Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Early Wilcox County Indians held superstitious beliefs about 'lost' lead mines

Grave of early Wilcox settler Joseph Morgan.
Exactly where were the lost Indian mines of Wilcox County located?

This is the question I asked myself more than once as I read a letter that Zoroaster Selman Cook of Wilcox County wrote to The Mobile Register newspaper in 1882. Cook, who died in 1893 and is buried in the Goshen Cemetery near Annemanie, wrote the newspaper in response to talk about a lead-containing “iron belt” of minerals in Wilcox County. Silver was believed to be found in and around such mines, which heightened public interest in the subject at the time.

Cook wrote that he didn’t know where the lead mine was located, but said that there was “little doubt” that it existed based on what he’d heard about it all his life. Cook’s father, Enoch Hooper Cook, moved to Alabama in 1818, when Indians were still numerous in the area. In fact, about 40 friendly Indians lived on his land, near his residence. During that time, the Indian men spent their days hunting, but gunpowder, shot and lead for making bullets was very expensive.

Because they were friendly neighbors, the Indians gave Enoch all the turkey hens and deer (except for the hides and hindquarters) they killed in exchange for guns, rifles and powder. The Indians had to supply their own lead for casting bullets. Many times, when the Indians needed lead, “they would leave their camp in the morning… going in a southerly direction and return in the evening with as much lead as they could conveniently carry,” Zoroaster wrote.

These irregular-shaped nuggets of lead weighed one to six ounces, and “had the appearance of small lime rocks or pebbles, Zoroaster said. Enoch tried multiple times to get the Indians to tell him where they were getting the lead, but they refused to say. “It was a superstitious belief with them, that some great calamity would befall this tribe if they made the disclosure,” Zoroaster said.

Zoroaster also noted that not long after John W. Threadgill moved to Wilcox County in 1833 and settled about three miles west of Arlington, he witnessed a shooting contest between some Indians at a place known as Rawl’s Store, near the Marengo County line. During the contest, the Indians ran out of bullets and lead, so two young Indians set off in an easterly direction only to return about three hours later with as much lead as they could carry.

Early settler Joseph Morgan, who moved to Wilcox County in 1816, also remembered a time when “many Indians” lived in the county and procured their lead by walking in a northerly direction, going and coming in half a day with as much lead as they wanted. He remembered them exchanging this lead for gunpowder, tobacco and other items.

Zoroaster went on to say that in 1860, a man named Wily Fort, who lived about 10 miles north of Arlington, went to great lengths to find the lead mine and went so far as to travel to the Choctaw Nation (present-day Oklahoma) to interview Indians who had been removed from Alabama. After several weeks, Fort found an old Indian who said he had been to the mine many times and that it was located on a branch running into Goose Creek from the east. He said the lead was in the run or bottom of the branch and had the appearance of being rocks instead of lead, except the lead pebbles were heavier.

Fort returned to Wilcox County, hunted for the mine, but never found it. Zoroaster said that the Civil War erupted not long after Fort returned from the Indian Territory and the lead mine was forgotten. Given all of these stories, Zoroaster figured that the “lost” Indian lead mine was not more than six miles from Arlington in a northerly direction. In closing, Zoroaster theorized that the mine was located on land owned by Leon Ratcliff, who was a wealthy old man in 1882, with no need for the added income that a mine might produce.

In the end, it’s left up in the air as to whether or not anyone ever found the lost Indian mine said to be somewhere north of the Arlington community. Did someone take advantage of the mineral wealth resting at the bottom of that unnamed branch or does it remain there untouched? Do untold riches in silver lie somewhere beneath that sandy soil?

Your guess is as good as mine, but if I knew for sure, I don’t know if I would say. After all, the Indians were a wise people and may have been correct in their superstitious fears of calamity.

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