Saturday, July 21, 2007

Stone Pile Styles

There are different styles of stone piles located in the Hi-Tor region. They also vary in size. The largest resemble huge mounds with very little evidence of stacking.
It is possible that these large mounds were originally well formed stacks that have been changed due to the effects of gravity, animals walking over them, and trees falling on them. I would guess that the interiors of these piles are still constructed of stacked stones.

Another type of stone pile is a stone pile connected to a large boulder. These are rare in this area. I think that the reason for this is that there are few large boulders in this area. The bed rock is shale, the only large stones are an occasional glacial erratic.

The most striking style of stone pile are the stacked stone piles. They can be further broken down into styles.

Some of these stacked stone piles are circular and they taper with the shape of the hill. They are taller on the uphill side of the pile and less defined on the lower end. This could be the result of gravity's pull or they may have been built this way. This type of pile is usually built on the side of a hill facing the sun. By tapering the design anything laid on top of the pile would get excellent exposure to the sun. This might have been done for agricultural reasons or it could be that bodies would be placed in the sun until the flesh was gone, then the bones of the dead would be buried in the cairn.

Some of the stacked stone piles are rectangular and connected to a circular stack at one end. These seem to be located at the crest of a hill.

The final style is a small cylinder. This type of stone pile would likely be a trail marker. They are often set in lines at even intervals. Like many of the stone piles, when you find one the next one will be found as far as you can see in line with the last one.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

More on Hi-Tor

Hi-Tor is a loosely connected set of areas of state land located around the South end of Canandaigua Lake. Most of this land was once cleared but has gone back to hardwood covered forest. I have not explored the Western areas around Bristol but I have hiked extensively through The Clark Gully, Bare Hill and the Brink Road forest. While these hills were developed in the past a combination of factors have helped to preserve the stone monuments. These hills are tall and have poor soil. In the past hearty souls tried to raise sheep or grow potato's on them with little success. The climate on the tops of these hills is noticeably harsher than that of the climate in the surrounding valleys. Because of these conditions this area has always been very rural and remote.

Today this land is used by hunters and hikers. The Fingerlakes trail goes right past some of the stone piles hidden in these woods. To date the state has done a good job of creating a natural area that the local residence can enjoy. I do worry that future logging might damage some of the stone structures. Even without the unique archaeological artifacts found in Hi-Tor it is a wonderful place to visit. There are streams with gorgeous waterfalls, nice trails to hike, ponds, and lean-to's for camping. It is no coincidence that the hill tops have spectacular views for miles in every direction.

Note to the reader: If your every in the area and would like a tour please feel free to contact me.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Pioneer Accounts

If the stone piles on Hi-Tor and the surrounding hills are of Native American origin one would expect some reports of their existence by the pioneers that first came to this area in the 1780's. With a little research I found just that.

The first account describes a spot in Guyanoga Valley:

On the Ellisworth place was also found a grave of primitive origin, as related by Daniel Lynn to the writer. It was also found under a pine stump. The stump was about a foot and a half in diameter. The burial place was laid up with round burnt sandstone, laid regularly on top of each other in most instances. Human bones, a skull, and one arm bone were found in it, demonstrating that it was a burial place. This was found in 1869. From the full account of it as related, it was evidently a mausoleum of some people long before the Red Men occupied this region.

History of Jerusalem
Miles Davis page 7

The second account describes a spot at Indian Pines:

There was an Indian burial ground on the west shore where large quantities of human bones were interred in a mound of conical shape, on the top of which grew an oak tree, eighteen inches in diameter. Many of the skeletons were judged by Dr. William Cornwell and others, to have belonged to very large and stalwart men, some of them nearly seven feet tall. From the shore of the Lake there appeared a drain-like structure about three feet in height and width, running toward the mound. A man could easily enter it but superstitious fears prevented its exploration. It was carefully walled up with flat stones and covered in the same manner. Indian relics abound there plentifully. George Heltibidal, Jr., says that among such articles found there were brass and copper kettles, rifle barrels, fragments of pottery, tomahawks of both iron and stone, stone pipes, and spear and arrowheads. The guns were of large size. He also found grape shot and a six pound cannon ball. Remnants of stone structures existed on the east side of the outlet, which appeared to be furnaces of hard sand-stone three to five feet in diameter, in circular form. Near Campbell’s pottery seven of these were to be seen in one row parallel with the Lake shore.

History of Yates County New York
Stafford C. Cleveland
Volume One page. 716

The report of very large skeletons is interesting. Some have theorized that there was a tribe of unusually large Native people who live in the Northeast. Click on the link to Spanish hill for more information on that topic. I will be writing more on that in a follow up blog.

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.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


I was inspired to create this blog after following the post of another blogger Peter Waksman who publishes a blog called Rock Piles. This blog will provide information about archaeological evidence of an ancient culture that live in this part of New York before the time of the Sonontouan (Seneca). I have two goals. The first is to promote an understanding of this valuable historical resource. The second is to make sure the stones survive. To accomplish this I will provide some generally information about the area but not provide information on specific locations.

Before I go any further I should point out that this just a theory. The State of New York does not think that this site has any archaeological signifance. No specific artifacts have been found that prove that this theory is correct. Still, I firmly believe that people that lived in this area over one thousand years ago created this site.

At this point I would guess that the reader must be asking themselves what is this guy talking about. The short answer to that question is that there are over three hundred stacked stone piles created by native people that still dot the hills overlooking the lakes. Stone piles like these have been found all over the Eastern United States. To date professional archaeologist have shown little interest in this archaeological phenomena. That may be changing. Amateur archaeologists from all over the country have begun to share information and an undeniable pattern has begun to emerge. I find it fascinating that the secret of these ancient monuments may be discovered because of the interconnective nature of the Internet. What was once the intellectual property of PhD's and doctorial candidates is now available to anyone with a computer.

As time allows I will begin to post information and pictures of some stone pile found on the Hi-Tor State land. Although many of these stone structures are on state land many are on private property. I will only provide information on stone piles found on state land.

Finally. In fifteen years of researching these stone structures I have never turned over a stone. Do not disturb these structures. They have lasted hundreds of years. Look but don't touch! Also, share this information discreetly. It would be a shame if some idiot destroyed one of these objects. Even if you open a stone pile up you wouldn't find anything of value. There is a possibility that some of these stone piles are grave markers. If you want to be a grave robber go to a modern cemetery. Your crime would be more profitable.