Ancient Fortification on Big Beaver Creek

An Ancient Fortification “Found” on Big Beaver Creek

Most West Virginians have learned in school that the Mountain State was no more then a hunting ground for Native Americans, with very few isolated permanent settlements. Do any of our members doubt where this discussion is headed?

In 1842-1843 the Logan Historical Society1 published a monthly magazine called “The American Pioneer” which featured articles and contributed letters on the history of the Ohio River Valley, often including material specific to Native American earthworks.  The letter featured here is one such item, and has been included on the POOF website as a first hand account in the late 1830’s of a little understood  Native American archaeological site.

This letter was written in 1842 by the American Revolutionary War soldier, Isaac Craig, to Jno. S. Williams the editor of the The American Pioneer periodical series. Isaac Craig was the brother-in-law to the land owner of the “fort”, Gen. Alfred Beckley. It’s not surprising then, that the two would see in this structure a military purpose, and label it a fortification.

However, may the structure have served some other purpose?

AccessGenealogy includes the “fortification” in it’s report on Virginia Frontier Forts Prior to 1902, as the “Big Beaver Creek Fort” at, Virginia – in Fayette County. This was part of a larger manuscript which attempted to list all known fort structures within the United States prior to 1902. In actuality, the manuscript lists all structures labelled as “forts” without proof they were actually used for that purpose.

Fayette County in Virginia has a storied history – the original Fayette County VA along with Jefferson and Lincoln counties was used to create the state of Kentucky in 1780; another Fayette County VA was created by the Virginia legislature in 1831 from parts of Greenbrier, Kanawha, Nicholas, and Logan counties. This new Fayette County VA was subdivided in 1850 to form Raleigh County VA, and the portion given to Raleigh included the land on which the Ancient “fort” sat. During the Civil War, Fayette and Raleigh counties were two of 50 western counties in Virginia that broke off and formed the new state of West Virginia. So while the letter references an ancient fort “discovered” on Big Beaver Creek, Fayette County, VA, Isaac Craig is actually referring to an ancient “fort “on Big Beaver Creek, Raleigh County, WV.

The actual location of the fort today is in the town of Blue Jay, West Virginia. It has been assigned an archaeological site id of 46RG1. The earthwork has been completely destroyed, as the stones were reportedly used to build an office building for the Blue Jay Lumber Company which still stands today.

In 1977, a hobbyist turned  archaeologist, Larry Beckett, being deeply interested in the early history of the Big Beaver Creek2 area, took it upon himself to dig several holes in the area presumed to be site of the ancient fort with the assistance of local school children. He says in a newspaper article3 that he discovered more then 500 objects in and around the ruins. These objects consisted of a war axe, a knife, baked clay figurines, and carvings and tablets he believes were petrified skins. In his investigation, he also discovered two additional walls in the area of the first wall.

The newspaper article describes some of the artifacts and the drawings etched on them in this fashion:

On one of the tablets some symbols are clearly visible. One shows a square that Beckett said was a standard North American symbol for fertility. Also an arrow formation, signifying a dominant male, such as chief or warrior, can be seen.

Many of the artifacts have a southwestern flavor to them, including a baked clay carving of a square faced warrior.

A number of the artifacts show a thunderbird design. Some show a warrior with an outstretched hand and a bird flying either out or into his hand.

His pride and joy, however, was a small round glazed stone that “might be the only known picture of prehistoric man in Raleigh County.” He theorized it was glazed with pine pitch. A set of small eyes is on the round artifact along with an intricate drawing of a man, with neck beads, holding his hand out to a bird.

In the article Beckett theorizes that while the structure could have been used for a fortification, it was more likely used as a ceremonial center for Indians populating the area. And with the inclusion of the additional stone walls – he further surmised that the whole valley around Big Beaver Creek likely supported a culture with the stone structure it’s ceremonial center. He stated that the artifacts dug up supported this theory.

