Andrew MyersLinks Section
A Mystery at the Russell City Earthwork, Elk County, PA
(36EL67) Russell City II Earthwork found by the author during 1990 Phase I investigation. The stockade is the linear circular mound near the center of the picture with trees growing on top
Andrew J. Myers
The discovery of a stockaded fort during an archaeological Phase I survey in 1990 seemed to solve a decades old mystery regarding discrepancies in measurements taken of the Russell City earthwork by Dr. William A. Ritchie, or did it?
The story begins some 80 years ago during the autumn of 1928, when a young William Ritchie of the Rochester Municipal Museum mapped the Russell City Earthwork located in the northwestern corner of Elk County, PA. At the time Ritchie noted that the site measured 135 feet north to south by 160 feet east to west. This information was published in his report of findings. The site was once again surveyed many years later, first in 1967 by Robert LaBar and members of the Kinzua Chapter #18, and again, by Ira F. Smith and James T. Herbstritt in the early 1970's, during their investigation of the McKinley earthwork. The site was noted in both surveys to have become substantially larger, measuring some 180 feet north-south by 225 feet east-west.
Map of the Russell city II Earthwork prepared by James T. Herbstritt with field assistance by Jack McLaughlin and Andrew Myers
(36EL2) Russell City earthwork circa. 1982
36EL2 Russell City Earthworks circa. 1992
Smith and Herbstritt (1976) after analyzing all of the previous stockade measurements noticed that Ritchie’s original measurements and their new measurements did not agree. They concluded that either Ritchie’s measurements were grossly inaccurate or that the site he investigated was not the site that is known today as the Russell City earthwork (36EL2).
In 1990 during a Phase I archaeological survey conducted by the author for the Ridgway Ranger District of the Allgheny National Forest the discovery of a circular earthwork (stockaded fort) was made. The finding of a second stockade only 360 feet from the original Russell City earthwork, covered in dense brush, seemed to answer the question of how one of the most preeminent archaeologists of his day could have made such an error while measuring the site. Could Ritchie have in fact been measuring the lost stockade rediscovered in the 1990 survey? Had the site in fact become lost over the years in the dense forest understorage? Unfortunately there are no real clearcut answers to the mystery. The facts will be presented as they are.
Elk County Earthworks-Setting
The Elk County earthworks are located in a remote forested region of Highland Township in the northwestern portion of Elk County, Pennsylvania. This region of western Pennsylvania is included in the unglaciated Allegheny High Plateaus Section of the Appalachian Plateau Province and is known locally as the “Big Level”. It is characterized by a broad undulating table like plateau that extends for miles at a time without being cut by any sizeable drainage.
The earthworks were constructed on defensive narrow lobate hilltops high above the valley floor in the headwaters of the South Branch of the Tionesta Creek just north of the drainage divide between the Clarion River. Small tributaries found in the valley below the earthwork sites include Coon Run, Wolf Run and Martin Run which all flow northward a form the South Branch of the Tionesta Creek near Brookston. Eight miles to the north the South Branch of the Tionesta Creek discharges into the mainstem of the Tionesta Creek near Barnes. The Tionesta Creek in turn flows in the Allegheny River (Ohio River system) at the village of Tionesta in Forest County some 25 air miles to the west.
Two trail systems pass in close proximity to the earthwork sites. The best known trail is the Iroquois Main Road (Catawba Trail) located approximately 2 miles to the east of the sites which linked Ichsua (Olean, N.Y.) with the Carolinas (Wallace 1987:27). The sites were also located near a proposed (see Myers 1997) north to south trail located a few miles to the west and linked the upper Allegheny with the Clarion River valley and points south and west. Archaeological remains similar to those found at the Elk County earthworks were identified by the author from the Bogus Run Rockshelter (36FO56) located a few miles to the west and ideally situated on a saddle linking the two long drainage corridors.
Currently the Elk County earthwork cluster consists of four stockades including: the Kane Earthwork (36EL1); the Russell City Earthwork (36EL2); the McKinley Earthwork (36EL17); and the Russell City II Earthwork (36EL67). Another site recorded by Stanley Lantz located near the McKinley earthwork may be yet another stockade, but without further testing by the Forest Service, it is unknown at this time the nature of the site. A number of likely related satellite campsites also exist in the vicinity of the stockades including Kane II (36EL68), Wolf Run (36EL93), and Tionesta Spring (36EL94). All but one of the stockades are located on Federal land while the Kane Earthwork (36EL1) is situated on land presently owned by the National Fuel Gas.
