#41 – Virginia and the Two Warrens in Vincennes – 1987

Written by Virginia Hourigan:

Somehow I was able to get everything done, and on Monday I loaded up my motorcycle and took off. My plan was to get to Vincennes before Bart and Robin, and confront him there. I arrived in Vincennes in mid-afternoon on Wednesday, checked into the same mom-and-pop motel and then took my photo album over to the Warren’s hotel, as they had only seen maybe a fourth of my pictures, those that were on the slides. They had already arrived but hadn’t been able to reach Jack Ward on the phone. (Jack didn’t know I was coming.) The Warrens were enormously impressed by the pictures and could hardly wait to see the stones themselves.

About six o’clock Jack finally answered his phone. He owned several houses in Vincennes and the same phone number rang at all of them, except the one where he kept the stones, which had no phone, and that’s were he had been all afternoon. Bart and Robin had gotten there about one o’clock and Bart had just left for Santa Fe. Curses! Foiled again!

We went right over to Jack’s place, and he was glad to see me. Russell had left, Jack said, but he’d be over in the morning and he’d be glad to see me too, because he felt rather bad about that letter and wanted to explain it. Jack said John Black had made them write it. Both the Warrens went wild over the artifacts and made arrangements to come back the next morning to photograph them. Then we all went to dinner at Charlie’s Smorgasbord, where everyone in Vincennes goes for dinner.

Bart, it developed, had told them a string of lies, such as that the tape we had fought over was of his guitar playing. (He doubted I’d erased it though I did and told him so.) He was particularly interested in a certain dagger-shaped stone and had even paid $25 for a photographic blowup of both sides, but he tried to persuade them that it was worthless, and then he tried to buy it for $10. He claimed a lot of academic credentials that I knew he didn’t have. Then he and Robin got their instruments out of the car and played a concert for them, though neither Jack nor Russell has the slightest knowledge of, or interest in, classical music. They were impressed, though.

Next morning the Warrens and I met Russell at Jack’s house. Russell was glad to see me and said the same thing Jack had said about the letter. I had brought my tape recorder, and Russell went through his story again for us all on a new set of tapes – essentially the same story as before, except he’d remembered a few more things. The Warrens had heard only bits and pieces from me, so they had a lot of questions.

Jack had quite a few pieces on display that I hadn’t seen before, so I fetched my equipment and set about photographing them. Warren Dexter set about photographing the most important pieces, with Warren Cook’s help. Jack treated us to his usual monologue about Pharaoh Piankhi and 726 BC, and his pronouncements that the stones were carved in Egypt and brought over as ballast in ships. According to him, the reason they didn’t look like authentic Egyptian was that they were carved by Greeks who didn’t altogether understand the Egyptian mythology.

“Jack, you haven’t any evidence of that,” I would say, and he would reply, “It’s as good a story as any other,” and go right on as if he had proven it true. This made me gnash my teeth, but again I couldn’t do anything about it, even though I knew this would be proof enough of fraud in the minds of some people. The best explanation for the stones I could come up with was that they were made by people from some other culture, probably in the Western Mediterranean, who admired the Egyptian civilization and used certain elements from it in their own way, but I had no proof of that either.

In the middle of the morning Russell and Jack, who had been conferring in the kitchen, asked both of the Warrens to come over to Jack’s office in the house next door. They were gone for a good half-hour, and I wondered what it was all about. They said later they had been asked to sign a paper promising secrecy, and that seemed a bit strange, as I’d never been asked to sign anything. There were undercurrents here that I didn’t understand, but I figured everything would work itself out eventually, and I went on with my photography.

We all went to Charlie’s for lunch. As we were eating and talking, I leaned across the table to say something to Russell about John Black, and Russell’s expression turned wooden.

Look out, he’s sitting over there watching you,” he muttered, sotto voce.

“What!” Jack exclaimed. “Here? Where?”

“Shhh,” said Russell, looking straight ahead. “Talk about something else.”

We did, but I looked around the room surreptitiously to see who he could be. I could see only one possible candidate, an older man with a brush cut and thick glasses, sitting by himself with his back to the wall, not eating but staring a hole through me, or us, I couldn’t be sure. I pretended not to notice him and asked Russell if that was John, but he shook his head. I couldn’t find a single other candidate, and that man continued to stare and stare. I was tempted to stare back, but I didn’t.

Russell paid for our lunch, and outside in the parking lot he admitted that was John after all. He said John had tipped him the high sign (whatever that was), and Russell had excused himself and gone to the men’s room. John, in one of the cubicles, stuck his hand under the door with a $50 bill and growled, “Lunch is on me.”

