This is No Sweat at age 15 in Pryse Cave. I dug 17 Indian skeletons in this cave over a four year period, going 22' deep. C-14 dates from a chemical research plant in Japan gave three seperate readings of 3,100 years old, give or take 100 years. A mss completed by me re the Pryse Site was accepted for pub. by the UK Press --with stuipulations. I never followed through. All the skeletal remains are now at UK.
Devil Rock - The Beginning
Odysseus managed to save himself and his men from the siren by putting melted wax in his crew's ears and tying himself to the mast making the crew swear they would not release him however desperately he begged.
The devil's rock was pure siren.
I'd parked and come off an awful mountain. You didn't want to make any mistakes on the creek I was hunting. Not alone. My head stayed down. You have to concentrate to find something. Not to mention, luck.
I'd lost myself. Spring in a wild Kentucky hollow. Alone. Tulips were in the trees. I was sober. Not tied to a mast. The chimerical ripples whispered.
A red rendezvous.
Horseshoe bend. The gravel shoal looked promising. I cut across.
I stepped over a log. There, connecting, two other logs. Two more long ones connected to them. Marijuana. Two feet tall. Thousands and thousands. Seed bed. Bad major.
Then I heard the noise. Four wheelers. At least four. The hounds of hell.
Coming hard and fast. The four horsemen. Coming for me.
DEVIL ROCK----PART TWO
When Odysseus was blown off course he encountered the wild Cyclopes who lived in a state of lawless anarchy. They lived without cultivating food. They built no homes or ships. They had no institutions or laws. They lived in caves and had no sense of community with others of their race. Their diet consisted of the meat of old goats, cheese and wine.
The descendants of these Cyclopes wound up in Estill County. Nothing had changed. Except they roamed on 4-wheelers, carried AK-47's and grew marijuana.
Lots of it.
DEVIL ROCK----PART THREE
I only had a couple of seconds to do something.
I could hold still. Face the inevitable. Suicide. I could try to run up or down the creek. I could cut across and try to make it to the woods. Or I could try to cut across the open field beside me and make it to a cave I'd discovered hiking in.
Being innocent was beside the point.
Nobody from Estill county is innocent.
I ran for all I was worth. Headed across the open field. In the very direction the Cyclops were coming. Jim Thorpe was strides behind. I tripped. Went down in the middle of the open field. A hidden hole in the grass. I started back up. The Cyclops broke through. I dropped. Hugged the earth. The Cyclops didn't see me. I curled tight in the slightest of depressions. The Cyclops convened at their marijuana seed bed. Polyphemus ordered that the ends of the earth be scoured. Then they spread. I lay sacrificial in the middle of their ruthless Appalachian checkerboard. Every square being kinged. One Cyclops came behind me within feet. Two rode parallel along both my sides. Polyphemus paused a few feet near my head. His AK was chambered.
DEVIL ROCK---PART FOUR
When Odysseus escaped by Polyphemus, he did so by clutching the underbelly of a large ram. Polyphemus couldn't see Odysseus. But he knew he was there. Nothing short of a gruesome death would satisfy.
I didn't have any ram to clutch. I didn't have anything. I was just a poor, simple and nearly-innocent agate hunter. All I'd wanted was just a fleck of red agate. Just a glint of the Devil Rock. I lay there in the middle of that open field with the Cyclops repeatedly coming ever so close. Fate was hanging in the balance. I lay on my back and looked up. A buzzard was slowly circling. I couldn't see if it was smacking its lips. At long last the Cyclops gave up. I wanted to inform Polyphemus that my name wasn't, No Sweat. Hell no. My name is, Nobody. If they had seen me, that's exactly who I would have become. I wouldn't have gotten a chance to say anything. I lay there listening to the Cyclops disappear. Only an idiot would have run straight out in the middle of an open field to hide from Cyclops. Such a place was not even considered. Thank God. I prayed they continued their search in the land of The Lotus Eaters. If they searched there, they wouldn't return. Estill County Lotus Eaters do little but dawdle and smile. Some get into politics.
DEVIL ROCK---PART FIVE
Eventually hiding out near my van late into the night, carefully watching from an escapable distance, making sure that all was safe before going near, I returned home.
I found no suitors. I was happy not to have to string a bow and shoot through twelve axe heads.
