Fell and Egyptian
By Richard Flavin
The Reverend Mr. Jacob "John" Gass (1842-1924); 1868 Wartburg, 1882 Postville and in retirement.
Images of Oltingen, Switzerland in 1756 and 1762 [click for more] (Buckner 1762).
St. Nicolas Church in Oltingen with pre-Lutheran 14th century murals [click for more].
St. Sebald (Wartburg), IA c. 1868 and 1878 & 1879 maps.
Assisted by three young Wartburg seminarians, the Rev. Gass found human remains, stone and clay pipes, copper beads and axes, and other artifacts which were favorably written up in 1875 and 1876. On a cold January morning in 1877 (Farquharson 1877a; Gass 1877a), Pastor Gass conducted an emergency dig necessitated by the access rights to the mounds on the Cook property passing to a new tenant farmer (as A. W. Cook was concentrating on raising short horn cattle and Norman Percheron horses). This hurried investigation produced the engraved tablets which Fell would later claim to be able to read as North African writing. During later digs by Gass in 1878 and 1880 at the Cook property, with access rights reacquired, he uncovered another engraved tablet and a pipe in the shape of an elephant (an earlier pipe was "obtained" by Gass in 1878: see Pratt 1880; p. 348). [Note: Brief mentions of five other tablets discovered by Gass are not usually discussed, as they were never described and apparently bore no relationship to previous discoveries (Peet 1886; p. 56). It could be, as three of the “tablets” were too heavy to transport, that the terminology used was incorrect due to the inability of Gass to write English.]
1875 Charles City, IA with visable mounds and 1875 map with Charles City, IA.
Getting the first name of the discoverer and the number of helpers wrong, as well as Prof. Fell's incorrect date of discovery for the engraved tablets and elephant pipes as 1874, when 1877, 1878 and 1880 were solidly established in published accounts, doesn't require the postulation of nefarious intent, but rather indicates a pattern of sloppy scholarship. Fell was excited by his linguistic "evidence" and allowed his previous academic standard of professionalism to diminish. A guess would have Prof. Fell being unfamilar with accepted styles of religious address and perceived "Rev. Mr. Gass (Farquharson 1877a; p. 107 & Peet 1886; p. 46)" as "Mr." being short for a hypothetical first or given name (e.g. Jos. for Joseph). Or, perhaps, the "r" was dropped in a type-setting error, and remained uncorrected as of the 1989 third and final authorized edition of America B.C. Or, guessing again, Fell may have read the obituary of M. T. Gass, a former superintendent of the Soldiers' Orphans' Home (Daily Times, Scott Co., IA; Aug. 16, 1900) and confused the names. Some irrelevancies should be reserved for an exceptionally rainy day.
A current photograph of the Cook Farm and a copper axe-head found in 1874.
Strawberry Point (St. Sebald) to Davenport to Charles City, IA.
The bad press took its toll. Gass moved from Davenport to Postville, IA in 1882, became pastor of an existing congregation (German Lutheran Church of Postville; 1882-1894), was involved with the building of a new church and delivered its cornerstone dedication address in August of 1890 (it was renamed the German Evangelical Lutheran St. Paul's Church in 1894). According to parish accounts, Pastor Gass was called “John,” rather than Jacob, and was highly thought of and known for his good deeds and thoughtful sayings (Schroeder 1971). After leaving St. Paul’s, he tried farming, but with little success. Gass eventually sold the farm and purchased a Sears Modern Home (Model No. 52?) through the mail, erecting it across the street from the church. Today, it’s home to several Hasidic rabbis who work at AgriProcessors, the world's largest glatt kosher slaughterhouse. The Rev. John Gass started a German language newspaper in 1892, the Iowa Volksblatt, and was its owner and editor for three years. The newspaper wasn't profitable and the business was sold in 1895, becoming The Postville Herald in 1917 and publishing in English. Gass then retired to a life of growing flowers and strawberries; a box of his fruit sold for ten cents each. He’s buried in the Postville Cemetery.
Hyperdiffusionist heading (Campbell 1899) by The Reverend Dr. John Campbell (1849-1904; the Presbyterian College of Montreal in 1876.
In describing the 1877 and 1878 digs at the Cook property by the Rev. Gass, Dr. Robert J. Farquharson, the president of the Davenport Academy of Natural Sciences, encouraged:
"Therefore, let us not despair, but rather let us indulge the hope, though it may seem to some a frail one, that this is but the first of a series of such discoveries; that in time our Rosetta stone may be found, and that in the line of our learned occidentalists, there will arise a future Champollion, having a key to unlock this American language (Farquharson 1877a; p. 104)."
