Monday, June 25, 2012

Facing outward of the large entrance of Liga Cave

Me, standing above Liga Cave

Looking south toward Bare Foot Pass

A time to Remember
Liga Cave
By Ronnie Powell
Liga Cave is undoubtedly as far as I am concerned, one of the most unique caverns I have discovered along the Niangua River Basin. The cave is situated on a bluff high above a creek and a bottom field. A spring flows from the main entrance, although it is more of seepage at present day, but in time past would have provided fresh water for the Prehistory Indians. It is said the cave was named after Liga, an old woman who washed her clothing there many years ago.
Liga Cave is one of the last bluff shelters I visited and although I left little of my presence there, others had left their marks by plundering the remnants of a lost civilization. The beauty of the surrounding area is breath taking, beyond words of description, but in the years since I have learned it has been logged off and I am certian many of the old growth oaks are no more. The cave is secluded hidden from view, a small vestige of a once pristine wilderness.
On a beautiful late spring morning in 1983 I left Windyville, fording the Niangua River at Barefoot Pass and headed south over McKee Ridge in search of Indian artifacts along trails and open fields. After descending the eastern end of a ridge I came to the tail end of a bluff that stood shinning majestically above a creek which flows into the Niangua River a short distance beyond. mist was rising from the creek, drifting upward, forming short lived clouds. The discovery of the bluff stirred in me wanderlust to travel once again into time forgotten and to explore its craggy realm. I sopped for awhile to enjoy the beauty of the sun, the mist and the wonderful but haunting calls of the Mourning doves.
I began to notice during the years of my journey that slowly but surely my freedom to wander the land was being diminished, not by the people of whom I had known all my life, but by those who came later from outside the Ozarks. Perhaps I was unwilling or of a mindset that I didn’t realize at first the reduction of my freedom, for as yet I had not encountered too many people who objected to my presence and most of all no hostility. I would learn a hard lesson that day and discover with certainty my freedom was in jeopardy.
 A corn field caught my attention below the base of a bluff and considering the location of the field which was high  above the flood plain of the river I knew would be an ideal place to walk between the rows of corn and look for artifacts. The plants were still in their infancy, barely six inches in height, an irresistible setting. Many times before in many other cornfields I had walked between the rows looking for chert arrowheads and other stones tools. Blissfully content I began walking across the edge of the field and hadn’t gotten far, perhaps halfway when I heard the sound of a human an angry human voice and looked up to see a man at the far end of the field shouting and waving a shotgun. I stopped, standing about three rows from the timberline and the steep slope leading up to the bluff. I did not hesitate and darted into the timber, for the language that came from the irate man left little doubt as to what he was going to do. I ducked below an old barbed wire fence and seconds later as I was about to enter the timber the man fired the shotgun and I could hear buckshot tearing into the leaves overhead. I quickly distanced myself from the fellow. I sat for a time on a high point above the field among several large stones on a relatively narrow ledge. I watched the man leave the field and eventually headed westward into some timber I took a deep breath and removed my Stetson from my head and found a hole near the top of the crown. The buckshot had passed through the hat. I thoroughly enjoyed a cup of coffee and my briar that morning.
 Later after my nerves had settled down a bit I decided to follow a ledge around a notch in the bluff and came to a small opening in the stone. Again, to make certain I was alone I sat down and slowly looked out across the field I had just fled. I sat there for a time until satisfied no one was about.
I found the opening to be large enough to enter and pushed my backpack though and with a flashlight in hand quickly entered the opening to see a long narrow tunnel that appeared to reach deep into the bluff, but most striking was the discovery that at least part of the tunnel was being or had been inhabited by a person or persons not of Prehistory origin. Empty tin cans lay next to one wall, along with bread wrappers and other assorted debris. A deep ash pile was situated near the entrance and at the base of one wall lay a grease encrusted tin frying pan. A fire blackened coffee can and several newspapers and magazines each bearing the mailing label of a different person were also present. It is my opinion the magazines and newspapers had been taken from mailboxes along a road in the area. Further in the tunnel lay a very dirty, tattered quilt. After closer scrutiny I decided it had not been a recent inhabitation and moved into the tunnel to further  explore it. I hadn’t gone far on hands and knees when I felt a cool breeze on my face. A short distance on I was able to stand bent over and moved quickly around a curve in the tunnel and before me I could see a large entrance. Elated by the discovery I ran down a short incline and looked out into a tangle of vines and brush and to my right noted a smaller opening into the bluff. This opening revealed a muddy area where water trickled into a pool outside and flowed over rocks into the creek some one hundred feet below.  Further exploration along this tunnel revealed old water marks on the walls, up to about three feet and suggested to me it had once been a free flowing stream of water. Returning to the main entrance I looked up through the brush and vines and could see the crest of the bluff about fifty feet above me.
I remained in the cave until near sundown, crawling about, probing the earth along the walls and near the entrance observing remnants of Prehistory occupation. A sandstone shaft smoother, a small chert drill and two side notched arrow points were among the artifact discovered along with several earthen potshards representing Prehistory habitation. Four plastic or celluloid buttons, a short length of copper tubing and a small brown bottle were exposed near the entrance. I discovered near the rear of the cave at the base of the incline leading to the tunnel an area that appeared to have been partially excavated in a haphazard manner to an approximate depth of forty inches where human bones lay in an haphazard display. I surmised two burials had been removed and were probably the work of pot hunters
Liga Cave, unique in part due to the small entrance running through the bluff to the larger opening where at times the wind howls as it passes through and is an unnerving sound  to say the least especially at night sitting before a fire in the inner shadows of the cave. The larger entrance opens to a notch in the bluff, rimmed on one side by a unstable wall leading up to the top of the bluff where on the lower side a near vertical drop off to the creek below,  deeply eroded by water once flowing from the cave. It is truly a wonder of nature.
Unfortunately most of the cave floor had been excavated haphazardly and as I learned from repeated visits to the cave much of the artifact removed and undoubtedly taken. I discovered with reasonably certainty at least eight prehistoric burials had been violated and I secured as many of the bones I could and buried them outside near the base of the bluff. I found inside the large entrance on the east wall faded and damaged prehistoric hieroglyphics, depicting what appeared to be human figures and possibly a large animal. Near the floor of the same wall, directly below the drawings laid a sand stone much too heavy to carry that had been used as a base for grinding nuts or perhaps maze. Two pestles were also discovered and both had been heavily used.
The main cavern of the cave contained several stalactites and stalagmites, but all had been broken to some degree.
As far as I could tell most of the pottery was thick, plain and of a dark hue. The remnants of stone points were typical of early habitation, where as in the field below, most of the stone points appeared to be of late woodland people.
The skeletal materials, with the exception of one burial contained no skulls and were probably removed by pothunters to later sell. The skull I found was of an especially small child and the bones of all the human remains had been scattered about to the extent I could not determine what belonged to any particular skeleton and could not determine the sex of any particular individual with the exception of one I believed to be female.
During my visits to the cave at no one time did I encounter anther human and believe the excavation I found was a one time event that took place a long time before my arrival.  Liga Cave and the surrounding area is truly a marvel of nature and once a very secluded place where early folks of the Ozarks lived, raised their young and died.  It seems nothing is scared anymore and the secrets of the Niangua River are most certainly in jeopardy One must look closely and envision another time into a wilderness of unimaginable beauty where the forces of nature were often brutal and unforgiving to a people of great endurance.  Adios