The next morning I found myself transformed from Odysseus to Jason. My goal was to recruit a stout hearted Argonaut and embark on another perilous voyage to capture The Golden Fleece. Well, not a golden fleece. Actually, a Kentucky red agate. The particular Kentucky red agate that I sought was only found on one spot in all of the world. No other place in the universe can it be found.. That spot is in a rare layer of shale, "yellow rock," found on the Estill county and Jackson county line. On a creek called, Middle Fork. Middle Fork feeds along with North Fork and South Fork into Station Camp. Station Camp feeds into the Kentucky River. The Kentucky River feeds into the Ohio River. The Ohio River feeds into The Mississippi River. The Mississippi River feeds into The Gulf Stream. And The Gulf Stream feeds straight into my soul.
I headed for South Irvine and located, "Agateman." Agateman lived in a trailer. If you got near the trailer a wolf that lived below didn't growl. It just chomped you in half.
Inside the trailer was why Agateman was called what he was. In a room built onto the trailer was the Fort Knox of the very best red agate in the world. To step into the room was to be blinded by red. I told Agateman of my narrow escape. After a blood oath that I would never divulge his secret digging spot we agreed to set out the next morning at dawn for a day of digging. It was one matter to find a weathered piece of agate in Middle Fork. Entirely another, digging it out of the matrix.
DEVIL ROCK---PART SIX
The next morning before dawn I was back at Agateman's. I threw my pack in the back of his jeep and approached his trailer. Cerberus approached. I had never seen a three headed dog with a snake tail and snake heads protruding from its back. It was almost enough to make me stop drinking. Almost. Agateman opened his door. He could tell that I'd had a drink. Or was it two. "We're headed to Strawberry Fields where nothing is real," I quipped.
"I've known you since you were fifteen. Back when you drove that baby blue Fleetwood and showed off Chesteen. Nothing has ever been real for you. What is it you pretend to do these days?"
"The job titles keep changing. I never last long. Anyone over me always eventually finds out, all I do is write. Sometimes I'm supposed to be something important, sometimes an absolute nothing. Titles don't mean nothing. Writing is all anyone will get from get from me. My writing. Never what anyone wants. Worse thing is, it has me living twice. Once in Estill is torture enough. God keeps punishing me for my sins. Fortunately, tiny purple fishes laugh between my fingers. I don't mean to sound like my guitar is gently weeping. You asked. And I told you."
DEVIL ROCK---PART SEVEN
Heading towards Middle Fork, the sun broke red across the mountains. Or was it my red eyes. Anyways, shapes were emerging. The world was red. Agateman geared down. "There're 60-inch rattlers back in here."
"How come you call it, Devil Rock?"
"I've never known two friends that hunted the rock for a long time that didn't wind up hating each other. Always a fight over who got what. There've been killings. But nobody knows it."
"How old is this agate?"
DEVIL ROCK----PART EIGHT
"The Imperial Reds derive from the Renfro-Borden Formation. Early Mississippian Age. Around 350 million years ago. Kentucky made agate its state rock. Actually, it's a mineral, not a rock. Kentucky's state mineral is coal. Coal is actually a rock. God bless our politicians."
"We've got the best money can buy."
"Be glad we ain’t packing in all the tools we'll need. I've got them hid near the dig. Iron diggers, picks, three kinds of shovels, two sledge hammers, an axe and two rock hammers. You've got your waders, don't you?"
"In my pack. Do you think we'll find one?"
"You never know. You could go a year of digging all day every day and never find one. And we might find three today. You just never know. But I do know that I am in good spot. I've brought some out that, well, are unbelievable. You've seen them. Most have gone to museums."
Two things about Estill County. We grow imperial marijuana and agates. Our politicians smoke one and stare at the other. In both cases, it leaves them in wonder."
DEVIL ROCK----PART NINE
After nearly jarring my liver loose, Agateman finally parked. Everything in me was disarranged. How far we had Jeeped into the seven mile long hollow was anyone's guess. I was desperate to insure that my liver was none the worse. I searched inside my pack and found a pint of Old Fitzgerald. In four successive swallows its contents disappeared. Right off, my liver went into action. Everything was wonderful. Up that red hollow there was red agate. My liver was certain. Agateman observed disdained. He went to church more than me. Of course that wasn't saying anything. If he went to church one second in the past thirty years he had me beat. Even if he had gotten within a mile of one, he had me beat.
I put on my waders and pack and was soon following Agateman's forced march up Middle Fork. It was hard to maintain his George Custer pace. But a true Estill countian can do anything. Well, anything if it comes to smoking and drinking. An Estill countian can light a joint in a tornado. Or drink a quart of shine standing on his head in quicksand. It's just simple pure born in them.
