Thursday, June 7, 2007

Indian Money

No, no. Not this:

And not this, either.


I’ve been thinking about Indian Money…and the fact that I hadn’t thought about it in a long time. I took it for granted growing up and it has turned out to be so obscure that even a web search doesn’t turn up more than a couple of relevant sites.

Back in the rolling Piedmont hills, on red clay roads between broomsedge fields and scrub pine woods edged with honeysuckle and blackberry briars (not to mention redbugs and tree frogs), you could go for a walk, and if you looked carefully, you might find the weathered brown cubes…some smaller than a crowder pea, and a few as big as a persimmon. I have no idea if farm kids were stumbling across these stones in Eastern North Carolina…or out here beyond the Blue Ridge.

Everybody called it Indian Money, and we’d collect the cubes in an old milk carton with the top cut off. As far as I know, I don’t possess one piece of it anymore. But back then, it was a curiosity, though it was far from rare.

Eventually, we’d learn the story about how the cubes formed. (And it was at least as good as any of the many tales about the "fairy crosses" of staurolite, said to have formed from the tears of the Cherokees on the Trail of Tears. That’s one version, Longstreet Highroad Guide to the North Carolina Mountains, by Lynda McDaniel has much more on those rather similar minerals shown to the right here.)

Indian Money had been a crystal of another mineral before it took its present form. It was actually limonite pseudomorphus after pyrite.

Delmer G. Ross, writing about the McCoy Mountains [California] Limonite Cubes, explains it just like I’d heard it explained long ago:

Pyrite, also known as fool’s gold because it has tricked many into believing it was the real thing, is iron sulfide, an iron ore. Under the proper conditions, though, pyrite can become iron hydroxide, or limonite. Its external appearance remains essentially the same, but the composition has been altered. Pyrite cubes have become limonite cubes, which have also been called "Indian Money" because people believed that the strangely shaped rocks could only have been shaped by man’s hand, not by nature.

I have no idea what became of that dusty milk carton. There’s a remote chance that I could go through a couple of boxes of fossils and artifacts I’ve stored away and find a cube or two. And there’s an even more remote chance that I could go back to some Stanly County farm, look down at the red clay and pick up a handful of Indian Money. But once upon a time, it really did happen like that.
There was always something fascinating about Indian Money. Something metaphorical. It was not some unchanging essence that took on new forms. On the contrary, Indian Money managed to maintain the same form while evolving into something of an entirely different composition.

34 comments:

Michael said...

I'm so glad to find this page. As a kid in Stanly County, NC these rocks were so easy to find. As an adult I took my kids back to my grandparents farm in Millingport (Stanly Co.) and they had as much fun as I did as a kid finding indian money. Yet when I brought the rocks home to Virginia, no one had heard of them, and thought they must be some manmade debris. Thanks for your post!!!

GULAHIYI said...

Great to hear from a fellow Stanly Countian. I'm glad there's still some to be found. I know that area from Millingport to New London and Badin pretty well, having come from Pickler stock. I always took Indian Money for granted, but turns out it is rather obscure.

Anonymous said...

A fellow organic market gardener down the road near Millingport sent me a link to this blog and it is fascinating. We were discussing Indian Money just this week. There is a small corner of our farm where we find it and I remember walking the dirt road my cousin lived on near Richfield picking it up. I thought it was fairly common, but apparently not.

Dean Mullis said...

I received a link to this blog from a fellow organic market gardener a couple of miles down the road near Millingport. We were discussing Indian Money just last week.
We have a small corner of our farm where we find the stuff. My 8 year old son found 4 pieces last Thursday as we were transplanting fennel and celery. 3 small and a large one with quartz embedded in it. I remember looking for it and finding it on a then dirt road my cousin lived on near Richfield.
I thought it was common, but apparently not.

I appreciate your insights into WNC, particularly Jackson County. I graduated WCU in 1984. I hung around for a couple of years afterwards landscaping in Cashiers and Highlands and living up Speedwell and out at East La Porte. Still know folks up Caney Fork.

Have a few Pickler's for neighbors; Audrey and John. Don't know Kelly Pickler but here grandfather Clyde and father Bo used to live through the woods from us off of Richfield-Millingport Road.