So without ado, here is the letter drafted by Isaac Craig, using his own words to describe the structure.4


Ancient Fortification on Big Beaver Creek
Ancient Fortification on Big Beaver Creek

The accompanying plan is an accurate representation of an old fortification situated on Big Beaver Creek, Fayette County, VA. This work was first surveyed by Mr. Beckley, in October, 1837. I visited it in August of the following year, and must say that you can form no adequate idea, from drawings, of the immense quantity of labor it must have required to erect this fortification. The walls have fallen, or have been thrown down, covering a space of twenty feet from the edge of the fallen stone on the inside to the edge of the fallen stone on the outside. I suppose, from this measurement of the fallen stone, that the walls at the base were about seven feet thick, and that they were about six feet high. The distance from gateway to gateway is a little over one hundred feet.

This curious work is situated (as you will perceive) upon a level bottom of some twenty or more acres, and near its extreme point, where the creek makes a sudden bend; and it is evident to a military coup d’œil that the creek was intended to serve as a wet and formidable ditch, for cleared of laurel and timber, as we may presume the point then was, and during most of the year the creek presenting a rapid current, if not very deep, and of average width of fifteen yards, with banks perhaps six feet abrupt ascent, the garrison could have swept all its approaches with their arrows, &c. The three northern faces are evidently so placed as to enfilade an enemy approaching up the creek, or from the small sandy islands, while the southern face opposes the approach down the creek. The terra plane of the fort, and the point of land on which it stands, are covered with heavy timber, chiefly white and spruce pine, and a dense growth of laurel trees, some of which are fifteen or twenty feet high. At present the wall is little over three feet high above the terra plane — which, by the by, I should mention, is lower than the outer circumjacent surface. It was suggested by an old hunter (the discoverer of this work) that the ground had been beaten down by the tramp of men but this could not be, for the first frost would have raised the ground to its original height. Again, it has been suggested that the work was a cattle pen, and that the mud that would necessarily accumulate in such a place, had been carried out on the feet of the cattle. The idea of this work being a pen for cattle, is at once dispelled by looking at the drawing. The position and disposition of the work proves it to be of a military character.

The walls, to all appearance, were faced inside and outside with dry masonry and filled in with smaller stones; there are two small pieces of inside facing still standing — one in the southwestern angle of the work, the other at the north side of the eastern gateway: this piece of facing, which is the butt of the northeast circular face, have their joints well broken.

The stone of which this work is built, is evidently fractured by percussion. The stone, as they lie, are edges up; evidently the fallen faces of the walls. It may be well to remark that the bottom land, on which this work is situated, presents no appearance of rock or stones whatever. The soil is extremely rich; it is jet black and is very light. The ground, when I visited it, was covered with fern breast high.

You will perceive by the drawing, that the hills on the opposite side of the creek from the work come sharp up to the creek.

Large pine trees have taken possession of all the salient angles, as if to perpetuate the form of the work. The area of this work is about twenty square rods. At a there is a spruce pine six feet eight inches in girth growing on the wall.

Isaac Craig


Isaac Craig, author of this letter, would go on to publish a periodical of his own called “The Olden Times” and in that publication included a report of the “Ancient fortification.”

Frank Sellers of the National Park Service, New River Gorge National River, Glenn Jean, WV conducted investigations on the research of site 46RG1 and provided them in a paper for the annual meeting of the West Virginia Archeological Society on Saturday, November 13, 2004, entitled “The Big Beaver Creek Fortification: Another Re-Visit to 46RG1.” If any of our readers has access to this paper and can make a copy of it, please let the editor of the POOF website know by using the contact form or comments on this page. Thanks!


  1. Logan County West Virginia Historical Society 

  2. An interesting side note is the fact that the newspaper article references the dig was located on the Little Beaver Creek, not Big Beaver Creek. 

  3. Beckley Post Herald, 5 Oct. 1977, Wednesday, pp. 1-2

  4. Ancient Fortification by Isaac Craig. Published in The American Pioneer, Vol. I. September, 1842, No. IX, pp. 298-300. Pittsburgh, April, 1842. 