It was really difficult to select anything in particular that was red. After a pint of Fitz, everything was red. I kept trying to put the entire world in my pack. I looked up. Middle Fork was spinning. I held onto a poplar. Agateman cut off of Middle Fork. He began hiking up a narrow, steep branch that fed into the creek. I was lucky I spotted him. If I hadn't, I'd still be wandering around.
DEVIL ROCK---PART TEN
Agateman stopped one third the way up the mountain to leave the branch and retrieve his hidden tools. I got the ones he left and followed. Not far we came to a giant man made hole in the mountain that ran partially into a cliff. Down low in the various formations was an outcropping of yellow rock. I quickly learned that shale was much more difficult to sledge hammer than I thought. Every pounding of the hammer sent vibrations through my body.
We trenched and rerouted the branch to get it to help remove the debris we were digging. It was as dirty and as hard work as you could possibly dream. Agateman would sledge for five minutes until he got tired. Then I would take my turn and do the same. While one sledged the other would dig with a shovel throwing busted rock and mud as far away as you could. You stayed stuck in the mud and you rarely looked up. At times we found ourselves tunneling under the cliff following the layer of shale. It became very dangerous as common sense dictated that a cave in was inevitable. A cave in of 40 feet of rocks over you spared no mercy. There would be only one result. Still, we followed the layer. It had a way of luring you like a liquor store on pay day.
At times the sound of the sledging would be different. It was something like listening to flint in a sifter verses no flint. When we would hit this sound we would stop. Agate. A round geode. Well, not always round, but usually. We knew we were hitting agate. We also knew that it probably wasn't a good red one. But there was always that chance we could be fooled. We worked and dreamed for those chances. You didn't want to hit the agate more than once. And not even once if you could help it. . Every time you hit, you made a fracture. The more fractures an agate has, the less it's value.
Once an agate was hit we would stop. Then we would use a smaller sledge, a pry bar, the pick, and whatever else was best to carefully work around the specimen. Sometimes we found small ones the size of a golf ball. These were normally easy to rock hammer out. But the larger ones took all of our skills and determination. I had been with many diggers and was a fair digger myself but this Agateman, well, he was The American Digger. A human bulldozer that knew no rest or fear.
DEVIL ROCK----PART ELEVEN
"How do you know if you have a good one?" I asked.
Agateman paused. His eyes scanned the woods. "If you don't see any red on the outside, you really don't know, He said "Even when you see color running into its feeder hole, it still might not be good. The good ones usually aren't round. I look for something that is sort of saucer shaped. When you have a good one, it has a solid feel. Like a cannonball. If we get one like that, we pack it out. Run it through the saw. Agate is four times harder than steel. Some minerals inside the agate are harder than the others. If I think one is no good, I'll tap it along its fracture. All of them have a fracture. Sometimes I mess up. When you do, it kills you."
DEVIL ROCK-----PART TWELVE
Having hit into a geode that showed much promise Agateman stopped. He said we should quit for the day. It would be dark before we got out of the hollow. We caved in an area hiding the geode, then left. We packed out several geodes that proved worthless.
The next morning we were back with a small sledge, wedge and rock hammers. It was around noon when Agateman suddenly stopped and grabbed my arm. He didn't have to tell me to be silent. The intense way his eyes scanned the woods, someone was close.
We held motionless for a long time. Agateman had claimed we were digging on his property. But Agateman was an Estill countian. Even if he claimed religion, his inability to tell the truth was uncontrollable. Crows are black, that's just the way it is.
I was so very nervous. I did the only thing anyone from Estill county could. I had a half pint of hid somewheres. Those big pockets on my camouflaged army pants made survival sense. God bless Jack Daniels. Agateman watched. There went Jesus.
DEVIL ROCK---PART THIRTEEN
It’s not easy to drink most of a half pint in perfect silence. "Red skies, red whiskey and red headed women, what else is there?" I said.
"Red agate," answered Agateman.
I wasn't sure the stuff was worth dying over. A red headed wench, maybe. And only if her curvaceous form was covered in freckles. And naturally, she had to have hemp green eyes.
But not some rock. Er, mineral.
After Agateman eased up and resumed digging I spoke. "Isn't shale hardened mud deposited in a shallow sea millions of years ago?"
"Read your Bible. It answers all questions."
"I ain’t got no Bible. I looked at one, once. Nearly ruern't me on reading. According to what it allows, the world is 5,500 years old. You told me that agate was formed millions of years ago."