These sites are unique in that the ground in which they are situated has never been plowed. Subsequently the actual remains of the earthen mounds (earthworks) constructed by prehistoric peoples are still visible after nearly 500 years.
The sites are National Register eligible although a prior nomination was rejected.
The Elk County Earthworks have been widely known to the archaeological community at least as early as 1928 following William A. Ritchie’s publication entitled “An Early Iroquoian Hilltop Fort Near Kane, PA.” This was published while Ritchie was an Assistant Archaeologist with the Rochester Municipal Museum. Ritchie’s report was also included in Mr. J.E. Henretta’s regional history entitled “Kane and the Upper Allegheny” which was published in 1929.
Chipped stone tools from the Kane Earthwork (36EL1) and pictured in "An Early Iroquoian Hilltop Fort Near Kane, PA" published by Dr. William A. Ritchie
Prior to 1928 the Elk County Earthwork cluster was for the most part only known to rumor as the region was largely uninhabited and dense stands of timber still covered many of the hilltops. In those days passable roads did not commonly penetrate all corners of the woods.
Ceramic artifacts from the Kane Earthwork (36EL1) and pictured in "An Early Iroquoian Hilltop Fort Near Kane, PA" published by Dr. William A. Ritchie
In 1859 Colonel Drake struck oil near Titusville and shortly thereafter surveyors began to search for new oil fields across northwestern Pennsylvania. This search would bring people into the vicinity of Kane which was thought to be near the center of a large oil reserve. According to the Smethport Minor, dated December 19, 1878, a great deal of excitement ensued causing considerable business speculation in the town long before oil was even located.
Elbow and trumpet pipes found at Kane Earthwork
Over the ensuing years the forests around Kane were explored and numerous small oil and gas settlements, boomtowns, would spring up almost overnight and begin to carve out the once seemingly impenetrable wilderness. The earthwork sites would not remain hidden forever and rumors would begin to reach the town of Kane and Mr. J.E. Henretta concerning suspicious earthen mounds located in a remote location of northern Elk County.
In 1928 Mr. Henretta was Vice President of Holgate Brothers toy company and a former principal of the Kane Schools. He was involved in numerous local organizations including the Chamber of Commerce and during World War One he participated in the Four Minute Men, a group of individuals formed under President Wilson’s urging to put on four minute public information speeches regarding the war effort in communities across the Nation. He was also, along with Mrs. Frances Dorrance, one of the charter members of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology when it was formed in 1929 (See Dorrance 1930: Vol. 1, No. 1,). Mr. Henretta was also an enthusiastic local historian who had compiled letters and narratives of accounts of local historic events and of many famous local citizens and early settlers. He became interested in compiling a local history and in 1929 published “Kane and the Upper Allegheny”. This book included an in depth history of the individuals and events that helped form the town of Kane and neighboring communities. Henretta had studied the accounts of the Moravian Missionaries including David Zeisberger’s experiences at the Refugee Towns located along the Allegheny River in Forest County and had read such works as “Thirty Years a Hunter” the diary of Philip Thome published in 1854 which often depicted wild tales of pioneer life in western Pennsylvania. He was also well versed in the early histories of McKean, Elk and surrounding counties.
Grave of J.E. Henretta near Kane, PA (born 1874 died 1971)
Interestingly, the local opinion in the 1920's throughout the region was that the area had largely gone uninhabited by Native Americans prior to early white European settlement. Henretta had taken exception to that opinion and reasoned that the early white settlers had not arrived until 1804 or 20 years after the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in which Pennsylvania obtained an Iroquois cession of their remaining lands in the state. He reasoned that during the twenty year period, village sites in the region had been removed, and the Indians remaining in the region passed through only as transient hunting parties thus making the region seem uninhabited.
Mr. Henretta had tried unsuccessfully in 1927 and in early 1928 to find anyone that was able to pinpoint the location of the rumored earthwork sites. Finally in August of 1928 with information provided by Mr. J.E. Mullin and with the assistance of Mr. C.E. Jackson as a guide, the palisades of what would later be called the Russell City Earthwork were discovered two miles north of Russell City (Henretta 1929:287). A Few weeks later Mr. Henretta, with the assistance of Mr. Thomas Morrison and Mr. Alex McCauley, was led to the remains of a second stockade (Henretta 1929:287). This site was located five miles south and west of Durant City (James City) and would later become known as the Kane Earthwork. Henretta realizing the significant nature of the sites contacted both the Smithsonian Institute and the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission. In a letter written to Mr. Henretta by H.H. Shenk, Executive Secretary of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, dated July 24, 1928, which oddly enough predated the supposed discovery dates of the earthworks, Mr. Shenk agreed to discuss the findings of the earthworks during a meeting with Commission (see Henretta 1929, Appendix L, page 346). Mr. Shenk referred the letter to Miss Frances Dorrance who was director of the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society and in charge of the Pennsylvania Indian Survey. Miss Dorrance then contacted a young William A. Ritchie (Henretta 1929: 287) who at the time was an Assistant Archaeologist with the Rochester Municiple Museum.
