Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Fort on Rumpus Hill

When I began to research the archaeology of Yates County I read through all of the local history books. I found many fascinating stories. Many of these old stories reported on a series of forts located on the hills through out Yates county. One of these forts may have been located in heart of the Hi-Tor Stone piles. Large stacked stone piles are located right at the sight of this "old fort" and a line of these stone piles leads to this area. In today's blog I included a short story that I wrote for the Yates County Historical Society's newsletter about my search for this "fort".

The Lost Fort of Rumpus Hill

Growing up on Keuka Lake I would spend many late nights sitting by campfires and listening to the waves lap against the shore. As one by one the lights of the cottages around the lake would go out and it almost seemed as though I was traveling back to a time before wall-to-wall cottages, powerboats, and wave runners. In the dark, modern life disappeared and all that was left were the hills, the lake and the stars.
Sitting by the fire I would wonder what life was like before the pioneers came. Since that time I’ve spent many hours leafing through local history books and walking through woods soaking in clues to what the pioneers found when they came here.
History buffs in Yates County owe a great deal to S.C. Cleveland for providing a record of some of these clues in his "History of Yates County". While reading his book I found references to earthwork or forts found by the people who moved here when the native people left. I had never heard anything about Native American forts in Social Studies class. How could something as fascinating as an “Indian Fort” in my own neighborhood not be included in my social studies class? I had to get to the bottom of this mystery. This is the story of the search for one of those forts.
The search began on page 390 of the book History of Yates County where Cleveland recorded that in 1806 Joshua Stearns a “prosaic Man” settled on what we call East hill today. He claimed he had a reoccurring dream. “A stranger of foreign aspect appeared before him and related how he and others had come from distant climes and buried treasure and built a fort, and returned home to lose their lives.” Directions to the dream fort were followed and a search conducted. The following is Cleveland’s account of what they found: ”on ground that bore the outlines of a fort overgrown with trees. They found also a trench and stream of water that had been described. But much digging did not reveal the buried treasure.”
This little gem of a tale that Cleveland included in between pages and pages of genealogies and obscure facts was wonderful. An early settler dreams about a Native American fort with buried treasure and they actually report finding it. I had researched other forts reported to be found hear in Yates county and knew that they had existed. Could there possibly be any truth to this story.
I continued my search and found another reference to the fort in Stork’s The Student’s Handbook of Yates County. Here it is described as a rectangular earthworks. This is unusual because most of these forts or earthworks that were found in New York were round or ellipse shape. The only other example of a rectangular earthworks that I know of was the one on Bare hill. This seems to indicate that the same culture that made the fort on near by Bare Hill made this fort. Now I had two different references to a fort on East Hill.
To continue the search I went to county records and tried to pin point where the fort would have been if it did exist. Using deeds and maps I found the lot that it would have been located on. The next step in solving this mystery would be going to East hill and looking around. When I have a little free time I love to drive the roads that go to tops of the hills and the deepest parts of the woods so the next step in solving the mystery of the dream fort would be more fun than leafing through books in the county records room.
When I got to the area where I suspected the fort was located the first thing that I noticed was that it was directly across the valley from Clark’s Gulley the birthplace of the Seneca Nation. It would be a very wise place for a fort with a view of the village of Naples, Clark’s gully and possibly Bare Hill. I needed more information so when I saw a resident painting his camp I stopped and introduced myself. The painter's name was Bill Keuhne, he lives in Rochester and has a camp on East Hill. Sometimes when I stop and ask people questions about Native sites I get funny looks, but Bill was quite interested and said that he had been looking for that fort for thirty years.
The owner of the land on which I suspected the old fort was located had told Bill that for years every time he plowed that field he would till up pieces of charcoal. He felt that it was a spot that had been a large fire pit. We walked over to the site to look for artifacts but found none. There are many stones in the hedge rows around the field that could have been used to build the fort but there is no physical evidence on the site today.
Was there a fort on East Hill? The direct evidence seems to have vanished with time. All we have today are old stories and rumors. I believe there was a fort there. My search for it hasn’t ended and I still ask myself the question that I asked by the campfires at the lake years ago. What was it like here before we came.

After writing this story I found the stone piles that are located on the site.

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