On June 26th, 2014, Everglades Exploration Network’s Tony Pernas, Chris Harris and Shawn Beightol biked 6 miles from Monroe Station to Monroe South ORV terminus, stashed their bikes then backpacked 2 miles to the New River Head to continue the search for clues to historic lost 1837 Seminole Indian War Fort Harrell (http://www.bigcypressswamp.com/stories/page6.htm ).
Upon establishing base camp, we worked our way into the undergrowth to another position noted on a map that suggested the location of the fort.
The location had been “disturbed,” or cleared long ago, as evidenced by the size of the Brazilian Pepper trees that had “invaded.” There were large oak trees bordering the location, evidencing a high ground location, out of the marsh water. The ground was shallow peat with 1-2 inches of soil above a limestone subsurface.
As we searched the area, Tony noticed a series of holes in the limestone that we decided were not just natural solution holes based on their uniform size, shape and pattern (they occurred in singles or pairs, never more). They also occurred along lines and did not appear to be randomly scattered in the clearing. We decided they must be post holes that would hold posts to allow the stacking of logs horizontally into a wall. The holes were old as evidenced by dissolution of the edges as they underwent solution hole erosion.
After searching the area to identify all the holes, we placed orange ribbon markers on sticks in each hole.
We then mapped out the geometry of the post holes and saw that they indeed do align rectangularly..
Along the Northern wall, there appeared to be an excavated boat landing that would allow boats to be pulled up along the fort. Very old cypress stumps that showed signs of growth after cutting suggested that perhaps then existing cypress trees had been cut to allow planks to be placed atop to form a plank dock leading out into the lake. Perhaps a metal detection survey of the stumps may reveal spikes.
The location of this fort would allow for ox/horse cart access from the north down/between the New River Strand and the Georges Strand along what many maps suggest to be a military trail north to Fort Keias. Additionally, the location on the lake at the headwaters of the New River would allow small supply boats to service the fort. The boat launch next to the fort may have allowed for hoisting heavy materials directly to/from the decks of the boats from/to the fort.
One of the things that Chris mentions in his survey notes will be quite important. We are looking approximately 170 years after this fort’s construction and subsequent abandonment. There is little structural evidence we could hope to remain in such a tropical, wet environment. We believe the 33 holes that we found are the best possible surviving evidence of Fort Harrell. A third of the holes occur in pairs aligned in such a way as to allow for the horizontal stacking of logs between a series of pairs of upright logs shoved into the paired holes, and this along straight boundaries extending up to 120 feet. The fact that the holes were all about the same size (6″-9″ in diameter) and the paired holes were spaced about the same distance apart (12″), along with the fact that we found no triple holes (which, if the double holes were random, then one would expect other multiples to occur randomly), nor did we find larger or smaller solution holes that would suggest these were just random solution holes occurring in the sequence of a natural geological processes.
The holes appear to be the remains of a structure in a location that carries the most historic support for Fort Harrell’s location – the head waters of the New River.
The minor deviations the proposed wall/structural lines make from absolute straight may be attributed to a number of factors – first, the ribbons were tied ad hoc to varying height sticks placed at varying angles in the holes; second, the building materials were probably cypress and pine trunks which are not themselves absolutely straight; finally, we probably only discovered a fraction of the post-holes.
We believe a professional survey of this site will reveal further post-holes for what we believe were upright logs that held horizontally stacked logs in place. The shallow soil on top of the limestone rock made trenches and the typical upright palisade impractical.
For those curious of what drives us to locate this one fort, consider what Hammond wrote for his book “Vanishing Trails”:
Now, years later, the sands of time continue to trickle and the hope of finding and remembering those men, women, and places who struggled, right or wrong, to bring us to this present lifestyle is fading.
People like Tony Pernas, Chris Harris, David Denham, Dale Mason, and Shawn Beightol race against time to keep these important memories alive.