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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Ohio Vs. Kentucky: Legendary Indian Head Rock Snagged From River, Stashed In Ohio

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- There could be a border war in the works after an 8-ton archaeological oddity -- some would say natural wonder or treasure -- called the Indian Head Rock was torn from the Ohio River and taken to Portsmouth for display. The rock hasn't been seen since it was covered by high water after the river was dammed in the 1920s. It had long been a pioneer and early American curiosity, as well as serving as a navigation marker on the river. Flat boaters and steam boaters alike used it to measure depth and distance as a natural mile marker.

Historians and geologists have long debated whether it is a manmade feature or was placed in the river by Mother Nature. The question remains open.

The Indian Head Rock is one of several landmarks scattered around the USA that seem to depict a human face (like the New Hampshire mountainside pictured above, a photo that comes from Indian Head Lodge). Americans have been fascinated with rocks that resemble Native Americans ever since Europeans landed in the New World.

WSAZ, Channel 3 serves the Ohio River upstream from Cincinnati and carried a report that says people on the Kentucky side are claiming "archaeological thievery" after the Indian Head Rock was placed in Portsmouth. There are plans to put it in the city's welcome center. Others think it should be studied and set back into the waterway. It is a legal fact that the nearly the entire Ohio River streambed is in Kentucky, not Ohio. Kentucky may be able to muster a strong legal that its natural heritage was looted.

Historians have studied the rock, although not much in recent years because it has been under water. Early researchers from the 1840s thought the head could have been carved Native Americans, who also may have put some writing upon it as messages. Nobody is sure, though.

In the 1920s, after the dams were built on the Ohio, there was a season of low water and an expedition waded into the river to photograph and map the rock. Volume 30 of Ohio History recorded the results and findings and notes the rock would probably be forever covered by the dammed waters:

"In all probability, neither the Indian's head, nor the rock upon which it is cut, will ever be seen again, as it is hardly within the realms of chance that the dam will be broken at such an opportune time. Unquestionably, the Indian's head was not the work of a quarryman. It bears strong resemblance to other Indian carvings and impresses the mind with the fact that it is thoroughly Indian in its execution. The outline is cut in the southeast corner of the rock and faces east.

"There is another rock, about one hundred years upstream from the Indian rock, upon which someone in recent years carved an Indian profile with feathered head-dress, but this one is not the genuine Indian head, though frequently
taken for it."

More on Ohio River petroglyphs is here. There are many mysteries that remain about Native Americans in Ohio, and now there could be a full-blown legal tug-of-war over the archaeology and whether it was desecration to remove a natural wonder from its resting place.


  1. If the rock was retrieved by Portsmouth folk, I assume it was along the shore on the Ohio (north) side of the river. If so, it may, in fact, have been in Ohio. The U.S. Supreme Court held in 1980 that the border is the 'low water mark on the north side as it was in 1792.' OHIO v. KENTUCKY, 444 U.S. 335 (1980)

    Since the rock was visible prior to damming the river, I assume it was above the 1792 'low water mark' and, therefore, still in Ohio, even though it was underwater.

  2. Hi Schmajo --

    Thanks for weighing in. From what I can gather, the rock was partially submerged, or some portion was submerged and the upper section was exposed. I guess people are going to be looking for old accounts of what it looked like at all times of year and during all seasons. I think the lawyers and courts are going to have a field day with this.

    I have been told that that the vast majority of the river is in Kentucky, and that determining Ohio's southern boundary can be tricky and legalistic (my words). My sense is that the Kentucky claim could be strong. It will be fun to watch this develop.

  3. It seems this event has spawned debate at various locations up and down the Ohio River.

    After exchanging some forum-chat with I assume are one or two of the expedition divers, I decided to take one of them up on finding out more information pertaining to this Rock Expedition Event. Still one or two more to go to fill in the gaps of misunderstanding and/or

    I spent the afternoon at the Ohio Historical Society to review records. I have spoken to several archeologist who were listed on related website. I've Spoken with several Native American groups.

    Something that has surprised me in discovering more information is that this is not the only Rock-Taking-Event in Ohio History. About 100 years ago Chief Turkey Foot Rock was taken from the Fallen Timbers area and transported by wagon to Toledo Ohio. They were planning a centennial event back then and thought the rock was worth taking. After a small cold war over it, the rock was taken back. Chief Turkey Foot stood on that rock while rallying fellow tribe members. As he stood, he was shot dead by an American Rifleman.

    What fasinates me about this is the human drama. Nothing much has changed Since Turkey Foot fell dead off the rock now named after him.