"Are you saying, you don't believe?"
"Oh, I'll believe anything," I answered, finishing off the half pint. "I voted for our last mayor five times. And I still didn't get a job."
DEVIL ROCK----PART FOURTEEN
"How do you drink so much?"
"Easy. I open my mouth. Gravity does the rest."
"Don't you get tired of it?"
"No. It lets me be me. It lets me be with the dead. The dead are a whole lot friendlier than the living. I tried sober, once. Life was so full of lies, I eventually surrendered."
Agateman worked the geode out of the matrix. A smile. It was oval shaped and felt solid. I put it in a duffel bag. We called it a day. After hiding the tools we began hiking out of the tight hollow. The woods were fantasia. A yellow butterfly. Trees rubbing, talking. Tadpoles surfacing. I love Estill. She is glorious.
But she is not The Gulfstream.
Arriving at Mark's place he directed us to a backroom where his rock saw was set up. Agateman didn't know it, but Mark wallowed in marijuana. Always had a sticky icky rolled and waiting.
DEVIL ROCK----PART FIFTEEN
The air about Mark's business had the nefarious odor of a green snake's breath. Mark smiled. His red eyes guided the geode into a vice. Vice was everywhere. But this vice held all our dreams as the big diamond bladed saw began slowly slicing into Kentucky's state rock. "No Sweat, you still writin'?" he asked.
"Day in, day out. Even when I ain’t writing, I am. It's not me. It's someone else inside."
"Still on that outlaw?"
"Yeah. I've turned it into a love story. Even makes me cry."
"Yeah, he sure had the women."
"It ain’t about women. About him and his dad, a crooked preacher."
"What about that other book? You done anything on it?"
"I live with it at all times. Everyone says it's my best. I can't see it. The journal of a lonely marijuana grower. I'm working it down. Trying to keep it clean.
Honest. Honest ain’t easy."
"You got that right."
DEVIL ROCK----PART SIXTEEN
I walked over to the big box. I leaned and raised the lid. Inside, a saw was running. Oil was flying along the saw blade as it made it's cut. I closed the lid. "I hear that Estill's new Judge collects agate," I said.
"Just the red," answered Mark. He loves it. If you get busted for growing, he'll let you go. Depends on how much you were growing and how good the rock is."
"Sure hope this one is good enough to get us out of murder. Nice having justice on reserve."
DEVIL ROCK----PART SEVENTEEN
Agateman walked over to the box. Like everyone else, his curiosity was up. The saw moved fast. Yet, it moved so slow. Too slow. A half hour had passed. Just a small incision had been made. He looked at the bottom. The oil was covering everything. Red couldn’t be seen. Mark nudged me with his arm, gave me the eye. "Agateman," he said, "We'll be right back. I'm gonna show No Sweat an arrowhead I got."
Going into another room at the end of the hall, Mark lit a joint, took a hit and handed it to me. I took a hit and handed it back. A few hits later, the grime of the day disappeared. We emerged from the room like butterflies emerging from their chrysalis. Walking back into the room where Agateman was in study he looked up and shook his head in disgust. "Is there a hay barn on fire near here?" he asked.
DEVIL ROCK----THE END
When at last the saw did its job there came a THUMP. The three of us walked over. Mark raised the lid. For the longest of time we stood in silence, looking down. Not a muscle moved. Expressions were frozen. Breathing ceased. Then, Agateman spoke. "That's the most beautiful agate I have ever seen."
"Me too," added Mark.
"I've never seen lines come across the chevron," I said.
"Do you want that cut?" Spoke Agateman. "Or do you want the next?"
The rock was being divided into thirds. "I'll take this piece," I said. I couldn't have been more satisfied. A bird in the hand.
"You've probably got ten thousand dollars, there," spoke Agateman.
There had never been such a contrast of deep black and Marlboro red. The agate owned hypnotic powers. Wrapping my third, I left. At home I placed the agate on a table. You couldn't come into or leave my home without seeing the rock.
Years passed. Agateman had sliced his one third up into three slices, getting $2,000 a slice. Mark had done the same. I still have my one third whole just as the evening it fell from the saw.
I learned that the land that we found the agate on actually did not belong to Mark. The story that Agateman told me----us having to give Mark one third of what we found because it was on Mark's land---was a lie. I said nothing. After all, Agateman was a Christian. Devil Rock. Yeah.
