August 27, 1927
Few people realize that at and near Bens Run, Tyler County, W. Va., are located the ruins of what is probably the most extensive works, of ancient times, in the United States.
The writer, and his son, Nikola, made several exploring trips last summer and examined and measured the ruins, as we found them. We acknowledge the assistance and help of Mr. Lemuel Parker and Josiah Holdren of Bens Run and Mr. J. R. Wells, of Parkersburg, W. Va., who have known of these relics of a vanished race for many years. The first to be explored was the great fortification, the remains of which can still be traced. The area of this enclosure is about four hundred acres of land, surrounded by two parallel walls about one hundred and twenty feet apart. To describe this enclosure let us begin at the Bens Run village. The earthen walls cross the flats near the houses at the north side of the village curving toward the Selman Wells house, the house being built on the outer wall, then straight toward the church, up the river from Bens Run, through the various farms, to the R. W. Johnson farm near Long Reach, where the parallel walls curve toward the hill and follow near the base of the hills to the village to where we began. The length of this great enclosure is about one and seven-eights miles and the length of the outer wall is about four and one half miles. The second or inner wall, running parallel with the outer wall is about four or four and one fourth miles in length, making about at least eight and one half miles of earthen walls that encloses this area of about four hundred acres of land. Judging by the size of one of the walls, or embankments, the height, when in use as a fortification was about ten or twelve feet.
Within this enclosure, on I believe the Parker farm are two mounds. One of them is now about four feet high and about sixty feet in circumference. The other one is about fourteen feet high and four hundred and twenty feet in circumference. Just south of the mounds is a cross wall, running from side to side of the enclosure. Then from the cross wall running south toward Bens Run are two long curved walls, lengthwise with the outer walls. The ends of the two curved walls, away from the cross wall, do not connect with any other wall, and are about three hundred feet apart.
Was informed by Mr. Lemuel Parker that about the year of 1880 all the walls were so high that when a person stood behind them he could not see over the tops. This bottom land has been under almost constant cultivation for about one hundred and thirty years, consequently the great earthworks are nearly destroyed.
Many years ago Mr. J. R. Wells made a map of the encircling walls, cross walls, mounds, etc., and very kindly drew a sketch for this writer, by means of which we were able to trace the various walls. About a quarter mile southeast, from the Selman Wells house is a low hill. This hill top appears to have been used as a burial place, as we found by prodding with steel rods, many graves which had been partly filled with stones. In this cemetery are two mounds. This burial place is partly on the property of Mr. J. R. Wells, and of Dr. George Gale. Just back of the cemetery is another hill on which is a mound about eight feet high and about forty five feet in circumference, which seems to have been built mainly of charcoal, now covered with sod. We pushed steel rods into this mound four feet deep and the sound given out led us to believe that charcoal, was used in building it. On the high hills from Bens Run to Long Reach are three more large mounds, all overlooking the Ohio River. On the Ohio River bank about five hundred feet below the dam is a place where the river has cut away the banks, and about two feet below the top of the ground is the remains of an ancient camp site. We found many bones of deer and other animals, pieces of deer horn, broken pottery, stone implements, charcoal and mussel shells, projecting from the bank at this place. But the most amazing finds of all are located about a half mile down the river from Bens Run.
Just across the Ohio River, from near the Engle run stop of the B. & O. railroad, on a hill on the McKnight farm in Washington County, Ohio, is a paved stone platform. This platform pavement, or roadway, or what ever one chooses to call it, is now one hundred and ninety-two feet in length and about fourteen feet wide at its widest part. The stones in this pavement are all set on their edges. We examined this work carefully to see if it could be possible that this peculiar piece of work was a natural freak formed by an upheaval of the rocks, due to an earthquake, or a buckling of the earth's crust. We found the layers of rock down near the bottom of the hill about level and looked as if it had never been disturbed.
About three-fourths of a mile from this stone paving, but in West Virginia, in plain sight, with no intervening hills, is another paved stone platform. This one is on Mr. John Bolton's farm, about a half mile from the Ohio River, and from Engles Run stop. This paving is about one hundred feet in length and about thirty-five feet wide. The one in Ohio on the McKnight farm lies almost perfectly level both lengthwise and sidewise. The paving on Mr. Bolton's farm runs up from the outer edges of the sides, at an angle of about thirty degrees from level to where the two sloping sides are about eight feet apart then the balance of the paving is level. Shaped like a roof sloping upward and a flat strip about eight feet wide running lengthwise. This strip lies about level lengthwise and sidewise. This paving is built like the one across the river from it, - As regards to the stones being set on their edges. In both these pavements the stone are set very close together.
Between these two stone pavements, but not quite in line with them is another interesting curio. On a hill top probably a hundred and fifty feet lower in elevation than the two pavements, on Mr. Vogle's farm is an artificial mound built up about sixteen feet above the hill top of loose stone and earth. The shape of this mound is different from the natural contour of the hill, and prodding with the steel rods show that loose broken stone and earth was used in elevating this hill top. On the summit of this mound are several large flat stones. These stones are of uneven thickness and texture and appear to have been arranged so that they formed a circle around the center slab. Would guess the weight of these stones at about from one thousand to twelve hundred pounds each. They were probably carried up the hill from the bed of Engles Run, as they are the same kind of rocks that occur usually near the base of hills.
Now as to the purpose of the great earthen walled enclosure on the river flat near Bens Run, the mounds, the cemetery on the hill, the two paved stone platforms, with the stone circle crowned hill between we can only conjecture. Who these people were who built these great works, whence they came and what caused their disappearance from the face of the earth, no human being knows. That the Ohio Valley was inhabited thousands of years ago by an industrious progressive people there can be no doubt. It would require a great population to build the eight or nine miles of earthen walls surrounding their town. During time of having to defend their walled town it would require three thousand nine hundred and sixty warriors, placed six feet apart on the outer wall which was about twenty-three thousand, seven hundred and sixty feet in length. The building of the mounds required an immense amount of labor, as the earth used was probably carried in baskets.