The first to apply for the impossible position of a new Champollion for a hypothetical "American language" was, notably, Canadian and not American. Almost immediately after the 1880 release of the second volume of PDANS, Prof. John Campbell (Presbyterian College of Montreal, church history and apologetics) claimed to be able to read the "Mound Builder" pseudoscript characters of the "Cremation" tablet as a corrupt form of ancient Hittite with Cypriote and Aztec elements (Campbell 1882). In advance of Fell, Campbell had earlier published an article attempting to connect Mi'kmaq with Indian, Japanese and Malay-Polynesian (Campbell 1881). To the credit of the non-refereed publications of that time, Prof. Campbell's imaginative theories appeared in the same journal, American Antiquarian, which later featured one of the earliest and finest refutations of the Davenport hoax material (Peet 1886). Unfortunately, the Reverend Dr. John Campbell didn't accept the criticism, published an expanded work (Campbell 1890) and entered Canadian history for being tried and found guilty of heresy for his imaginative epigraphic work and writing against the beliefs of his employers. [Note: While not a suggested decipherment like Campbell’s, two other efforts were made to find meaning in the Davenport tablets (Rust 1882; Seyffarth 1882). Both efforts argued for an interpretation of the inscriptions as Native American picture writing, though each proposed far different dates for their manufacture. Rust attempted to associate the tablets with the historical Dakota Nation and Seyffarth imagined the tablets were made by pre-historic descendants from Noah’s Ark.]
The Davenport hoax materials are modern and certainly date from the early to the middle of the second half of the 19th century (1869-1877/1878/1880). Whether they were in the ground for several minutes or several years appears extremely difficult to determine today. The question of who the hoaxer was, whether there were more than one and the motivation for the hoax has been often heatedly discussed. The first guess proposed the Mormons (Farquharson 1877b; p. 65), but this explanation hasn’t been pursued other than with a passing mention some years later (Peet 1892; p. 72). Much work remains in understanding the Mormonite cult pseudoscript, "reformed Egyptian," and related invented scripts (Flavin 2006).
Smith's "Reformed Egyptian" from a 1844 broadside for The Book of Mormon. (Smith 1830)
In 1970, the Iowa State Archaeologist, Dr. Marshall Bassford McKusick, published evidence that members of the Davenport Academy of Natural Sciences and their associates were behind the hoax (McKusick 1970). Afterwards, as Prof. McKusick (University of Iowa, associate professor of anthropology), he updated and rewrote the book, adding a lengthy criticism of the work of Fell (McKusick 1991). The hoax continues to fool the gullible and the Davenport Tablets were recently featured in a wacky, anti-masonic Christian fundamentalist film, The New Atlantis (Bay 2005). McKusick mentioned the possibility of “Masonic symbols (McKusick 1991; p. 128)” among the characters of the Davenport pseudoscripts, however this suggestion gets lost among the other components of the pseudoscripts (letters, scientific signs, astronomical symbols, musical notations, numbers, etc.). Taking into account new research, it wouldn’t be too crafty to suggest that 19th century Freemasons (and similar fraternal societies) had ready access to libraries and collections in which all manner of occult, eclectic and exotic background information and inspiration could be had.
David Bay's superimposing of America B.C. (Fell 1976; p. 144) with the reverse of the US Great Seal (Bay 2005).
In Febuary of 1846, the first of the Mormonite cult passed through Iowa on their exodus (read: escape) to Utah after founder Joseph Smith’s 1844 Carthage, IL murder, yet the Freemasons were already there and had the previous year made formal plans for the Iowa Masonic Library (1845). A growing collection was formed around Iowa City, moved to Davenport from 1870 to 1872, then relocated back to Iowa City before moving into its Cedar Rapids location in 1884 (building replaced in 1955). It is, squarely put, one of the finest libraries in the world. Overlooking a somewhat embarrassing choice of names in 1853, “Shibboleth,” Mason City, IA, is a straight choice as an example of an early presence and influence of fraternal societies in the territory.
1874 photograph of Mason City, IA , 1875 map of Davenport & 1884 photograph of the Iowa Masonic Library.
Since the Rock Island Railroad was built across the Mississippi River at Davenport in 1856, the city has been a bustling community of industry, culture, and fraternal societies. Prof. McKusick speculates that if members of the Davenport Academy of Natural Sciences were responsible for the manufacture of the tablets, that they were likely made in the Odd Fellows Hall building, where the Davenport Academy met in “rented back rooms” before their own building was completed in 1878. (McKusick 1991; p. 130). The Odd Fellows are a quasi-masonic fraternal society and a narrow approach could conclude that the Iowan amateur scientific group was, at least originally, sympathetic to fraternal societies.
