#65 – My Involvement with Burrows’ Cave – 1987

Written by Jim Sherz

I first heard of Burrows’ Cave from Bart Jordan, a talented musician who is also a scholar of ancient music and of the sacred Old World “canons of proportion” that were used in ancient times to tie together our calendars, musical scales, and units of measure into one harmonious system. My students and I had completed some initial work on precisely surveying some of the rock structures and effigy mounds in Wisconsin. The data indicated a harmonious correlation among calendars, ratios of musical scales and units of measure – similar in many respects to what a small group of scholars say is found in the geometry of sacred ceremonial sites in the Old World. Bart was an expert on music and the ancient canons of proportion, and had traveled and done research in the Old World. And since I knew how to precisely survey ancient New World ceremonial structures which had not yet been adequately studied, it was not long before my students had put Bart and me in contact. The first mention of Burrows’ Cave in my journals occurs in 1987, when Bart asked me to contact a Russell Burrows in Olney, Illinois. Bart said that Col. Burrows had discovered a cave of great importance, and Bart was worried that the situation was being handled in an incompetent manner and that they needed the help of someone who had a background in the hard sciences.

I learned that Dr. Warren Cook, whom I had visited years before relating to his work with the stone structures of Massachusetts and Vermont, was then in charge of the Burrows’ Cave investigation. I had confidence in Dr. Cook and assumed that he would make contact with me if he needed any engineering help. I made no attempt to interfere in the project.

Then, in the summer of 1987, Bart said he had arranged for me to take a reconnaissance trip to Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, and that we could stay in the archaeologists’ cabins at the site. He wanted me to come down and gather some basic survey data for him, relating to the geometrical layout of the ancient structures there. This sounded like a great adventure, and with two teen-age children and one of their friends from Germany, we went to Chaco Canyon. We gathered some preliminary data, but the extent of the survey work required at the site was enormous. Our field equipment and labs at that time did not have the capability to support the type of study that would be needed even to attempt to gather survey data adequate enough to reliably indicate the geometrical principles used for the layout of that enormous ceremonial complex.

Our initial data did, however, indicate the same long-range geometry we were finding in the mounds of Wisconsin. Consequently, I viewed this exciting and enjoyable adventure as a great success, to be resumed at some future date when I had access to proper surveying equipment and laboratory facilities, and enough time to do an adequate and thorough study of the site. What I did not then know was that Bart Jordan had also invited Russell Burrows to join us in the reconnaissance of Chaco Canyon, but that Col. Burrows had decided not to come. There indeed was reason to view the trip with a bit of suspicion, for in that month thousands of people from all over the continent were to converge on Chaco Canyon for what was termed in the press as a celebration of the “Harmonic Convergence,” a popular happening supposedly to honor one of the closing cycles of the Mayan Calendar. We were lucky: crowds of people began to arrive at Chaco Canyon only on the day of our departure.

From other surveyors, I learned of Jack Ward and his book Ancient Archives Among the Cornstalks. These friends even bought a copy of his book for me. I also heard rumors that Jack Ward was associated with an important cave that would soon come into “open light.” But I made no attempt to contact Ward or visit the area. Then in 1990 Lee Linehan, one of the members of the Ancient Earthworks Society, which was formed in Madison, Wisconsin to survey, study and preserve Indian mounds, arranged for Dr. Joseph Mahan of Columbus, Georgia, to come to Madison and give a lecture at one of our meetings. I was impressed with what Dr. Mahan was doing with his ISAC organization and he evidently was impressed with the geometry in the Indian mounds of our area. He showed us some pictures of rock art pieces from Burrows’ Cave, and invited me to attend the annual meeting of ISAC that summer in Columbus.

It was at that meeting that I first met Jack Ward and Col. Burrows. An ad-hoc committee was established by ISAC to advise on how to proceed in working with the Burrows’ Cave situation. (Dr Cook, who had initially been in charge of the investigation, had recently died.) I accepted a position on this committee, whose members also included Col. Burrows, Virginia Hourigan, and Fred Rydholm (along with other people). I had met Fred years before, while studying prehistoric structures associated with the ancient copper mines of Michigan. In the summer of that year, Virginia, Col. Burrows, Fred and I met in Wisconsin to brainstorm and come up with some initial recommendations. These recommendations were sent to the rest of the committee, which was chaired by Dr. Cyclone Covey. One of the prime recommendations was that there be strict security on the cave itself, lest the data that is still there be stolen or destroyed by vandals or overly-energetic unqualified amateurs. I was certain that it would be a long time before orthodox scholars would accept the value of the site and conduct a proper scientific investigation of Col. Burrows’ claim, and it was essential that the site be protected until that time.

In the spring of 1991, I traveled to Vincennes to visit with Jack Ward and Col. Burrows. We looked at some of the rock art pieces that Col. Burrows said he took from the cave and had turned over to Jack Ward. But these pieces from the cave were mixed up with other pieces carved of brown sandstone which Jack said came from the “Monroe City” site. I asked where the Monroe City site was and who had collected the pieces. He said that a high-school dropout neighbor of his had collected them. Jack bought the pieces from his young friend. “Did you find any of the pieces yourself?” I asked. “No,” was his reply. Jack then wove a story of how the people who had left the pieces at Burrows’ Cave later moved to the Monroe City site and made pieces of a completely different style out of a completely different material, but he said it was all part of the same culture. Some of these pieces from the Monroe City Site had what appeared to be fresh cut marks. I photographed some of these, and I decided that the pieces that Col. Burrows could testify had come from Burrows’ Cave had to be separated from the Monroe City pieces. The pieces from the two sites were displayed together and Jack talked about them as if they were all part of one culture or collection. The casual listener and observer would assume that they had all come from the same source when indeed they had not.