  4. Lots of comments on this forum:

  5. There is more to the mystery. I met a local Medicine Man who told me that there is another rock that was hidden long ago and that the Turkey Foot Rock that is on display is a fake put there after "finding" the rock on a cargo truck in a city storage building. He told me a story about the hiding and where it was hid. I went to the place and talked to a local parks official who confirmed the Medicine Man's story. I went and searched and lo and behold there is another rock. It does not have turkey feet carved into it, as the official story goes, but instead is shaped like a turkey foot. It is very interesting reasearching the story and I am looking for more answers.

  6. Someone should lynch that nigger from kentucky who started this dispute with Indian Head rock. if it was just some boulder in the river they wouldn't care. He's nothing but a stupid shine and should be wasted

  7. Ok, thank you “Anonymous” - so much for conducting an "intelligent" discussion.

    Kentucky or Ohio, it matters not which state "owns" this piece of history; what really is at issue here is the right of all the people in all 50-US States to touch and view Indian Head Rock up close.

    Preferably, without having to learn scuba diving. Preferably, without the necessity of traveling 25 feet below the surface of the Ohio River to an underwater viewing station!

    Would both of the State Representatives - PLEASE WAKE UP!

    Look at the big picture here. Indian Head Rock belongs to U.S. History - U.S. History belongs to the people of the United States of America. This includes - but is not limited to - the people of Kentucky and Ohio!

    Would the little boys in both State Legislatures, please get over this second-grade mentality, "'s my, it's mine...” peeing contest and start working together as ADULTS to display Indian Head Rock where everyone can view it easily.

  8. I know that common sense has lost much use in this conversation, but here are afew things that should be known. The reason the rock is in Portsmouth is that there is no ramp on the Kentucky side of the Ohio for miles. It was not a matter of crossing state lines as much as available ramp space. The fact is that as most property owners along the Ohio have been told for years, the Army Corp of Engineers is not responsible for damage and land erosion, since they are concerned with the navigational water level. The fact is that in drownings and accidents on the Ohio, the Corp has no responsibilty, and no fence except around the areas they own. Period. I believe the Corp should be very careful in claiming anything that could result in dozens of suits from land owners, since a rock is not part of the Ohio River. Period. The land owner in this case is the N&W Railroad, they have property rights on the shore on the Kentucky side of the Ohio. The law is very clear on where property rights belong, since the Ohio River has claimed hundreds of feet of shore from landowners along both sides of the Ohio. The arguement that this belongs to the Commonwealth of Kentucky is second to property rights. The Commonwealth has done nothing to preserve this or dozens of other areas that are actual Indian sites. One of the experts that is involved owns a large part of an ancient Indian works that they have farmed, dug in, and "owned" for years. The fact that most of these gentlemen and women possess items that are far more evidence of Indian ancestory and were dug up or removed from the Hardin Bottoms and other sites that are numerous in this area. The fact is this seem to be talking out of both sides of their mouths. It is OK for them to remove human bones, skulls and the like, but not OK to move a rock? I find this difficult to let pass. I was involved in the issue as an elected offical almost as soon as the Rock was moved to the Portsmouth garage. The Mayor contacted the nearest Kentucky city available, thinking that it would be of local interest to us more that Frankfort. I went to see the rock and took Cathy Schaffer from the Greenup County News and the Mayor of South Shore to view the rock. The fact that it is covered with names from Portsmouth streets and businesses. The Mayor offered to label the rock, put it on display, and give credit to Kentucky for the donation. Common sense. I have spoken with dozens of local Kentucky residents and they do not want it put back in the Ohio River. I would think that anyone that has lived on the Kentucky side of the river wuld be just as happy to see the rock on display in the town where they shop, go to the Doctor, eat out, etc.
    Carl Ackerman was a collector of local photos for years and had several photos of people standing on this stone, but he also had a photo of Billy Sunday and seven men standing on "Indian Rock" near the mouth of the Scioto River preaching to 5,000 people on Alexandria Point. The rock that Billy Sunday was preaching on was demolished and used to raise the floodwall afer the 1937 flood and parts are visable today near Alexandria Point. I would hope that this band of true antiquities lovers would realize that this is absurd on so many levels. The Commonwealth of Kentucky could not fund the Retirement system they have pirated for years, but were able to condemed the removal of the Rock. I believe that if one cent is spent on this legal nonsense and not helping feed the hungry or helping the homeless we are being ill served by our Commonwealth and County.

  9. Bill, just a small point but while KY is claiming a loss of a rock with human features, NH actually lost its famous "Old Man of the Mountain" rock face a few years ago when it collapsed one night.

    As for this whole argument over who has rights to this rock I think it is another example of silliness and waste of legislative focus in this country. If people in Portmouth, OH display this rock appropriately and open to all, what's wrong with that?

  10. It brought tears to my eyes when I heard the story of retrieving the Rock from the river. I was so touched by the determination of the person who did it for the rest of us Americans to see and enjoy. Afterall this is ONE AMERICA for ALL of US. Please do not let the bad win over the Good. Let the rock stay for all of us to see and enjoy. Museums and very rich people spend millions for art works that have been done centuries ago. Imagine if works from great artists had to stay covered or buried or even not allowed to be seen except by people of their own country we would have never seen Renoir, Vemeer, Klimt and thousands more ..

