The Devil’s Tombstones: Browning Mountain & The Mystery of Indiana’s Stonehenge

There’s something to be said about stopping and looking right under your nose. We’ve gotten so distracted by our phones and the Internet that our immediate spatial presence feels wholly corrupted. I’m guilty of this. I’m guilty of looking under my nose but only at a blue screen. I’m guilty of permitting my now to being robbed by the dings and buzzes of electronics that crave our constant attention like a stalker in a bad teenage romance. Social media, news alerts, you sold a turd on eBay, text messages, emails, you name it, it’s constantly flashing banner after banner after banner — like intruders scaling the walls of our fortified psyches. Our gadget obsession isolates our minds, presence, spirit and relationships. It makes us detached husks of humans who only suck air and starves our potential for making memories when friends and family surround us. I think this undermines the wonders of not only our connections to people but also to our location and our relationship with it. As in, you may be missing some cool shit right under your nose, right where you live — like the mystery of a site so riddled with liminality it’ll make your head queasy. This scenario brings me to Browning Mountain.

I’ve heard of this Browning Mountain for 48 years (that’s how old I am). It’s a big hill with big rocks in Brown County, Indiana. So fucking what? If they call that hill a mountain when it’s just a damn hill, then how unimpressive will the rocks be at the top of it? Gravel? My dismissive nature of this location couldn’t have been more shortsighted. My son was the first to hike up there. He came back pretty enthusiastic over the high strangeness of the stones. As a budding archeology student, he was not only blown away by the size of the stones but their odd placement on the hillside as well. Knowing his dad (that’s me allegedly) is a certified weirdo, he insisted on me making the trek up there myself. First of all, it’s not a leisurely stroll — wear some hiking boots. Secondly, don’t go up there with an ankle brace, but that’s another story for another time that involves Jamaica, COVID-19 and a disc golf tragedy. But, listen, when I finally went and reached the stones, I was unprepared for the level of excitement that coursed through my veins.

The rocks were massive. The rocks were many. It seemed I’d vastly underrated what’s often referred to as Indiana’s Stonehenge. Once you dig a little deeper into the details of this site and you find these stones are not even indigenous to the area, the implications of their origins begin to feel esoteric. Was this a sacred site to the native tribes that once lived here? Or maybe a civilization older than that? Were these stones simply regurgitated on this hillside due to a burping glacier? Did some crazy settlers with obviously herniated spines drag them up there? Couple that with paranormal reports — a guardian spirit said to be protecting the site, that men died while trying to remove the stones, Sasquatch and UFO sightings — this place is brimming with the unexpected promise of quandaries to unravel. I’m so glad I went. I’m happy I stuck a couple of ITC devices in my pocket to do a brief session. But most of all, I’m glad I unplugged myself long enough from the artificial electronic web we’re all stuck in to go on a hike to explore, to spend time with my son and to seek out this crazy place at the end of a dead-end road that sits overlooking an abandoned ghost town. Yes, this is all true. Remember always to let your wonder light your wander. And in the immortal lyrics of the R.E.M. song Stand:

If you are confused, check with the sun

Carry a compass to help you along

Your feet are going to be on the ground

Your head is there to move you around

So, stand in the place where you live

Now face north

Think about direction, wonder why you haven’t before

God, I hate that fucking song.

— Evel Ogilville

P.S. If you want to add some wow to your now, learn to put down your phone. But if you’re reading this post, I’ll not begrudge your screen time this once — peace out.


Browning Mountain
(Also referred to as Browning Hill, “Indiana’s Stonehenge”)
Approximately 4 miles southwest of Story (Elkinsville and Combs Road)
Brown County, Indiana

Approximate 1,190-acre section of land in southernmost part of Brown County; 928-foot peak, one of county’s highest, named special area of Hoosier National Forest. Edge of summit reveals mystery of massive stone blocks in various arrangements along hill’s western edge overlooking Salt Creek Middle Fork Valley, each likely weighing hundreds of pounds, with origins unclear


Location of stones

o “About a mile and half south of Elkinsville is located what has been called Browning Hill.Here the “Devil’s Tombstones” were located a half-century ago (Brown County Democrat, 1/17/1963)

o The hill where the odd formations sometimes called “Moon Rocks” may be found (Brown County Democrat, 6/28/1995)

o Geologist John Collett’s 1875 “Geology of Brown County” details Browning’s Knob, surmounted by a steep almost precipitous ascent with fragments of Keokuk limestone and chert, which once covered the region, on upper part and sides. “Grand cubes three by four feet and pillars three by four by twenty feet long, ready squared and dressed as from a giants workshop, are scattered along the crest of the hill.”