Then Jack pulled out a copper needle that his young friend had sold to him. He elaborated on how the people from near Monroe City had used this needle to sew rawhide baskets for the transport of copper nuggets from the copper mines of Michigan to Illinois, where they were prepared for shipment to Egypt. The copper needle was clearly not the same as the prehistoric copper needles found in Wisconsin, and I took a photo of it for comparison. It appeared to me to be clearly a modern piece, but one could not conclude that Jack’s young friend had not found it in a field as Jack claimed he did. As Col. Burrows later pointed out in confidence, it appeared to be an electrode from an electric welder with a clearly manufactured square hole for an anchoring lug rather than a round hole for holding a piece of thread or leather.

In fairness to the claims about the Monroe City site, Col. Burrows and I visited the area where the Monroe City pieces supposedly had been found. There was no question that the site had been important in prehistoric times. Recent bulldozer action had flattened an ancient mound and pushed the debris into a windrow with also included the remains of trees that had been on the site. We picked up some pieces of flint from the spot and some crystals and ocher (obviously carried there for ceremonial purposes by the ancients who had either built or used the ancient mound). But we could find none of the brown sandstone pieces similar to the many Monroe City pieces that Jack Ward had on display all mixed up with the pieces from the Burrows’ Cave. This data was quickly noted in my field book and soon thereafter summarized, as is my practice with such matters.

By the standards that one would use to collect depositions or other data for court purposes, it was clear that anything associated with the Monroe City data should be excluded from further study until we could talk to Jack’s young friend and have him give his own story of how he obtained the brown sandstone pieces. Jack said he was a shy lad and would not talk to us. Besides, these pieces looked suspect, even if we could have had a personal interview with the lad who supposedly found them.

But the pieces that Col. Burrows said he took from the Cave were of a completely different type. Except for some pieces made from white rock, and what appears to be a piece of ceramic art work, the Burrows’ Cave pieces are almost all made of black or dark grey rock, most having a turtle-shell shape. Almost all have carvings and inscriptions on them. Some of the pieces are highly polished, with a glass-like surface, but many are worn not unlike old coins. Others show signs of slight corrosion where the shiny surface has peeled off, like the outer layer of an onion. Others are badly corroded and flaked. The art work on many of the pieces is well done and often of a rather haunting nature.

Some of the pieces are made of what appeared to me to be black slate, shale or similar soft and layered material. Other black pieces are of a harder material. I was uncertain of the type of rock. Jack reportedly had spent much of his professional life involved with rock quarry operations, and I asked him what he thought the rock was. He said that some of the hard pieces were sand-eroded diorite and that there was a desert in Egypt where you can find such pieces. He said that the bottoms of such pieces had rested on the sand and the blowing sand had polished the rest of the rock. Then, he said, the art work and inscriptions had been carved on these naturally polished rocks. The bottoms of many of the pieces indeed did appear to have bases that were not polished while the rest was smoothed off. But I was not content with Jack’s explanation. If the rocks were of a calcium carbonate material rather than igneous diorite, then the rough bottoms could be caused by corrosion from water over long periods of time due to sitting on a damp, flat surface. I asked Col. Burrows for a few pieces of the rock that could be taken to the Wisconsin Geological Survey, for analysis by professional geologists. Jack lamented that no qualified geologists from Illinois had ever come to examine his collection.

I then sat back to listen to Jack Ward’s story of what he had written in his book, about Chief Raz who formed the “Flying Dove United Company” to come to this land for trade, and about the descendants of Raz whom he said are described in the script on pieces from Burrows’ Cave script that he could decipher. Finally he got around to talking about the local history of the region, about the White settlers who came in the 1800s and the Indians who were in the area before they came. On matters of local history, I found Jack to be a very well-informed man. I jotted down a great deal of data to check out more thoroughly at some future date. It was deep into the dark of the night when I finally left Jack’s house and began the long drive back towards Madison, Wisconsin.

I later talked by phone to Col. Burrows and to Virginia Hourigan (who had photographed the rocks in Jack Ward’s collection). I said that the rocks that Col. Burrows could testify had come from the cave had to be separated from the rocks from the Monroe City site. The Monroe City pieces were vulnerable to the charge of possible forgery; displaying both collections together would taint the Burrows’ Cave pieces, as well.

I would defer judgement on the Monroe City pieces, but offhand they looked suspect. Also, we had no defendable trail of evidence that could be used to document the Monroe City pieces. I was certain that the copper needle was modern. I then asked Col. Burrows if he could arrange for another meeting with Jack because I had two highly trained geologist friends who were willing to come to Illinois in a private plane to look at the pieces. I wanted a second opinion on the kind of rocks from which the pieces were made. If the composition of the rocks were known, then we could say much about the possible corrosion patterns on the pieces. A day or so later Col. Burrows called back and said that he had pointed out to Jack that the copper needle looked like a modern spot welder electrode, and that Jack said that the three of us could come down to examine and photograph his collection, but that the rate was $1000 a day.

Our finances for such volunteer adventures could not support such rates, so I was content to focus further examination on the few pieces of rock that Col. Burrows had loaned to us. All of these pieces proved to be
of a black limestone that fizzed when subjected to an acid test. One of the rock experts at the Wisconsin Geological Survey said that the pieces could be classified as lithographic limestone. In any case, all the pieces examined in Madison were cemented with a calcium carbonate material (therefore they were of a sedimentary nature). The rocks were very fine grained and black or dark grey in color. Based on this knowledge, we could partly explain the corrosion patterns on the pieces, as a report in the companion volume to this present book will indicate.