  11. Wombat says: I can't believe the governing bodies of TWO states are wasting time and money in a protracted legal battle over a rock that a private citizen found and excavated. I think the legal term for this is "Finders Keepers", and no, I don't know how to say that in Latin. Posession is nine points of the law. The rock stays in Ohio.

  12. Donna From Jackson MichiganMarch 30, 2008 1:34 PM

    Why not share the rock? After all first we took the land away from the Native American's now were quibling over something that might be part of their history more than it is ours. It all seems rather juvenile when you consider the entire possible History of this rock. It seems to me that it should become an item that draws attention to those who were here before most of us. This rock might be a way to honor those who were so dishonored by the invasions of immegrants who were sometimes accepted and sometimes told to go back to their own country. Isnt' there a dignified and respectable way to settle this dispute? Is it possible to come to a compromise. Couldn't these two great states just join forces agree to share this rock? Could they determine if the river could still be navigated if the rock was placed on a cement support system the same way a bridge is? Would it be possible to place it half on each side of the border? Why not? Yes, it would cost some money. But, so would a park or something similar. This is an obvious tourist attraction. So, if it were in the river boats could be rented by tourist to view the rock on either side of the river. Tourist trade is always a good thing. Hmm,,, It seems to me that the publicity given to Indian Rock would increase tourist activity on either side. Sure, it would take longer to get to the rock from Kentucky if it is placed on the boarder. Because, the border is closer to Ohio. I am sure smart polatician's could find a way to equal that out. How is the fishing trade there. Maybe, Kentucky could include fishing as part of the trip to help with the added expense and cost to a tourist who visited from their side. Or, just put the historic rock as close to where it was originaly? Yet, elevate it so it can still be viewed. That would probably not make Ohio agree to a settlement though. It would loose or give up ownership I suppose unless it were on the border half way on each side.... Just a thought...

  13. Let the Smithsonian have it....

    Admission is free for all Smithsonian museums and the zoo in Washington, D.C., and the American Indian Museum's George Gustav Heye Center in New York.

    Give ALL AMERICANS a chance to see part of America's history. SHARE!

    Just one AMERICAN'S opinion.

  14. I am a citizen of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and cross the bridge to Portsmouth daily to work. I have an idea. Why don't we put it in the middle of the US23 bridge - right in the center - and then we all can drive by a little bit of history.

  15. Where in the heck is a photograph of it?

    I am confused - has it been brought up on shore, or is it still under water?

    Bill Wiseman

  16. The whole point to the issue is that an designated archaeological site was destroyed and its main component stolen and transported across the state line. The rock was and always had been within the commonwealth's border and the perpetrators of the crime were aware the rock was an archaeological site.
    Also, since the level of the Ohio river has been documented with respect to the rock at least as far back as 1839, a long term bench mark has been destroyed. If one was interested in studying historic river levels, this reference has been lost.
    I don't think anyone is interested in throwing the rock back into the river as its removal destroyed its context, but we cannot sit back and allow arbitrary destruction of historic sites.

  17. Jeffrey L. HolbrookJune 18, 2008 11:39 AM

    The point is do not take what is not yours!!!!!!!!!!
    I was raised in Scioto co. but now live in Kentucky,I know of things that have my name as well as my family's name carved on them in Scioto co.Ohio,does that give me the right to bring them to Kentucky for myself ?????????
    If we let the law be broken where do we draw the line??

  18. The only reason KY is claiming the rock, is for its archeological “value”, in other words profit. Why would they want a historical artifact that has no significance to their past. This rock is an important piece of Portsmouth’s History. The sketches and names on the rock have no claim to KY, the people that made this rock such an important piece of history, are Portsmouth natives, without those people it would only be another boulder in the Ohio River.
    The United States is a nation of laws: badly written and randomly enforced. ~Frank Zappa

  19. Jeffrey L. HolbrookJune 30, 2008 12:38 PM

    If mr. Zappa thinks ky. would get profit from the rock if it is returned to its spot in the river,then he has his head in the mud!!!!
    No one knows for sure if the names are from ohio or kentucky.I am sure the names could have come from both sides of the river.
    If the correct course was taken to start with,All of this could have been avoided .We have laws old or new it does not matter.No one has the right take anything that does not belong to them.It does not matter if kentucky wants to profit from it or not.Stop your crying and correct this wrong!!!!!!!!!!!!

  20. Just thought I'd point out that the rock was back in the news again today as NPR Morning Edition broadcast a story on it.

  21. I think that Mayor Kalb and the Portsmouth City Council should spend a few million dollars on the Martings building and display the rock in there.