Bombshell series starts tomorrow on the People of One Fire Channel . . . the Secret History of the Eleanor Dare Stones
Seventy-two years before they secretly birthed “Maya Myth-Busting in the Mountains,” North Carolina economic interests promoted another PR Blitz intended to destroy the economic viability of yet another potential major tourist attraction in the Georgia Mountains. They were afraid that a world class archaeological attractions at a dozen or more locations in North Georgia, extending down to Metro Atlanta, might seduce tourists into not gambling in the Carolina Mountains. In both situations, North Carolina state officials were cunning while Georgia’s were gutless, if not downright, self-destructively, stupid. North Carolina academicians did their part, while Georgia anthropology and history professors were as dumb as a possum crossing an interstate during rush hour. In both situations, the Atlanta media was bought out and so did not do any fact-checking. No one in Georgia stood up for the faculty at Brenau College and Emory University, when the national media was painting them as being con artists and probably criminals. The difference was the internet. No one in “Maya Myth Busting in the Mountains” anticipated the potential of the internet to enable a virtually invisible alliance of Davids to slay so many Goliaths, so quickly.
Our story begins in 1937, when amateur actors living near Roanoke Island, NC first staged an outdoor drama, named “The Lost Colony.” That same summer, California tourist, named Louis E. Hammond, claimed to have found a stone in the extreme northeast corner of North Carolina, on which was carved a message by some survivors of the ill-fated Roanoke Island Colony. For reasons still not quite understood . . . perhaps Hammond was a Methodist . . . he dropped off the stone at Emory University in Atlanta on his way back to California. That is the reason that Emory professors were involved with the soon-to-be controversy from the beginning.
The outdoor drama was bringing some money into a region, which was still trying to dig out of the Great Depression. For three years North Carolina officials and educational institutions eagerly promoted the “Dare Stone” as free publicity for their outdoor drama.
During that three year period, North Carolina residents from time to time would go to their local newspaper or college with carved stones in their homes, which seemed to be carved by the same folks as the Dare Stone. They contained messages which would inform English-speaking people what had happened to the Roanoke Colony and where the survivors were headed. These other stones didn’t create any particular controversy at the time. No one was sure if they were legit or not. It seemed odd that these stones were in a line pointing southwestward. Some historians used that fact as the sole reason for claiming that they were fakes, but no one wanted bad publicity for the tourist attraction on Roanoke Island, which was to become a national park.
The game changed in 1939. Archaeologist Robert Wauchope, a recent Harvard graduate from South Carolina, spent much of the year in the Nacoochee Valley, which is in the mountains of Northeast Georgia. He was the first ever anthropology professor at the University of Georgia, plus had a WPA grant to survey all of North Georgia.
Prior to actually digging at any potential sites, Wauchope went door to door to chat with local residents about their knowledge of this beautiful valley’s past. Most long time residents had extensive artifact collections that had resulted from over a century of plowing the soil. Wauchope was shocked to see Clovis points, Spanish weapons, Spanish mining tools AND-D-D at some homes on the western end of the valley, ancient stone tablets carved into Elizabethan English words.
Wauchope saw the name Elyoner Dare repeatedly on these tablets and realized their significance. He urged the residents to take the tablets to Brenau College in nearby Gainesville. The son of the President of Brenau College, Dr. Haywood J. Pierce, had been one of the primary scholars at Emory studying the Dare Stone. It seemed to be the logical place to for the stones to receive serious examination. Local farmers would be far less inclined to drive all the way to Emory University in Atlanta.
The Williams Family, who had been some of the first white settlers of the valley in 1822, had the largest collection of Elizabethan tablets. They had also owned all the land around the famous Nacoochee Mound, so owned a huge artifact artifact collection. Wauchope “borrowed” it and never gave it back. It apparently is now held by Tulane University’s Department of Anthropology.
The Williams eventually told Wauchope that most of the tablets had been found in the tomb of Eleanor Dare up on Squirrel Gap, where Dukes Creek cut through a mountain to reach the Chattahoochee River. Typical of other Apalache town sites in the Georgia Mountains, the tomb was actually a man-made cave.
Wauchope climbed up to the royal tomb complex and estimated that there were at least a hundred tombs there. He only had time for investigating the Eleanor Dare tomb. An Elizabethan engraving on bedrock within the tomb confirmed that it was indeed Eleanor Dare’s tomb. About 30 feet from the mouth of the tomb, Wauchope found this tablet, which seems to relate to Eleanor Dare and another Roanoke survivor, Joyce Archard. This tablet is apparently in the possession of Tulane University, also.
Dr. Pierce hired men to go out into communities along the Chattahoochee River to ask about other stones, which might relate to the Roanoke Colony survivors. He paid modest sums for all stones that families were willing to sell. Several more had been found over the previous century near old Creek Indian town sites along the river, but the owner’s thought the Elizabethan script was “Charakey writing.” In addition, some former residents of that region had taken tablets with them when they moved to other parts of Georgia. One Dare Stone was found in the floor of an old grist mill in the Georgia Piedmont.
At the recommendation of Harvard grad, Robert Wauchope, a team of professional archaeologists, geologists and historians from Harvard, led by Samuel Elliot Morrison, journeyed to Brenau College then declared all the stones in the college’s collection to be authentic. Dr. Haywood Pierce at Brenau became an intellectual celebrity. North America’s early history had been changed.
