Bent on Birding - back to the Stone Age

Could the ancient Celtic seafarers have wandered to waterways in North America in the fifth century AD?

That's the question that comes up in interpreting certain vertical marks common to the area along the path of the Purgatoire and Arkansas Rivers in Southeastern Colorado.

Other writings viewed on the trip to the area's historic ranch sites have been attributed to various tribes of Plains Indians, who seemed to use the large expanses of easy-to-carve sandstone as message boards.

The writings became accessible to the public when Judy Thomaczek contacted John Davidson 22 years ago about including the Davidson Ranch artifacts on a historical auto tour to add to the offerings of the Bent on Birding tours, said Thomaczek. When Davidson died suddenly, the tours were discontinued for a few years but were later revived.

When Davidson first opened the sites to public viewing, a class in archaeology from a Kansas university viewed the writings and a historic burial, said Thomaczek. Shortly afterwards, someone exhumed the burial site and removed the artifacts.

That also caused Davidson to discontinue the trips for several years, but he decided to re-open the site for the local birding tours.

"These sites are all historically designated and recorded in Denver," said Thomaczek, "but there's no way to protect them."

Fear of vandalism is the reason one of the ranches visited will not be named.

Bob Davidson of Davidson ranch said in a telephone interview after the tour, "Probably the first to report these writings were the cavalry stationed at the old Bent's Fort second site or the new Fort Lyon that replaced it. Anyhow, everybody knows they're here."

He doesn't know the specific tribes represented but will be looking into it as he and his wife, Brenda, prepare the documents necessary for the Centennial Ranch designation.

Bob Davidson and his brother, John, arranged to buy the ranch from the rest of the family in 1962, said Bob Davidson in a telephone interview after the tour. J.C. Davidson, Bob and John's grandfather, was a founder of the Tarbox Canal, which became the Highland Canal with a change of use about 1920.

The writings on Davidson's ranch are mostly attributed to Plains Indians, but one of the sites, which was not accessible due to high water for this Bent on Birding tour, also has the Ogams (vertical markings now being attributed by many to ancient Celtic travelers because it can be read in Gaelic). At that site, the Plains Indians writings are low on the sandstone wall, but the Ogams are high on the wall.

At another ranch visited by the Bent on Birding tour, the Ogam writings were also on high ground in clusters of sandstone rocks.

The daughter of the ranch family explained to the tour how the group of Bill McGlone, Phillip Leonard and Rollin Gillespie came to the ranch in 1984, gathering information for the book, "Ancient Celtic America," which was published by McGlone and Leonard in 1986.

Leonard was the expert on deciphering ancient languages. Gillespie, a retired executive from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, seems to have been along to see that research was done in a truly scientific manner, and because he was curious.

After experimentation to see if the writings and the sun image on the wall could yield another astronomical observation like the one associated with Crack Cave, farther to the south in southeast Colorado. At that site, the sun shines through a crack in a cave wall at sunrise on the equinoxes. The McGlone group found their sun symbol, abundant Ogam writings and an astronomical dating of the area. The sun appeared at a jutting of the cliff, not at the equinox, but at a date midpoint between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox, August 8, coinciding with the Celtic pre-harvest festival. By a method better described in the book, experts in astronomy (the constellation of  Gemini is depicted in the drawings) and the Ogam writings, the McGlone group guessed the probable date of the carvings was during the fifth century A.D. The precise date of the event commemorated is probably on or about Aug. 8, 471 A.D.

"A corridor of Ogam writings exists throughout Southeast Colorado," wrote Bill McGlone in "Ancient Celtic America," and ranchers throughout the area in Bent and Baca Counties are well aware of it. For more information, check out "Ancient Celtic America" from Woodruff Memorial Library. The cover picture was taken at the second ranch visited on the Bent on Birding Ranch and Historical Tour, in the area the authors have christened "The Sun Temple."

The ranchers are friendly and willing to take tours with people they can trust, but are cautious about widespread publicity for obvious reasons.