#56 – Another Setback – 1987-89

Written by Fred Rydholm:

Dr. Warren Cook was very enthusiastic about the cave. On his visit to Vincennes in 1987 he said he was willing to organize the entire study and he offered to set up the system, provide a plan for strategy, hire the personnel and see that everything from the cave would be properly catalogued, photographed and housed so that the artifacts could be made available for study. Warren Dexter, his longtime friend, would assist him.

After a discussion with the landowner, who preferred to be left out of things as much as possible, everything seemed to be moving satisfactorily.

The landowner said he would provide financing for the whole project, enough to see it through to completion. He would start a foundation that would provide funding as needed, but that would be completely separate from the archaeological dig and study. The archaeology would of course be at the sole discretion of the archaeologists in charge. The landowner would be in charge of financing and of security for the property.

Sometime during 1987 the word was passed from the landowner through Russell Burrows to Warren Cook that all parties were satisfied with him, he had the credentials and the proper scientific attitude, and he was welcome to take over.

Dr. Cook was very pleased with his new responsibility. First off, he thought the cave should have a name, and what better name could it have than “Burrows’ Cave,” after its discoverer.

Russell insists that his was a rediscovery. The cave, he says, was discovered about one hundred and thirty years ago, and was discovered for the first time maybe several thousand years ago. It was a case of semantics and not much was said about that, but all concerned felt that Russell was proud to have the cave named for him. The landowner even decided to put the property in Russell’s name, but the landowner would still pay the taxes on it. Russell would own the cave and its contents, but the land’s surface rights would remain with the landowner.

The next step was the long process of clearing ownership of the artifacts with the State of Illinois. Something should be mentioned about state and federal laws on the subject of archaeological finds or treasure troves. When one hasn’t encountered the situation first-hand he looks at it from a different perspective. In many cases the finder is chastised for making his discovery, and it is confiscated by the state. For this reason many such finds are never reported, but are kept secret and looted. The artifacts are smuggled out and sold, the circumstances are never learned, and the history is lost. This looting of historic places has been a problem down through the centuries. Only if the finders can somehow be rewarded for their discoveries, will the situation change.

The Illinois law on archaeological discoveries was apparently quite clear and non-punitive: if a non-profit organization was set up and if the artifacts were kept on the property and made available for scientific study and public display, there would apparently be no problem in getting a permit to study the cave. Lawyers were set to work to clear this hurdle.

Both Dr. Warren Cook and Warren Dexter were friends of Dr. Barry Fell and active members in good standing of the Epigraphic Society. Dr. Cook was aware of the controversy over the so-called Elephant Stele and wanted to clear the air on that score so that they could wipe the slate clean.

He prevailed on Russell to write a letter to Dr. Fell saying that that particular stone had been faked or carved by someone, and since Fell was basing his objection to the whole cave on that one stone, they could throw it out and look into the other inscriptions. Russell was very reluctant to do this because he knew the stone was just as authentic as all the rest. (And Cook knew this as well.)

The landowner had a nephew who had been to the cave, and knew all about it. He had recently been killed in an accident and Russell got to thinking that he could provide an explanation by claiming the nephew had forged the tablet.

Reluctantly he wrote the letter to Dr. Fell, but it was not until some months later.

Here is Russell Burrows’ letter to Dr. Fell, as printed in ESOP, vol 18 (1989), with some editorial comment:

Burrows Cave, Illinois
Reference was made by Fell, in ESOP vol.16, p.24 (1987), to a tablet said to have been found in Burrows’ Cave, at Olney, Ill., and which carries a version of the Cuenca Elephant inscription from Ecuador. In Fell’s opinion the Olney artifact was deemed to be a forgery. The following letter has now been received from Burrows:

Dear Dr. Fell,

This will confirm our telephone conversation in which I informed you of my investigation into the authenticity of the tablet referred to as the elephant stele and the discovery of evidence which has proven that it is of recent manufacture. Through the investigation I was able to identify the person who had done the reproduction of the stele in question. He was a nephew of the landowner and is now deceased due to an accident. This information was provided by a young man who has assisted the nephew in his efforts.

This does not mean that I believe all of the artifacts in question are of recent manufacture. I know that ten and ten only were reproduced. They have been identified and removed from the collection. As for the remaining artifacts, I am convinced that they are genuine.

I want to apologize to you for the problems which this error on my part has caused you. I also apologize to you for the harsh remarks which I have made concerning you. There is nothing more that I can do but admit that you were correct and that I was in error.

Respectfully submitted,

Russell E. Burrows
512 N. Fair St.
Olney IL 62450
December 8, 1989

While Russell hoped that this letter would put everything with Dr. Fell and the Epigraphic Society back to square one where things could proceed in harmony, he later wrote to me saying:

“Remember, it was Warren’s idea, not mine. This is how it came about. Warren wanted to get Dr. Fell off our back and he insisted that it be done. I argued the point for a couple of months and finally gave in. That was the biggest mistake I ever made. Warren seemed to think that if we could get a breather from the negative pressure, we could make some headway.” Even Dr. Fell admitted that while he was sure these ten stones were faked and were “childish drawings and absurdities” they obviously had required “an advanced technology to produce them.”

