In the area around the Falls of Ohio, the Native American inhabitants told the 17th Century settlers they were not the first 'white'' people to settle the area. Native American legend told of a White Indian Tribe led by tall yellow haired giants and who were attacked and overwhelmed in a huge battle. Native American legend claimed prior to the final battle a great white king had been buried in a stone tomb with great ceremony.
A field of skeletons
On the outskirts an extensive gr
aveyard of ancient origin existed on property once known as the Kelly farm. The site appeared to be an ancient battlefield, the bodies left where they had fallen and covered in silt from the Ohio Rive. The bones were examined and found to be larger in stature that Native american bones and considered "not Indian". Native americans claimed these bones belonged to the white Indians of their legends and the place marked the battle. The bones were left in place but subsequent floods in 1907, 1913 and finally in 1937, completely washed out the site and swept away all evidence.
The Tombstone -1186AD
Several years later some other fragments of evidence were found regarding the legend of Prince Madoc which included the discovery of a tombstone with the initials of a name and the date of 1186 upon it. The tombstone was allegedly discovered by some men from Clark's settlement while they were
hunting along the northern bank of the Ohio River near the mouth of Silver Creek.
Six Skeletons and Brass Breastplates found 1799
but the most important fragments of evidence that were found were six
skeletons which were unearthed in 1799 in a field near Clark's Fort. Each skeleton was dressed in a breastplate of brass which was cast with the Welsh coat of Arms. The breastplates were adorned with the mermaid and the harp, and were inscribed with a Latin inscription when translated meant:
'Virtuous deed merit their just rewards'
Many of the residents of Clarksville said that when these skeletons were found, General Clark and some of his colleagues became involved in the
investigation. Evidently after some careful study, Clark and his band of scholarly detectives came to the conclusion that the men dressed in armor
must have been some of Prince Madoc's standard bearers, who were the descendants of the original members of the lost colony of Welshmen who had
left Wales in 1170 A.D.
Bronze Helmet & Shield Found 1898
In 1898, a man named John Brady uncovered an ancient bronze helmet and shield in a vacant lot on the Kentucky side of the Falls of the Ohio. The helmet was found near the site where the six skeletons with brass breastplates were found.
Local Past Investigations
In 1842 Thomas S. Hinde, an antiquarian of more than local reputation, gave some valuable information touching the Madoc tradition. In answer to inquiries made by John S. Williams, editor
of The American Pioneer, he wrote as follows :
"Mount Carmel, Illinois, May 30, 1824. Mr. J. S. Williams :
Dear Sir —
Your letter of the 17th. to Major Armstrong, was placed in my hands some days ago. The brief remark and hints given you are correct. I have a vast quantity of western matter, collected in notes gathered from various sources, mostlv from persons who knew the facts. These notes reach back to remote
It is a fact that the Welsh under Owen Ap Zuinch, in the twelfth century, found their way u]) the Mississippi, and as far up the Ohio as the Falls of that river at Louisville, where they were cut off by the Indians; others ascended the Missouri, were either captured or settled with and sunk into Indian habits.
Proof I. In 1799, six soldiers' skeletons were dug up near Jeffersonville. Each skeleton had a breastplate of brass, cast with the Welsh coat-of-arms, the Mermaid and Harp, with a Latin inscription, in substance,
'virtuous deeds meet their just reward."
One of these plates was left by Captain Jonathan Taylor with the late Mr. Hubbard Taylor, of Clark county, and when called for by me in 1814 for the date Dr. John P. Campbell, of Chillicothe, Ohio, who was preparing notes on the antiquities of the West, by a letter from Mr. Hubbard Taylor (a relative of mine), now living, I was informed that the breast-plate had been taken to Virginia by a gentleman of that state. I supposed as a matter of curiosity.
The late Mr. McIntosh, who first settled near this and had been for fifty or sixty years prior to
his death, in 183 1 or 1832, a western Indian trader, was in Fort Kaskaskia prior to its being taken by General George Rogers Clark, in 1778. and heard,
as he informed me himself, a Welshman and an Indian from far up the Missouri speaking and conversing- in the Welsh language. It was stated by Gilbert Imlay, in his history of the west, that it was Captain Abraham Chaplain, of Union county, Kentucky, that heard this conversation in Welsh. Dr. Campbell,
visiting Chaplain, found it was not he. Afterwards the fact was stated by Mc Intosh, from whom I obtained other facts as to western matters. Some
hunter, manv years ago informed me of a tombstone being- found in the southern part of Indiana with the initials of a name, and '1186' engraved upon it.
The Filson Historical Society
The Filson Historical Society was founded to commemorate the work of leading historian and explorer John Filson (c. 1747 - October 1788)
The rumours and stories associated with early welsh settlers at the Falls of Ohio go back a long way and were commonplace amongst earlier American settlers.
The Alohawk Indians had a tradition among them respecting the Welsh, and of their having been cut off by the Indians at the Falls of the Ohio. The late
Colonel Joseph Hamilton Daveiss, who had for many years sought for information on this subject, mentions this fact, and of the Welshman's bones being found buried on Corn Island." The early pioneers of Kentucky, in their intercourse with the Indians, who frequently visited the Falls of the Ohio for the purposes of trade, got from them the tradition of Madoc, and
Filson's Visit & the Meeting at Louisville
John Filson, the author of the first history of Kentucky, published in 1784, investigated the legends and rumours of 'White Indians' and travelled to Louisville.