Then a man from Powell county actually did buy the land where Agateman and I had dug. He brought in a bulldozer and caved in 80' of cliff over the top of our spot. Nobody would ever find agate there again.
And nobody has.
Kentucky Red Agate
Kentucky Red Agate. Found by E. Lowell "Robbie" Robbins, Jr. on Middle Fork. Polished (Rolled) by Richard Cackling. This agate is beautifully polished on both sides. It is 5" by 21/2 " and 1 1/4" thick. This is a number 10 on a grade scale of 10. It has been in my collection for over 20 years. This red agate is nearly fracture free. It has both reds, the yellow, black, etc. In short, as nice as they come. If you are interested in upgrading your agate collection or owning a genuinely gorgeous rare Kentucky red agate, you need to consider this.
Kentucky Red Agate
Kentucky Red Agate found by Robbie Robbins on Middle Fork in Estill County, Kentucky. Polished by Mr. Flynn of Wagersville, one of the best red agatemen in the world. I hope before going into a discussion about this particular agate that everyone will carefully look at all the photos I have sent in of this rock. Without my having to say much more, they should speak for themselves. This happens to be one of the very finest agates ever offered on ebay. A classic example of the Kentucky royal agat that agate hunters aspire to own. This is as good as they come with both of the reds, yellow, black and a little calcite. As you can see, it is the end of a geode which I personally like owning better than displaying an agate in any other way. The one photo shows you the backside of this rock and its approximate size in comparison to my hand. This particular rock has a gorgeous pattern. When you walk into a room it catches your eye immediately whether you are an agate collector or not. I have seen small pieces of aghate of this quality (no bigger than your thumbnail) selling for 100 dollars. I would never cut up this rock, its simply too beautiful just as it is. It does not matter who you are in the agate showing competition, this agate can only enhance your collection; it is without doubt, that nice. I am offering this rock for the first time ever. I have never taken it to a show and only a few people have ever seen it (visitors to my home). I have setr a reserve on it that is more than fair, about one half what most "agate experts /dealers" would ask if they had it in theirpossession and for sale. If you are wondering if I am going to be selling any more agate. the answer is plainly NO. What I have left, belongs to my grandson. This is the last great piece I will be offering. You'll not see a piece this nice offered as I am doing again. The Kentucky red agate is the most naturally beautiful rock in the world. It is the rariest agate in the world. And one of this quality is rarer still.
Kentucky Red Agate
In one photo you will see a Kentucky red agate that I dug in situ with my friend Richard "Dick" Cackling. I found this particular agate almost 40 years ago and over the years following found several hundred Kentucky Red Agates; many wound up in museums such as The Smithsonian and also The Cincinnati Museum Of Natural History. This is the rariest and most valuable agate in the world and considered the most beautiful. This agate was used in my second novel, NEFARIOUS; in that book the nefartious Judge Quinn attempts to bribe Ed Hawkins to come back to Estill County and be his crooked judge with this very agate; as you might be able to see it owns the outline of a drunken buzzard's head. The other photo is that of a stained glass window that I had made almost 40 years by my classmate, Danny Stamper's daughter. This stained glass window is also used in my book NEFARIOUS as it is a giant window located in the cathouse that Ed and his Uncle Moses pay a visit to on his thirteenth birthday. In this scene in the window you will note the famous mountain in Irvine, Kentucky, Sweet Lick Knob that is in the background. In the front you see my wife, Chesteen and my daughter, Nancy emerging from a moonlight night on the Kentucky Rver. And in Chestreen's hand is a Kentucky red agate that I found and had cut and sliced and polished.
"Here is photo I took of three of my Kentucky Red Agated. The large beautiful one is the last one that I ever dug with Dick Cackling. It has a very unusal chevron pattern as you can note. The other agate is uncut and unpolished and came from a different area of Estill County than most of the other red agates that I found on Middle Fork."
Sliding by the Hemlock
This is a story that I dedicate to my old digging friend, Dick Cackling. He was a solid and true friend of mine that can never be replaced. And a stronger and better digger there has never been. Together we found some of the finest Kentucky red agates ever discovered, some going to the Smithsonian and other to various museums. I will be sending you more photos of our digs and some photos of the red agates we unearthed. I will miss him forever..
Sliding by the Hemlock
Stopped at his trailer. His wife hugged me.
She started crying.
It was early. She didn't know I was coming,
"Sorry, I wasn't here sooner."
"It's alright. , I read your letter."
"I'm going digging. He said, now that I've showed you this place you'll sneak back without me. I told him I wouldn't."