On October 22, 1928, the party of Ritchie, Dorrance and Henretta visited the Kane and Russell City stockades (Henretta 1929:287). Ritchie apparently felt the sites were worthy of further investigation. Ten days later on November 1, 1928 Ritchie and Mr. V.J. Fewkes of the Department of Anthropology of the University of Pennsylvania began a systematic investigation of the Kane earthwork. This would become one of the first controlled excavations ever conducted in western Pennsylvania (Johnson 1976: 50).
36EL1 Kane Earthwork artifacts recovered by Kinzua Chapter #18
The 1928 investigation of the Kane site included mapping, excavating, and surface collecting the site. According to Ritchie (1929) the site was surveyed into fifty foot blocks and then a map prepared. A total of 189 test pits were excavated. Due to time and money constraints the Russell City Earthwork was mapped and possibly surface collected, however there is no known collection of the Russell City earthwork from Ritchie’s investigation (Smith and Herbstritt 1976:44). Details of the events of concerning both investigations appear in Ritchie’s 1928 manuscript entitled “An Early Iroquoian Hilltop Fort Near Kane, PA” which was also published in “Kane and the Upper Allegheny” written by J. E. Henretta in 1929.
William Ritchie's map of the Kane Earthwork (36EL1) showing location of test probes, map appeared in J.E. Henretta's 1929 work entitled "Kane and the Upper Allegheny"
During these original investigations the first measurements were taken of both the Kane and Russell City earthworks. The Kane site was initially measured at 250' north to south by 260' east to west, while the Russell City earthwork was found to be much smaller than the Kane site measuring 135' north to south by 160' east to west.
Nearly forty years would pass before a second archaeological investigation of the earthworks would occur. Members of the Kinzua Chapter #18 of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology became interested in investigating the sites in 1966 and were led to the locations by local residents (LaBar 1968). An excavation conducted by members of the Kinzua Chapter #18 under the direction of Robert LaBar was planned for the summer months of 1966.
1966 excavation at the Kane Earthwork. James T. Herbstritt on the left and Dick Lang right
Since the land was no longer owned by private interests, permission was requested from both the Allegheny National Forest, owner of the Russell City Earthwork and National Fuel Gas Corporation, owner of the Kane Earthwork. National Fuel Gas quickly granted permission and excavations were conducted at the Kane site during the 1966 field season. The federal permit required under the Federal Antiquities Act of 1906 to excavate of federal property took considerably longer and permission was not received in time to conduct investigations at the Russell City site until 1967 (LaBar 1968).
36EL1 Kane earthwork artifacts from Kinzua Chapter #18 excavation
Prior to the excavations both sites were once again re-measured. The Kane site was again measured at 250' north to south by 260' east to west. However the Russell City earthwork had grown to 180' north to south by 225' east to west.
Details of LaBar’s and the Kinzua Chapter #18 investigations were subsequently published in Pennsylvania Archaeologist Vol. 57, No. 1, March 1987 in Chapter Contributions, Kinzua Chapter #18, Report on Archaeological Excavations of Prehistoric Kane and Russell City Earthworks by Robert J. LaBar. It was during this excavation that both sites were recorded with the PASS files. According to LaBar (1987) research of early correspondence with Ritchie and Henretta uncovered the fact that neither site had been formally assigned a number and they were recorded as Kane Earthwork (36EL1) and Russell City Earthwork (36EL2).
