Chapter 15

Containing Observations

 It may be observed, that as I advance in my book, I make fewer chapters, by way of commentary, and occupy my self chiefly with the narrative. It is the characteristic of old age, and may be decorous towards the conclusion of the work. Nevertheless, I shall arrest myself here a little, to reflect on one particular of the discoveries of the Captain; the sculpture on the rocks, which appeared to be the labour of the aborigines of this country. I have not seen these sculptures, for I have not had an opportunity of visiting this cave; but I have seen similar sculptures, in abundance, on the west of the Alleghany mountains. I recollect at an early period to have heard it said, that Ferdinando Soto, had been on the Ohio waters, and as high as the mouth of the great Kenaway; and to have heard it given as proof of this, that in a particular place near the mouth of that river, the imperial eagle was to be seen engraven on a rock; the eagle which was the ensign of the Spanish monarchy, under Charles V. also emperor of Germany, and the successor of the Caesars. It was added, on the same ground, that the vestiges of fortifications discoverable in this country, were the remains of Spanish works, and encamping grounds under Soto. I had understood, that the great Franklin had adopted this hypothesis with regard to these forts, from the sculpture of the eagle. In the winter of the year, 1787, I had the happiness to converse with that sage, and amongst a number of questions, which I had the curiosity, and perhaps impertinence, to ask, I put this with regard to the Kenaway sculpture, and the theory of the vestiges of forts in the western country. I found his ideas to be as I had been informed, and have stated. I was then in Philadelphia.

In the fall of this year, having returned to the western country, a surveyor who had been engaged in surveying lands on the Kenaway, being in my office on some business, it occurred to me to interrogate him on the subject of the sculpture. He had seen the engraving of what was thought to be the eagle, but called it a turkey; which word no sooner struck my ear, than all the hypothesis of the holy Roman eagle, and Ferdinando Soto, fell to the ground. It is a turkey, thought I, which the fancy of the virtuoso and antiquarian, has converted into the king of birds.

Conversing with the surveyor, he gave me an account more minutely of this, and other figures cut upon the rock, viz. the turkey with its wings spread as if just alighting; the deer with his branching horns; and the savage himself, with a large head and long limbs, rudely cut. He added, that he had heard from a hunter whom he well knew, that there was a rock with similar engravings on Cheat river, a small distance above where it falls into the Monongahela; and promised to bring this hunter to give me a description.

About a month afterwards, the surveyor brought the hunter to me, who appeared to have been observant, and to be intelligent. He had seen the rocks near the mouth of Cheat river. The following is the memorandum that I took from him:

“The turkey appears to have alighted at the lower part of the rock, and ran up to the top. You see the track, which it leaves; the stretched back, and the body thrown forward, as between flying and running. There is the figure of a man, with a large head, and horns, and a thin skeleton-like body. There are deer tracks well cut. This rock stands on a bend of the river; and the figures on the lower end, which projects most, are defaced by the water, which rises to this height in the time of floods. There is a horse track. This is the only thing that I think remarkable, if it is a horse track, for, as I do not know that there were any horses here, before the European settlements, it would argue that this engraving had been done since, and by the natives who have come from the Chesapeak, and had seen horses. The settlement made by Captain Smith at the mouth of James river, Virginia, was, I believe the earliest made, contiguous to this country.”

This hunter gave me to understand, that he had seen a rock, sculptured in like manner on the Kenaway, about eighty miles from its mouth; that is nearly in a line directly west from the rocks on Cheat river.

Having been led into the way of enquiring on this subject, I have found that these engravings are very common throughout the whole western country; that they are discernible all along the Ohio, at low water especially, when the horizontal rocks are left bare; that they are found on the margins of the streams also.

I had heard of one of these on the Monongahela, about forty miles above Pittsburgh, and in the summer of 1793, crossing the country near that place, I spent a part of a day, in going out of my course to observe it. The sculptures were of the same kind, and answer the description before given of those elsewhere. The figures on this are, a bear rudely or rather clumsily cut; a hawk flying with a snake in its beak; the moon and the seven stars; a racoon; a human arm, and human feet, well done; a buck with branching horns; the turkey; and a number of others. I want no other proofs that these sculptures were by the natives, than the form of the feet, which are unquestionably Indian; the narrowness, and smallness of the heel evinces this. It might also be induced as a presumption, that there are the vestiges of a fortification, such as has been mentioned, just above on the hill. For it is reasonable to suppose, that these works of leisure and taste, were most likely to be pursued in the neighbourhood of such a work. But what has been at all times conclusive with me, that these engravings are the works of the natives, is, the circumstance that no alphabetic mark of any language, or Roman or Arabic numeral, is found amongst any of these. For it is well known, that it is a thing which would occur to any European, who should amuse himself in this manner, to impress the initials at least of his name, and the digits of the year. I had put this question to the surveyor and hunter, of whom I have made mention, with regard to letters and numeral marks, and found that none has been observed by them, on the rocks which they had seen. On that ground, independent of all others, I made the deduction I have stated.

I consider these sculptures, as the first rude essays of the fine art of engraving; and to have been the work of savages of taste distinguished from the common mass, by a talent to imitate in wood or stone, the forms of things in nature, and a capacity of receiving pleasure from such an application of the mental powers. Whilst a chief of genius, was waiting for the assembling of other chiefs, to hold a council; or while the warrior was waiting at a certain point for others, that were to meet him, he may have amused himself in this manner; or it may have been the means to cheat weariness, and solace the intellectual faculty, when there was no counselling in the nation, or wars to carry on.

Happy savage, that could thus amuse himself, and exercise his first pre-eminence over animals we call Beasts. They can hunt, and devour living things for food; but where do you find a wolf, or a fishing hawk, that has any idea of these abstract pleasures, that feed the imagination? Why is it that I am proud, and value myself amongst my own species? It is because I think I possess, in some degree, the distinguishing characteristic of a man, a taste for the fine arts; a taste and characteristic too little valued in America, where a system of finance, has introduced the love of unequal wealth; destroyed the spirit of common industry; and planted that of lottery in the human heart; making the mass of people gamblers; and under the idea of speculation, shrouded engrossing and monopoly every where.

It would seem, that the sculptures of which I speak are the works of more ancient savages, than these which have lately occupied this country; these tribes not being in the habit of making any such themselves, and the figures evincing an old date, being in most places, in some degree effaced, by the water of the river, or the rain washing the rocks, on which they are engraven. They would seem to have been a more improved race, who had given way to barbarians of the north, who had over-run the country. It is generally understood, by the tradition of the present Indians, and the early French writers, Charlevoix and others, that about the beginning of the present century, the Six Nations conquered this country, and expelled the former owners; and the word Ohio, is said to mean bloody, and was the name given it from the blood shed upon its waters at that time.

The fortifications of which we speak, must have also been works of defence, of that or an earlier period. From the trees growing upon the mound, or parapet of these, they must be, some of them, many hundred years old.

It will strike the reflection, how was it possible for the human mind to remain so long in so low a stage of improvement, as was the case with these, the aborigines of this country? Perhaps the more puzzling question would be, whence the spring that could have sufficient energy to rouse them from it? I shall leave this to philosophy, thought, and historical deduction. Enough has been said at present.