Miscellaneous Papers Relating to Anthropology/A Stone Fort Near Makanda, Jackson County, Illinois

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1670712Miscellaneous Papers Relating to Anthropology — A Stone Fort Near Makanda, Jackson County, IllinoisG. H. French


By G. H. French, of Carbondale, Ill.

In company with Prof. A. C. Hillman and Mr. John Martin, one of our students very much interested in natural history, I visited Stone Fort, near Makanda. This place is situated in township 10 south, range 1 west, of the third principal meridian, on the east side of the Illinois Central Railroad, and is about three-fourths of a mile, by road, northeast from the village of Makanda. The country here is very hilly and rocky, Makanda being situated in a gorge, through which the Drury Creek runs. North of Makanda, where the road turns east, is a side gorge, through which runs a small tributary stream of the Drury, more or less lined with rocky bluffs on both sides. The surface beyond the bluffs in some places slopes upward; at others the bluffs are nearly as high as the general elevation of the surrounding country. On the west of a bluff known as the Stone Fort another smaller stream comes down between the bluffs. It is now nearly dry but is well filled with water in times of freshets. Stone Fort is a ledge of rocks projecting out as a rounded point from the northern and eastern side of this second gorge, more toward the stream than the general course of the bluffs. On the southern face the bluff is 125 feet high. Across its neck above extends a pile of stone, running east and west, which gives the place its only importance archaeologically. This pile of stone is about 280 feet long, and on an average 2 rods wide, and in the middle is about 30 inches high. The distance from the front face of the bluff to the middle of the stone wall is about 300 feet. The lengths were obtained by pacing, and the width and depth by tape-line. The middle of this inclosed space is from 15 to 20 feet higher than the edges, the slope being gradual. The whole space is covered with trees similar in size and appearance to those on the tops of the other bluffs. All around the bluff, from the front or south face to the east and west, the rocks are either perpendicular or overhanging; but on both sides back of the line of piled stone the top may easily be reached, as the distance from the summit of the bluff on its southern face to the more nearly level ground below decreases toward the north, being perhaps 50 feet at the eastern and 25 feet at the western end of the stone wall. This pile of stone across the neck of the bluff shows evidence of having been a wall. To see if there were any signs of regularity in its structure, and upon what base it had been constructed, we took out a cross-section of the stone in one place where they seemed to have been thrown down, and partial sections in several other places. First, the materials are sandstone, the same as that of the bluffs. Many of them are flat, all irregular, just as would occur in breaking up that kind of stone. In size they vary from some smaller than a man's head to those as large as one man can lift. They are built upon the ground and not upon the ledge of rocks, as the earth beneath the pile is the same as that constituting the top of the bluff, save that here there is no vegetable mold. Most of the larger stones are placed where was the base of the wall, seemingly with but little regularity. At the ends, where the hill is a little steep, the flat stones at the bottom are set on edge, and the next course so laid that its top surface would be nearly level, or sloping a little up the hill. This, of course, would make it easier to lay the succeeding stones. Where these stones came from is hard to tell. If there were only a few of them one might conclude that they were picked up from the surface of the inclosed area south of the wall and on the open space north of it. But there are not stone enough on the same area of the tops of the other bluffs to make such a pile. Part of them may have been obtained in that way and the rest brought there from above, where this bluff is not very high.

The question "why they were placed there?" seems to admit of but one answer—they were a means of defense. The fact that it has been known as Stone Fort ever since the country was settled implies that such has been the general opinion of the people acquainted with the place. It has been assumed, however, that it was the work of hunters for the purpose of a protection to their camp. I can hardly conceive that a party of hunters, for a temporary camp, would go to the trouble of gathering such a mass of stone as is represented in 280 feet long, 33 feet wide, and, on an average, 1½ feet high. It may have been the location of an Indian encampment in some former years, and built by them as a protection from their foes, and used very much as Starved Bock, on the Illinois River, was by the Illinois Indians.

The question will occur, where did they obtain their water for domestic purposes! On the west side, just within the end of the wall, there is a deep, narrow fissure in the rocks, down which one man at a time might go; and it is only a few feet from the bottom of this fissure to the stream that comes down the rocks. Evidently there is always a little water here, and it is quite palatable, as we found by trial. This may have been their mode of egress and ingress to the inclosure.

We found very little remains of the former occupants. At one place beneath the stones, evidently just south of what was the south side of the wall, we found a broken arrow-head of white flint, the only relic discovered in the inclosure. We did not dig into the ground, either south or north of the wall, not seeing any elevation that looked like a mound. I would add further, in relation to the bluff, that the fissure just spoken of, inside the western extremity of the wall, is the only place where it is possible to reach the top from any point south of the wall.

That it was a place of refuge from any body of men using fire-arms does not seem probable, for the following reason: In addition to the evidence which the broken arrow-head affords, the bluff to the south, across the creek, is considerably higher than this one, and is within range of a rifle, but would not be within arrow-shot. This, and the fact that there seems to be no tradition of the building of the wall, would lead us to conclude that it antedates the white settlements of this region. It is not far from a number of Indian mounds to the north, or a little west of north, that seem to form a nearly continuous line with others still farther north. One of these mounds I opened in 1878.