The Stone Forts of Illinois.
One of the unique prehistoric phenomena of Southern Illinois is the ruins of stone walls which have traditionally been known as "stone forts." They appear in the rough east-west alignment across the hill country and appear to form a broken chain between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. These ruins have similar geographic site characteristics. They are generally located on bluffs, which are often finger-like promontories of land with steep cliffs on three sides and a gradual incline on the fourth. It was across these inclines leading to the top of the bluff that these stone walls are most generally located, hence the theory of a pound or game trap, has been advanced.
Many of the walls have long been torn down and removed for building purposes. Early settlers, in most instances, removed the better slab-like stones for building foundations, leaving only the rubble. These early white pioneers saw the walls and thought of them in terms of their own experiences, particularly from the standpoint of defense against the Indians. Though they called them stone forts, these sites would be very poor places to carry on prolonged fights.
If a small band took refuge behind the wall, they might be pushed over the cliff by a larger attacking force. Or a larger force could lay siege to the place, and the band would be cut off from both food and water and soon starve to death. Although they called them "forts," many people did not accept such a theory, and speculation continued.
Archaeologists believe that particularly in Ohio, the Hopewellian Indians probably were responsible for some of the walls, but the identity is not known. These walls represent a major accomplishment for a people who had only primitive digging implements and methods of carrying or moving heavy stones. These unknown builders piled rock completely across summits, leaving inside enclosures sometimes as large as 50 acres, depending upon the size of the bluff.
The most extensive of the prehistoric stone forts is that on Drapers Bluff on the Union-Johnson County line. This, by exact measurement, forms an enclosure of some 15 acres, is 120 feet high, still shows all the earmarks of the prehistoric man, the buffalo, etc. All of these forts are almost on a dead line east and west and on bluffs whose escarpments show that they were at one time the north bank of a mighty river, flowing from east to west. The breaks between Drapers and Turkey Bluff show very plainly where the mighty glacier broke through and piled its debris into the present-day Water Valley.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.