GULAHIYI said...

You guys are taking me back home. I was in Stanly a couple of weeks ago to bury an uncle at Kendall's Baptist. While we were there, my brothers and I took off to find where our great-grandpa Miller lived. We found it and saw where they were getting ready to auction off Uncle Lonz Miller's stuff the next day. (Alonzo was a chiropractor...my grandma's brother...and he died in 1969!)

They'd pulled out Packards and Hudson and Studebakers for the sale. There was a Hudson Hornet engine STILL IN THE CRATE from J. C. Whitney. We wondered what that would bring at the sale.

It is still mighty pretty in that part of Stanly. I love the mountains here around Speedwell, but I miss Stanly County, too.

Glad you found this site.

Storm said...

Thanks for posting information regarding Indian Money...As a child, my father had a few pieces of "square rocks" which he always told us was Indian Money. Well, I have never found any until I was at a Camp John Barnhardt, Boy Scout Camp in Badin, NC. While I was there, my children & I attended a Nature Walk.... during the walk we were told about
"Indian Money". This rare rocks are found all over the 1,000 acres of Camp Barnhardt. However, we were told that it really isn't Indian Money, it's just the way the dirt forms these rocks in this area.... (?)

I still like to believe other wise. Futhermore, I would like for my children to believe these rare rock are left by Indians, as well.....

GULAHIYI said...

Nice to hear from you. As it turns out, my dad worked at Barnhardt back in the 1960s and 70s. Having picked up a few cubes of Indian Money on the camp myself, I'm really glad to know there's still some to be found!

Anonymous said...

holy cow!!! i was just sitting here doing a search on the proper name for "indian money" and i came across this site. amazing!!! i am also from stanly county!!! i remember hot summer days picking up pieces of it in my backyard. when i was a teenager-early adult, i would spend hours looking for it in a neighbors yard, just to get away from everything else and concentrate. it is a solice for me, hunting it. now i have opened the world of hunting it to my little girl. she loves it!!! does anyone know of any place around albemarle that is great for hunting it??? wonderful site, thanks so much!!!!

GULAHIYI said...

It's always good to hear from Stanly County. I'd love to hear of a good place to look for Indian Money, but if someone passed that information along, I might be tempted to withhold it from the world, in case we got too many folks looking for it. But of course, I wouldn't mind getting a few pointers, in case I get a chance to go hunting for it on MY next trip back to Stanly:-)
Like I said before, I took those little rocks for granted when I was growing up, and it's been a little surprising to find out they really were a "Stanly County thing" and not so common in other places.
Best wishes!

Daven said...

The Indian Money I remember was essentially cylinders of stone, layered so that it looked like a stack of small coins that had turned to stone. If you have any information on this, please let me know since I have been looking for references on this for some time.

However, this is a fascinating read. I'm glad I found this page.

GULAHIYI said...

From the description you gave, I immediately thought of crinoid stems (fossilized tentacles of a marine animal). After looking around, I found a mention of crinoid “Indian Money” on this site about fossil hunting in the Cumerlands - http://www.cumberlandadventures.com/fossils/fossils.html
And I learned that crinoids are the state fossil of Missouri. Here’s a link to a picture.
http://www.eeob.iastate.edu/faculty/DrewesC/htdocs/crinoid19R.jpg
Do you think this is the Indian Money you were looking for? I used to collect fossils and have some crinoid stems, but never heard them called Indian Money before.

Daven said...

That's it. Thank you very much GULAHIYI, I'm glad you found it. I didn't know they were fossils though. I live in Tennessee, and I remember finding them in beds of rocks that were used in landscaping, but the large stem on the Cave page you mentioned is exactly what they looked like. I do remember there being a depression in the center, but not the star. Usually they were about 1/4 inch across, with it being even all the way down, and generally about 1/2 to 1 inch long. I used to find them when I was very young, like 10, which would make it more than 30 years ago. Since I don't go out and dig in the dirt anymore, I never find them.