1872 Colorado ranch and Odd Fellow graffiti, a close-up (1996 RDF) and Oklahoma graffiti (Fell 1976; p. 183).
Sniff Ranch brands, mailbox (1996 RDF) and derivative Illinois hoax (Flavin 2003; pt. ii).
Fraternity was important on America’s frontier during the later half of the 19th century and many farmers, ranchers and their helpers were Odd Fellows. Some, while avoiding secret society paranoia, dismiss clear evidence of important contributions to American history and culture by such groups. One such researcher was the late Gloria Stewart Farley (1916-2006), who was a dedicated and determined enthusiast, and is appropriately associated with her interest in the “Heavener Runestone,” an enigmatic runic message located in Oklahoma, far from where one would normally think of finding a Norse inscription. For twenty years before Prof. Fell's passing, whenever Farley believed she'd discovered “writing,” she made tracings and drawings of the rock art and sent them to Fell for “translation.”
In the text of her book (Farley 1994; p. 368), but not in a drawing or photograph, she remarks upon the presence of the name of a “B. Kelley,” some associated Independent Order of the Odd Fellows graffiti, and accuses this “B. Kelley” of vandalizing the ancient art depicting the horse. I have serious issues with this approach.
It’s almost impossible for the naked eye to distinguish between graffiti incised on these canyon walls during WWII, 50 years before that, or 500 years before that, even. The engravings only begin to show their age when they’re 1000, 2000, or 3000 or more years of age. All of the markings on the Hays Canyon, CO panel, pictured above, appear less than a thousand years of age. Sure, there’s graffiti from different time periods, but all the markings appear relatively recent. Farley mentioned Kelley, the I.O.O.F. (but not the F.L.T.), and saw vandalism. Apparently it didn’t occur to her that “B. Kelley” was a bored cowboy at one point, a member of the Odd Fellows (as were many cowboys at that time), and the drawing of the horse was his. He wasn’t the vandal; he was the artist.
A “Bert Kelley” is known to have worked for the "Box-And-A-Half” Ranch (the name being taken from its brand). The ranch has been around for nearly 150 years and has changed ownership an unremarkable number of times. The current ranchers, Jack and Darlene Sniff, have added their own unique brand, but retain the box-and-a-half, as well.
In America B.C., Fell published photographs of plaster replicas made from latex molds taken from parietal engravings discovered in Colorado, which showed designs consisting of the pairing of a four-sided closed rectangle and a three-sided open square. The “box-and-a-half” occurred in several of her reports and Fell transcribed the “letters” as Ancient Berber and meaning Ras (“head”or “chief”). As misfortune would have it, Ras and "chief" were later utilized by a retired gravel salesman and local museum curator, Jack Ward, of Vincennes, Indiana (Ward 1984). Within months of the publication of Ward's book, an associate, Russ Burrows, began selling inscribed stones claimed to have been discovered in a cave in southern Illinois. The Burrows Cave Hoax continues to this day.
Prof. Cyrus H. Gordon (1908-2001) and the Metcalf Stone (Gordon 1971, p. 91).
Another example of how Masonic groups can sometimes, perhaps inadvertently, confuse researchers concerns the late Prof. Cyrus H. Gordon (New York University, Director of the Center for Ebla Research). Gordon was a cultural diffusionist and argued for many exchanges and borrowing among various Mediterranean peoples (Gordon 1965; Gordon 1967). In 1968, he responded to a query from Dr. Joseph B. Mahan, Jr. (Columbus Museum of Arts and Crafts, Director of Education and Research) and identified the so-called Metcalf Stone from Georgia as being engraved with characters from the Aegean syllabary (Mycenean Linear A and B). With this incredible advancement, as well as his controversial support for the authenticity of the infamous Paraíba Inscription (Gordon 1974), said to have been discovered in Brazil in 1872, he became a hyper-diffusionist (Gordon 1971; Buchanan 2006). While the Metcalf Stone remains difficult to classify with certainty (as either Native American portable rock art, a post-Columbian engraving made for unknown reasons or a post-Columbian attempt to forge an ancient script), the suggestion that Phoenicians sailed to Brazil is generally accepted as untenable by all but the most hardened believers.
Tracing of an 1874 facsimile of the Paraiba inscription and cryptanalysis (Gordon 1974, p. 25; Gordon 1974, pp. 83).