Filson wanted to talk to witnesses and met with various people who had been present when artefacts were discovered. Filson met with collecting General George Rogers Clark, Major John Harrison, Colonel Moore and others.
A club of prominent Louisville citizens convened to hear Filson speak on the history of the town and the subject of the Madoc legend was brought up for discussion.
A number of key witnesses were present and they addressed the meeting.
General Rogers Clark
General Clark spoke first, and confined himself to what he had learned from a chief of the Kaskaskia Indians concerning a large and curiousIy shaped earthwork on the Kaskaskia river, which the chief, who was of lighter complexion than most Indians, said was the house of his ancestors.
Colonel Moore related what he had learned from an old Indian about a long war of extermination between the Red Indians and the White Indians. The final battle, he said, between them, was fought at the Falls of the Ohio, where nearly the whole of the White Indians were driven upon an island and slaughtered. General Clark, on hearing this statement by Colonel Moore, confirmed it by stating that he had heard the same thing from Tobacco, a chief of the Piankeshaws.
Major John Harrison Testimony
Major Harrison informed the meeting of an extensive graveyard on the north side of the Ohio, opposite the Falls, where thousands of human bones were buried in such confusion as to indicate that the dead were left there after a battle, and that the silt from inundations of the Ohio had covered them as the battle had
Dr Samuel Meriwether
Dr. Samuel Meriwether obtained a skull from an area in the vicinity of the site of the bones called the Big Eddy near Sand Island. Dr. Meriwether was a US physician, trained under Dr Rush of Philadelphia. He joined the US Army and served in the War of 1812, leaving the service in 1815. He was the first physician to settle in Jeffersonville, [Indiana.] In around 1823 he moved to Louisville, staying there until 1830, after which he returned to Jeffersonville until his death in 1853.
The skull and other possessions including his surgeons tools used in the 1812 War, were passed on to his pupil, Dr. Beckwith, of Jeffersonville. Beckwith was a leading doctor and was the physician to the State's prison service.
The White Indians, or, as some of the other Indian tribes called them, the "Stranger People," were possibly the builders of the mysterious fortifications on the hill crest, two hundred and fifty feet above the river, at Fourteen Mile creek. It is without doubt the most elaborate and extensive work of defence erected by the vanished race. It is the only one of its kind in the United States. It has an area of about ten acres and has the remains of strong fortifications along its exposed front. These fortifications consisted of a wall with watch mounds or towers at intervals, five of which can yet be traced. Students and antiquarians have shown that it was not built by North American Indians, but its origin, like the battle at the Falls, is made obscure by the hazy lapse of centuries, and we can only surmise as to what it was and who built it, whether by the Stranger People or the Mound Builders; but that it was of a race previous to the Indians is certain. Bones of a race ante-
Colonel Reuben T. Durrett, the president of the Filson club, of Louisville, in the 23rd publication of that society, gives an account which was related to him by an aged Welshman named Griffin in the early sixties. Griffin related as follows :
"On the north side of the river, where Jeffersonville now stands, some skeletons were exhumed in early times with armour which had brass plates bearing the Mermaid and Harp, which belong to the Welsh coat-of-arms. On the same side of the river, further down, a piece of stone supposed to be part of a tombstone was found, with the date 1186 and what seemed to be a name or initials of a name so effaced by time as to be illegible.
If that piece of stone was ever a tombstone over a grave, the party laid beneath it must have been of the Welsh colony of Madoc. for we have no tradition of any one but the Welsh at the Falls so early as 1186. In early times the forest along the river on both sides of the Falls for some miles presented two kinds of growth.
Along the margin of the river the giant sycamores and other trees of the forest primeval stood as if they had never been disturbed, but beyond them was a broad belt of trees of a different growth, until the belt was passed, when the original forest again appeared. This indicated that the belt had been deprived of its original forest for agricultural or other purposes and that a new forest had grown up in its stead. He said, however, it was possible that the
most important of these traditions learned from the Indians concerned a great battle fought at the Falls of the Ohio, between the Red Indians and the White Indians, as the Welsh Indians were called.
It has been a long time since this battle, but it was fought here and won by the Red Indians. In the final struggle the White Indians sought safety on the island since known as Sand Island, but nearly all who sought refuge there were slaughtered. The remnant who escaped death made their way to the Missouri* river, where, by different movements at different times, they went up that river a great' distance. They were known to exist there by different parties who came from there and talked Welsh with the pioneers. Some Welshmen living at the Falls of the Ohio in pioneer times talked with these White Indians, and although there was considerable difference between the Welsh they spoke and the Welsh spoken by the Indians, yet they had no great difficulty in understanding one another. He further said, concerning this tradition of a great battle, that there was a tradition that many skeletons were found on Sand Island, mingled promiscuously together as if left there unburied after a great battle, but that he had examined the island a number of times without finding a single bone, and that if skeletons were ever abundant there they had disappeared before his time."