o Rocks line top of hill and down one path 

Size, appearance, arrangement of stones

o Huge slabs of sandstone, some fifteen feet long and four feet thick (Brown County Democrat, 1/17/1963)

o Giant pieces of limestone form rectangle 100 by 200 feet, each varying in length from seven to 21 feet; some appear to have been set in pillars and without exception have fallen to north (Terre Haute Tribune, 1/25/1976)  

o “Indiana’s Stonehenge”: Arrangement of car-size stones has drawn comparisons to the famous ring of standing stones in England

o Rocks average between seven and eight feet long and about four feet square at ends. All point north and most lie side by side, giving effect of huge amphitheater when standing above them (Brown County Democrat, 10/26/1983)

o Large square blocks of light-colored stone that contrast with sandstone at lower elevations; two long sides surrounding the open center with large stone at “head,”appearing to some as ceremonial altar(Journal and Courier, 10/22/2006)

o Some stones built up like wall, others strewn about the side of the hill; six to eight feet in length, hewn with right angles; ring of large stones/slabs of Keokuk limestoneresemble pulpit; many stones may have been erect at some point and site later desecrated by vandals and erosion (Reporter-Times, 11/18/2012, 11/25/2012)

Additional features of site

o Well, still containing water, on northeast part of hill covered in two slabs of stone, reported constructed in an old structural technique, carved from bedrock to surface and cut through several feet of siltstone. May have been Native American, later modified by settlers (Brown County Democrat, 1/10/2001; Reporter-Times, 11/25/2012)

o Remains of cabin believed to be first in Brown County, also recognized as home of last Native American who lived in area, as well as parts of several other homesteads can be found (Brown County Democrat, 6/11/2014)

Rocks set on side of mountain suggest remains of root or apple cellar, remains of foundation (Brown County Democrat, 1/10/2001)

o Browning Apple Orchard (circa late 1800s), cabin and shed recorded on hill; fruit stored in cellar, also thought to have been used for threshing/storing grains by Native Americans (Brown County Democrat, 6/11/2014; Reporter-Times, 11/25/2012)

o Pond located on mountaintop, perhaps created by bears. Nearby larger pond created for wildlife decades earlier by DNR (Brown County Democrat, 6/11/2014)

Popular legends, folklore

• Legend of mountain as hunting area for Native Americans; trail ascending hill believed Native American

o “The Watcher”: Native American spirit said to watch over site, causing many accidents during early attempts made to quarry stones. Ghosts of men who died while disturbing stones said to haunt mountain

▪ Late at night ghosts of the old stone cutters roam the hill, rattling log chains that snapped and killed them when trying to remove rocks (Cross)

▪ Tales of failed attempts to remove stones and mechanical mishaps that resulted in deaths of several workers (Reporter Times, 11/25/2012) 

▪ Legend of two men killed trying to move rocks; one crushed by tractor, the other caught between two rocks (Brown County Democrat, 10/26/1983)

o Important location for area Miami tribes, “keeper of the mountain” who protects the area

• Archaeologists from South America said to have traveled to site to determine if ruins archeological or geological but “returned in as much doubt as when they came” (Indianapolis News, 11/20/1950)

• In 1930s, men from Chicago said to have inspected the stones offered owner of cabin/hill Thomas Morton Browning huge sum of money for farm; when he asked for more, partly in jest, they asked for time to consider and upon making new offer, Browning turned it down, having “learned they were gangsters” (Indianapolis News, 11/20/1950)

• Strange lights, sounds at site

• Suggestion of evidence of ice cave

• UFO sightings on hill

• Sounds of voices, footsteps

• Site for scattering of loved ones’ ashes

Theories, arguments

• Notion of stones as artifacts from an earlier civilization gained popularity when outdoor life columnist who visited with then-owner of log cabin at foot of hill, Thomas Morton Browning, in 1950. Columnist William “Tubby” Toms described stones as cut to size and arranged in rectangle 100-by-200 feet, comparing them to similar “Salisbury Plain” (Stonehenge) and designating site as “Indiana’s Stonehenge … one of the wonders of Indiana” (Indianapolis News, 11/20/1950; Brown County Democrat, 8/10/1977)