Around ten years ago, I took an interest in the Paraíba Inscription. Prof. Gordon opined that the Phoenician script dated to the sixth century BCE and offered an identification of the “Merchant King” and “King Hiram” mentioned in the text as the Tyrian King Hiram III (r. 554-533 BCE). As the inscription names a “King Hiram” and not specifically King Hiram II (r. 739-730 BCE) or Hiram III, a far simpler identification would be the builder of the Hebrew King David’s personal house and a temple for David’s son, King Solomon (2 Samuel 5:10-11 RSV; 1 Kings 5:1-12 RSV). Later, Hiram was used as the inspiration for the dramatic character of Hiram Abif in Freemason initiation rituals beginning in the early eighteenth century. I subsequently attempted to uncover a connection between the Paraíba Inscription and Masonry, which meant I had to go to the library, or in this case, The Samuel Crocker Lawrence Library at the historic Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts located across a corner of the pastoral Boston Common at Boylston and Tremont streets. I’ve written:
“In the Grand Lodge Library I examined many books and pamphlets from the mid to late 19th century on Brazilian Freemasonry and the name da Costa appeared often. [Note: A letter from a “Joaquim Alves da Costa,” along with a copy of the Paraíba Inscription was sent to the Instituto Historico in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which was dated Sept. 11, 1872. All subsequent attempts to locate the author failed.] Several Grand Masters of lodges in Brazil bore the name, da Costa. A few also contained Joaquim, as well as Alves, but none, in my cursory examinations of the Brazilian Freemasonic material, contained the exact name. These are common Portuguese names and the presence in a Brazilian Freemason setting proves nothing. However, it does allow for an alternative to blindly accepting the authenticity of an inscribed stone no one has ever seen. Prof. Gordon saw the alternative as well, and in his last years began to hedge on his previous opinion regarding the Paraíba Inscription (Flavin 2001).”
After a lively back-and-forth with Prof. Frank M. Cross, Jr. (Harvard, emeritus Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages) in the pages of Orientalia (Gordon 1968a; Gordon 1968b; Cross 1968; and Gordon 1968c), Prof. Gordon added to his argument by proposing cryptograms derived from an acrostic and telestic ordering of the text (Gordon 1974, pp. 71-92). Cross continued to occasionally poke fun at the Paraíba Inscription (Cross 1979) and, politely, the least said about the cryptanalysis the better.
1872 Bat Creek Stone and contemporary Masonic illustration (Macoy 1868).
Gordon also used his formidable linguistic and epigraphic experience in support of an earlier claim that the Bat Creek Stone from Tennessee is not an example of a nineteenth century Native American script (Thomas 1894), but rather written in Phoenician (Mertz 1964). Modifying the claim, he proposed the characters to be Hebrew letters from after the Second Jewish War, c. 135 CE, based on similarities with Maccabean coin inscriptions and letter-forms from Qumran, as well as utilizing a smidgen of narrative creative license. With new research indicating a modern manufacture based upon a contemporaneously published Masonic illustration (Mainfort and Kwas 2004), a consideration that a remnant from a staged ritual might have been misidentified is readily allowable. I have little doubt Prof. Gordon would have been receptive to this research and incorporated the new information into his thinking.
Manier (in black) and diggers, c. 1925 (Bent 1964) & "Mason Emblems" headline (NYT 1925).
While no single etymology is generally accepted for ‘Arizona’, many believe the 48th state’s name was coined from arizonac or Ali-Shonak (Pima “place of the little spring”), or perhaps was a happenstance application of árida zona (Sp. "arid zone"). Another possible origin could be arizuma (Nahuatl [Aztec] "silver-bearing"). Such an etymology certainly hints at the mining history that has been, and remains, a significant part of Arizonian life and lore.
Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca (c. 1490-1557) was one of four survivors of a disastrous early Spanish expedition into the interior of North America (De Vaca 1542), who made their way, first as slaves and then as traders, through the lands which would one day become known as Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. De Vaca’s account provided information for Francisco Vázquez de Coronado (1510-1554) to undertake his search for the “Seven Golden Cities.” Though Coranado was unsuccessful, valuable metals were eventually mined in Arizona and stories of lost and hidden treasures from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are still discussed.
In the late nineteenth century one particular mine showed such promise that it encouraged the founding of a nearby town, Silver Bell, which soon became known by one of the worst of all possible appellations, “The Hell-hole of Arizona.” Perhaps a closer look is needed with the suggested Aztec etymology for Arizona. While silver was found in profitable quantities, gold, copper and lead were also significantly present. Around 1920, when the mining operation was longer able to produce enough silver to meet the operating costs, the mine was closed and Silver Bell became a ghost town.