The only other question on Russell Burrow’s mind now was whether or not Dr. Warren Cook was strong enough to carry through on his investigation. He was a very frail man with severe heart and respiratory problems.

But things were looking up and Dr. Cook was laying out plans to get started at the cave as soon as possible. It looked like it would take a full year to get people hired and construction and security in place.

On December 10 of 1989 Warren Dexter, Dr. Cook’s best friend, sat down and wrote me a letter, one portion of which is quoted here:

“Last Sunday I drove Warren Cook to Albany, N.Y, to stay at a motel overnight and continue on his trip to his brother’s home near San Diego, California. Warren was not in good health and they had to take him off the plane (emergency landing) at Omaha, Nebraska.

Warren had heart trouble and lasted until 4:30 a.m. Thursday. His body was cremated and his daughter will place his ashes in the family plot in Spokane, Washington next spring. We are having a memorial service tomorrow at the College. I shall miss Warren a lot.”

In the ESOP, Volume 19 (1990) there appeared a memorial to Dr. Cook written by Warren Dexter and Gloria Farley, quoted here in part:

Several glowing obituaries have been written for this warm, many-faceted and courageous man, but this one shall emphasize his great importance to epigraphy.

His diverse background equipped him for his contributions. Stricken with polio at age two, he decided early in life to develop his mind. He obtained a doctorate at the Universidad de San Marcos in Peru, where he lived for nine years. His second doctorate was earned at Yale University in 1960. The same year he was awarded a contract with tenure to teach at Castleton State College in Vermont, where he chaired the Department of History for several years, becoming Professor Emeritus in 1987. He will be remembered as an enthusiastic teacher who imparted this attitude to his students.

His greatest academic achievement was the publication of his 620-page book, Flood tide of Empire: Spain and the Pacific Northwest, 1543-1819, by Yale University Press in 1973. This book won the internationally renowned Bolton Prize in 1974 as the best book of the year in Latin-American history, and was nominated for a Pulitzer prize.

Cook’s intense interest in many subjects pertaining to diffusionism and anthropology required extensive travel in China, the Americas, Europe and North Africa, much of it accompanied by his close friend, colleague and photographer, one of the authors of this memorial (Dexter).

The other author (Farley) met Warren Cook at a symposium in Charleston in 1976. Introduced as “Here is a man who has been working with Dr. Barry Fell,” her quartet of epigraphers immediately became a quintet. Dr. Cook and his students had been assisting Dr. Fell in the New England area gathering evidence of the ancient presence there of Celtic and Mediterranean peoples. When Farley first visited the Cooks in Vermont in 1976, she became aware of his other

interests: the designing and building of his unusual home, the family’s Arabian horses, his vast stamp collection, and his personal library.

Cook was a fellow of The Epigraphic Society, Trustee of the Institute for Study of American Cultures and a member of the New England Antiquities Research Association, the Early Sites Research Society and the Society for the History of Discoveries.

Dr. Cook’s greatest contribution to epigraphic studies was his organizing and hosting at Castleton State College in October 1977 of the Ancient Vermont Conference, an international event attended by 650 people. They filled the auditorium as well as the aisles and in the orchestra pit to hear 26 speakers, and a lively audience participation. Heated discussions centered on the antiquity of megalithic chambers in the area and inscriptions which had been deciphered by Dr. Fell, and the lobby exhibit of photographs and artifacts. The proceedings of the entire two-day conference, edited by Dr. Cook, was published in 1978 under the title of Ancient Vermont. Although out of print, it is a landmark for epigraphic studies and a case for diffusionism in America. Dr. Cook also established a museum at the college, which we hope will be maintained.

Warren always found a way to overcome obstacles. When his deteriorating health made it difficult for him to write or draw, he used his expertise with a computer to make it possible to reproduce the ancient scripts and the illustrations he needed.

The influence of Dr. Warren L. Cook will continue long after we who loved him have joined him.

That said, it is easy to see that Dr. Cook and his partner Warren Dexter were well qualified to recognize authentic artifacts when they saw them, and they had examined them as closely as anyone. None of the people yelling fraud had handled the stones or seen more than a small number of drawings or a few hundred pictures. None of them had seen any of the gold, or even knew that any existed.

The death of Warren Cook, the project director, besides being a great shock was a great loss to the project. He was the first qualified person who examined the several collections and could find no fault with the artifacts, the cave or Russell Burrows.

Dr. Cook told several people that this find would prove to be the most important discovery of its kind on the American continent. He felt it would soon answer many long-standing questions pertaining to ancient American Indians. It would certainly answer once and for all whether or not people crossed the oceans in early times, and it would also tie in with the old civilizations in Central and South America.

Shortly before his death Dr. Cook had made plans to move, bag and baggage, to Illinois. He wanted security in place at the cave site and fencing installed, and he was arranging to have housing nearby for himself and Warren Dexter as well as for archaeologists and other personnel.

Of course, the sudden death of Warren Cook put everything on hold for a period of time. However, even before his death some committees were formed to help with the plans. The members of the committees had to be scrutinized very carefully by Russ Burrows, himself. By now he was very suspicious of everyone, and was always on the lookout for people with devious motives trying to get close to the project. The ultimate goal of all concerned was, of course, to get the cave and its artifacts examined in a fair way. Most agreed that nothing more should be removed from the site and everything that had been removed should be returned if possible.