Thank you for identifying these. Now I don't have to go crazy anymore. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hi- so ironic!! My sons and I were looking for "indian money" today- where else but.... Stanly County!! I was born and raised between Albemarle and New London. When I was growing up it was New London- now it is Albemarle. As a child, I hunted in my yard, near my dad's workshop- he kept my indian money treasures and returned them to me not long after I got married. My sons and I found 22 pieces today!! I thought it was really common- evidently not! What does the abundance of indian money in Stanly County say about it's geological history? Should we dig deeper for dinosaurs:)
By the way, I know that 8-year-old boy and his sister and Mandy Pickler (all of us are a part of the KV family)- Thanks for sharing!!

Anonymous said...

Has anyone ever heard of this black square rock also being called "Jack Rock"? We have rocks just like this at my parents place in SC and the old timers called it Jack Rock. They say there is gold flakes inside the square rocks but you have to bust them open and pan the dust to get the gold out.
Has anyone heard about this????
~in SC

GULAHIYI said...

That's a new one to me. I don't know about Jack Rock. I understand that Indian money can have flecks of gold in it, but it's just "Fool's Gold" that's still there from the original cubes of pyrite.

I'll ask around about Jack Rock. I've seen veins of gold in white quartz, back when I went to Cottonpatch Gold Mine between New London and Badin (Stanly County, NC), but never in cubes of other rock.

Anonymous said...

I'll say it again...."Thank You" for posting this site. I used to hunt Indian money at Camp Barnhardt so for me, it was a Boy Scout thing. Never heard of it anywhere else and never found it anywhere else. Spent my whole life looking at the ground just in case I ever found any more. Nice to hear that others know what I'm talking about since anyone who has never been to this area and found it for themselves thinks I'm crazy when I talk about it. Like the author, I have no idea where my old collection went to and would love to be able to go back to Barnhardt and find some more. Would be nice to hunt for it with my own kids. I never got a solid/scientific explanation of what the stuff is and I don't care. It will always be Indian money to me.

Anonymous said...

This is a great site here. To the above, Indian money is called Jack Rocks by some and yes, some do have gold in them. They are a composition of about 1/2 iron and 1/2 sulfur but some of the minerals may have been replaced along the way with other things. Ours have a lot of copper in them. We have a place in Randolph County NC that has indian money formed in pockets. They are very fascinating. I'm curious as to do you all think people would like to dig for them? I'm looking at possiblities for various small income sources for our farm there.

GULAHIYI said...

I did lots of rockhounding with my parents when I was a kid, and I'm sure collecting sites must be a lot harder to come by now than they were then. So, yes, maybe there is potential for an indian money hunting ground. I never realized it was such a piedmont thing. The rocks were so common when I was growing up, we took them for granted. But they are unknown to most folks.

Anonymous said...

Gulahiyi, Thank you for your response. I was wondering if anyone would still be posting on this subject. Anyway, thank you again for the feedback.

Here's to "Indian Money"!!!

Amanda Mudge said...

This is so awesome,I've been racking my brain trying to find something out about my Indian Money,I have 2 acres in STAR,N.C.and I have found these cubes all my life,I have a huge ziplock bag full,all diff sizes,I still find pieces everyday,I'm addicted to finding these cubes,I cant play a game of horseshoes without finding 2 or 3 pcs, Thank you so much,You've been very helpful. Amanda Mudge

GULAHIYI said...

I didn't know if they were as far east as Star, (but now I do). I took them for granted growing up, but I have found that it was more of a Southern Piedmont specialty than I knew. I did see some in a rock shop near here last month, but they were pretty sorry specimens compared to the ones I used to see.

JLC said...

I went up to Albemarle today to look for some gold on one of my friends properties. LOTS of "indian money" found...kept the largest one I have ever found (2.5x2.5")I live in Moore County and we have it here too. I used to find it as a kid and my father always dubbed it Indian Money. No gold today but "indian money" and the best arrowhead I have ever found also....what a coincodence dont you think! We were joking around saying the big piece must have been the Chief's money.

Anonymous said...

I was raised in Northeastern Cabarrus County, about 3 miles from the Stanley county line. I used to find these brown cubes in the ground that we also called "Indian money". I tried to find it on the web. If you put in cube shaped rock it goes to pyrite cubes. I finally had to put in "Indian Money" to find it. I've always wondered what this cube was. Does it have any value? I always noticed it seems quite dense for its size.