In 1940, Brenau College and the people of Gainesville planned their own outdoor drama, which was based on the 28 stones found in the Nacoochee Valley and along the Upper Chattahoochee River. They all had been discovered many decades before the famous Dare Stone that Louis Hammond found in North Carolina, so no one was concerned about their authenticity.
When North Carolina state officials and business leaders learned about the Brenau college drama, they had a hissy fit. Even though Gainesville, GA was 450 miles, as a crow flies, from Roanoke Island, the North Carolinians feared that the Brenau play and the very real archaeological sites in the Nacoochee Valley would steal all the tourists from Roanoke Island. For many decades, archaeologists would not even have a clue where the actual Roanoke Colony was located on the island. It may have been washed into the ocean.
The first step was to remove Dr. Robert Wauchope from the scene. If the national media and general public found out about his verification of the Eleanor Dare tomb, the game would be over. Out of the blue, Wauchope was offered a prestigious position at the University of North Carolina as head of its new archaeological laboratory, which paid twice as much as his faculty position at the University of Georgia. He left Georgia at the end of the fall quarter and did not return for 20 years. Wachope stayed stone silent throughout the Dare Stone controversy . . . for obvious reasons . . . He would have been immediately fired. His time was relatively short at Chapel Hill. After Pearl Harbor, he was recruited into the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, like so many other Harvard graduates. His book, describing the archaeological work in the Nacoochee Valley was not published until 1966. By then the Dare Stones were still at Brenau College, but there presence was generally unknown or forgotten.
The sponsors of the original outdoor drama in North Carolina were furious and began a campaign to declare all the Dare Stones to be frauds, even the original one, which they had promoted for three years. Eight more stones, with far less authentic inscriptions, turned up at odd locations in Georgia. An inscription was carved on a boulder near the Chattahoochee River then sprayed with purple dye in an obvious effort to make it obviously appear faked.
A legion of petty, jealous professors in Georgia and North Carolina posted letters to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which described him in most unflattering terms. The letters became more and more slanderous to the point, he was being called a criminal. The most common complaint was that it was illogical for a small party of terrified English refugees to march several hundred miles to an obscure location in Georgia. The objection back then seemed justified, but recent historic research by the People of One Fire makes a strong case for this long journey. That will be covered in our series on YouTube.
In 1941, as a response to repeated complaints from some professors in North Carolina and Georgia, the Saturday Evening Post retained Boyden Sparks, an academic rival of Dr. Pierce, to investigate the Dare Stones. Sparks had a much qualification to write on the subject as did the archaeologists in Georgia to discuss Itza Maya architecture in 2012. He was a mediocre free lance journalist, not a historian. Sparks focused on the obviously faked stones and the criminal backgrounds of four men, who claimed to find these stones, long after the Harvard team had evaluated the Chattahoochee River stones. He ignored the scientific studies of the Harvard investigative team and painted Pierce and the professors at Emory University as charlatans, if not criminals. A month later, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and America forgot the Dare Stones. Dr. Pierce’s academic reputation was ruined for life. Brenau’s version of the Roanoke Colony outdoor drama was terminated. Dr. Pierce died a broken man in 1943.
For decades Brenau College hid the stones in shame. Every few years, the subject of the Dare Stones comes up. With manic fury, opponents do their best to squash new research. A consistent trait of all the critics is that they known nothing about Georgia’s early history and have never actually seen the stone tablets found by residents of the Nacoochee Valley and Chattahoochee River.
How I got interested in the Roanoke Colony story
I grew up in Gainesville about two miles from Brenau College, but had never heard of the Dare Stones until a History Channel crew spent day at my hovel, filming the premier of America Unearthed. The previous day, the show’s host, Scott Wolter, had visited Brenau College to inspect the Dare Stones and like all other scientists, had declared the stones authentic. During periods, when the crew was not filming us, we chatted about the Dare Stones. When everybody left to film Scott driving his SUV about the Chattahoochee National Forest, I glanced at the research report, Scott was using for filming a program on the Dare Stones.
One paragraph caught my eye. Perhaps the most damaging press release put out by any professor was from a self-styled expert on the Cherokee language at the University of North Carolina. He told the world that all of the Dare Stones found along the Chattahoochee River were obviously fake because Hontaoase was not a Cherokee word. Hontaoase was the name a the town where the Roanoke Colony survivors settled.
Whoa! The Nacoochee Valley was occupied by Creeks until the early 1700s. Hontaoase is a Creek word. It means “Descendants of People Who Irrigated Their Crops.” It’s not a place name in Georgia, so there is no way that someone in the 1930s, intent on faking a 400 year old stone tablet, could even dream up the complex word. I decided to investigate the Dare Stones for a series in the Architecture column that I wrote for the National Examiner. The rest is history.
Latest posts by Richard Thornton (see all)
- Using words to explore the peopling of the Southeast – Part Two - December 11, 2018
- Where do you think that this Moche Hilltop Fort is located? - December 10, 2018
- Next on POOF: Did Priests from eastern Peru guide the creation of the Hopewell Culture and several astronomical sites in the Southeast? - December 10, 2018
- Using words to explore the peopling of the Southeast – Part One - December 8, 2018
- Early Scottish immigrants . . . the joke is on me! - December 8, 2018