Greater Ancestors

World Museum

Hennepin – Colossal Human Figure

Curious Discoveries in Minnesota –

Remarkable Discovery Near the Head Waters of the Mississippi – Traces of American Prehistoric Civilization, etc.

ST. ANTHONY, MINN., December 3, 1866.

The monotony of our quiet little town has been considerably disturbed of late by discoveries of a most curious and remarkable nature which have been made within a few days past in our midst. They are of so singular a character as to be beyond the pale of credence in the minds of almost everyone who has not been a witness to the facts in the case, but they are vouched for by citizens of such well-known respectability and veracity that the genuineness of the statements in regard to them is placed beyond a doubt.

A Mr. Ruben Nesmith, who lives in a small house near the German Catholic church, had occasion to go down in the cellar on the evening of the 1st instant to arrange a place for his winter stock of potatoes, which he had been hauling that day from his farm, about two miles beyond Manomin. While engaged in putting together a temporary bin, and while digging to make room for the timber used in constructing it, his shovel came in contact with a plate of iron, which after being cleared of earth proved to be a trap door, which was secured by a curiously wrought lock, with heavy bolts running into a stone beneath. It was so much corroded by rust that a little pressure with a crowbar caused the plate to give way, and upon taking it up, an opening was discovered beneath which a spiral stone staircase led down into the earth.

Before venturing down this staircase, Mr. Nesmith communicated the fact of its discovery to his brother-in-law, Mr. Luther Chamberlain, and having procured a lantern, the two proceeded to descend, and after going down one hundred and twenty-three steps, they found themselves in a narrow horizontal passage, dug in the white sand, which, as everyone familiar with the geographical formation of the banks of the Upper Mississippi knows, underlies a strata of limestone. Proceeding along the passage a distance of about seventy-five feet, they emerged into a spacious artificial cave, also excavated in this white sand. This cave was of an oblong form, and leading out of it were several smaller antechambers, all of which gave signs of having been at some former day occupied as depositories of some kind. Iron and copper implements, of a rough kind of workmanship, were found scattered about, some of them evidently having been used for excavating purposes, others for cooking utensils, the marks of fire being observable on the latter. On entering one of the small antechambers, a number of rude seats were found, and upon one side of the room an elevated platform, upon which stood a roughly hewn stone, something like the reading desk of an Episcopal church. On the wall behind the desk, on either side of a colossal human figure, in bas relief, very curious hieroglyphics were found traced in the white sand, and an ornamental tracery of peculiar design covered the other three sides of the chamber. In the next apartment, a sort of stone sarcophagus was found, upon the top of which was laid an immense rock, firmly cemented to the burial case, and which required the united exertions of four men to remove. This being done, a human skeleton was found underneath, the bones of which crumbled to powder immediately upon exposure to the air. Several copper and iron rings were found in the sarcophagus, as also a curious silver ornament, octagonal in shape, and carved in unintelligible characters, some of which corresponded with those upon the wall of the apartment above referred to.

A third chamber was much larger in extent than the others, and the ceiling was very much like an inverted funnel in shape, directly under the apex of which was a large cube-shaped stone, which was stained with marks of fire and some other dark substance, and a deposit of hardened ashes lay around it upon the ground. It was evidently used as a sacrificial altar, and this theory seems to be confirmed by the fact that an aperture large enough to admit the body of a man opens from this apartment into a smaller one, the floor of which is below that of the other rooms, and which is covered with a limy powder apparently the ashes of bones; whether human or otherwise cannot be ascertained. On continuing their explorations, the party found an iron plate door, which easily gave way upon a little pressure, and a passageway about three feet in height and large enough for one person to pass in a stooping posture was discovered. Mr. Nesmith and his brother-in-law followed this passageway, which led in a somewhat circuitous direction to the vicinity of the river. This is proved by the sound of water washing upon the shore, which may be distinctly heard at the end of this passageway, the outer opening to which has apparently been filled up from the inside with rocks, and broken through the interstices of which fresher air than that of the cave can be felt blowing.

The whole affair is a mystery; the relics found are not all aboriginal in character and may have been the work of a people existing long before even these prairies were the hunting grounds of the Indians. Copies of the hieroglyphs have been carefully transcribed and forwarded to some of the most learned archaeologists of the Eastern States, and it is hoped that they may be able to obtain some clue as to the origin and use of these remarkable relics. We understand that the State Historical Society has made Mr. Nesmith a liberal offer for them. In the meantime, our little town is all agog as to the discoveries, and hundreds of people have visited the house of Mr. Nesmith to see these antiquities. We trust the historical society may be able to secure them as a most interesting addition to their small but valuable collection.

  1. Indianapolis Daily Herald, Indianapolis, Marion County, 13 December 1866.

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