Saturday, June 16, 2012

June, 2012 painting

June, 1965 painting

Following the Niangua

The Beautiful Niangua River
Spring is about to merge into summer and I must say it has been amazingly beautiful. I have posted another painting to compare with another I painted in June of 1965. The suject is geese flying and the older one has three geese and the present one 47 years later has four. It is very warm this morning and I will take shelter in my room upstairs where my view is quite spectacular. I have decided to post more writing on  my journey to the Dawn of Prehistory, where my footprints may be found often along the way.

The Niangua River of legends, mysteries and folklore
The Niangua River the dominat force in its basin rises from its ancient cradle in Northern Webster County, Missouri, where it eventually flows into Dallas County where I reside, meandering past a vast array of rugged hills, hollows and magnific limestone bluffs. The Niangua loops at least three times through Laclede County, then flows into Camden County and is fianally buried in the Lake of the Ozarks. The direct distance overland or as the crow flies is aprox 45 miles, but follow the river on its sinuous course and the distance will exceed 140 miles. Many springs and creeks flow into the Niangua and were once cool and clear, nurturing an abundance of life. Sadly, however many are poluted at present and some have ceased to exist. Yet the Niangua survives to flow fleely to its destination. For those people who have not experienced a camp fire on a cold winter night, hunkered beneath a shelter of cedar boughs, sipping cowboy coffee, listening to coyotes along the river while anticipating the journey ahead or recalling days past where I stood at the entrance of Mckee Cave watching fog rise from its entrance where images gathered to be swept away, you may follow me. I have sat at the grave of the tall one, an acient Osage Warrier that would have stood seven feet in height and reflected on his life. I have observed as closely as I dared into the many secrets that abound along the Niangua and left without leving behind my presence. Salt Peter, McKee and Liga Caves are but a few of the sites I visited and found astounding discoveries. The secrets of the past remained where they fell or were buried, often representing unrelenting changes in fragile lifeways of a people plaugued by traumaic land and climatic upheavals. I have searched among the scattered remnants of lost civilizations and I too at times was lost in the obscurity of the dawn of man. In part my journey was an inherent disire for adventure. Adios