Letter to the Editor: A Native American Perspective on the Cool Spring Battlefield Park Concept

The purpose of this letter is not to advocate for or against the preservation of the Cool Spring Battlefield.

Although, it is admirable and significant to dedicate parks, erect monuments to recognize our ancestors and preserve such treasures for future understanding; the Battle of Cool Spring was an important battle in American Civil War (fought July 17–18, 1864) and an important part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864.

But rather, we write to you as a possibility to initiate a conversation on preservation of an older Clarke County Virginia land-legacy – that of Native Americans.

There has been much debate about the cost versus value of preserving the history of a Civil War battle that took place on both sides of the river in 1864. While the Civil War is an important part of American history, the Virginia National Golf Course may hold another much older record of our national past. Native American artifacts dating back over 10,000 years have already been recovered from the Holy Cross Abbey directly across the river from the golf course.

We have a hint of artifacts at the Holy Cross Abbey. What possibly could lie unearthed directly across the river at the golf course; being that it has the natural advantage of flat vistas on each side of the river?

There are private collectors who have unearthed many artifacts in this county. Our Archaeologist reports that our Spout Run PaleoIndian site (Virginia Department of Historic Resources site # 44CK151) is the oldest, extant, above-ground site on the North American continent, dating approximately 12,000 years old. We started with rock rings, now we have a 2-mile complex with 15 above-ground features including two sets of right-hand prints and more.

Additionally, pre-historic PaleoIndian collections from the Warren County Thunderbird site are on display at our National Smithsonian Museum. How exciting this could be for Clarke County?

What a county! What a state! What a national and humanity treasure!

Let us not look at our history through the eyes of guilt for the mistakes and shortcomings that may have been made. Instead, let us view our history for the possibilities of the future we can create.

Clarke County land and legacy is richly dotted with a far more extensive history than the Civil War battle, mortar shells and metal buckles. Clarke County holds rich remains of a native people who lived here continually for thousands of years.

The land is important, the people too. By limiting land preservation efforts to 1864, are we compressing the legacy of our land to 150 years?

Our history books seem to encourage that. They seldom refer to the sophisticated Native American agricultural techniques practiced in Virginia before this state was named. Nor to the managed landscapes and river fish-weirs, where Native American hunting and fishing alternated with community and croplands arranged along waterways. History books seldom note that Native nutrition here was far superior to what was available in Europe before the colonial era. Nor that Native knowledge of astronomy informed farming calendars as well as navigation. Nor highlight Native American’s extensive societal contribution of adding natural plant medicines to the U.S. and modern-world pharmacopoeia. Nor is highlighted their relationship with Creator and life lived in harmony with creation.

Why do we avoid talking about Native peoples’ complex religious and social systems? Or how they created vast trade networks that extended thousands of miles, including up and down the Shenandoah River? Just 15-minutes outside our county border and on the Shenandoah River is one of the best-known PaleoIndian sites on the North America continent – the Thunderbird Flint-Run PaleoIndian jasper quarry.

The historical significance of our natural and cultural resources go back much further than a few hundred years. The people who lived here, the life they lived in Clarke County, was sustainable. What an intriguing culture.

Look no further than across the river from Cool Spring Battlefield to the Cool Spring House at the Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Va. On display is a chronological collection of Native tools found in Clarke County dating from 9,500 years B.C. old and leading up to a few hundred years ago. These archeological finds are safely enclosed in a glass case, thanks to the late Trappist Brother James Sommers, a lay archaeologist who unearthed the treasures from the abbey’s pastures and river banks.

Look still, to the Clarke County Historical Association Museum and Archives in Berryville where a replica of the “Great Law of Peace” wampum belt is on exhibit. It serves as a reminder of Native contributions to Virginia and our nation. How different would our U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights be if someone had not preserved that?

Given to the Iroquois by the “Great Peacemaker” (Creator), the “Great Law of Peace” formed the Iroquois Confederacy. between 1,000 and 1,450 AD; 326 to 776 years before the framing of the U.S Constitution. Many Native tribes used it for peace agreements before this country was named “The United States of America.”

In fact, 40 years before the framing of the U.S. Constitution, our nation’s founding father’s (Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams) began drawing much inspiration from articles of the “Great Law of Peace” and the Iroquois Elders. Before the final draft of the Constitution was accepted, history records that the Iroquois Elders counseled the signers and drafters of the Constitution and Bill of Rights on many occasions.

