PERRYSVILLE -- An ominous note was on my desk when I arrived at work: “Terry McMillen knows where Rattlesnake Village is. He can take you right to it. Phone number.”
Who left the note? Who was Terry? Never heard of that place. Guess I'll call.
“Hi, this is Adam with Source Media, I’m trying to reach Terry about Rattlesnake City,” I said.
“This is Terry and I can tell you all about it. I used to own the land back there, and there was an old Delaware Indian village in that gorge. We’ve found diamond arrowheads and all kinds of things down there,” McMillen said.
“Really? Are there any signs that this lost city is still there?” I asked.
“When I was a kid, I was at the Mansfield library and I read a story, in the history section of the library, can't remember exactly, but may have been called The Adventures of Green Town. There was a big lodge built there," McMillen said.
"You bought the land after you read the story?" I asked.
"Yes, I figured out where it was and saw a for sale sign on the property one time when I was around there and bought it. Well, one day I was walking down there and found a cornerstone. It had a rattlesnake that looked like it was jumping out at you. I found that and a tomahawk head that looked green and shiny. Gave it to a friend and he sold it for $450. Think it was made of diamond," McMillen said.
“Can you can lead me to where you found the snake rock?” I asked.
"Yes, but we'd have to get the land owner's permission. There used to be a 150-foot tall glacier where 511 is today," he said.
McMillen would go on to tell me the exact location of the gorge (north of Perrysville, off State Route 511, but I can't tell you precisely where, because of treasure hunters and private property) and about Old Green Town/Greentown, Daniel Boone passing through and where the bodies were actually buried from the Copus Hill massacre.
After hanging up, instead of eating lunch I ran a couple blocks from the luscious and wonderful Idea Works co-working building and flagship home of Source Media, to the Mansfield Richland County Public Library (MRCPL) in downtown Mansfield.
Few libraries in Ohio have a space dedicated to genealogy resources and historical documents quite like The Sherman Room at MRCPL. Source Media managing editor Larry Phillips calls the Sherman Room, "the greatest historic treasure trove in north central Ohio."
“They used to have to throw me out of the Sherman Room when I was working on a story,” Phillips said. “There's a first-person from General Roeliff Brinkerhoff, who was from Mansfield and who was at Ford’s Theatre when Lincoln was assassinated. He tells a very different story about that event.
"He says that he didn't think John Wilkes Booth injured his leg jumping down from the box to the stage. Brinkerhoff never heard him yell, 'sic semper tyrannis' either. The whole theatre was silent, and the gunshot actually broke the silence. Then Booth jumped down and no one knew what to think because he was a recognizable actor. Then he ran off the stage without any sign of a limp.
"It was like everyone was stunned, in shock. When Mrs. Lincoln started screaming, people started to realize what had transpired."
Mary McKinley had only been working in the Sherman Room for a few months when I speed-walked-charged in, explained my need to prove the existence of this lost diamond-laced city and asked for help. Moments later poster board-sized brown atlases were fanned across long wooden sturdy desks.
McKinley was a lot of help, but there was no luck with anything related to Rattlesnake, nor the old book McMillen referenced and nothing in the digital archives that gave us hope.
I looked through old map books of the area and in Caldwell's 1874 Atlas of Ashland, Ohio, and found info on Greentown. It wasn't hard to imagine another settlement north of it where Rattlesnake Village was claimed to have been. The natives would not have obviously called it that and there were no rattlers 'round those parts.
It amazed me how every single plot of every grid was claimed in the 1800s.
Nothing was marked on the 1874 Ashland atlas around the area where McMillen said the gorge was that would have indicated a settlement, nor was it marked as a burial mound or fort.
The atlas' legend had a symbol for “ancient works and mounds.” When working on my last treasure hunt, the archaeologists kept referencing the legendary Archaeology Atlas of 1914, which mapped the native sites in the state.
But it was very difficult to find the exact location from a dot marked within a county that had no coordinates or true reference points.
The 1874 atlas had a very detailed township map, so I started scanning for evidence around Rattlesnake Gorge and found nothing.
But, while scanning Cedar Creek township, there was a “mound” location and maybe a mile away from that, something marked as “ancient fort.”
It was pretty amazing to see that between Ashland and Savannah, just off of State Route 250 on County Road 1193, there was a mound site called Sprott's Hill.
