and collectors often make communication difficult.) As a result of these efforts, SRAC has been able to save artifacts that were found at Spanish Hill over a century ago, like the deep grooved ax shown here which was found by a private collector in 1897, and the blue slate amulet seen here, found in 1908.
To date SRAC houses thousands of local artifacts from sixteen different private collections with many artifacts originating from Spanish Hill; in fact, one whole case is dedicated to that site and it’s the most popular part of the exhibit area. The Center is a 501c3 with over 300 members and is open five days a week while being manned 100% by volunteers, many of which are collectors and students of the regional Native American past and archaeology.
For more information concerning Spanish Hill, visit www.SpanishHill.com. Please note: Spanish Hill is currently private property and trespassing is not advised. SRAC is located at 345 Broad Street in Waverly, New York. To learn more about this article and SRAC, visit www.SRACenter.org or contact Deb Twigg at dtwigg@SpanishHill.com.
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Thank in advance for whatever you can do!