#22 – A Bad Mistake – 1984

Written by Russell Burrows:

In March of 1984 Mr. Ward asked if I would consider giving a talk at the next meeting of the Old Northwest Corporation. I agreed to do so. I was convinced that I was dealing with good solid people and could see nothing wrong with telling my story to them. On the appointed day, I presented myself to the group of people assembled at the Holiday Inn in Vincennes.

I have not had a lot of experience as a public speaker, and at that time I had not organized my experience into a sequence of events that would tell my story. Besides, the thoughts I had were somewhat jumbled up with the lessons from Mr. Ward. Instead of giving a prepared speech, I introduced myself and suggested that rather than bore the group with a talk, I would instead answer their questions. Certainly this would get me headed in the right direction. The questions came flying.

One person in particular dominated the questioning, to the point where soon no one else had the opportunity to ask anything; and his questions were not in the least what I had expected. In fact it soon became apparent to me that his questions were designed to cast doubt on the cave and its contents. It gave me a kind of helpless feeling, because I alone knew the truth, and I had no one to back up my statements.

It turned out that this young fellow was a lawyer and was employed by one of the banks in Vincennes. The same bank also employed another member of the Old Northwest Corporation and that person is, or was, the Corporation’s treasurer.

That young lawyer’s questions were direct and to the point. So too were his inferences that I was fabricating these artifacts and attempting to pass them off as authentic.

Now, it is kind of hard to tell a person that he is full of something or other when you’re standing up there in front of a room full of people. Without anticipating this dilemma and having no rebuttal for such an onslaught I retreated from the argument and ignored his further questions. From that time on, I took only the questions presented by others in attendance. I was happy to find that the majority of those were in favor and appeared to believe what I was saying. They were asking questions that would build support rather then destroy it.

I sincerely hoped that I would be finished with that young lawyer. I felt that this meeting would be the end of it, but no. Little did I realize that he would begin a process that would eventually close the Sonoftobac Museum and force Mr. Ward to resign as president of the Old Northwest Corporation. Worse yet, he would bring about the character assassination of both Ward and myself. Mr. Ward was ostracized in his own home town, put out of clubs and shunned. He had to eventually move the artifacts from the museum to a home he owned in Vincennes.

The following week, I received a telephone call from the local library in Olney. I was informed that a young fellow from Vincennes was going about town asking questions concerning me and the cave. From the description they provided I knew who it was.

It was at this time that a series of events began that proved to be a disaster.

Up to this time I had escorted only one person to the cave site. That person was my brother-in-law. He is a high school teacher and a good friend. I have spent a lot of time with him and trust him, of course. In my talk in Vincennes I told the group that he had been to the cave with me.

I called up my brother-in-law and said, “If this fellow from Vincennes comes to you asking about the cave and the artifacts, just tell him that I make them every evening in my back yard, after supper.”

My God! how dumb can I get? This kind of response is always liable to come out facetiously when one has been badgered and browbeaten on a point. It came out in a tone of sarcasm. I did it because it would be so impossible to fabricate anything like these artifacts that anyone with an ounce of common sense would know that he was being made sport of.

Well this lawyer did visit my brother-in-law and my brother-in-law told him what I had asked him to. I had over-estimated the intelligence of the fellow. He believed it. Yes, he really believed it.

Let me give you a brief description of the neighborhood I live in. We had the State’s Attorney living just across the back fence at that time. I also had a neighbor next door who could also look in my back yard anytime, and she did. She knew what was going on at our place all the time. There is just no way that something like this could have occurred without the whole town knowing about it. And yet that lawyer believed it.

He went running back over to Vincennes and reported to those who had sent him to Olney that “Russ Burrows is making those things in his back yard every night after supper.”

I found out about it when Ward called me one evening and asked if I had heard the latest exposé concerning our project.

“No, I haven’t heard,” I said, “What’s happening now?”

“Well,” says Ward, “The report is that you are making those things in your back yard.”

I told him of the events leading up to this story and we both had a good laugh out of it. We were amused to think that this lawyer had been so gullible and had been taken in so completely, but in reality the situation was serious. We thought we were dealing with fine upstanding pillars of the community, but in reality they showed themselves to be narrow-minded people with an axe to grind against Jack Ward, and I had provided the grindstone. I have no one to blame but myself for this and believe me, if I had it to do over again I wouldn’t have been so flip.