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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in the
Arkansas Historical Quarterly
Vol. 1 No. 4 (Dec. 1942), pp355‑357

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

 p355  Mysterious Footprints in a Rock near Clarksville

By S. H. Logan

On a farm of Mr. John Garrett, a mile north of the Red Gin on the old Wire Road, five miles west of Clarksville, Arkansas, there is a large stone with three imprints of human feet. Two of the footprints are very plain, while one is very small and evidently is the imprint of the foot of a woman or child incased in a moccasin. The other two tracks are very large, and are from the bare feet of a man, as the toes can be plainly seen.

Mr. Garrett says that the tracks were found by a school teacher by the name of Billy Fritz (Fritz was afterwards County Treasurer of Johnson County), who boarded at the home of his father, in 1832.

The rock is four feet above the ground, six feet wide and about ten or twelve feet long, and lies on sloping ground. There is a large hill a few hundred yards northeast of the rock and the old survey of the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad is only a few feet south of the rock. Some of the old grade for the road can still be seen. This survey was made in the early 'seventies and a lot of grading was done on the road bed and many stone culverts were left along the route as far west as Hunttown, fourteen miles west of Clarksville. The old survey went several miles north of the town of Ozark, but this route was abandoned and the surveyor came back to Clarksville and surveyed a new route south by way of Spadra which was built.

Many people have visited the footprints on the rock, but no one knows anything about them. Some believe, however, that they were made by human beings, while the rock was soft.1

 p356  Several years ago Mr. Garrett discovered that someone had been excavating at the north end of the rock, evidently hoping that treasure was buried there, as there are many legends of treasure buried by Spaniards in this region.

Mr. Garrett decided to watch the rock and one night he found three men there digging around the north end of it. He notified them that he would not arrest them for trespassing, if they would promise to stay away and not bother the rock again. They promised, and, so far as Mr. Garrett knows, no one since that time has tried to dig up the money, if there is any there.

It is said that the Osage Indians inhabited the land here long before the Cherokees came, and there is a legend in that connection about the rock. The legend is that the daughter of the chief of these Indians, whose name was Water Lily, was loved by a warrior named Shooting Star. She did not return his love. One day a stranger, a white man, arrived at the Indian Village. The Indians welcomed him and he decided to make his home with them and soon he and Water Lily were in love with each other.

Shooting Star, seeing the state of affairs, "framed up" on the white lover of Water Lily and turned the friendship he had made with the old chief and the others into hate. The white man was condemned to die, and he was bound hand and foot and placed on the rock.

What happened next appeared in a Clarksville newspaper several years ago, but, unfortunately, no name was signed to the story to tell who wrote it.

The story was in rhime and contained several hundred words. It relates that, after Water Lily's lover was condemned to die, she remained the friend of her lover and sought the aid of the old medicine man of the Indians in saving her white lover. The old medicine man who, it was said, could heal the sick or raise the dead, loved Water Lily, and he gave her an enchanted arrow and told her how to use it.

When the torture of the white man, her lover, commenced, he was placed in a standing position on the stone.  p357 Water Lily intending to save her lover from the cruel torture of the tribe, fitted the mystic arrow to her bow and shot it at him to end his suffering. Immediately a mighty earthquake shook the village, and the rock was thrown from the ground and Water Lily was standing by the side of her lover.

The Indians, thinking that the Great Spirit was displeased with their conduct, immediately freed the white man, but the tracks made by him and Water Lily while standing on the rock remained.

Such was the Indian Legend of the footprints in the rock, and it would seem to indicate that the prints are very old, for legends do not as a rule, grow up around things until they have become old and mysterious and need explaining.​a

The true explanation we shall never know. Pretty clearly they go back to an early time. Did some Indian medicine man carve them there to mystify his people, claiming that they were made by a celestial visitor? It seems impossible that the prints could be a freak of erosion, two of them being so plainly like footprints. One such a freak might happen — but two, and a third, incased in a moccasin, and fairly plain, are too much to ascribe to chance play of water and sun and frost.

The Editors' Note:

1 Of course this is impossible, for the rock was formed thousands and thousands of years before any man, white or red, appeared on the continent. The legend which follows is valuable only as a part of Arkansas folklore. — The Editors.

Thayer's Note: Not having seen the footprints, I'll be less assertive than our editor. To start with, it's a pity that the author of the article failed to give us:

exact measurements of the footprints

a photograph

the type of rock.

The editor's comment, above, that the rock was formed thousands of years before any human being appeared on the continent, is also probably wrongheaded, if the type of stone is such as to allow fossilization in twenty thousand years or so, since we quite definitely have fossilized human footprints of that age in America, such as those in the White Sands National Park in New Mexico: "Fossilized Footprints".

The main thing, though, is that footprints can fossilize rather quickly, geologically speaking: about twenty thousand years in the gypsum at White Sands, and in "Fossilised human footprints on the coast of north Western Australia", author David M. Welch states that the footprints he studied are at most 6000 years old, and he believes them to be only 2000 years old.

* * *

The Internet can be wonder­ful at times. Fifteen years after I made my initial comment throwing doubt on the journal editor's note, I was contacted by a man who has seen, photographed, and measured the two larger prints, and taken plaster casts of them. Here are some of his photos:

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A: The largest of the three footprints, as photographed in situ. The foot measures roughly 14″ (35 cm) along its maximum length, 10″ (25 cm) maximum width.

B: Cast of A, the largest footprint.

C: Reverse cast of the second large footprint, measuring roughly 11″ (27.5 cm) along its maximum length, 5½″ (14 cm) maximum width.

Photos © John Huett 2024, by kind permission.
Clicking on any of these small photographs will open a large version in another window.

If these are imprints of human feet, we would say they were likely of a somewhat clubfooted adult male with talus valgus, or flat feet.

If you have further information on these footprints, such as the exact type of stone, or even any scientific studies that may have been conducted on them, I'd still like to hear from you: please drop me a line.

Thayer's Note:

a On the other hand, human footprints in solid rock are mysterious from the git-go, no matter how old, or not: if a tripedally imprinted stone appeared in a park tomorrow here in Chicago, by evening the Internet would be buzzing with aetiological tales.

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Page updated: 14 Jul 24