Interview with Jim Loewen: Lies My Teacher Told Me

Dr. Jim Loewen, is a long time subscriber to the People of One Fire.  Very shortly after I moved to this cabin,  Jim and his wife rode Amtrak from Washington, DC to Atlanta, then rented a car to drive up to the mountains to visit with me.  He is one of the few people in POOF that have seen my current environs AND visited Amicalola Falls.

Prior to then, about all I knew about him was that he would email me suggested corrections to my grammar and spelling.   I don’t think that he realized that at the time I was living in a tent, hand-writing newsletters at the campsite in the Smoky Mountains, then sending them out from a video games parlor in Robbinsville, NC.  LOL  Try to write anything of substance when the combined cacophony of two dozen plus video games are going on . . .  all of them involving machine gun, bombs, artillery and grunting Rambos.

In his best-selling book,  Jim decries the hero worship in modern textbooks, but ironically, he has been one of my principal inspirations in the quest to discover the true Native American and Colonial History of the Southeast.  Trust me . . . it is exactly as he says in his book and in the interview below.   So much that young people are taught in history books is either false or not the whole truth.  Just as he says in the interview, very few of the state historic markers are completely accurate.  Many are patently false.

I think that you will enjoy this interview with him that was broadcast on C-SPAN almost 20 years ago.

 

Sumter County’s Historical Black Seminole Community Of Peliklikaha

Destroyed by the US army in 1836, Peliklikaha was possibly the largest community of free blacks and run away slaves in Spanish and early US territorial Florida. The community spawned two internationally known figures, Abraham, the sense bearer of Micanopy, and Juan Caballo (John Horse), who led survivors of the community on a long journey to freedom in Mexico. Learn about the Maroon culture of Peliklikaha and the descendants of this community who became known as the Black Seminoles who still live in Florida, Mexico, Oklahoma and the Bahamas.

Exactly one year ago, Lake Sumter State College celebrated Florida’s 500th year anniversary by hosting a speaking event of two Seminole elders, Willie Johns and John Griffin. Hear both talk about the experiences of being a Seminole.

Part 1 – Willie Johns – Ah-Tah-Thi Ki Museum

Part 2 – John Griffin of the Black Seminoles

 

1620 French Map - Melilot

The Melilot Colony in Georgia

1620 French Map - Melilot
A French map showing the province of Melilot. Note at the top of this map that the indigenous name of the Southern Appalachian Mountains was Paian. This is also the name of a province in northern Peru.

A long-forgotten letter, discovered in early November of 2014 by regional planner and historian, Michael Jacobs, has provided very significant collaborating evidence that an English colony thrived in what is now northeast Metro Atlanta throughout the 17th century.  Jacobs is Senior Regional Planner at the South Georgia Regional Commission in Waycross, GA.  Michael was also one of the founding members of the People of One Fire.

The seven page letter was written on January 6, 1660 in perfect Renaissance French by Edward Graves (Graeves) a member of the board of directors of the colony, to the Rev. Charles de Rochefort, a French Protestant minister living in exile in Rotterdam, Holland. De Rochefort’s commentary on the letter said that Grave held a Doctor of Law and lived in Melilot within the Apalache Kingdom.

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Before being reconstructed by Leopoldo Batres in the first decade of the 20th century, the Pyramid of the Sun appeared to be a small mountain of fieldstones. Like almost all “pyramids” in Mexico, this structure was originally a massive earthen mound, veneered with fieldstones and lime mortar.  The kilns used to make this lime, stripped the surrounding mountains in the Teotihuacan Valley of their trees.  They never grew back. In contrast, the pyramidal temples at El Tajin also had earthen cores, but were finished with molded concrete.  The buildings at El Tajin, for the most part, have keep their original details. Photo Credits: (left) Institutio Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH)   (right) Richard Thornton, Architect

The Surprising Connection between Teotihuacan, Tallahassee and Tallequah

News about archaeological discoveries in central Mexico might seem irrelevant to your tribe, but think about this . . . three key Totonac root words, Tula (town), Tama (trade) and Chiki (house) can be found in various forms in the place names of many modern towns of the Southeastern United States and Lower Mississippian River Basin.

