St. Louis Globe Democrat
St. Louis Globe Democrat
Contributed by Susan

Description: Geological Curiosities – The Prehistoric Prairie Wall at Chadron, Neb. – A Petrified Woman in a Cave – Other Remarkable Finds in the Bad Lands

Date: March 16 1886

Newspaper published in: St. Louis, MO

Page/Column: 6

Geological Curiosities – The Prehistoric Prairie Wall at Chadron, Neb. – A Petrified Woman in a Cave – Other Remarkable Finds in the Bad Lands

Omaha, Neb., March 14. Not a little scientific interest and much public curiosity were recently excited by a remarkable geological find near Chadron, Dawes County, Neb. This was a section of a peculiarly constructed stone wall, popularly believed to have been built in the dim ages of the past, and accepted as indubitable evidence of the existence of a race of human beings who were not only versed in the prehistoric arts, but could hew stone and put it in the form of a solid wall, firmly secured by cement of unknown ingredients. Since the discovery it has come to the knowledge of the Globe-Democrat's correspondent that the body of a petrified woman was found near Rapid City, Dakota Territory, only a short distance from Chadron, Neb., and other facts lead to the belief that the region is one rich in valuable geological curiosities. Therefore both the wall and the petrified woman may be worthy of description.

The Prairie Wall

Chadron lies in the extreme northwestern portion of Nebraska, just south of the Dakota line. The spot where the geological or archaeological wall was discovered is about two and a half miles north of the town. The place is an open prairie with no wooded country for several miles. The land is continually broken by ravines and hillocks almost from the site of the wall to Pine Ridge. Down many of the drains flow small streams, all of which are tributary to White River. These declines run from northeast to southwest. It is across one of these ravines that the wall extends. The locality is somewhat difficult to find, as there is nothing, save the wall, to distinguish it from the other small cuts in the vicinity. The wall extends across the ravine at right angles without a break. It can easily be traced the whole distance, although from the center to either side it gradually lessens in height. Following it from the rising ground to the lowest point the evidence of its symmetry and continuity becomes most strikingly evident. The wall is made of stone resembling sandstone laid up in some kind of cement, with the joints properly broken. It is smooth and plain. Its thickness if from 12 to 14 inches, and the individual blocks of sandstone are about 6x7x13 inches. The wall is 75 feet long – the distance from side to side of
the ravine. There is also this peculiarity about the wall, that it seems to extend a considerable distance into the earth, a recent party of investigation having dug down 2-1/2 feet without reaching the bottom of the layers of stone. Another peculiar feature is the cement between the layers, which has attained a remarkable solidity, and is of a composition unknown to masonry of the present day.

Prof. Hicks' Investigation

So much interest attached to the discovery of this wall that L. E. Hicks, professor of geology in the Nebraska State University at Lincoln, paid a visit to the spot. He has since given to the press a brief statement of his impressions of the wall, but will at some future time make a more extended and technically scientific report. Contrary to the belief of the unscientific observer, Mr. Hicks inclines to the opinion that the wall is not of artificial or human workmanship, but that it is a natural dike, i.e., a fissure in the earth filled by a pasty mass of mud and sand ejected from below and afterward hardened into what appears to be sandstone, but is really a species of tufa. He says the depth to which the wall extends in the earth is against its artificiality, as men do not build walls so deep, and that the part now exposed to view was not very long ago concealed, but has been uncovered as the process of erosion progressed in the ravine. This erosion, he says it is evident has been going on since the Champlain period of geological history, so that if the wall was built by human hands, it must have been made and buried in or before that period, or even long before that, for the rocks there belong to the Miocene period of the Tertiary age, before man had yet appeared on the earth so far as any reliable evidence has been discovered. Prof. Hicks confesses that the appearance of mortar between the regular blocks of the wall is a remarkable imitation of artificial construction, but explains this by the statement that the tendency of injected matter cooling in a fissure to crack into regular blocks – a fact familiar to all
geologists – and that the cracks always extend at right angles to the cooling surface; that thus the rock would be divided into blocks by cracks running from side to side, giving a semblance to regular courses of masonry, and these cracks, in the process of erosion, would fill up with what appeared like cement but was in reality a thin scale of the same tufaceous rock as the dike itself. Prof. Hicks says the region about Chadron will prove one of the most interesting yet discovered by the geologist.

A Petrified Woman

The petrified woman mentioned above was found in a peculiar manner. On July 22, 1885, Lafayette Spake, a cowboy, while engaged in riding a trail after strayed or stolen cattle, was overtaken by a severe storm. He was at the time in a canyon along the Cheyenne River in the Bad Lands about 57 miles southeast of Rapid City, Dakota. The storm became so violent that he dismounted from the pony he was riding and sought a sheltered spot. His path led him into a cave. After his eyes grew accustomed to the semidarkness, he saw lying on the ground only a few feet from him what appeared to be the shrunken form of an Indian. He investigated and found that only the upper portion of the body was visible. What he could feel of the peculiar denizen of the cave seemed mummified. On attempting to raise the object, Spake found it imbedded in the soil. Spake dug the object up with his knife. He took his find to the neighboring town for examination.

The object proved to be the body of a woman almost entirely petrified, but with some portions only in a state of mummification. The body is of a brown tint. It is fully petrified up to the hips. The upper portion closely resembles that of an embalmed corpse. The length of the body, in its original posture was only 28 inches, the legs being drawn up and the arms laid to the side. The legs are unusually small and, although undoubtedly petrified, the weight of the curiosity is only 48 pounds. The arms are abnormally log, the fingertips, on which the nails are plainly visible, reaching below the knee. The head is small and the cheek bones are not prominent. The shoulders are broad and well formed, but the left shoulder appears to have been injured in some way, laying bare the bone. The arms are petrified to the elbow joints, and on both legs and arms, more especially the latter, the muscles and cords are plainly marked. While the hips are rather small, the body bears other unmistakable signs that it is that of a woman. The general formation of the head indicates that the creature in life was a member of some Indian race. The specimen is now in the possession of private parties who propose sending it to the Smithsonian Institute, as soon as satisfactory arrangements can be reached.

As further evidence of the remarkable geological richness of Northwestern Nebraska and Southern Dakota, the fact that petrified fish and fowl have been found in many places is cited, and one man living in Omaha has a petrified human foot, found on the northern border of the State.

Submitted: 01/15/14

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