Sprotts Hill is on the National Register of Historic Places, joining 18 other locations in Ashland County. According to “Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly,” there were “Two mounds on Sprott's Hill on the N.E. quarter section, Sec. 35, Clear Creek Tp.; in one a stone grave containing eight skeletons. Described by Geo. W. Hill, Sm. Rep., 1877, pp. 264, 265, and reported by H. B. Case, Sm. Rep., 1881, p. 595."
“Historical Quarterly” had a massive list of earthworks, rock shelters, forts, mounds, etc., from Ashland County. It’s labeled as the “Bibliography of Ohio Earthworks” and lists the sites, per county in Ohio, in alphabetical order.
There are so many sites around Ashland, Richland and Knox Counties that have never been located, for sure. But with the list from “Historical Quarterly” and the atlas/plat maps from 1874 to cross reference, there were tens of sites that hadn’t been re-documented or explored in the last two centuries – they’ve just melted into the Ohio landscape.
Sprott’s Hill and other historical sites around the mid-Ohio area may also provide the missing link that could prove the existence of a much taller human species that roamed the state. OK, probably not, but decide for yourself.
I'm not going to spend too much time here – there’s an awesome article by Mark Sebastian Jordan from Knox Pages about the legends of finding prehistoric giant bones near Homer.
There are hundreds of accounts like it across the Buckeye state and even the world.
That said, according to George William Hills’ 1876 “History of Ashland County,” giants were found. Near Ramsy’s Fort, which is on the “Historical Quarterly” list as “a quadrangular earthwork, on the southwest quarter of Sec. 28, in Jackson township,” skeletons were uncovered and one was a “near giant.”
Not far from Ramsy’s Fort was Gamble’s Fort, which was also on the list and the description read, “Mounds in the vicinity of Gamble's Fort. Opened; contained specimens.” That's interesting language, calling them “specimens.”
According to Hill, there was a skeleton over 7 feet tall and the workers could fit the lower part of the jaw completely over their heads.
Ancient bones can quickly disintegrate when exposed to oxygen, so maybe that’s why none remain.
But we have the skeleton of Charles Byrne aka the “Irish Giant,” we know about gigantism, growth hormones and acromegaly, ‘80s kids grew up watching Andre the Giant.
But a separate race of tall humanoids? That’s an entirely different genetic conversation.
Fact Check Time
One of the coolest historians in the area, Kenny Libben, Curator of the Cleo Redd Risher Museum in Loudonville, was instantly contacted to weigh in on Rattlesnake Village.
"Rattlesnake Gorge/City doesn’t ring a bell from any historical records. I did a quick dive into some of the earlier histories such as Knapp, Williams, and Hill and didn’t find any mention of either location, though they did discuss Helltown and Greentown," Libben said.
"I did ask a few of our volunteers and some were familiar with Rattlesnake City, but not as a native town … it’s just a contemporary colloquial name for the marshy area between Newville Bridge and Pleasant Hill Lake," Libben said.
"Yes, some arrowheads have sparkly bits. It’s common quartz, no value. Only three diamonds have ever been found in Ohio.
Also, Daniel Boone was never in this area … best I can tell the farthest north he ever made it was Chillicothe. Definitely no glaciers in Ohio anytime in the past 12,000 years," Libben said.
McMillen brought me his "diamond arrowheads" to further validate his claim. Only one way to truly find out -- to the jewelry store!
Not sure what Jeff Haring thought of me when I walked into Haring Jewelers on Park Ave. in downtown Mansfield and told him the tale of Rattlesnake Village.
Haring was beyond helpful -- explaining to me the whole mining process, the different diamonds and that there weren't commercial diamond digs in the U.S. for a reason.
"I'm 99% sure these aren't diamonds," Haring said.
McMillen said he was a retired Richland County Sheriff’s Deputy, so there's reason to believe he found a snake rock and arrowheads that could have easily be confused for being diamond encrusted.
There could have been a very small camp north of Greentown at some point that he is calling Rattlesnake Village, but it's doubtful that they had diamond arrowheads or that there is a trove of loose, uncut gems there.
For those interested in finding giants, it’s pretty simple: go to the list from “Historical Quarterly,” cross reference the location descriptions with the township maps from 1876.
Then contact the landowner, ask to bring a backhoe on their land, excavate without harming the ancient burial grounds, document the giants’ bones before they evaporate and tell the Bigfoot believers there’s hope for them, too.