A dirty little secret revealed by the excavations at Teotihuacan

The first great city of the Americas was in the Peten Jungle of northern Guatemala. Known today as “El Mirador,” it was founded after the collapse of the Olmec Civilization in the 500s BC. In Maya folklore, El Mirador is remembered as the Place of the Reeds or Tula. This name came from the marshes near the city which sustained its life. The typical soil of the Peten is very infertile. The early Mayas scooped up rich organic soils from the marshes and filled stone walled terraces and raised planting beds with them to grow crops. This intensive form of agriculture supported a population of around 100,000 people at Tula I’s peak size and sphere of political influence around 350 BC.

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Model of the Ocmulgee Acropolis

Why Ocmulgee’s Future Is Important to Your Tribe

When I first started studying the architecture and urban development of Ocmulgee, two National Park Service rangers discussed their theories on the town with me.  They believed that Ocmulgee was the multi-ethnic “Super-Walmart” of the Southeast, whose impact was significant to the heritage of most tribes in the Southeast.  At the time, all I knew was that I had always been told that it was the “Creek Mother Town” and all archeological texts described Ocmulgee as a small, isolated site that had no satellite villages and little impact on the remainder of North America.  The theories of the rangers seemed far-fetched.

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The Surprising Origin of the words, Maya and Miami

The Mayas did not call themselves, Maya. Their identity was based on the specific language or dialect spoken in a particular province or city-state.  They spoke, and still today, speak many dialects and languages. Some of those Maya languages are as different as English and Swedish.  The label, Maya, was given all of those diverse peoples by the Spanish.

This surprising origin for the word, Maya, was typical of the Spanish.  No Florida tribe ever called itself Timucua.  Timucua is the Spanish derivation of a tribe on the Altamaha River in Georgia, named the Tamakoa (Trade People in hybrid Itza Maya-Arawak.)  The Tamakoa spoke a language similar to those dialects spoken by the provinces in northeastern Florida that now are called Timucua, but they detested the Spanish and moved northward away from them.  In the 1700s, the Tamakoa were located in northeast Georgia near one of the sources of the Altamaha River.  By then, they were members of the Creek Confederacy.

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Treasure trove of information available online from the LAMAR Institute

Dan Elliot and Mark Williams of the LAMAR Institute have probably studied more Creek and proto-Creek town sites than any team of archaeologists in the nation. What really sets their work apart from many contemporary archaeological studies is the records they produce of the architecture and site plans. Their graphics have the “look” of work done by design professionals, such as architects and civil engineers.

Many contemporary archaeological studies are useless to me for architectural or urban planning analysis, because they are so myopic, while simultaneously being accompanied by inadequately researched architectural sketches by artists, who have no professional training in architecture. Neither Elliot nor Williams become so immersed in the micro-details that they forget the physical composition of a community. Their site plans are exceptional in quality and accuracy.

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Richard Thornton's vector recreation of what Big Mound City in the Florida Everglades would have looked like.

Big Mound City, Florida

The immensely rich archaeological heritage of South Florida is little known outside the southern tip of the Florida Peninsula.  Perhaps least known are the large town sites east of Lake Okeechobee.  Several have been studied by professional archaeologists and the large town sites are all now protected by some form of public ownership.

The 143 acre Big Mound City Archaeological Zone is located in central Palm Beach County, Florida. It is about 10 miles east of Canal Point, in the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area.  Big Mound City is the only site from the Belle Glade culture on the National Register of Historic Places.  It was added in 1973 as an example of a Calusa ceremonial complex, but is now understood to have originally been constructed by the same ethnic group that built the Ortona and Wakate towns – probably ancestors of the Mayami.
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