#6 The Story of Jack Ward – 1975-88

Written by Fred Rydholm

Back in 1975 Jack had been asked to serve on a committee of the Old Northwest Bicentennial Corporation when the city of Vincennes was preparing to celebrate the Bicentennial of the United States. The Corporation had acquired some property, and a small dwelling on it was converted into a museum. They renamed an Indian mound there and their museum after their own patriot Indian, François Son Of Tobacco, who was called “Sonoftobac*.” It opened in 1976, the nation’s bicentennial year. Jack Ward set up the museum with the help of his committee. Over the next few years the displays grew rapidly, as many farmers from the area brought in their finds of arrowheads and other artifacts.

As Jack studied the stones at the museum he began to sort them as to Indian and non-Indian. As the collection continued to grow he began to see a definite pattern. Many stones had what looked like inscriptions.

About this time Jack acquired Barry Fell’s America B.C. In it he saw inscriptions like those on some of the rocks in his collection. He copied many of his inscriptions and sent them to Dr. Fell. These inscriptions turned out to be Numidian and Libyan; the symbols were from ancient North Africa and Europe and the Mediterranean.

The story that Jack told several people was that when he contacted Dr. Fell he was told that because of the demands for translations coming in from all over Fell just didn’t have time to get into these stones right now, but with some back issues of ESOP (Epigraphic Societies Occasional Papers) and Dr. Fell’s book, he might be able to come up with some translations of his own, and he was encouraged by Dr. Fell to give it a try. Soon Jack was into the study of ancient history and epigraphy, and in time, he was coming up with his own translations.

After several years of study and research a picture began to form in Jack Ward’s mind as to what he thought life was like in the Wabash Valley, two or three thousand years ago. As this picture became more clear to him he organized his thoughts into two stories. One was a historical account of his discoveries and their implications, and the other was a fictional story of what might have happened there, based on his findings. His fiction portrays what could have been the important events in the history of the people who, according to his observations, must have settled in the Valley of the Wabash some three millennia ago.

Jack published these two stories side-by-side in a remarkable but controversial book which he called Ancient Archives Among the Cornstalks. It was quite a different story from the accepted theories of the Adena culture (which most people think of as the “Mound Builders”).

The book Jack wrote, while not accepted generally by the historians, scientists and scholars that form the establishment in universities and public museums, seems very logical in light of Jack Ward’s interpretation of things; and though few epigraphers agree with his translations, Mr. Ward said he spent months on some of them. He said he stayed with them until they made sense. I didn’t know, when I attended the 1988 meeting of ISAC, that Mr. Ward had made a presentation at an ISAC meeting a few years earlier (1984), and did not pick up many followers at that time either.

About the time that Jack Ward’s book was ready to go to press (1983-84), he was called by the owner of a little antique or curiosity shop in Olney, Illinois, about an hour’s drive from Vincennes, to look at some inscribed stones the proprietor had purchased. Jack was absolutely amazed at what he saw. Where had these stones come from and who had brought them in?

He was told they were brought in by a cave explorer who was trying to find someone who could interpret them or tell him something about them. Jack was finally put in touch with the “caver” Russell Burrows.

“Can you get any more of these stones?” asked Jack of Russell.

“All kinds of them,” was the reply; but Burrows wasn’t about to tell Jack where the source was.

After much discussion over a period of time Jack Ward gained the confidence of Russell Burrows. He explained that this collection of rocks was a phenomenal find, and should not be handed out or sold. In order to safeguard them he wanted as many of the rocks as could be obtained to be kept together and placed in his museum in Vincennes. They would be open to public viewing there.

With Norman Cullan, a very elderly gentleman from Jack’s Museum Committee, the three mer. formed a corporation. It was a closed corporation, dedicated to preserving and interpreting the stones that Russell claimed were found in the mass of silt he had to dig through in order to get into a cave he had discovered. He said there were any number of these stones. They were of every kind and description, and he had no idea of where they where coming from. They were just embedded helter-skelter in the sand and silt that was blocking and hiding the entrance to the cave he had chanced upon.

The whole story of this cave was so interesting to me that I just had to know more about it. Others attending the ISAC meeting had already gone through what I was now beginning. At least two of them had gone to Vincennes the previous year and talked with the three men involved in MRD Associates: they were Warren Dexter (the archaeological photographer from Vermont), and a woman from New York City. She had photographed many of the stones that had been removed from the cave.

Later at the same meeting in Georgia I talked with both of these people. They did not express any opinions as to the people who might have made the cave’s artifacts, but they were both satisfied that there were no shenanigans about the authenticity of what they had seen and photographed. While neither had been in the cave itself, they both had seen it and knew for a fact that such a cave existed.

*Also spelled “Sonotobac” and “Sonotabac”.