Despite the departure of the mining folk, the names they’d given to their surroundings stayed. Like Silverbell Road, where in 1924 Charles E. Manier took his family out for a Sunday drive and stopped to view an old, abandoned lime kiln. The lime produced by the kiln had interacted with the surrounding soil and created large, stratified deposits of caliche or “desert cement.” Manier saw something protruding from the caliche, retrieved a shovel from his car, and soon had in his possession a sixty-two pound cross, which closer examination revealed was actually two lead crosses riveted together.
Inscribed lead crosses found on Nov. 28, 1924 off of Silverbell Road, Pima County, Arizona & Prof. Cyclone Covey.
Manier found thirty one (some say thirty-two) lead objects on Silverbell Road, several miles outside of Tucson, between 1924 and 1930. The objects consisted of crosses, swords and ritual items, many of which were inscribed in Latin and Hebrew. Masonic emblems, specifically the square and compass symbol, were recognized early, but most investigators were apparently too concerned with the fantastic tale as told on the various inscribed artifacts to pursue any possible masonic significance or origin. The tale, according to initial translations, involved Romans from early Medieval times sailing to North America. It was thought by the translators that a North American destination was named in the inscriptions, as “Calalus, the Unknown Land.” No one, at the time, dared to venture an explanation or etymology for Calalus and though some interest persisted, the matter was essentially forgotten until a history professor in the early 1970s became involved and eventually published a book which argued for acceptance of the fantastic tale (Covey 1975).
Prof. Cyclone Covey (Wake Forest, emeritus Professor of History), as the translator of a popular and often reprinted English language edition of Cabeza de Vaca’s La Relación, was familiar with early exploratory expeditions to the interior of North America and specifically those which ended or passed through Arizona (Covey 1961). Calalus: A Roman Jewish Colony in America from the Time of Charlemagne Through Alfred the Great is essentially a diffusionist effort and invites the reader to wonder about what we don’t know about history, rather than what we do. To allow for the consideration of hypothetical ancient voyages from the Old World, Prof. Covey mentions the claims for runic writing in Oklahoma by Gloria Farley, the incredible “Big Bend Inscription” from Texas, and the mysterious “Los Lunas Stone” from New Mexico. While the idea of diffusion between the Old and New Worlds continues to interest many (myself included), the adage that just because something is possible, doesn’t make it probable. Fortunately, Fell and some members of the Epigraphic Society thought so as well.
The Epigraphic Society’s web-page for Vol. 19 lists the following about Calalus and the Tucson Artifacts on pp. 115-146.
Dating the Calalus Texts (5 pp) Barry Fell & Marshall Payn 19-p 115
Calalus: a Hard Look (3 pp) Michael Skupin 19-p 120
The Tucson ArtiFacts: A Fingerprint (1 p) Michael Skupin 19-p 122
The Tucson Artifacts: Starting from Scratch (1 p) Michael Skupin 19-p 123
The Tucson Artifacts: A Rebuttal to Skupin (4 pp) Chris Hardaker 19-p 124
On the Level with the Tucson Artifacts (17 pp) Bill Rudersdorf 19-p 128
Comments on Criticism of Calalus (1 p) Cyclone Covey 19-p 145
If They were Aspirin: Questions About the Tucson Artifacts (1 p) Jane Eppinga 19-p 146
- Calalus Land Unknown? -
At the end of the preface to Calalus, Covey wrote: “Eventually, when the evidence exhibited here (most of it already venerable) has been frontally faced and more missing evidence has come to light, whichever way the final decision goes, common sense will again have been a casualty.” What eventually came to “light” did suggest that the “PUZZLING ‘RELICS’,” as The New York Times called them, were “venerable” to some, though not for reasons which depend upon a pre-Columbian discovery of America.
Bill Rudersdorf, in his “On the Level with the Tucson Artifacts,” humbly concludes that the lead objects were part of a Masonic ritual, the inscriptions do not express Latin, but is instead Spanish with unique Mexican attributes, and that “Calalus” is a form of the Spanish “acá la luz,” or “here [is] the light," and refers to a Master of the Lodge (Rudersdorf 1990).
As caliche forms when soil is exposed to lime, it appears the “relics” were buried after use and when a lime kiln was built nearby, a hardening of the soil occurred which gave the burial an appearance of great age. No accusations of hoax, fraud or forgery should be attached to the Tucson Artifacts, as none was intended.
Western edge of the Siver Bell Mountains and 2006 Google Map of Calalus, AZ.