Wednesday, Aug 23, 2017
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History on the rocks: Researcher says Turkey Foot Rock is upside down

For decades Turkey Foot Rock has served as the Ohio Historical Society's monument to the role Native Americans played in the Battle of Fallen Timbers.

And perhaps for decades it's been upside down, the result of careless moving around that no one noticed for 60 or so years until an amateur archaeologist from Columbus discovered it last year.

Jim Murphy, a retired Ohio State University librarian who has a master of science degree in geology from Case Western Reserve University, insists the rock, which has gone through a strange odyssey over the years, is upside down.

He's sure of it.

"It's obviously upside down and ought to be right-side-up," he said.

Mr. Murphy has sent letters to the Ohio Historical Society, Toledo Area Metroparks, and the Ottawa Indians, and he published a detailed article on the rock in the Ohio Archaeologist quarterly publication in the summer 2007 edition. To date, no one has come forward and contradicted his research.

And no one has any plans to flip the rock, which is located at the Fallen Timbers Monument adjacent to Side Cut Metropark, back over if it is indeed upside down.

"No one from OHS has gone back methodically through Jim's very careful research and stood there and looked at the rock and looked at the same photographs he's looked at... to piece together his observations," said George Kane, director of facilities management with the Ohio Historical Society.

"We just haven't had the time to do that."

Turkey Foot Rock's history - at least for white people - starts with the 1794 Battle of

Fallen Timbers when about 4,000 combatants clashed along the Maumee River. The battle paved the way for settlers to claim the land from the Native Americans, forcing them out.

During the battle, the Indian Chief Turkey Foot is believed to have stood on the rock to rally his troops, making the rock an important element of both the battle and Native American history in Ohio.

But the rock, like the battlefield site itself, has a difficult past to trace. Just as there was long dispute over where the Battle of Fallen Timbers actually took place, some in the Native American community don't even think it's the right rock.

Which means it's not all that important if it's upside down or not, said Barbara Mann, a member of the Native American Alliance of Ohio and a University of Toledo teacher.

"I was delighted to hear of the conundrum," she wrote in an e-mail interview. "In fact, I laughed out loud at the idea that the rock is upside down. How perfectly appropriate!

"You see, it's the wrong rock, anyway. The real rock was smaller and had spirit tracks on it (most probably fossilized animal tracks). This is what made it a medicine rock in the first place."

Mr. Murphy stays out of the debate over whether the rock is correct historically. "I haven't gotten into, and don't particularly want to get into, the question of whether it is a sacred site to some Indians or all Indians," he said.

But he is certain that the rock on the site is not placed properly. Over the years he had been to the monument and seen historical pictures of the rock, and they didn't seem to match up.

Last year when he was on the way to a conference in Michigan he stopped to check out the rock a second time, and that's when he realized it wasn't placed properly based on the old photos.

"The eureka moment came when I was comparing the photographs. It was definitely a revelation."

To the untrained eye, it's a bit difficult to orient the photos and the rock properly, but it certainly appears that over the years something changed. The rock was moved in the early 20th century for reasons that aren't completely clear and was deeded to the Ohio Historical Society in 1931, according to Mr. Murphy.

The next photo of it is in 1941 at its current site, and that's when Mr. Murphy believes it was placed upside down based on its shape and markings.

"The likely scenario that I come up with is that when they landscaped the thing and put a chain link fence in, is when they put it in upside down for some reason."

Historical society and parks officials don't deny that Mr. Murphy could be correct. Their concern is what to do about it. First, they say, they'd have to undertake some sort of study based on Mr. Murphy's research to determine that it's accurate.

Mr. Kane said he discussed Mr. Murphy's idea with the archaeology staff at the OHS. "Their take was that Jim's research is usually very good and he raises an interesting point," he said.

Once that's determined, along with how much it would cost the financially strapped historical society, the next step would be trying to dig it out of the concrete base in which it's embedded. Parks officials and Mr. Murphy disagree on how that would be done.

"My concern is that removing it from the concrete base might damage it, so we can't just go out there and whack it with a sledgehammer," Mr. Kane said.

"It's going to be a complicated thing because the stone seems to be well-bonded to the concrete, and breaking that bond without damaging the stone is going to be challenging."

Mr. Murphy said it's ridiculous to think that strategically removing the concrete base - which is noticeably cracked, anyway - would damage a limestone rock that has survived for centuries.

"The Columbus limestone of which the rock consists is decidedly more resistant than the cement base and could easily be detached with a little care," he wrote Mr. Kane in a letter.

For her part, Ms. Mann said via e-mail that she doubts Native Americans care whether the rock is upside down although some go there for ceremonies and commemorations.

"We [the Native American Alliance of Ohio] think that the rock that is there is pretty enough, but if it really is standing on its head, we would probably want to keep it that way as backwards medicine. I have not discussed this in council, since it's the first I've heard of it, but I am assuming that most Native people will find the situation hilarious," she wrote.

Mr. Murphy said he thinks it should be placed properly to honor history and ensure that it is displayed in the proper context. And even if it isn't flipped over, he believes some sort of official notation ought to be made indicating it is displayed improperly.

"If everyone says this isn't important, and God knows there are more important things around in the world, if they don't want to do it, fine," he said. "I think it ought to be documented at some point that it was flipped upside down."

Contact Rod Lockwood at: rlockwood@theblade.com or 419-724-6159.

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