Wall of Shame
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Sites in Need of Protection
Fort Payne, Alabama
See latest update at bottom of page.
For information on Ft. Payne and to sign a petition, visit petitiononline.com/NAFTPAIN/petition.html. Located in Dekalb County, the mounds and the village sites that have occupied them, date back 1,000 years and are presumed older than Moundville.
Update: 2002 Feb
Dig unearths history
By Teri Baker
The Weekly Post
Published February 15, 2002
Russell Townsend with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians said his
federally-recognized tribe has been working with officials since the
remains of a prehistoric human was discovered on the site last June.
"The Department of Transportation (DOT) has done everything it was
supposed to do," Townsend said, noting they had contacted all five
federally-recognized tribes in the southeast.
In an area along U.S. Highway 11, archaeologists with Jacksonville
State University found what they believe to be the remains of
Woodland- and Archaeic-era Indians and artifacts dating back as far
as 8,500 B.C.
The site is being excavated because of road work to straighten an
area known locally as "Dead Man's Curve." The group of archaeologists
came to Fort Payne to remove Native American artifacts from the site
where the new road will soon be built.
Townsend said he was concerned because his organization represents
Cherokees in eight states—Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, West Virginia,
Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina. "We work with
federal and state agencies in these states," he said.
He said the state has agreed that if any remains have to be moved,
they will be reinterred a short distance away. "We find that's very
respectful on their part," he said. "We feel state-recognized groups
have every right to be concerned about their ancestors and their
remains, but we were at the site in June meeting with the Department
of Transportation and were impressed with their care and respect, the
way they treated us."
According to Harry Holstein, director of the Archaeological Resource
Laboratory with Jacksonville State University, as with all federal
and state projects, this research in mandated.
"This is a three-phase project," he said. "In 1999 we did the first
phase of the project on the site when our guy went out there, walked
the fields and found two sites." One site is located across the
creek, but it will not be excavated. Holstein said the finding of
arrowheads proved this could be an important site.
In phase two, during the summer of 2000 the college took students to
the site where they dug holes and found evidence of posts, pits and
nutshell fragments. This determined that homes had been on the site.
Phase three of the project, which entailed major excavation, began
Holstein said the last people on the site was over 500 years ago and
was probably the Woodland Indians. "We've not touched anything
recent," he said. "It's all prehistoric. We've gaining valuable
information about the cultures."
The area was first occupied around 8,500 B.C., according to Holstein,
the late Archaic time period to the Woodland time period, between 200
B.C. and 500 A.D.
"In June we started the project, and found so many posts and pits, we
stripped off the entire right of way, took off the topsoil and
exposed over 500 features," he said.
Over 2000 posts, which represents structures, were found on the site.
"But," Holstein said, "we stopped digging immediately once we found
bones. We called the Alabama Department of Transportation and the
Alabama Historical Commission the same day. Then we had to wait."
The Native Americans were also contacted. "Every federally-recognized
tribe was contacted," Holstein said. "We tried to also contact local
tribes, but I'm sure we missed some people." He said they met with
the Cherokees on the site, and the group was pleased with what they
"We had to wait four months after that," he said. "We had to pay
students and workers to camp at the site, and we did our best to
protect the graves.
However, Holstein said, things came to a head when they hired the
Fort Payne police to patrol the site during the Christmas
holidays. "When people saw police camped on the site, they started
talking, and rumors started going around," he said. "Local people
drove by and thought `Gold!' By the time we got back after Christmas
it was a mess."
Holstein said one rumor was that they had taken the bones out and had
them on display at the university. "That's not true," he said. "All
bones found were reburied near the site. We were trying to protect
"We want everyone happy," he added. "We're trying to help the county
and city. And we want off the site as quickly as they want us off."
Archaeologists are digging very carefully, he said. Every time a pit
is found, the digging stops. "We use satellites to tell us where
we're at on the field," Holstein said. "We want to locate all the
burials we can, otherwise the bulldozers will mash them if we don't
We're trying to find them all to relocate them."
Holstein expects excavation to continue another two to three
months. "We're trying to locate everything," he said.
On-site director Rick Walling says he's excited about the project is
because it's unusual to find such a well-preserved ground site. "The
field has never been plowed with a tractor, and remains to this day
pastureland, We're finding pits that were used for storage and fire
pits that were used to fire pottery and for cooking," he said, adding
that thousands of fragments had been found.
Objects found by the researchers are not funerary objects, but
fragments used in every-day life. "This probably started as a place
where they came through and stopped for a short while," Walling said.