The next morning Russell came over and announced that Mr. Black’s decision was to appoint Warren Cook Project Director for the study and excavation of the cave at $100,000 a year, Warren Dexter official Photographer at $75,000 and me Site Recorder at $50,000. I was appalled. I realized it was because Warren Cook was the first man with a doctorate – and he had two – who had taken an interest in the cave, but even I didn’t know him very well. He had no archaeological experience, and I wasn’t at all sure he was the man to entrust with this crucial site. I admired Warren a lot for the way he had overcome his handicap (he was deformed from polio) and gone on to quite a distinguished career as a professor of history and an authority on the prehistory of Vermont, but whether he was qualified as an administrator I had no way of knowing. If I wasn’t sure, John Black wasn’t sure either. Then to appoint me Site Recorder just because I had made a contribution but without knowing anything about my qualifications for such a part was a mistake too. It was a totally inept way of doing things, but anything I might say would sound as if I were jealous or disliked Warren Cook personally, which wasn’t true. I bit my tongue and said nothing.

Russell also said the decision had been made that he was to take one of us to the cave. Only one, and that was to be Warren Dexter. They would go that afternoon, as soon as Warren had bought a pair of hiking boots. I tried not to show my disappointment. I already had a pair of hiking boots, too!

Warren came back exhausted late in the afternoon, and had to rest before dinner. Russell told me later he had hiked poor Warren all over the countryside on the way to the cave, but even so, Warren had his eye on the landmarks. He was annoyed with himself that in his excitement he had forgotten to adjust one of the camera settings so the pictures he took weren’t going to be all they should be. They hadn’t gone inside (the entrance was purposely blocked), but Warren said there was definitely a cave there.

When Russell first found the cave he had sold some stones to Thelma McClain, who ran an antique store in Olney. At first Thelma exhibited them in the store, and after about five months Jack heard about them, went to see them, bought the ones with script and got in touch with Russell. Meanwhile, Russell and Thelma had a falling-out, so he made a deal with Jack and Norman to pay his expenses to go back and forth to the cave in return for stones that would belong to all three of them. Thelma’s friends laughed at her for having wasted money on such weird things, so she packed them away and wouldn’t even admit she had them. The Warrens and I all wanted to see those stones, though, so Russell fixed it up with Thelma and I stayed on an extra day (Sunday, June 22) to go there. The Warrens were staying until Tuesday morning in order to get their pictures developed, but I would be a day late at the dig even leaving Monday morning.

Thelma had even more stones than Jack, most of them packed in boxes in the basement, and they were worth staying over to see. Warren Dexter and I both took photos of the larger stones and while he continued shoot I struck up a conversation with Thelma. Finally I ventured to ask her if I could come back later in the summer to shoot all her stones. She said O.K.

Jack had driven us over to Olney, and when we returned he let the Warrens off at their hotel, then drove me over to his house to pick up my bike. “Come into my office before you go,” he said. “I have something to show you.”

Jack had some real estate concerns and did some business buying and selling arrowheads and the like with local artifact hunters. I followed him into his cramped, dusty, cluttered little office and he moved some things off a chair so I could sit down. He went to a file cabinet, took out a box and handed it to me, saying nothing. Inside were three heavy, shiny inscribed artifacts covered in clear plastic.


I was speechless. The thought had crossed my mind that if the cave and the burials were as Russell had described them there should be some gold there, but I hadn’t given it much thought, and none at all lately. I didn’t know what to say. Jack said there were nearly a hundred such pieces from the cave in a safe deposit box in the bank. One of the pieces had a reddish cast and three Egyptian hieroglyphs stamped (or incised) into it. Jack said they meant “Gold becomes idol” and that proved the bar was brought over to be made into statues. It didn’t prove that to me, and it could just as well read right to left as left to right anyway. He showed me a three-ring notebook containing fuzzy photocopies of many, many coins – gold coins, he said, some of them Carthaginian. He said Russell had had a piece of gold assayed and it was 99.6% pure – incredibly pure gold, barely enough impurities to hold it together.

What this did prove to me was that the cave must have been unknown at least since the Spaniards came to America in the fifteenth century. Everyone knows they came to find gold, and when they found it in Mexico, it was shipped to Spain and melted down to finance the wars. The colonists who came later were hardly less rapacious, and, indeed, had the cave been discovered by anyone other than possibly the Indians, it would have been looted long since. Yet here it was, completely undisturbed. What a stroke of luck, that Russell and John Black were more interested in saving it for posterity than in getting rich! What a stroke of luck that it was Russell who found it!

I made Jack promise to tell the Warrens about the gold the next day, but when I got back to my room and telephoned them at their hotel, after some care in feeling each other out, I learned that they already knew. In fact, that was what their signing a paper in Jack’s office had been about. It was good old male chauvinism that had kept me in the dark. Warren Cook said he made Jack promise to tell me about it, but when I mentioned that to Russell months later he said it wasn’t true, it was just that Jack couldn’t keep it to himself. As I said, there were undercurrents I didn’t understand.