I grew up on a rather isolated cattle farm in central Alabama, 20 miles from the nearest (small city) and much further from the nearest city of any size. In the woods between our house and our pasture are many piles of rock, mostly granite but with occasionally quartz and limestone thrown into the mix.
These pictures were taken two weeks ago. (I have many many more- I took pics of about 18 of the rock piles and there are others.) In the picture where my sister and her husband are looking and pointing, what they are pointing to is a solitary rockpile on a bluff on the other side of and overlooking the stream. (It was very cold that day and we didn’t feel like risking a plunge by leaping the unbridged stream.)
When I was a kid my mother and my sister and I once spent days taking the (very heavy) rocks out of one to solve the mystery of “is it a grave or just a big pile of rocks or… what?” After about three days we said “To hell with it” because the rocks are extremely heavy and after clearing about 3 feet (and hundreds and hundreds of pounds of them) we’d found nothing and were still nowhere near the bottom of the cairn.
My aunts were born on the place in 1889, their brother 8 years earlier, and I heard them all say that the rocks were on the place when they were children. Their father had nothing to do with them being placed there. Nothing quite makes sense, though they’re obviously manmade.
They are Graves
This seems logical because of the size- most are approximately the width and length of an adult. The problems with this seemingly logical hypothesis, however, are:
This land was not settled by whites until, at the earliest, the 1830s, and even to this day there was never a significant population of them. Besides this, if they were graves of white people it’s odd that there are no markers- just rocks.
The land was part of a plantation that in 1850 and 1860 had 18 and 24 slaves respectively (source: census slave schedules), so slave cemetery would seem a possibility. However, there are more piles of rocks in this area than there would have been slaves within miles, and its doubtful that 2 dozen or more adult slaves died on the place in the fewer than 30 years it was a plantation.
It could be Indian graves. However, most of the Muskogee had very simple burials. The most common mode of burial in this part of the state was that the deceased would be buried with a few possessions a few feet beneath the dirt floors of their house, then eventually the house would be burned over the grave. Post contact there were some graves that were outlined in a circle made of rocks, but nothing anywhere near this elaborate: these rocks are piled several feet deep.
The exception to the simple graves were burial mounds. Muskogees were moundbuilders- some are quite impressive (Ocmulgee Mounds , Moundville) . There are mounds all over the two counties this farm skirts (the farm is on the county line). However, while there are burial mounds built by Muskogee speakers in Georgia and Tennessee, the mounds in Alabama were ceremonial and have not yielded any graves. Besides which, these aren’t mounds. (There is a small hill on the property that I think may be a mound- it rises about 10 feet and it’s just a bit too steep to be natural, but it’s heavily wooded and has lost a lot of shape due to erasion.)
Even so I lean towards the grave theory most. One reason is found in the pics: there is a cemetery about 3 miles away that in its oldest section has a couple of these. However, they’re much nicer and more even. This church was founded in the 1830s with a membership of 18 according to its sign; the cemetery has about 10 antebellum graves.
THEORY 2: Stones from where fields were cleared
This is a very rocky region of Alabama- it’s in the thin portion of a pie shaped wedge of granite known as the Pinkney Ridge. Parts of our pastures, which is large and open, were planted in cotton when this was a plantation and rocks would need to have been cleared.
The problem with this theory: there’s no evidence this particular part of the land was ever cleared and it would have been very illogical to do so. It’s on a slope- it would have been next to impossible to plow, and then erosion would have made it counter productive anyway. It’s not very far at all from what was used for cotton fields, but this would seem a very illogical place to dump the rocks as it would require crossing two very deep streams (one is seen in the pics- it’s about a 6 feet drop from the land around it). Also, why dump them in individual “body sized” piles? Plus personally I’d have used them to build fences or outbuildings. (An average rock from these piles can weigh from 10 to 50 pounds.)
On the other side there has never been anything but hills, rocks, and pine trees- it’s not good land for planting at all. My mother had a small vegetable patch on our hillside but even that was low yield for everything but watermelons, cucumbers and wild grape plantings.
So, does anybody have any other theories or knowledge as to what these might be? (Ironically the closest thing in appearance to them are the cairns found in Wales, Ireland and Scotland.)
Here’s a brief history of this land for further info:
Pre-history to 16th Century AD Indian occupation
16th Century-18th Century Indian occupation with some European trade but not much settlement by non Indian
18th century-ca. 1815 Increasing white presence but Indians are still by far the majority; part of historical entity known as the Upper Creek Nation. This particular land was part of the enormous plantation of Alexander McGillivray but was probably never cultivated.
1815-ca. 1840Creek cessions and removal
ca. 1835-ReconstructionThe land where our farm sits was part of a 1200+ acre cotton plantation known as The Holy Fields (disappointing etymology: the original family to purchase the place was named Hollifield). The plantation big house (current pic -it was moved to Montgomery ca. 1985 and beautifully restored) was approximately 4/10 of a “crow fly” mile from the rock piles.
Reconstruction-present: the land was owned by my great-grandfather, grandfather, father and currently my sister.
For those interested in such, I’ll include a “non-brief” history as well. It’s easily skippable if you’re not interested.