Saturday, December 5, 2009

Russell Cave, Jackson Co, Alabama

If you had Russell ancestors and passed a place called Russell Cave, wouldn't you want to know what was inside the cave? I did. So, on my way to my brother-in-law's for Thanksgiving, I took a short side-trip off Interstate 24 between Chattanooga and Nashville, Tennessee, to travel just across the border into Alabama (Jackson County). It was early morning, sunny, and relatively warm for Fall. At the entrance to Russell Cave National Monument, I hauled out my tripod and took this picture. I was initially going to title this blog entry, "I feel a headache coming on". Actually, the spear which appears ready to pierce my scalp was an ancient improvement in the art of spear throwing. The Native American is using an "atlatl" to propel the spear with much more speed and accuracy than the old way of using solely arm power.

I took a short walk on a boardwalk behind the visitor center and arrived at the entrance to the cave. A good-sized creek ran right into and disappeared inside the cave. In the past, the creek would flood and eventually gouge out a larger cavity. The ceiling of the structure from time to time would split from the upper sandstone, causing a rockfall, which in turn created a raised floor in a large portion of the cave. Thus, Native Americans could live in the cave. It had natural air-conditioning and a ready water supply.

I noticed as I entered the cave that hundreds of large screws with plates had been driven into the ceiling to prevent any further rockfalls- or so the theory goes.

At the visiting center, I learned the unique feature of this cave is that various research groups had excavated artifacts which could demonstrate almost 10,000 years of habitation by Indians of several periods: Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian.

Image (above): The boardwalk begins behind the visitor center and enters the cave.
In relatively modern times, the cave and surrounding land were first owned by Captain John Woods who received the land grant for his service in the Revolutionary War (RW). Woods was a Cherokee Indian which was the first time I heard Indians served in the RW. He also built a stone house on the land which is the oldest house still in use in Jackson County, Alabama. Evidence of Woods' residency in the area eventually faded. The land was then owned for a while by another RW veteran who in turn sold it to his brother-in-law, Colonel THOMAS RUSSELL whose descendants kept it in the family until 1928. The last private owner was Oscar Ridley who allowed excavation of the cave by local, amateur archaeologists. Recognizing the value of these discoveries, the Smithsonian Institute and National Geographic Societies (NGS) became heavily involved. The latter purchased the cave and presented it to the American People which was sealed by the creation of this National Monument by President Kennedy in 1961.

Browsing in the gift shop after my tour of the cave, I found a copy of a substantial genealogy of a Russell family by Walter A. Russell. The park ranger told me that Walter often gives genealogy seminars at the center. Search the title at Amazondotcom and you will find the first 5 pages of the book including the statement, "... first progenitor of this lineage was Matthew Russell who was Scotch-Irish ... born around 1735." You can also view the Index with 7 pages of Russell surnames. I doubt if Matthews family lived in the cave, and the same goes for my Russell family- who didn't arrive in America until 1881.
However, there are some connections to my "Life's Journey".
1. The Russell Cave visitor center was dedicated to former NGS chairman, Gilbert H. Grosvenor, whose former home was in my "home" town of Bethesda, MD.
2. Matthew Russell, the progenitor, once resided in Mechlenburg Co, NC, and York Co, SC, near Revolutionary War sites, Kings Mountain and Cowpens, all located near my current residence.
3. Another book available in the visitor center, was "Selu, Seeking the Corn-Mother's Wisdom" by former Tennessean poet laureate, Marilou Awiakta. She once inspired me to write about where I came from at an Appalachian Writer's workshop at Radford University. Search Amazon book store.
National Park Service web site for Russell cave:


M said...

I love reading your blog and am passing an award to you that I have also received. Please visit my blog to pick up your award.

Russell said...

I know exactly what you mean about stopping and having a peek at anything associated with the name Russell!

I've been researching my Russell ancestry for a few years now but having read your posts I don't think my Scottish Russells are connected to yours although I know some of my distant relations did move to the States. If I do find any connections I'll let you know.