Secret Chambers in the Rockies*
Volume 4, Issue #28
by Jared G. Barton
Stone box of metallic plates inscribed with an unknown script. The items were said to have been discovered by John Brewer. All plates shown in this article were reportedly found in the same receptacle. Photograph ©, courtesy of Gary Taylor.
ometime after the turn of the last century, young
George Keller and a lad named Lone Eagle were playing among the
foothills of the Rocky Mountains above the farm owned by George's father near
Manti, Utah. The Kellers were the descendants of freed black slaves, who
migrated to the American southwest following the Civil War. Coming to a massive
overhang, the Indian boy pointed to a hole in the mountain side and explained,
"This is a special place, the Cave of the Great Spirit. My father says it
is the holy place of a people who are dead, and that a great chief protects
those who are buried there. My father was shown this place by his father
when he was a kid. You are the only person other than our people who knows
about this place. You must promise not to tell anyone of our secret! Follow me
and I will show you inside." The friends explored the site together, and
from the cave floor George picked up a few flint heads to play with in his room
back home. Over the years, he kept his promise and never told anyone about the
chamber guarded by the spirit of a great Indian chief. Lone Eagle eventually
moved away, and George worked on the Keller farm. He lived in a hillside shed above
the farm, not far from the cave of his boyhood experience, to the east. But he
rarely visited the site again and took no further interest in it, until he met
John Brewer, many years later.
rewer lived with his wife in the small town of Moroni, Utah, where he did odd jobs for farmers in the area. For recreation, he collected Indian arrow-heads, and eventually assembled an impressive collection. In early spring, 1955, his numerous artifacts were dis-
played at the Sanpete County fair, held annually at
Manti. While discussing his finds with friends at a local cafe, he was
approached by a now elderly negro, George Keller, who told Brewer about a
secret cave where many more arrowheads were to be found.
s Brewer recorded in his personal journal for May 10, "I went and looked for the place but I couldn't find it so I went and asked him (Keller) again where it was but all that I could get was a laugh from him. I thought that he was pulling a fast one on me so I let it go at that." Nine days later, "I went out to the Keller place and offered him some wine with the promise that he would show me the place he had told me about a while back. He said that he would not only show me the place but that we would go in!
"No wonder I couldn't find it; I was on the wrong
hill. I went into the cave and found 30 arrowheads right off. I went back to
the truck and thanked the man. I then asked how he came to know of the cave and
he said that he and an Indian boy played there as an old hideaway."
Nearly twenty years later, I was personally introduced to John Brewer, and he told me about his discovery of the Manti cave in an area behind Temple Hill. We met at Provo, Utah, in the company of Dr. Paul R. Cheesman, head of Book of Mormon Studies in the Department of Religion at Brigham Young University. Brewer impressed me as a soft spoken, kindly man, but without much worldly experience. He told us about his encounter with old George Keller and the difficulties he experienced while locating the secluded cave. In his search for more arrowheads at the site, he was surprised to find a set of stone steps carved into the cave floor. Clearing away some debris, he claimed the steps led to an entrance of a "tomb." Entering this chamber, he saw ten stone boxes. He opened five of them; they all contained small, metal plates inscribed with an unknown script. Nearby lay two large stone coffins. Opening them both, he found they contained mummified human remains. One body allegedly had red hair with skin still attached to its bones, while the other was blond. The mummies were excessively large, he guessed some nine feet (!) in length. Brewer made a sketch of the tomb, in which he claimed to have carefully catalogued the position of each plate and box. In removing the coffin lids, he noticed that the mummies were covered with a straw "like cloth." He removed the straw only from the the heads of the mummies to reveal their crown and breastplates. Shields and a sword were among other artifacts scattered about the tomb.
As proof, he showed us about sixty metal plates of various sizes and shapes. They all featured characters of a written language unknown to anyone present. At least a few of the plates, preserved by Brewer under a glass picture frame, appeared to be made of gold. Another set, possibly bronze, was encircled by a metal band some five inches square. They were bound by a small metal ring opposite the band.
The next month our meeting with Brewer took place in early March, so he agreed to take Dr. Cheesman and a team from Brigham Young University to the tomb in the near future, as soon as the snow melted. Later, Mr. Peterson said he thought Brewer "was telling the truth and most likely did not have the capacity to perpetuate such an elaborate hoax." Indeed, that was our general impression of the man, but we still wondered if Brewer would actually make good his offer to take Dr. Cheesman to the tomb. Spring and summer came and went in the Sanpete Valley, and Brewer made no effort to contact Dr. Cheesman.
ut word of the inscribed tablets had already become controversial, as gossip about his mysterious discovery spread throughout Manti. Respected BYU professors Dr. Hugh Nibley and Dr. Ray Matheny met Elder Peterson, Dr. Cheesman and Brewer, who was unaware of the two scholars' high academic credentials. They were not favorably impressed with Brewer and condemned his "find" as a hoax. Following their unsupportive reaction, an article entitled "John Brewer has a cave but he's not giving tours," appeared in the November 26, 1975 issue of Salt Lake City's Deseret News, in which Dr. Jesse Jennings of the University of Utah's Archaeology Department was quoted as saying that the sandstone tablet obtained from Brewer was a "ridiculous hoax." Jennings referred to Dr. Ray Matheny, who said he "wasted his time exposing the man's works...It is a clumsy attempt to perpetrate a fraudulent claim of antiquity. Only Dr. Cheesman had mixed feelings: "They could be real." But Dr. Robert Heinerman, a Ph.D in Anthropology from the University of Indonesia, recalled that he had formerly lived in Manti around 1975, when he learned of the alleged artifacts. He visited Brewer at his home, in Moroni, and heard the story of finding the cave with its bizarre contents. Unlike the BYU professors, Heinerman was more favorably impressed, and the two became close friends.
