An Epic Battle Over A Rock

rock kentucky ohio hartman
Steve Shaffer is an upholsterer most-known not for recovering chairs and pillows, but for recovering a long-lost piece of history, CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman reports.

"I think I just wanted to reach out through the mist of time and touch it, to be real honest with you, and to see if it was still there," he said.

He's talking about Indian Head Rock, an eight-ton boulder that used to sit in the middle of the Ohio River near the town of Portsmouth, Ohio.

As boulders go, it was a fairly popular one. Back in the 1800s, people used to come out to see the face, carved there by Indians, some people said. A few visitors did a little carving of their own - until about 100 years ago, when the river got dammed and the rock got flooded.

Shaffer said when he first heard that story as a boy, it planted a seed in his mind, "that someday it might be found."

For three summers, Shaffer and some dive buddies scoured the rocks on the river's bottom - to no avail.

Until out of the murk …. "I swam around the rock and there it was."

The face. "Then you start to see initials," Schaffer said.

No doubt, Schaffer had found Indian Head Rock.

"It was in beautiful shape," he said.

And that's where this story could have easily - some say should have definitely - ended. But Shaffer was so excited about finally finding this rock, he wanted to share that joy with others. So he did what a lot of people would do when they find a particularly interesting rock: He picked it up.

"At that point did it ever cross your mind there could be jail time in this?" Hartman asked.

"Absolutely not," Schaffer said. "Absolutely not."

Unfortunately for him, "Ohio" is just the name of the river. At least along one side it actually belongs to Kentucky.

Kentucky state Rep. Reginald Meeks said: "Yeah, I'm mad!"

"First of all, I couldn't believe that individuals from one state could brazenly come across the border and basically invade another sovereign state," he said.

He even wrote a resolution, which passed unanimously.

"We would ask that they return the property," the resolution said.

Ohio immediately fired back.

"If they're going to introduce a resolution then I want to introduce a resolution!" said Ohio state Rep. Todd Book, who represents the people of Portsmouth.

"We have the right to this rock. If they knew where it was, why didn't they go get it?" he said. "I mean, didn't they in essence abandon this rock?"

For now, Indian rock sits in the Portsmouth Municipal Garage, enjoying the spotlight once again, waiting for the courts to sort it all out.

If Kentucky wins, not only could Shaffer be sent upriver for felony theft, the rock could be sent downriver - back to where it was before all this started: back to forgotten.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.