"It's OK. You can go, now."
"It's not like I'm going there without him."
"People ask, am I going to move? Why? Why should I move? There's his shoes and coat. I don't touch them."
"If he was here he'd be giving you that good-bye kiss. He loved you. Always talked about you."
"One of his relatives called. One that never came to see us. Asked, uh, what are you going to do with his agate and Indian relics? I'll take care of them, if you want? I told him, they aren't for sale. They'll never be for sale."
"I don't blame you. The memories."
"Oh, I've got memories. More memories than those rocks."
"He was always good to me."
"He loved you like a son. Thought you were so smart."
"He was the smart one. The best digger I ever knew."
"They called from the funeral home. Said they were already on their way. Bringing his ashes. II couldn't take that. I couldn't. I told them to take them back. He had a Will. Wanted me and you to take his ashes and spread them where you all dug at Middle Fork. Will you go with me to do that?"
"Go on and go digging. I'd give you his sifter and shovel only... the law never returned them."
Three hours later, I was on the wooded trail he and I had marked. There was a place where we had stopped at the edge of a cliff and had to slide down the steep hill by an old hemlock. I stood there for such a long time, looking, remembering. I saw us sliding down by that hemlock.
He'd been digging all day and wanted me see what he'd found. Reaching inside his truck he unfolded a towel and handed me a bone.
It was human.
Nothing quite owns the airy fee of an old human bone. This was one of the two lower bones in your right arm. He took the bone back, wrapped it, placing it in his truck, asking if I wanted to go back to the cliff in the morning.
I spent the night getting everything ready. I'd been digging up old Indian skeletons since I was a boy. Back then, I was always on the front page of our local paper showing off skeletons. Now, that same stuff would throw me in prison; a looter owning no respect for the dead..
When I got to his trailer you could see he was still a kid as he grabbed his certain shovel, the sifter he'd crafted, apples and oranges we'd eat during the day and a backpack that always had everything we needed. I unloaded my gear into his truck and soon we were gone. It was grand to be with my friend and sneaking off to do what we loved.
We drove along the Kentucky River where we'd relic hunted the plowed fields and then turned, going into the mountains, driving up the worst one in the county. The old road ran along the ridges and where the shadows broke you could see darkness for miles. We turned several more times; the road always getting worse, until finally, our turn off ended and we parked. It was near dawn and the woods were silent as we put on our packs and grabbed what we needed before disappearing upwards along an old familiar trail cutting soft, passing by and through an ancient bed of sandstone.
My friend was twelve years older than me, 70. He was still lean and remarkably strong. Not a 70 strong but more of a 30 strong. An incredible person that loved finding what was hidden, the last guy you ever wanted to anger. He owned a fine smile and was the king of Kentucky agate having taught me about the most beautiful rock in the world. In kind, I had paid him back with what I knew about hunting Indian relics; he was such a quick study with an eye.for detail. The cliff we were headed to was one that I had shown him. One that I had first gone to more than 50 years ago having been packed there on the shoulders of men long dead. A half century had vanished. The thought gutted and haunted me.
We climbed down off the trail, going over the mountain, stepping by a bunch of blackberry briers that snuck up from the hollow. A moment later, a few feet away, a grouse flushed; the same bird my friend allowed he'd jumped the day before. We hiked a little farther, watching our step as we hugged a ledge and then stopped getting our cameras.There was something beguiling about the enormous cliff overhang; a mysterious gravity pulling at you, giving your soul a home more than any mansion.
At the dripline, we set down our sifter and shovels, took off our packs, watching the phantom swallows and fat drops of water fall from over a hundred feet directly above, hitting and splashing near our boots where so many chips of colored flint glistened breaking the dull light. Most diggers had given up on this cliff as it had finally played out. But my friend had found new success using smaller wire in his sifter and going below the ash layers down into compacted, golden sand, virginous at first glance. Walking to our right we followed the dripline until we came to a place piled in rocks; the spot where my friend had quit digging; We moved them and I began digging with my bayonet.
This ancient cliff had produced thousands of relics. Everything always dating to Indians having lived there 1,000 to 2,000 years ago; pottery, celts, and unnotched arrowheads. The bear's footprint carved in a boulder was still there but the old hominy holes were chiseled and gone.
About an hour passed when some sand gave way next to a large rock. I put my hand in the hole and began ro feel something round. For a moment I thought it was a pot and then I realized, a skull. l I slowed down and my friend moved closer as I carefully brushed away sand; the skull lay on its side facing east to the rise of each day.