36EL17 McKinley Earthwork circa. 1992
Artifacts recovered by Myers then of the Ridgway Ranger District Allegheny National Forest circa. 1992 following blowdown episode
It would be a few more years before the discrepancy between Rithie’s and LaBar’s measurements would be noticed. Between 1972-1976 the Susquehanna Valley Archaeological survey was conducted throughout the Susquehanna valley and related regions. According to Ira Smith (1977) these investigations were a part of a larger program designed to investigate the Clemson Island Culture. By 1975 excavations focused primarily in determining the relationship between sites in Bradford and Elk Counties to the Susquehannock occupation of eastern Pennsylvania. It was during this phase of the study that a third stockade known as the McKinley Earthwork was investigated in 1975. For five weeks beginning in July excavations were conducted at the McKinley Earthwork (36EL17) under the direction of Ira F. Smith of the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission and James T. Herbstritt of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. During this investigation detailed measurements were taken of the stockade using a transit, stadia rod, and several 100' tapes. The McKinley site was found to measure 230' north to south by 315' east to west (Smith and Hebstritt 1976). Time was once again taken to re-map both the Kane and Russell City earthworks. It was at this time that Smith and Herbstritt (1976) after analyzing all of the previous stockade measurements noticed a discrepancy in stockade size between Ritchie’s original measurement of the Russell City stockade, and that of their own, and LaBar’s. Ritchie had referred to the Russell City earthwork site as being roughly oval-shaped, 135' north south by 160' east-west. Both LaBar and Smith and Herbstritt’s survey maps indicated comparatively greater dimensions-approximately 180' north to south by 225 feet east to west. These measurements would indicate that the site was 45' larger north to south and 75' larger east to west than originally mapped by Ritchie in 1928. Smith and Herbstritt (1976) concluded "that either Ritchie’s measurements were grossly inaccurate or that the site he investigated is not the site that is known today as the Russell City earthwork".
During the 1990 field season, the author who was then employed by the Ridgway Ranger District of the Allegheny National Forest, began a 3206 acre Phase I block survey known as the Pennzoil Waterflood Project (Cultural Resource Report No. 04-190a). This survey, was conducted in warrants 3783, 3777, 3768, 3760, 3782, 3775, 3785, 3784 and 3780, and would encompass three recorded earthwork sites (36EL1 Kane; 36EL2 Russell City; and 36EL17 McKinley) known collectively as the Elk County Earthworks. The probability for finding additional related sites was high and the author had for a long time tracked down local rumors of additional earthworks being located in the Highland Township area.
A pre testing walkover and landform assessment of the survey area was conducted prior to actual field testing. This was initiated in order to determine the highest probability test areas in the survey area. It was during this preliminary phase of the investigation that a circular earthen mound and ditch of a stockaded fort was discovered in the brush only 360' northeast of the original Russell City (36EL2) Earthwork. This earthwork would later be recorded as the Russell City II (36EL67) earthwork. This discovery was somewhat surprising due to the close proximity of the two stockades.
Following the discovery of the Russell City II earthwork in 1990 the author contacted Dr. Stanley Lantz, Staff Archaeologist with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, and a site visit was planned. On October 26, 1990 Dr. Stanley W. Lantz and the author made a field inspection of the newly discovered earthwork. The stockade site was later recorded into the PASS files by Lantz and Myers as (36EL67 Russell City II).
The discovery of a second possibly smaller stockade located only 360 feet from the original Russell City Earthwork (36EL2) would seem to solve the mystery. It would be a logical explanation to the discrepancies found between Ritchie’s original map and later maps. This may not be the case however.
To date three maps have been produced of the site. The first was a field sketch map produced by the author in 1990. A second map was prepared in 1992 by James T. Herbstritt, then of Franklin and Marshall College, with the assistance of Jack McLaughlin and the author, both of the Forest Service. A third map was prepared by Malinda M. Myers and the author in 2001. All three maps measure the north to south axis within a few feet of one another at around 184 feet. Unfortunately all maps exhibit an estimated east to west axis. My 1990 field sketch map measured in dense brush has an estimated east to west axis of some 175'. The Herbstritt survey is missing the west wall but would likely fall within a range of 180 to 200 feet east to west. Our 2001 map with a partial west wall and a missing east wall is estimated to be as large as 262 feet east to west.
Ritchie’s measurements of 135 feet north to south by 160 feet east to west still seem way too small and cannot be reasonably explained by the finding of a second earthwork nearby. I guess we could borrow Smith and Herbstritt's (1976) observation and once again say "that either Ritchies measurements were grossly inaccurate or that the site he investigated is not the site that is known today as the Russell City earthwork".
Henretta, James E.
Johnson, William C.
LaBar, Robert J.
Myers, Andrew J.
Myers, Andrew J.
Ritchie, William A.
Smith, Ira F.
Smith, Ira F., III and James T. Herbstritt
Wallace, Paul A.W.
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