Comprised of similar subjects as many other petroglyphs in the Ohio Valley, including several birds, panthers, deer tracks and human faces, the Indian Cave carvings are still of a relatively mysterious background. Uniquely, traces of red ochre and hematite were likely used to create red “life lines” (from heart to mouth) on several of the animals depicted. While it is unclear if such was a common practice during the time, Indian Cave is a rare instance of petroglyphs in the eastern United States having been found to contain relatively preserved red pigments.
While the time, place and purposes of the carvings’ origins are unclear, experts estimate they were made during the Late Prehistoric period, from A.D. 900 to 1650, and they were initially reported in 1889. The petroglyphs cover a space on the back wall of a cave measuring about 20 feet wide, five feet tall and 15 feet deep. In addition to the previously-mentioned animals depicted on the wall, experts have concluded several of the other carvings include mountain lions, rattle snakes, fish, a turtle, a human hand, a star, a concentric circle (possibly a sun) and more seemingly abstract figures.
During the initial excavation of the site, William Henry Holmes, of the Bureau of American Ethnology, also uncovered several stones which appeared to be used for hammering and carving. Additionally, he found pieces of seemingly used hematite and various works of pottery. The pottery, he thought, hinted at occupation(s) of the area sometime(s) from A.D. 500 to A.D. 1675.
In 1958, acclaimed American geologist and speleologist of the U.S. Geological Survey, William Edward Davies, published a review of the site including several drawings. Davies’ accounts and drawings differed only slightly from previous reports, as he also noted the tinted colors in the figures, but recorded two previously-unreported, human-like figures on the outside of the cave overtop its entrance. Today, these figures are hardly noticeable due to weathering, while the figures inside the cave have been rather well preserved.
In 1970, James L. Swauger, an American archaeologist who specialized in studying petroglyphs of the Ohio River Valley, reported the site contained 26 individual designs carved into the cave’s wall. Swauger did not report the human figures above the entrance which were recorded by Davies, but did note the evident “red coloring matter” still in some of the figures. Swauger also reported, for the first time, the appearance of “one external female genitalia,” as part of the petroglyphs as well. 2
As reported by editor of the Clarksburg Exponent Telegram, Bob Stealey, in 2006, drawing from Jean Post Rapking’s Good Hope History, the cave where the petroglyphs can be found is located on John McDonald Farm on the right-side fork of Two Lick Creek near Good Hope. From the fork, called Campbell’s Run, which flows through the hills surrounding the site, the cave where the carvings are located is practically unnoticeable until one is not far from its entrance.
In Holmes’ 1890 account of the site, he reported that to reach the cave was no simple task. Lick Creek, he wrote, met with the West Fork of the Monongahela River roughly four miles west of what was known as the Lost Creek Station (a historic railroad depot) on the Clarksburg and Weston Railroad. After following the stream for over two miles before turning to the right and following Campbell’s Run for another two miles, Holmes wrote that he finally found the site, the location of which he described as, “on the sloping hillside a few hundred feet above (a local home),” which is situated in “a deep amphitheatre-like ravine or hollow, nested in the narrow bottom…” 1