Late one night, two years later, Brewer unexpectedly
appeared at Heinerman's home, and suggested they go off on a midnight hike.
They drove to a quarry behind Temple Hill, in Manti, then walked south from the
quarry, up the hill to its top, finally across to the mountain in the east.
Suddenly Brewer stopped and told John to take off his shirt and pants, so he
could squeeze into a tunnel and see the chamber they had so often discussed.
Dr. Heinerman did as suggested and followed John into a tunnel that had been
dug on a downward track, barely squeezing and squirming like a worm through the
narrow passage. After what seemed an eternity, struggling through some thirty
feet of utter darkness, they came to an opening. Reaching down with his hands,
Heinerman felt the edge of stairs. These led into a chamber about twenty feet
long and fourteen feet wide. The air was stifling and breathing difficult.
Several inches of fine dust covered the floor and puffed up with each step. Perhaps three dozen stone boxes were stacked against one wall and another twenty or so on the other. All of them were "wrapped with a cover of Juniper bark with pine pitch smeared all around, so as to make them literally water proof." In a smaller anti-chamber were two entombed mummies. They seemed an incredible eight or nine feet in length. Each had been placed in a cement sepulcher with removable lid. They were a male-female pair. The texture of their skin was almost moist, like tanned leather. Littering the cave was an abundance of weapons, swords, tools, copper and metal tablets of various sizes. Some of the plates lay shattered like glass into fibrous pieces, not unlike the broken windshield of a car.
Brewer said the steps led into the chamber when he first discovered them. But the overhanging rock had since collapsed over the entrance, so he had to spend some two years digging a tunnel parallel to the stairs, in order to regain entrance into the chamber. This work was accomplished at night to conceal his activity. Heinerman visited the cave several times thereafter with Brewer, always under cover of darkness, save only on one daylight occasion. The chamber, he says, was very warm during this daytime entry. Its interior is cool in winter, suggesting that the cave is not deep under ground, with temperatures regulated by outside weather conditions. Heinerman says that a wall inside the chamber features an illustration showing the location of several other caves in the Manti valley. It was from this map that Brewer discovered another cache on the west side of the valley. Brewer eventually showed Heinerman
his discoveries in another related site on the western
side of the Manti Valley. After an extremely arduous journey west of Wales, Heinerman
stood before the entrance to a natural cave. It lies under an overhanging ledge
with a small crawl space underneath. The cave comprised several tunnels and
chambers. Here too they found stone boxes containing plates covered with
strange writing, together with metal weapons and tools, but no mummies. A wall
mural depicted a hunting scene. Some of the boxes featured Mayan-type glyphs or
illustrations, and weighed from sixty to ninety pounds each. In Heinerman's
words, "the cemented stone boxes were highly decorated with ingenious art
work." With great effort, a few of these containers were brought off the
mountain. Heinerman still has several in his possession. He also owns a large
number of the metal plates.
o far, Brewer and Heinerman are the only persons who claim to have visited the cave sites. No photographs of their interiors, with their giant, fair-haired mummies and metal weapons or tools, have been released. Nor are the precise whereabouts of these sites known to any but the two visitors. Until such time as professional investigators are allowed inside his alleged chambers, the authenticity of Brewer's finds cannot be established. But mitigating against allegations of his involvement in a hoax are the items he presents on behalf of the cave's legitimacy. Their sheer number and level of craftsmanship (beyond the abilities of Mr. Brewer to duplicate) should at least give critics pause for reconsideration. The really troubling aspect of his claims is less his personal account and description than the supposed artifacts themselves. They appear to be exceptionally well made and very old, but belonging to no known culture, ancient or modern. If authentic, they were the possessions of a thoroughly enigmatic people of which modern archaeologists are absolutely unaware.
Perhaps most unsettling, some of the "script" more resembles modern computer schematics than any form of writing. Other red-haired mummies were said to have been found in the West, most notably at Nevada's Lovelock Cave. Some may see in these questionable finds and unaccountable material evidence for Lemurians in ancient America. They were supposed to have been natives of a long-vanished civilization that dominated the Pacific with an advanced technology, until their islands were eventually engulfed by the sea, and a few of their wealth-laden leaders fled to the American West. Whatever the real identity of the Manti items, condemning them out of hand risks losing what may be our continent's most valuable cultural heritage. If ever validated and deciphered, they could release a prehistoric legacy far more valuable than the gold plates on which it was written.