A quick recap is in order. We began this series by introducing readers to two gentleman who managed to upset those who choose to believe that the history of North America began with the voyage of Christopher Columbus. Retired Royale Navy navigator Gavin Menzies and former Marquette junior high science teacher Fred Rydholm have traveled extensively looking for clues about those who may have visited these shores long before Columbus. Their research has spawned several books by each and those who would like more detail than presented here can easily find both men’s work via a simple internet search or at the local public library. The bulk of Part 1 dealt with Fred Rydholm’s theories and how I came to know him and became a ‘Rydholmite’ in my view of who created the thousands of prehistoric mining pits found up and down the the Copper Country and on Isle Royale.
In Part 1, I mentioned that Fred Rydholm was very interested in the story of the ancient copper miners and at one of the first of his many programs presented to the Ontonagon County Historical Society, he outlined how his theories on this topic evolved. Around the time Fred first appeared in Ontonagon, he had recently collaborated on a book called The Mystery Cave of Many Faces with retired Army officer Russell Burrows. Fred had met Burrows at a conference and became fascinated with his story and offered to help Burrows write a book about his find. For the purposes of this article, it is necessary to give a brief overview of the Burrows’ Cave story and the controversy it stirred, but the polarizing nature of Burrow’s Cave makes it impossible to explain if fully without adding at least two more segments to this three part series. I will simply introduce the topic of Burrows’ Cave because when Fred Rydholm got involved with Russell Burrows, the controversial topic focused a lot of negative opinion on much of Fred’s previous research about the ancient copper miners.
The short take on Burrows’ Cave is as follows: While exploring a wooded valley in southern Illinois, Burrows stumbled upon the sealed entrance to an underground cave. During his explorations, he discovered that there was a thick layer of sediment filling most of the passages from some past natural flood. There were numerous sealed side passages and soot marks on the ceiling indicating that the tunnels had once been lit by torches. Amongst the sediment and debris, he found statues, possible human remains, pottery, and gold coins. There were also numerous stones of various shapes that were inscribed with what appeared to be a variety of figures representing a multitude of nationalities and animals not native to North American.
We were able to write a grant to have Burrows come to Ontonagon and present his story at a local history teacher conference held at the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park Visitor Center. The intent of the conference was to encourage local history teachers to include the rich ancient history of the Copper Country that surrounds us in their history classes. After the morning session, some of the group travelled to see the remains of the Norwich Mine and town site and the rest of the group (including Fred and Russell) ventured off to C-Shaft Hill near Rockland to see the ancient miner’s pits. Yes, the same pits that had fired Fred’s imagination when he had been told about them as a young boy scout. That evening, Burrows and a photographer friend of his named Virginia Halloran presented a program at an Ontonagon County Historical Society meeting held at the Konteka in White Pine. Halloran’s contribution to the Burrow’s Cave story is a remarkable photo book of the many artifacts that Burrows’ claims he found in the cave.
Here is where the controversy begins to take shape. The phrase “claims he found” is quite intentional because Burrows never showed the cave to anyone else. According to Burrows, there are several reasons for his cloak and dagger need to keep the cave system a secret. First, the cave system is located on private property and the owner did not want people invading the property looking for ancient treasures. Secondly, there are laws in Illinois stating that any site bearing human remains is property of the state and any artifacts found in such burials would be sent off to various museums around the state for display. Burrows said that, “Until the property is secured and the state laws are amended, it is better that no one else knows the location. Ideally, a museum should be built at the site so further research and educational opportunities can be carried on at the secured site.” This, as one would expect, brought on cries of ‘fraud’ and ‘charlatan’ as Burrows’ refusal to prove his find by showing it to others was seen as a grab for attention or a way to sell his book. Burrows stood by his story but the constant attacks on his integrity made him respond to inquiries about the cave in a manner that can only be described as ‘prickly’. He also added that one of his former partners had secretly sold some of the gold coins without Burrows’ knowledge, thus making him even more guarded on the subject of his find.
I am not here to take sides or convince anyone one way or the other about the veracity of Burrows’ claims. When we invited him and then paid his way to come here and share his story, I found it strange that he was at first reluctant to tell the tale. We literally had to coax him to tell us his story by reminding him that a) we paid for him to come here and do just that and b) all of the people assembled had come to the conference (and later historical society meeting) to hear him tell his story. I have held some of the artifacts in my hands and seen the pictures in Halloran’s book. I have heard the story and some of the political wranglings do sound plausible. If it is indeed a hoax (one side of the controversy), I would love to hear how it was perpetrated. It would have taken a long time with a dremel tool to make all of the ‘phoney looking’ artifacts, not to mention the gold coins. If it isn’t a hoax, then this could be the North American equivalent of the discoveries made in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings (the other side of the controversy). Sadly, for reasons that I can’t fathom, the ‘fraud’ vs ‘real’ camps have taken up residence on opposite sides of the issue. Burrows has retired to the American southwest and refused to discuss the cave. The internet is alive with ‘knowledgeable sources’ who still call Burrows every name in the book. I wager a good number of the detractors have never even stood in the same room with Russell Burrows, let alone talked to him about his find. I never did get a chance to hear Fred’s update on the story before he passed away in 2009, but suffice to say his work helping Burrows get his story into print caused a backlash that people directed at Fred’s theories: “If Burrows is a fraud and you helped him write a book, then you must also be a fraud” is the line of thought that seems to ignore the facts that Rydholm assembled in lieu of maintaining the Christopher Columbus status quo.
In his talks about the Sturgeon River – Escanaba River water route, Fred mentioned that the site where the great Quincy Mine was established was actually a miner’s pit filled with copper ingots that were stockpiled for shipment (indeed, just about all of the modern copper mines in the Copper Country were established on the remains of ancient miner’s pits). That they would have been shipped by water is almost a certainty. I kidded Fred that if he knew anyone at NASA who could arrange a space shuttle flight with ground penetrating radar to scan the Sturgeon/Escanaba River system, maybe they could find a mass of copper in the river bed. Surely if they shipped this much copper, they must have lost a load somewhere along the way. Finding such a cache would indeed be another compelling piece of the story. Based on Joe Keela’s Ogam inscribed stone, we know at least one unlucky mariner lost his good luck charm in the upper Escanaba River near Gwinn. Fred in turn asked me if I would head up that branch of the investigation as he was a little busy at the time, so if anyone out there has the resources available to make such a mineral search along the 180 miles of river systems, let me know. Obviously the retired shuttle fleet won’t be available, but the International Space Station makes frequent passes over Upper Michigan. I would even settle for one of the mineral exploration companies loaning us their helicopter sensor array for a couple of days. Hey, it never hurts to ask.
As a hard core disciple of the late Fred Rydholm’s theories on the ancient copper miners, I am always on the lookout for people conducting research that adds more pieces to Fred’s puzzle. Idly scanning the shelves at a bookstore in Green Bay in 2010, I happened upon Gavin Menzies’ book 1421: The Year China Discovered America. I didn’t even think twice when I snatched it up. In Part 3 of this series, we will examine how Menzies’ work makes Rydholmites like me smile and ‘Christopher Columbus First’ scholars unhappy.
Top Piece Video: This is as close to a song about searching as I could come up with on short notice!