Cool. How many blogs get to have their first entry dated February 29?
GLOCESTER, Rhode Island — Out here in the boonies we’ve had record winters for snowfall the past two years. Last year we got way too much. This year we hardly got any. Last year we broke the official record for complaints about the weather. This year everyone’s afraid to say anything because they don’t want to jinx it.
At the moment, snow’s coming down thick as pancake batter. Someone must’ve said something.
Other than today, almost every day this month brought us springlike warmth, snowless ground, and views through leafless trees, and I took advantage of it with several hikes not far from home. Yesterday I went to Bowdish Reservoir to search for an Indian grave.
Bowdish once was a swamp, but someone built a dam in the mid-1800s and turned it into one of the prettiest bodies of water in the state. It probably powered a few small mills, too, but those are long gone. Campsites are the only industry there now, along with a pair of restaurants barely clinging to existence and a biker bar jampacked with patrons every night but Monday. Houses line different areas of the shore, some large and balconied, others little more than two-room tents made of cedar shingle. But for the most part, the 226-acre lake is surrounded by peaceful woods. And boulders. Enough boulders to make your own planet.
I got to Bowdish through the George Washington Management Area access road off Route 44, West Glocester. The trail starts out from the left side of the state boat launch. It’s marked with a white rectangle and makes a one-and-a-half mile loop along shore and hillside thick with skinny oaks and twisted laurel.
Halfway along the trail, in a level stretch on rising ground, I found the Indian grave. It blended in with the glacial rubble that littered the site and easily could be missed. It seems likely the monument was built from the materials at hand.
The headstone, if it can be called that, stands more than 30 inches tall and is inclined slightly forward and to the left. It’s hard to say if there ever had been an inscription on the face of the stone. Many early headstones in rural Rhode Island—of settlers as well as Indians and slaves—were unmarked field stones.
The most peculiar feature of the monument, I think, is the circle of stones extending west-northwest from the headstone. There seems to be a cavity in the ground inside the circle, a pit of soft leaf mold. The circle measures 60 inches outside diameter.
Considering the soil, it’s odd there would be a burial here. Nearly all the ground in the vicinity of the site is composed of rocks interlocked with rocks, which makes shoveling a hole big enough for a body almost impossible. (Not that I’ve tried burying one there.) Also, the site doesn’t appear to have been chosen for its view, since there are better prospects just a few hundred feet away.
With all I’ve read about Indians allegedly paying close attention to directions and astronomical alignments, I was surprised the headstone faced WNW at 298 degrees, a compass point with no obvious significance. I suppose someone is likely to claim that the direction puts the spring sunrise at the back of the headstone, but that sounds like a real stretch to me.
As it stands, I have more questions than answers about this Indian grave. What was his or her name? When did he or she die? Was he or she a wanderer or the putative owner of this spot of land? Was the body cremated or interred either as a corpse or in a casket? Since the area was claimed by Narragansetts, Wampanoags, and Nipmucks, we can’t even guess which tribe our Indian claimed as his or her own.
If I get any answers, I’ll post them here. If not, our Indian grave will just have to be filed among the many enduring mysteries of New England’s past.
Update, January 30, 2014: Nearly two years later, I still haven’t met anyone who knows something about this odd little monument. At separate times I’ve talked to three park employees, the area’s longtime environmental enforcement officer, and crowds of local history buffs. The unanimous response to my questions: “Never heard of it.”