As to the probably use of the two stone platforms and the stone circled hill, between, I believe that all were used by the people who built them in their religious ceremonies. Thousands of years ago the practice of human sacrifice was in vogue in many parts of the world, am was still common during historic times, in certain places. Am led to believe that those large flat stones on the hill top of Mr. Vogle's farm, if they could speak, could tell of many human beings given up to the bloody sacrifice to appease the imaginary wrath of the equally imaginary terrible Sun God.
The arrangement of the stones suggest such use. No doubt that on the morning of the atonement while the sun was rising above the hill top the victims heart was cut from his body and a priest was waving it all dripping with blood at the God of the Sun, and going through his hocuspocus, another gang was to each of the two stone platforms telling the Sun God what good fellows they all were and what a noble sacrifice was having been offered, and how Mr. Sun God ought to lay off them for awhile.
While at Mr. Bolton's place last summer, I told him that I had heard that an attempt was made to dig through the stone pavement on his farm, many years ago. Mr. Bolton informed me that in about the year 1878 a Mr. Barnhart and Mr. Joe Davis did attempt to dig through the stone work. That they removed some stone in the center of the flat top of the paving, making a hole about six feet in diameter and between eight and nine feet in depth, and that then the stones under foot began to sound hollow "like a drum", and the two explorers got afraid that the bottom was about to fall and they would drop and not knowing how far they set on edge. The hole was filled up with stones in loose and this paving is in the same condition now as when the hole was filled.
Mr. Bolton also stated that before the land was cleared and for a time afterward, not a stone could be found on the hill near the big stone work, they having been gathered up and used in the paving. This pavement was first discovered many years ago by early hunters, when all the hills were covered with virgin forests.
The land is now cleared and under cultivation around the work on Mr. Bolton's farm, but the pavement on Mr. McKnight's farm is still in woods, having never been cleared. The only other fortification of pre- historic times that can be compared in size with the one at Bens Run, is Fort Ancient, about eighteen miles from Xenia, Ohio. Measured around its outer wall its circumference is slightly over 3 miles. Fort Ancient is kept in a good condition of repair, while steady plowing and cultivation for about one hundred and thirty years has almost totally destroyed the earthen walls of the great works at Bens Run. Scattered along the Ohio River from Wheeling, W. Va., to the mouth of the Ohio are many mounds, and earthworks, built by these people of the long ago. From the great mound at Moundsville nine hundred feet in circumference and eighty feet high, was taken the "Inscribed Stone." The next great fortification stone platforms, and sacrificial altar, at Bens Run, W. Va. Within two miles of St. Marys, W. Va., on the Lynden Reynolds farm is a large mound having a circumference of three hundred and fifteen feet. Near the Vaucluse station of the B. & O. railroad on a hill top is the remains of an ancient work shop where flint implements were made, as thousands of flint chips on the hill side testify. At Marietta, Ohio, in a cemetery is a tall cone shaped mound, and other earthworks. Several mounds are located along the railroad between Parkersburg, W. Va., and Athens, Ohio. At Circleville, Ohio, is the remains of a great circular enclosure surrounded by a moat or ditch, probably while in use was kept filled with water. At Portsmouth, Ohio, are extensive earthworks, walls, circular walled enclosures, and mounds. In Adams County, Ohio, is the Serpent Mound, built in the form of a serpent crawling, and carrying an egg in its mouth. The length of the serpent is about twelve hundred feet, and about three feet in heighth. The open jaws are about fifty feet in length and the diameter of the egg, or mound between the jaws, is about 12 feet. Many tombs of stone, and earthen works are found near Jeffersonville, Indiana, while at the mouth of the Ohio in Illinois is the great "Cahoka" group of mounds, one of them being the largest earthen artificial mound in the world being about seven hundred feet square and a hundred feet high.
As to the probable age of these works left by the people usually called "The Mound Builders" one can only guess. When the mound at Moundsville was first discovered by Mr. Tomlinson it was covered with a growth of timber and one large oak tree over four feet in diameter was out down, and its rings of growth showed it to be about five hundred years old. The rotted trunks and stumps of trees about as large were found proving that they were older than the tree that was cut down. When the five hundred year old tree was just a seedling the date would be in about the year 1260 A. D., or two hundred and thirty two years before Columbus landed at San Salvador in 1492. The growth of trees on these ancient works naturally would not be allowed as long as builders, or their descendents, were there to prevent it. But when these people were finally exterminated, the forest growth soon took possession.
The earthen fort at Bens Run, when first taken possession of by the white settlers was covered with a heavy growth of beech trees. From the time the works were built until abandoned would probably be several hundred years, could be a thousand or two thousand, as earthen and stone works could be made almost everlasting by keeping in repair. In conclusion will say that those people represented a high civilization for their time, far superior to the more savage aborigines who inhabited the region at the time of Columbus' discovery, and who were here when the white settlers came in. That they were artistic is shown by the silver, copper, and obsidian, or flint, relics found and even their implements of defense were carved and of artistic outline. That they were agricultural is seen by the tools which they used in tilling the soil in raising their crops, and as pieces of fabrics, and baskets have been found in their graves, it is evident that the weavers art was known to them. Their pottery shows fine workmanship, and I believe that the story of the mounds, the great walled in town, their alters and temples of religious worship show them to have been a people well versed in the things that are supposed to separate the civilized man from his savage brother.
It is a dimly written and pathetic page in human history, this story of a vanished race of people, when it is remembered that it was succeeded by brutal savage tribes of marked inferiority.