History says, our founding fathers were “bewildered” at how the power of the government comes up from the people, rather than down from a ruler (thus “We the People”). It was a “foreign concept” that individual people had rights, “God given rights.” That is to say, “all people.”

If our leaders understood the depth of these words, “We the People” there would be have been no need for the women’s rights movement of the 1920’s nor civil rights movement of the 1960’s. These are God given rights “given” to “all people.” Do we understand it yet?

We know of this Constitutional contribution because community took the time to preserve the wampum belts. Native ancestors recorded the “Great Law of Peace” through oral tradition and into symbols and pictographs of wampum belts.

Right now, someone reading this may be unaware that a picture of a wampum belt in his/her pocket/wallet. It is printed on the reverse side of the 2010 U.S. one-dollar gold coins.

Remember in 2007, when the Susan B. Anthony coin was running out and Congress authorized a Sacagawea gold dollar? Since its production, the Native American series of coins reflects Native American contributions to agriculture” (2009 version) and the Great Law of Peace, the wampum belt and Native influence to “government” (2010 version).

Today, Native people are still living in Clarke County. Ask your neighbors and friends, and someone will say they can trace their roots to an existing tribe or are curious to whether they have Native ancestry.

Meanwhile, some Clarke County residents are unearthing remnants of this ancient culture. They collect and store their finds the best way they can. In rooms in their homes. In boxes. In closets. Collectively there is enough to support a large gallery.

In the military, we say a phrase for lost Americans, “We Will Never Forget.” Does this exclude Native Americans who lived here before us?

The importance of keeping the Native story alive in Clarke County enriches the history of our county. It allows residents and visitors alike to gain a deeper understanding of our past historical occurrences, both good and bad. We each have our own stories to tell, like trees with new foliage and thousands of years of root systems.

As our conversation continues and we discover a more fuller history, we can fill the silence of our Native American history to offer new perspectives on Clarke County’s past? Who? What? When? Where? How? Why?

“Who cares?” some may say.

Well someone’s children of tomorrow might! Is it being responsible to appreciate land for its collective past? Remembering a people for their contributions. Their sacrifices?

Will our unborn generations care what we leave for them? Or not leave? Could what we do now alter the historic character of our history? Of our present? Of our future? Of our land?

If we do not preserve our history, is it like destroying a book that cannot be re-written? Or hiding a story that cannot be retold?

And what a magnificent opportunity to tell a fuller story and not keep it buried. The lives that were here were sustainable. They lived. They thrived. Isn’t that marvelous?

There is much to be learned from a society that would sustain its society, culture, resources and life – without a need for our modern technology. There is much to learn from the land too. In preserving it. Even if we don’t care right now. Preserving it gives opportunities to future generations to learn from it.

Who knows …? It may be all of our elders and ancestors … yours … mine … theirs … whose courage created this opportunity. Our land. Our legacy. Now. We get to decide what we leave behind.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS.

CHRIS (Comeswithclouds) WHITE is an Elder and Roadman of Native American decent and founder of a Native American Church of Virginia. He also unearthed Clarke County history when he found the oldest, extant, above-ground site in North America literally in his own back yard, according to lead Archaeologist Jack Hranicky. Most recently Chris found petroglyphs or rock engravings on rocks within the Spout-Run complex. Hranicky confirmed the glyphs and has been briefing his findings to several archeological societies across the nation. The team started with rock rings, now they have a 2-mile complex with 15 above-ground features including two sets of right-hand prints. He is married to René     White.

RENÉ WHITE (Feather) is a Native American woman and retired military veteran of 22 years serving in the U.S. Air Force. While on active duty, her military accounts covered 11 countries and included homeland defense, natural disasters, cyber, intelligence, media relations, internal information, community relations, recruiting and more. She is an artist, volunteers in the community and says she appreciates being “resourceful, grateful and humble.”

They are both residents of the historic and beautiful northern Shenandoah Valley.

Comments

  1. sargewillis says:

    Well said, it would be very interesting to have an expert go over the grounds and get an idea if some digging by a archaeologist should be done.

  2. BlossomButt says:

    Digging has already been done, when the golf course totally redesigned the layout with bulldozers and dozens of other large pieces of equipment. Anything of any interest is either gone or destroyed.

    • “Anything of interest is either gone or destroyed”. Is that like the battlefield? Or do we drop a wad of cash to make it look like it was during the campaign? If we could combine a dig site with a nature walk and educational programs, It would justify a cash outlay… And preserve the site as well.