Mystery of Madoc

More questions than answers
about Madoc's early travels

Despite critics, author Olson promotes
his theory through book, local artifacts

By Ben Fronczek
Staff Writer

CLARKSVILLE, Ind. • School children all around this country are taught from an early age that Christopher Columbus discovered America. Rarely, in a young child's education is he exposed to the name Madoc. In fact, it's safe to say that many history professors have probably never heard of Madoc.
Over the past 20 years, though, the name has been touted by a number of Kentuckiana area residents who are dedicating a good portion of their lives to seeking evidence that this Welsh prince and navigator landed in America well before the famous Italian explorer.

Books have been written, seminars conducted and exhibits displayed with artifacts linked to ancient expeditions and settlements. Trying to explain the past has become more than just a legend to some, and many of these people are in Kentuckiana, within a 100-mile radius of each other. But just who was Madoc? A centuries-old legend? Or a real-life prince who ventured into new worlds, including this one, well before Columbus set sail from Spain?
Dana Olson, a LaCrosse, Wisc., native who now lives in Jeffersonville, Ind., has been gathering evidence about Prince Madoc since 1979. Olson has just released the fourth printing of his book, "The Legend of Prince Madoc and the White Indians." The book is based on information that Olson believes casts Prince Madoc of Wales as a leader of a pre-Columbian expedition to the Americas as early as 1170 A.D.
Olson localizes this argument by claiming that Madoc led an expedition from Europe, and that the journey eventually led him to settle in what is now Clarksville, Ind., around the area where the Falls of the Ohio Museum presently sits. He concludes there is evidence to suggest that they were wiped out in a battle with "Red Indians" on what was called Sand Island in the Falls of the Ohio.
"This kind of gives people an alternative view of the discovery of the Americas," says Olson, 52, as he stands overlooking the land he believes was once inhibited by Madoc and his descendants. Those descendants are said to have interacted with the Indian tribes living in the area around the 12th century.
"Early scientists, geologists and missionaries believe that Madoc not only discovered America, but colonized it. My task is to salvage the story and bring it to the surface, and if others want to prove it, that is up to them." Olson first became interested in the Madoc legend when he was working on a book about the Reno Brothers and the first railroad train robbery in America. He asked the advice of a colleague, George Strickland, now a retired graphic artist living in Jeffersonville, Ind. Strickland encouraged him to research the land around Clark County. During Olson's research, he encountered remains of the fort at Fourteen Mile Creek. He wanted to find out more about what had happened there. And that's what eventually led him to finding out about the Madoc theory. 
"I got most of my information from books, pamphlets, magazines, anything I could get a hold of," said Olson.
Olson found and theorized possible links to Madoc's presence in Clark County. His starting point was the first few pages of "Baird's History of Clark County, Ind." They focus on ancient times and speak of Madoc, one of the 17 sons of the Welsh king, Owain Gwynedd. When Owain died in 1167, his sons fought for control of the vacant throne. Madoc, at this point, stepped away from the dispute and instead used his skills as a sailor and a sea navigator. He is said to have sailed to what is now America in 1170 A.D.
Similar reports came from historians, or bards, as they were called, two centuries later. Two particular bards cited are Gutton Owen and Cradoc. The bards' reports were translated into books, such as Richard Hakulyt's "Principall Navigators"(1600) and Dr. David Powel's "The Historie of Cambria" (1584). Madoc is said to have arrived in Mobile Bay, Ala., and made his way up the Alabama River to the Coosa River and around Chattanooga, Tenn.
Olson points out a stone fixture called Old Stone Fort in what is now Manchester, Tenn. A wall was excavated by a University of Tennessee team through a dating method known as Carbon-14. Also found in Old Stone Fort were Roman coins that Olson suggests might have been brought over from the Welsh. Olson localizes the argument by suggesting that Madoc and his followers reached and settled at the Falls of the Ohio in what is now present-day Clarksville.
There, Olson said, occurred the great battle between the White (Indians of Welsh descent) and the Red Indians. He refers to the 1874 Indiana Geological Survey by E.T. Cox. It cited a walled fortification on land called Rose Island, which was located up the river from the falls where the Ohio River joins Fourteen Mile Creek.
Cox's assistant, W.W. Borden, had noted that the structure bore resemblance to other fortifications discovered further south, such as the Old Stone Fort in Tennessee. Olson notes that an 1800s scholar and missionary, William Pidgeon, had studied the origins of the Indians. He looked at the mortarless building style of the fortifications and found them similar to the kind in Europe and not constructed by the Indians. "All these forts were built for the purpose of siege the way the stones were structured without mortar," said Olson.
Olson came across other similar remains of a fort in Jefferson County. Since the 1874 Geological Survey, the land has been referred to as Wiggins Point, named after the family that lived there during the geological survey. That survey noted that the remains were of similar structure to those of a fort in Hambledon Hill, England.
The fortress is now dismantled. Its remains were supposedly used for a smokehouse, but Olson recalled speaking to Robert Gaffney, who recalled it from his childhood. Gaffney owns Gaffney's Food Store in Deputy and now resides in Madison. "A friend of mine, a school buddy, used to go over there to look for arrow heads," said Gaffney. "I thought it was some kind of fort. It wasn't anything but a foundation waist high. You could see where it had four walls."
The fort was located 3/4 of a mile west of Deputy where a farm now stands. Olson cited Cox's findings in the 30-mile distance between Rose Island at Fourteen Mile Creek and Wiggins Point at Big Creek. According to the report, Cox found old remains of colonies with relics and human bones enclosed by slate.
Olson also uses testimonials from prominent historical figures, such as Col. Reuben Durrett, the first president of Louisville's Filson Club; explorer George Rogers Clark and author and historian John Filson.
All three relate findings suggesting Welsh presence on the Ohio River. 
To many, though, the Madoc story is still classified as a legend. Carl Kramer, a professional urban historian in New Albany, Ind., maintains that, based on his research, Madoc is most likely a legend that served a historical function. "I would really like to know more about why this legend is so popular and functional, other than it provides some kind of explanation for what cannot be explained," said Kramer. "In the absence of something concrete doesn't make it Welsh." Kramer stressed that navigation in the 12th century would have been much more difficult, compared to today's standards or even to the 15th century, when Columbus set sail.
"If Madoc really was real, he traveled a lot of territory and did so in a time when it was very difficult and did better than people who followed him with more sophisticated methods of travel." In addition to co-owning Kramer Associates Inc., a historical consulting group, with his wife, Mary Kagin Kramer, he teaches historic preservation at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany. He will be teaching courses this year at Madison Junior High School.
Strickland, 73, who has encouraged Olson over the years, classifies Madoc as a legend, but one to be celebrated. "The idea is more of interest than of scholarship," said Strickland. "It is not something that can be defined as historical verity. It's worth exploring, and if you can't verify it, have a festival."
Strickland looks fondly on the idea that a "Madoc Festival" would be a strong medium with which to bring the communities around Clark County together, since the locale of the legend is around the Ohio River. Strickland believes such an event or something of similar magnitude would promote the river heritage. No plans for any festival have been discussed or set, though. "I'm not a promoter," said Strickland. "But Prince Madoc, even if you consider it a legend, is capable of developing into such an event."

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