"AHH!" shouted my friend, jerking his hand. Something had poked the middle of his palm.
Sticking up in the sand beside the skull was the tip of a point that I pulled out; A long, narrow spear point with flutes running lengthways down the face of each of its sides. Beside it, was a base section of a deer's skull and antler, polished and drilled, the hole just larger than a quarter.
"That's a Cumberland point," I said. "Seven thousand years old. We've just found the oldest burial ever discovered in Kentucky."
"What's this, a pipe?"
"No. It held your hair back in a ponytail. This skull is a woman. See her smooth features. Going by her teeth and the way all her lines over her skull have joined and smoothed over, she's old. Maybe eighty. Maybe, a hundred."
As I layed on my stomach trying to take good photos, I noticed through my lens that as the skull was drying out it was also crumbling and falling apart. In a few minutes, the face disappeared. The thought that I was the person to watch this paleo woman return back to nature held me spellbound. She and I had dwelled in such different worlds and yet our ends would be the same.
We covered the skeleton and left. Our ride back was full of talk. Nobody had ever dug a human skeleton that old in Kentucky. Even throughout north and south America, such a discovery was extremely rare. If bonifide archaeologists had made the find it would have been on the cover of National Geographic. But for us, it had to remain our secret.
A year went by. My friend's wife called, crying.
He went up the hill to shoot a coyote.
He didn't come back.
I found him.
Feet hung in barbwire.
Hanging upside down.
Gun went off.
No Sweat,I feel like I'm in a a dream.
Just a note to all my friends that I lost one of the best friends ever in my life, late yesterday, Richard Cackling. He went up the hill behind his house to shoot a coyote and never returned. Brenda, his wife, told me that she went up looking for him near dark and found him tangled in a bob wire fence, dead. Apparently, he had put his gun on the fence while crossing and it went off, killing him. It was a gun he'd gotten from his father, about the only thing he had from him, one he hadn't gotten out of the closet in five years. Dick had never hunted anything in his life that I knew of.
The memorial services will be this week.
I own a thousand dear stories of Dick and I digging together. We had been close for nearly 40 years. We dug the world's largest red agate together as well as probably five of the possible top ten red agates hat have ever been found. Nobody could touch him in his hey day when it came to agate. He had one room that was completely full of the finest red agate you could imagine. And I should relay, the most beautiful one very found in the world is in his closet. Its never been cut or polished. But the two of us knew what was inside it. I suppose its still there. We owned some of the best times together that two men could have ever had.
Dick was the best digger I was ever with in my life. And always a friend. The man was
incredible at the persistent way he could swing a sledge hammer all day long; John Henry if there ever was such, we actually moved mountains by hand, work nobody could ever believe true. But that's how we were successful. Dick owned a certain brilliance in knowing everything there was to know about agates. He owned a special instinct in finding them that nobody could ever own. He was also brilliant in knowing engines, mechanics, and well, so much. Although he was a true Estill Countiuan in every sense, there was that side of him that was always an outsider. I suppose what I saw, was that certain politeness so rare in the hills. And a certain way of always trying to be a gentleman no matter the environment. His voice and personality was clear and strong and true. For the most part, he was one of the most honest and true men I have ever know.
The last time we were together, we spent the whole day exploring a new cliff overhang and cave up near the Pinnacle. I started to catch a big yellowtail butterfly and take it back to Lance but Dick gave me a hard time about doing something like that, almost scolding me, telling me to leave something that beautiful alone. Yeah, he had a terrible soft side that he kept very secret. He spoke of my father that day and told me that in life you learn that you have to do things you don't want to do, that you have to eat a lot of crow.
He had come to Irvine from a big farm in Illinois where he had been raised, had been a football star in High School and was one of the best athletes I was ever around, period. He was one man you did not want to get in a fight with. It was nothing for him to pack 100 pounds of agates through miles of woods and then up a steep mountain. Well into his 60's he thought nothing of it. I often found myself tested to the brink to keep up with him. But I would never tell him. I think he like wearing me down. We always spoke about what exercise really was when you walked up and down through several mountains and then back out of them by the end of the day.