o 1977 report by Indiana State Geological Survey asserted huge stones result of natural processes. Indiana University Astronomy Department also concluded formation without astrological significance. After reprinting of earlier “Tubby” Toms column (see above) generated interest, scientists examined whether hill site of early abandoned quarry and if possibility of such a stone structure indicated knowledge of astronomy by early inhabitants. Parties reported that while stones roughly size and shape as Toms described, “an ample imagination was required to discern the rectangular arrangement.” Scientific conclusion was that stone blocks natural result of weathering, erosion and slumping from outcropping of siltstone (Brown County Democrat, 8/10/1977)  

o Later 1987 report by folklore student Lee Irwin refuted some of earlier study findings, notably that Browning Hill was heavily quarried in 1958-59 and stone removed by local “Stoneman” Charles Murphy, and that older residents recalled stone wall on western and southern slopes stacked two to three high. Also believed existing well may have drawn new settlement; similar prehistoric structures found elsewhere in state, as well as those with stones in similar solstice (alignment with sun on shortest, longest days of year) orientations and fallen walls. May suggest marking locations of winter and summer migrating tribes. Study did not propose single theory for all of hill’s features

• Native American ritual, ceremonial site; if stones put there by Native Americans or others, question of how they were transported to location

• Bed of limestone laid when county covered by sea then broken and tossed when waters receded

o Keokuk limestone thought to have once covered area and receding glaciers carried much of it away; stones left from natural formations

o Disagreement over type of sandstone/stone/outcropping of limestone near top indigenous to region or unusual for Brown County

• Stones thought to have once actually been part of massive wall that lined mountain, standing two or three layers high and with few open spots like a fort (Brown County Democrat, 1/10/2001)

o Stories of Native American family who lived on hill and used fort for protection; Indians worshipped on grounds and arranged rocks (Brown County Democrat, 1/10/2001)

o Round stones size of baseballs thought to have been used in Native American games

• Some argue stones show no signs of being hewn but weathering makes determination of whether cut impossible

o Some believe slabs quarried by an early settler and left behind when better source found

• Some rocks believed look as though placed in specific arrangement

o Studies of alignments oriented to winter and summer solstices (Brown County Democrat, 1/10/2001)


• Visitors report finding mysterious carvings on stones

o “May 11, 1884” (Brown County Democrat, 4/20/2011)

o Circle on large broken rock (Brown County Democrat, 6/11/2014)

o “Here lies John Baurle, Born 7/31/47, Died 9/14/52” (Journal and Courier, 10/22/2006)


• Missing hunter Steven L. Weaver, 39, found dead from accidental gunshot wound, near his camp on backside of Browning Mountain (The Republic, 12/16/1986)

Historic Timeline

• Accounts of Native Americans living in area during founding of Brown County; in 1821 local tribes removed from area; several families said to have settled on hill, including the Brownings (Reporter-Times, 11/25/2012)

o Native Americans said to still visit site

• Hill named for Jessie P. Browning, owner during Civil War days (Brown County Democrat, 10/5/1961)

• Mort Browning and Carl Hall later owners of farm property that included Browning Mountain; original home near bottom believed built by Brownings in 1892

• Current property owner Bill Miller conveyed hill toNature Conservancy, transfer from private to public completed in 1993. Peak designated“special area” of Hoosier National Forest; land denoted as such must contain unusual or unique features and managed to protect such characteristics. Hill’s status designated in part because of relatively undisturbed and old growth woods; forest contains trees of noteworthy size and the ridgetop containing features that have “never been scientifically explained” (Brown County Democrat, 1/10/2001)


Village, once located in Browning Mountain’s shadow, lost in 1960s to U.S. government througheminent domain with construction of Lake Monroe and dam and the need for land for flood control. Former community continues to hold annual reunion near hill

Yellowwood State Forest rock reports

“Gobbler’s/Turkey Rock” discovered by hunter tracking wild turkey who found bird perched on huge rock about 80 feet up in branches of chestnut oak tree. Theories of nearby blasting or tornado as cause could not be substantiated. Tree uprooted in 2006 but said rock lies on ground still in oak’s branches. Hikers subsequently reported more sightings of treetop boulders in the Brown County state forest

Sources: “Indiana Off the Beaten Path,” Phyllis Thomas,, “The Dusty Road Leads to Elkinsville,” Robert Cross, Indianapolis Monthly

Thank you to Eunice Specter for the amazing historical digging!

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