In the years since the buried rock formation that gave Rockwall its name was discovered, stories and theories have swirled about over its origin. Perhaps the most intriguing, and certainly the most bizarre, concerns a discovery “proving” that a race of giants was behind the wall’s construction. Even more mysterious is how the story disappeared as quickly as it came up. Consider, if you will, the Case of the Giant Skull.
On Friday, May 28, 1886, the following article appeared in the Rockwall Success, Rockwall County’s first newspaper:
“The greatest wonders that we have to record this week is the finding of a petrified human skull. While at work last Saturday, Ben Burton unearthed with his plow, a gigantic skull, fully as large as a halfbushel. The staring sockets wherein the eyeballs once rolled, were as large as a half-gallon cup. Some few of the jaw-teeth still remained; one of them about an inch thick by two inches long. This goes to prove that this county was
once inhabited by a race of people that would be wonderful to look at now. Dr. Wiggins thinks it the skull of some ante-deluvian giant, that would have weighed at least 1000 pounds. Any one wishing to see this mammoth skull, can do so by calling at The Success office, as Mr. Burton says he will leave it there for inspection.
–– Sam Slick”
The dateline was “Buffalo,” a small community south of Rockwall believed to now be part of Heath. No reports exist as to how many people actually took up the offer to view the skull at the Success office, but the buzz wasn’t about to quickly fade. A week later, on June 4, a follow-up appeared, again datelined “Buffalo” and titled:
“THE MYSTERY SOLVED – The Rock Wall is Human Handiwork”
“Wonders will never cease. Immediately after it was generally known that Mr. J. B. Burton had found the gigantic petrified skull, a large crowd collected and set about making an examination of the surrounding ground. Spades, picks, and axes were plentiful and in use. Mr. W. R. Grier might have been seen pounding the ground with a huge hammer, and intently listening after each successive blow, when he was heard to call out, “This way boys!” There was a general rush to his position. “Listen Boys,” said Grier as he brought the hammer down with a heavy thump on a large flat rock.
To the astonishment of all, the hammer slipped from Grier’s hands, and after a short interval, was heard to strike something below that had the clear distinct ring of metal. Now the wildest excitement prevailed. A lantern and rope were quickly brought, and the earth was rapidly cleared away. The hole in the rock, which proved to be slate, was enlarged and the lantern was let down into the murky darkness. At last Messrs Burton, Grier and J. B. Steger volunteered to descend and explore the mystery. The cavity proved to be a chamber about 60×100 feet square, and 40 feet from the floor to the slate roof through which they had effected an entrance. This roof was supported on pillars of black marble, whose polished sides glittered in the lamplight and made one think of the orient.
This underground palace will undoubtedly astonish the world, when thoroughly explored. In one corner stands a large iron chest – supposed to be full of gold or valuables which was so heavy as to baffle all efforts to remove it.
Among other things found was a huge iron bedstead, 25 feet long and a pair of sandals three feet wide by ten inches wide, a battle axe with a pole handle 12 feet long, which weighed at least 75 pounds. The explorers extended their investigation no further, but are sure that there are other rooms connected with the one visited.
The noted rock wall from which our county takes its name runs in a few gards (yards) of this palace. This we think settles that mystery. All surrounding circumstances go to show that this goliath built the rock wall to enclose his vast estate.
Another visit has been made, the result of which your correspondent has not yet ascertained
––– Sam Slick”
Readers would have to wait another week for Mr. Slick’s first hand report. But when it came on June 11, it could not help but fire the imagination.
“We told you in our last, that another search had been made. Your correspondent visited this wonderful subterranean palace, to ascertain for himself the almost incredible facts connected with it. We arrived in time and were invited to descend with the exploring party, consisting of J. B. Steger, J. B. Grier, Jess Handley, Tom Bratcher, J.B. Burton and Dr. Wiggins and your correspondent. We at once began examining the walls, and found on the north side a huge iron door, which yielded to our efforts assisted by a crow bar and a sledge hammer. As it swung round on its rusty hinges, its harsh grating sound was echoed and re-echoed from the cavern of darkness that lay before us. No one was in a hurry to go in, as a heavy noise was heard like the slamming of a door, and each feared to intrude. Finally Steger thrust his lantern forward and peered in and at least walked forwarn ( forward ) followed by the party. Mr. Editor, I have read of unearthing buried cities, and of the mysterious things found in them, but never did I dream of seeing what we did that day. Tom Bratcher’s eyes could have been snared off with a grape vine.
Dr. Wiggins, Grier, Steger and Handley gazed in awe at what met their sight. A huge iron kettle swung near the floor. It would hold at least 1000 gallons, and against it (l)eaned a fork as large as a hay fork. You can better imagine our consternation when I tell you that we saw in that kettle a mass of bones and grinning, staring skulls. Dr, Wiggins touched one with his cane and it fell into dust. There is no doubt that the ancient Goliath, whose residence this was, was a fierce cannibal.
But may I be delivered from what we next encountered. In the center of the hall, we found an iron trap-door, which our combined strength at last raised; when from out of stygian darkness, there flapped screaming a huge bird with eyes like Poe’s “nevermore” raven. In a dismal half-human voice, in grating screeches, the great bird seemed to cry “Get out of here, Get out of here!” It is needless to say that in mad terror we hastily obeyed, as the bird, blinded by the light, flew from wall to wall ( large bat perhaps?). We quickly reached the platform whence we were hastily drawn to the open air, Steger, Grier and Bracther fainted and Dr. Wiggins was so unnerved that he could do nothing for them. They were resuscitated by throwing cold water into their faces. Bratcher said he would not have fainted if it had not been that when they opened the trap-door he “smelled something like yarn sox b_ _ gbug .” ( last word unreadable ).
— Sam Slick”
Here is where the narrative ends, for on June 18, just one week later, the Rockwall Success was sold to new owners and no further stories of the skull or the underground chambers appeared. It seems at this point that the story just died.
Why would a discovery of such obvious magnitude just vanish from the media without a trace? Skeptics say to look no farther than the author of the pieces – one “Sam Slick.” They point to a fictional character of that name invented by a Canadian author some fifty years before, Sam Slick of Slicksville, who wrote satirical commentary about the inhabitants of rural Nova Scotia. Slick was the creation of Thomas Chandler Haliburton, a local judge and popular author who used the character as a pen name in a series of columns published in the Nova Scotia newspaper. No record of an actual Sam Slick living in Rockwall at the time has yet been found.
More interesting, and much more fun to speculate on, are the conspiracy theories which grew from the incident. Some say the giant skull was spirited away by the Smithsonian and hidden away “so as not to have any disruptive influence against the prevalent academic theory.” Some argued that it was swept under the rug because the existence of giants proved that various biblical stories were correct, which irked atheistic scientists to no end. Others insisted that the cover up was instigated by religious interests as it contravened the true teachings of the Christian church.
Whichever explanation you believe, one thing is indisputable. We love controversy, especially that of the conspiratorial kind. In upcoming articles, Planet Rockwall will present more stories of our namesake Wall. As with the skull, we hope they raise more questions than they answer. After all, what fun are airtight, proven facts?
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