There was one miserable January 1rst and we were deep up Middle Fork digging at our old agate site--now more of a mine.. It was as bitter cold as you could imagine and we working in two feet of mud, digging in a bank with sledge hammers and iron diggers; the bank in front of us was forty feet straight up. Always trinkling bits of dirt down on us with every slam of our sledges. At any time you knew the bank could cave in. We never spoke of it. If you were scared of dying you had no business doing what we did. He had brought a small propane torch in his pack to "cheat" in building a fire to periodically warm us. I sat down near the torch after he had turned it off and a few minutes later my rear end was on fire, burning through two layers of pants I had on. When I tried to slap the fire out I severely burned my hand, the entire inside palm raising in a large blister. Although it was cold and dreary, so absolute grey, and we were so alone, we had a wonderful time laughing about my ignorance.
When I first took Dick to Granny Richardson's Springs, he fell in love with the large cliff overhang just like a child. Just like I had done fifty years ago. We began digging there and we began to find hundreds of Indian artifacts. Among them, a Cumberland burial; the oldest burial of any human ever discovered in Kentucky. And one of the oldest burials ever found in the USA. It was the skeleton of an old woman, possibly in her eighties, that we left there just as she had been buried. She was several feet deeper than the level of the living floor of the cave, buried in sterile yellow sand. Sejong the drip line towards the east.. With her, was a Cumberland point and a hair ornament fashioned from the base of a deer's rack. It was our secret that we kept secret and spoke of only when we were together. If some archaeologist had discovered her, they would have been famous.
And then I took Dick to Pryse Cave. He was the only person that understood all that I had done in my four years digging there, going 22' deep, finding 18 burials. He began digging out a large trench from the front of the cave going back into it and the work he undertook was immense. All but digging an Erie Canal. Within a few weeks he began to find all sorts of relics. This is the same cave where we jumped two elk that were resting inside one morning. Something impossible to imagine, but true. Something special reserved just for us.
More than once, Brenda had called me at dark, asking me to go up to Middle Fork and hunt for Dick for she was afraid that a cave in had occurred and he was there covered up and dead. Every time I would tell her, Give it another hour, and I will go. And every time an hour later, she would call and tell me that Dick was pulling in the driveway. We would all laugh about it the next week.
Dick loved Brenda in every way. It was good to be with a man that loved his life the way he did. Every time we came back from digging, Brenda would have abig meal cooked and we would spend the next few hours all talking about everything, laughing and enjoying her delicious meals of rhubarb pie, pot roast and recipes she had created. They didn't have much. But what they had in a big way, was each other. It was impossible not to feel it.
On that last day that Dick and I were together I mentioned that I was still writing and he made a little fun of me. Almost the same way that my other close friend, Larry Lynch used to. Both telling me that I was wasting my time and dreaming. But trying to do it in such a way that was friendly. And I confess, I have more than often wondered if they weren't right. That in my heart, I know they were the best of friends.
I've not had many friends that didn't use me or steal from me in some way throughout my life. But Dick was never that kind. Just the opposite. It will be impossible for me to step into the woods without him being with me. I will never hear the word agate without thinking of him. He will remain a force inside me until the day I too die.
That one day with went agate hunting with the old original red agate king of the woods. All day us three hunted. I played a trick on the old man, making gouse tracks in the snow. Making them larger and larger until they got to be two feet long. And that afternoon, the man took his shotgun and blew off his head. Dick and I never could get over that.
What a wonderful soul Dick was--- just for me, teaching me so much, always there for me. I loved him and will forever miss him.
Pryse Cave, Kentucky
Photos of my first day's dig at a new site. The photos should speak for themselves. It looks we will be digging here all through the fall, winter and spring as there are numerous scattered sites on this virgin location. The relics you see in these photos are all coming from the floor of a collapsed and rotted away slave cabin. After the civil war the cabin was used as a storage area. I found a great quantity of relics all dating at exactly 1900. At least 100 various bottles, etc. Once I began digging deeper I got into solid civil war relics. The house we are digging behind was built over a 20 year time period, from 1795 o 1815---- and I am also finding relics from that era. I am only sending a few photos of what was found on the first day. It is an incredible place and what is yet to be found in the privies, other slave cabin sites and so much more should prove to be quite rich. I will keep you posted..
006----------One of the numerous untouched buildings on the site still loaded down with civil war era relics
017---------just a sampling of what is there. Most of the chests have not been opened.
045--------Alan digging at our first site on the property, the slave quarters.
043--------One of my finds about midway into the day, US eagle belt plate; looks to be an Allegheny Arsenal mfg., early war; Alan states that it had to have belonged to Col. John Holloway.
042---------No Sweat with freshly recovered eagle plate.
No Sweat's Archaeology