Monday, February 28, 2011

The first rock pile site acknowledged by the Indians

In Carlisle MA the Indians came and looked at stone piles and agreed that the piles were their own ceremonial objects. There had been a "medicine man" trail that passed somewhere nearby but no one remembered the details, no one remembered where it was. So this property, given to the town of Carlisle by Mr Benfield, became the first acknowledged Native American ceremonial site in the northeastern US. In one description "the cat was out of the bag". This led to other things such as USET resolutions and the listing of the Turner's Falls airport rock pile site as a national historic landmark. It is fair to say that I first noticed the rock piles at this site and pointed them out to FFC who started making a fuss about such things and got the Indians to visit.

Here is a link to an article in the Carlisle "Mosquito" about the property. Other articles from that newspaper can be found by searching on words like "Indian" and "stone pile" here.

The site is at the edge of the woods, with a wide opening to the right where a marsh edges Spencer brook:
Saturday FFC invited me for a stroll out to the Benfield property, where the Carlisle Trail Committee is building a platform out in the middle of the marsh surrounding Spencer Brook. I got some nice photos of the place from Louise Hara - a friend of my friend. So I thought I would show them.

One of the abutting landowners, Tim Fohl, spent a good deal of time looking around at the rock pile site and noticing stone walls and their relation to the brook. I believe he has done some research into old channels and earthworks within the Spencer Brook marsh and there may be other thoughts, but one result of his interest was a focus on the brook itself and the wide expanse of sky visible there. This might have contributed to what they are doing today. The trail committee asked the Native Americans (in this case probably the Narragansett historic preservation officer) about building a platform and were told to avoid using straight lines or corners. So (looking in the opposite directions from were the first picture above was taken) here is a view of the brook and the trail leading to the platform they are building:Here are the assembled trail committee, getting reading to start work:Here they make an oval:Here are a couple of friends, pwax on the left, FFC on the right - pretty well pleased with themselves.


pwax said...

I should add that (thoughtful of the "Wachusett Tradition" around here) I said to FFC that there ought to be some larger mounds somewhere in this valley of Spencer Brook. After some thought we realized we already knew a couple. Louise mentioned yet another "large stone mound" also in the area.

Geophile said...

That's great! Didn't know that history and I have to say, it's pretty cool.

The Indians contacted Fred earlier, about 2001 or 2002, I think, after he tried to protect a site and it got in the news, but it had no legal effect or ramifications like yours did. Well done, you guys!

Norman said...

Nice story!

A couple of questions: why did the Indians tell you to refrain from building the wooden platform without straight lines?

And where is the first part of the story in the Carlisle Mosquito?

pwax said...

I guess corners are anti-spiritual for some reason.

You can search the Carlisle Mosquito archive following the 2nd link. I did not look around as much as I could and the general search term "Indian" returns other intersting articles such as ones about the stone turtle at the Towle land, etc. Worth poking around some more.

Norman said...

Never heard that idea before. Lots of straight lines and sharp corners in the Anasazi ruins of the Southwest.

pwax said...

I cannot remember if I heard that said. The circle is mentioned as having no corners but I may be inventing a connection to Native American spirituality. Have to ask the Indians.

pwax said...

Coming back to the question of corners and Native spirituality I think this may be a modern "pan Indian" invention coming from some tribes that did not have ancestral connection to New England. Norman is right about lines and corners in the Southwest and, here in New England the "Wachusett Tradition" burial mounds are usually rectangular (with corners). Also they do not necessarily face southwest, so ceremonial practices may well have changed into their current modern (pan Indian?) form.

pwax said...

[Future self:] Indeed!