The first people traveling through were transient and date back to
the earlier Archaic period around 10,000 years ago.
What started as an occasional site ended up in the latter period as a
settlement, Walling said, and became a settlement some time around
3,500 years ago.
Researchers are trying to determine if inhabitants were hunters and
gatherers or farmers. "We don't really know if they were farmers or
not," Walling said.
As an added benefit for the public, when the university finishes with
the project they will publish a report complete with photos. "We're
excited about this," Holstein said. "We asked the Highway Department
and federal officials if they would help pay for this report for the
public, and they agreed."
When the project is completed, a glossy report complete with photos
will be available for the public. It will explain the various time
Local dig discoveries raise concerns for Native American group
By Steven Stiefel
Native Americans and archaeologists working for the state highway
department are squaring off over human remains found at a project
site near Dead Man's Curve in Fort Payne.
So far, it has been a peaceful conflict, but a legal war to stop the
highway may be brewing.
Nick Blackbear, of Henagar, said he has been among 40-50 people who
have gathered at U.S. Highway 11 the past four Sundays to hold a
prayer vigil for the spirits of those who were buried on the pasture
land where the state plans to build a more gradual turn.
A team from Jacksonville State University is working to unearth
artifacts to be preserved. The remains of at least seven prehistoric
humans were found, then immediately covered back. The discovery made
matters a lot more complicated.
The state, compelled by the Native American Graves Protection and
Repatriation Act, contacted federally-recognized Native American
tribes to seek input on what to do with the remains.
Blackbear said his group, made up of different tribes, wants the site
covered back up and no further work done there.
"If we went on the other side of the creek and disturbed the white
man's cemetery, people would be upset with us," he said.
The Native American group plans to take legal action to block any
further excavation, basing this on a dig halted in Tennessee.
"My brother, Lou White Eagle, was part of that group in Tennessee,
and he is telling us what they did there," Blackbear said.
When told of JSU's projected finish date of April, Blackbear
replied, "The white man likes to lie. I wouldn't believe him. There
are too many stories and rumors. When Native Americans owned this
land, it was a paradise, pure and sacred."
According to Harry Holstein of JSU, the Cherokees were impressed by
Alabama's efforts to follow the law and gave their permission for JSU
to continue exploring.
Holstein said the local group should be glad the remains are being
guarded because the site would surely be looted if JSU stopped today.
"People would dump the bones and sell the arrowheads at Trade Day,"
Holstein said. "Some of [the group] are nice, but some have become
violent and demanding. One knocked down a fence, and some have gotten
in the face of these college students claiming they have a right to
be there when it's actually private property.
"The rhetoric is also getting very emotional, claiming the people
buried there 'died a terrible death' and such. The bodies were there
Blackbear said JSU's team has allowed them to come onto the dig site
to conduct the prayer services, but he wasn't aware of any
belligerent exchanges. Fort Payne acting Police Chief David Walker
said he was not aware of any related incident reports.
"JSU has to do things within the law, and we believe they have
flawed," Blackbear said. "To say they 'died a terrible death'
could've been dying of disease or famine."
Holstein said the state does not have to contact state-recognized
"It would be impossible - a nightmare - to contact every Native
American within 500 miles, but the highway department has made a good
faith effort," he said. "Still, it has gotten really political.
People have been calling claiming to be Indians when they aren't, and
the remains we've found are a thousand years removed from the
historical tribes. There are no direct ancestors to these people
Blackbear, who says is Southern Cheyenne based out west, said the
remains could be ancestral because nomadics roamed the whole
continent. He has lived in DeKalb County for a decade.
"We're waiting for the Cherokees to tell us what to do, and we still
have no definitive answer," Holstein said.
The two men do agree on the educational merits of the JSU dig.
Blackbear said he was disappointed to see little information in the
library about Native Americans. Holstein said the project will
provide great insight into prehistoric human activity in Fort Payne,
all of it to be released to libraries and schools.
"We're not trying to be mysterious, and we don't care if they want to
pray," Holstein said. "Just give us the courtesy of not stepping all
over our excavation and ruining our data."
Update: 2002 Feb
Native American artifacts could be significant local discovery
By Steven Stiefel
The official state archaeologist believes the Fort Payne dig site
near "Dead Man's Curve" may be significant to getting an accurate
picture of the inhabitants of this area over thousands of years.
The Alabama Department of Transportation has paid a group from
Jacksonville State University to find artifacts so they are not
destroyed when bulldozers begin moving dirt. The plan is to make the
dangerous curve more gradual by cutting across what is now pasture.
The dig site is along the bank of Wills Creek.