GULAHIYI said...

They tend to be a very localized (southern piedmont of NC) occurence. They are a quite a curiosity, but I don't think they have any considerable value. I was in a rock shop here in Western NC last week and the owner, who was familiar with them, had a few rather unimpressive specimens - nothing like the ones I remember in those milk cartons!

ScoutMomCabarrusCo. said...

Well, you might be happy to know that, as of 2014, "Indian money" is still found all over Camp John J. Barnhardt in New London, NC. Our Troop just went to camp this week & on Family night we all got to hear about the loads of "Indian money" the boys had collected. We have one boy in particular in our Troop that is a Rock Hound so I'm sure he's the one that told the others about it. Anyway, the boys all stared collecting and then set up a "trading post" in their campsite to use "Indian money" exclusively! I was told that some had found some pretty large pieces even. My son even brought home an empty water bottle with several in the bottom of it. That's what prompted me to do some research to figure out exactly what this stuff was. I'm not from NC so I had never heard of it until recently. It wasn't easy to find any info. I had to dig around a bit to get some straight answers. That's how I found this site. Thanks for the info because my son was convinced, as was I, that they were man made! Any idea where we can get more info on how & why they are formed?

Thanks,
Lisa

GULAHIYI said...

Hi Lisa,
I'm really happy to hear about the find, and at Camp Barnhardt in particular. A couple of more links here might help:
http://www.johnbetts-fineminerals.com/jhbnyc/mineralmuseum/gallery.php?st=1&init=Limonite%20pseudomorphs%20after%20Pyrite
Apparently, limonite pseudomorphs after pyrite ARE found at different places on the planet. As I understand it (and this is how the Wikipedia page on limonite explains it: "chemical weathering transforms the crystals of pyrite into limonite by hydrating the molecules, but the external shape of the pyrite crystal remains." So, it is a natural chemical process where the molecules in a pyrite cube ("Fool's Gold") are replaced by limonite.

And I just learned that this process can occur with other minerals as well: http://academic.emporia.edu/abersusa/go336/holt/

Happy trails!

SoCalgirl said...

I was born and raised in Albemarle. My uncle would take me to a cemetery somewhere on the Concord Rd (I believe) about 55 yrs ago. There, I found my "Indian Money" in the red clay under a big tree. I still have it and various sizes. I can't believe it's not manmade. These pieces are so square (no rounded edges). So nice hearing from others from N.C. I've been away since 16y.o. only visiting dad until he passed.

Rebecca Greene said...

I am like everyone else on the page thanks so much for for posting this. I grew up finding "Indian Money" in Star, NC and have recently built a home in Biscoe and my children are finding "square rocks" everywhere all sizes and colors. We have started a collection jar. I am more intriqued now knowing that this is a realtively local find. Thanks again.

GULAHIYI said...

Thanks, Rebecca. Greetings to you and all the fine folks in Montgomery County, one of my favorite places. It is pretty here in the mtns of WNC, but they're about to develop it to death. I don't know how much longer I can stand it. It is always refreshing to get back to my old stomping grounds in the Uwharries...I'll bet I could still find enough wild blackberries to bake a good pie.

Anonymous said...

Apparently nearly everyone who searches the web to find out what Indian Money really is grew up in or around Stanly County! As kids, we could easily find it. We would pan for flakes of gold from a creek in the woods in Locust (that eventually runs to Reid Gold Mine) and the Indian Money would be there too. Always wondered if it was some sort of pyrite given the similarity in shape and heft. Thanks for the info!

GULAHIYI said...

Thanks for the comment!

Anonymous said...

I have a coffee can full of these we collected back when I was a kid in North Carolina. Thanks for posting what mineral this rock actually is!

Tim said...

Right here in Jackson County is found what is called "Indian Marbles" roundish cubes of iron garnet" that look as if they have been cut. They can be found in various sizes with the large ones being the most scarce.

Sharon G said...

I live on the Chatham an Randolph County line in Bennett and find these every time i walk in my side yard..Just today I found bout 15 of them in a lil 2ft area in just a few minutes..They are everywhere in my yard ��