questions than answers
about Madoc's early travels
critics, author Olson promotes
his theory through book, local artifacts
CLARKSVILLE, Ind. School children all around this
country are taught from an early age that Christopher Columbus discovered
America. Rarely, in a young child's education is he exposed to the name
Madoc. In fact, it's safe to say that many history professors have probably
never heard of Madoc.
Over the past 20 years, though, the name has been touted by a number
of Kentuckiana area residents who are dedicating a good portion of their
lives to seeking evidence that this Welsh prince and navigator landed
in America well before the famous Italian explorer.
Books have been written, seminars conducted and exhibits
displayed with artifacts linked to ancient expeditions and settlements.
Trying to explain the past has become more than just a legend to some,
and many of these people are in Kentuckiana, within a 100-mile radius
of each other. But just who was Madoc? A centuries-old legend? Or a
real-life prince who ventured into new worlds, including this one, well
before Columbus set sail from Spain?
Dana Olson, a LaCrosse, Wisc., native who now lives in Jeffersonville,
Ind., has been gathering evidence about Prince Madoc since 1979. Olson
has just released the fourth printing of his book, "The Legend
of Prince Madoc and the White Indians." The book is based on information
that Olson believes casts Prince Madoc of Wales as a leader of a pre-Columbian
expedition to the Americas as early as 1170 A.D.
Olson localizes this argument by claiming that Madoc led an expedition
from Europe, and that the journey eventually led him to settle in what
is now Clarksville, Ind., around the area where the Falls of the Ohio
Museum presently sits. He concludes there is evidence to suggest that
they were wiped out in a battle with "Red Indians" on what
was called Sand Island in the Falls of the Ohio.
"This kind of gives people an alternative view of the discovery
of the Americas," says Olson, 52, as he stands overlooking the
land he believes was once inhibited by Madoc and his descendants. Those
descendants are said to have interacted with the Indian tribes living
in the area around the 12th century.
"Early scientists, geologists and missionaries believe that Madoc
not only discovered America, but colonized it. My task is to salvage
the story and bring it to the surface, and if others want to prove it,
that is up to them." Olson first became interested in the Madoc
legend when he was working on a book about the Reno Brothers and the
first railroad train robbery in America. He asked the advice of a colleague,
George Strickland, now a retired graphic artist living in Jeffersonville,
Ind. Strickland encouraged him to research the land around Clark County.
During Olson's research, he encountered remains of the fort at Fourteen
Mile Creek. He wanted to find out more about what had happened there.
And that's what eventually led him to finding out about the Madoc theory.
"I got most of my information from books, pamphlets, magazines,
anything I could get a hold of," said Olson.
Olson found and theorized possible links to Madoc's presence in Clark
County. His starting point was the first few pages of "Baird's
History of Clark County, Ind." They focus on ancient times and
speak of Madoc, one of the 17 sons of the Welsh king, Owain Gwynedd.
When Owain died in 1167, his sons fought for control of the vacant throne.
Madoc, at this point, stepped away from the dispute and instead used
his skills as a sailor and a sea navigator. He is said to have sailed
to what is now America in 1170 A.D.
Similar reports came from historians, or bards, as they were called,
two centuries later. Two particular bards cited are Gutton Owen and
Cradoc. The bards' reports were translated into books, such as Richard
Hakulyt's "Principall Navigators"(1600) and Dr. David Powel's
"The Historie of Cambria" (1584). Madoc is said to have arrived
in Mobile Bay, Ala., and made his way up the Alabama River to the Coosa
River and around Chattanooga, Tenn.
Olson points out a stone fixture called Old Stone Fort in what is now
Manchester, Tenn. A wall was excavated by a University of Tennessee
team through a dating method known as Carbon-14. Also found in Old Stone
Fort were Roman coins that Olson suggests might have been brought over
from the Welsh. Olson localizes the argument by suggesting that Madoc
and his followers reached and settled at the Falls of the Ohio in what
is now present-day Clarksville.
There, Olson said, occurred the great battle between the White (Indians
of Welsh descent) and the Red Indians. He refers to the 1874 Indiana
Geological Survey by E.T. Cox. It cited a walled fortification on land
called Rose Island, which was located up the river from the falls where
the Ohio River joins Fourteen Mile Creek.
Cox's assistant, W.W. Borden, had noted that the structure bore resemblance
to other fortifications discovered further south, such as the Old Stone
Fort in Tennessee. Olson notes that an 1800s scholar and missionary,
William Pidgeon, had studied the origins of the Indians. He looked at
the mortarless building style of the fortifications and found them similar
to the kind in Europe and not constructed by the Indians. "All
these forts were built for the purpose of siege the way the stones were
structured without mortar," said Olson.
Olson came across other similar remains of a fort in Jefferson County.
Since the 1874 Geological Survey, the land has been referred to as Wiggins
Point, named after the family that lived there during the geological
survey. That survey noted that the remains were of similar structure
to those of a fort in Hambledon Hill, England.
The fortress is now dismantled. Its remains were supposedly used for
a smokehouse, but Olson recalled speaking to Robert Gaffney, who recalled
it from his childhood. Gaffney owns Gaffney's Food Store in Deputy and
now resides in Madison. "A friend of mine, a school buddy, used
to go over there to look for arrow heads," said Gaffney. "I
thought it was some kind of fort. It wasn't anything but a foundation
waist high. You could see where it had four walls."
The fort was located 3/4 of a mile west of Deputy where a farm now stands.
Olson cited Cox's findings in the 30-mile distance between Rose Island
at Fourteen Mile Creek and Wiggins Point at Big Creek. According to
the report, Cox found old remains of colonies with relics and human
bones enclosed by slate.
Olson also uses testimonials from prominent historical figures, such
as Col. Reuben Durrett, the first president of Louisville's Filson Club;
explorer George Rogers Clark and author and historian John Filson.
All three relate findings suggesting Welsh presence on the Ohio River.
To many, though, the Madoc story is still classified as a legend. Carl
Kramer, a professional urban historian in New Albany, Ind., maintains
that, based on his research, Madoc is most likely a legend that served
a historical function. "I would really like to know more about
why this legend is so popular and functional, other than it provides
some kind of explanation for what cannot be explained," said Kramer.
"In the absence of something concrete doesn't make it Welsh."
Kramer stressed that navigation in the 12th century would have been
much more difficult, compared to today's standards or even to the 15th
century, when Columbus set sail.
"If Madoc really was real, he traveled a lot of territory and did
so in a time when it was very difficult and did better than people who
followed him with more sophisticated methods of travel." In addition
to co-owning Kramer Associates Inc., a historical consulting group,
with his wife, Mary Kagin Kramer, he teaches historic preservation at
Indiana University Southeast in New Albany. He will be teaching courses
this year at Madison Junior High School.
Strickland, 73, who has encouraged Olson over the years, classifies
Madoc as a legend, but one to be celebrated. "The idea is more
of interest than of scholarship," said Strickland. "It is
not something that can be defined as historical verity. It's worth exploring,
and if you can't verify it, have a festival."
Strickland looks fondly on the idea that a "Madoc Festival"
would be a strong medium with which to bring the communities around
Clark County together, since the locale of the legend is around the
Ohio River. Strickland believes such an event or something of similar
magnitude would promote the river heritage. No plans for any festival
have been discussed or set, though. "I'm not a promoter,"
said Strickland. "But Prince Madoc, even if you consider it a legend,
is capable of developing into such an event."
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