The excavation has been under way since June, when it was only
expected to last about three months.
State Archaeologist Thomas Maher of the Alabama Historical Commission
said the site is a significant finding in two ways.
"That would be the fact that the artifacts are so old and indicate an
intense occupation in a relatively small space. There are overlapping
features that tell us many different groups lived there over
thousands of years," Maher said.
"It is fairly rare to find an open site because they are often eroded
or plowed away. An 'open' site refers to something out in an open
field rather than in a cave or bluff shelter."
He said this is especially rare in North Alabama. Some of the
findings date back to 5000 B.C., according to JSU.
"We will not know exactly how significant it is until the excavation
ends and JSU completes its investigation. It will take them a good
time to do analysis and write a report," Maher said.
He was surprised to hear that at least one tribal group has held a
prayer vigil and demonstration near the dig site, which is surrounded
by barbed wire and guarded 24 hours a day.
He said ALDOT considered taking an alternate route, but the state
will likely proceed as started.
"Everywhere they moved, they hit another site, so it seems
irresponsible to open this site and then close it when every looter
and grave robber knows where it is," Maher said. "It is not realistic
to cover it over and try to pretend there are no bones there. It's
not an easy set of choices."
He said the JSU team found bones they could not determine belonged to
an animal, so they immediately covered them up and began the legal
process of notifying federally-recognized tribal groups to negotiate
the removal of human skeletons. Groups that are only recognized in a
particular state do not receive this notification.
"[The JSU team] cannot tell at the surface what they are getting
into," Maher said. "At some point, the highway department will move
forward and do their job. Of all the agencies, the DOT works most
diligently to meet its legal requirements to preserve cultural
artifacts. They can't please everyone, though."
Local archaeological dig site turns up human remains
By Steven Stiefel
More details about an archaeological dig near "Dead Man's Curve" have
come into focus from Harry Holstein, an archaeologist from
Jacksonville State University.
The skeletal remains of "seven or eight" prehistoric human beings
have been discovered, the JSU team covering them up as soon as they
"We've found spearpoints from about 5000 B.C., but most of the
artifacts are from 1500 B.C.," Holstein said. "It is very significant
in being an open site in a field with so many features in a
concentrated area. It will tell us a great deal about the cultural
mechanisms that led the inhabitants of Wills Valley to change from
hunter/gatherers to a more settled agricultural lifestyle."
The information gained through carbon dating artifacts and analyzing
pollen will allow JSU to create a unique public-oriented report that
will be invaluable to libraries and students learning about
prehistoric Fort Payne, he said.
Holstein said there is a lot of misinformation floating around.
"We are not digging up bones. Every grave is left in place, covered
and guarded by us. There is no burial mound on the site we've dug up,
which will be in the right-of-way for the reconstructed roadway," he
JSU is under contract from the Alabama Department of Transportation
to find and preserve as many artifacts as possible before the path is
bulldozed for the highway. The design calls for cutting across
pasture to make a more gradual curve in what will be a four-laned
highway running from the North Y to Terrapin Hills.
After bones were found, the JSU team reported this to ALDOT and
"They told us to stop digging," Holstein said.
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act requires
ALDOT to make a good faith effort to contact federally-recognized
Native American groups within a 500 mile radius whenever human
remains are found.
After four months of negotiation with the Cherokees, Holstein said
there is still no definitive reply about what to do with the
skeletons. The North Carolina and Oklahoma Cherokees were impressed
by the state's effort, he said, and have allowed excavations to
continue where no remains have been found.
The Creek Indians were not interested in the findings, he added.
"When we started this, we had no idea what we would find. We aren't
psychics like Ms. Cleo," Holstein said. "What we have found is
bizarre and amazing. We've found 1,500 features, ovals and post
stains in the ground. When we found the first skull, we covered it
back and stopped digging immediately."
He expects the process to conclude by April.
"We want this highway built just like the people in Fort Payne," he
said. "We are contractors doing a job for the state trying to
preserve as much as we can. We expected to be out of here last August
so we want to see it completed as soon as possible."
Fort Payne acting Police Chief David Walker said some local people
are upset with JSU because they think the school is holding up the
"It is not JSU's idea to be there, and they have formalities to
follow if they find something," Walker said.
He said off-duty city officers have provided security at the dig
site, but JSU has reimbursed the city. The new curve on U.S. 11
should prove safer when finished.
"There have been a number of accidents at the existing curve," Walker
said. "There is an intersection there feeding a good-sized industry
and Highway 11 is heavily traveled, so something needs to be done."