Wikipedia’s entry for the Bloody River on St. Kitts reads, “Bloody River or Stone Fort River is a river or ghaut (locally called) in Saint Kitts (an island in the Caribbean) which starts from the South East Range, flows west of the village of Challengers and exits at Bloody Point. Also, it is where 2000 Caribs were massacred and blood ran down the river for three days in 1626.”
Gotta hand it to the writer for the afterthought – “oh, and if you care about where the name came from, the blood of 2,000 Caribs turned the river red for three days.”
That’s a common theme in these islands. Most islands have place names that sound something like “Bloody Point” or “Jumpers Bluff”, and they all indicate where some sort of mass deaths of native peoples or slaves happened.
The Bloody River in St. Kitts (Stone Fort River) is one such spot. And although historical accounts vary, and are mostly only from the European point of view, the consensus is that a few thousand Kalinago Caribs were killed when they tried to displace the European settlers out of the island in 1626. Island lore says that one of the native women warned the Europeans about the natives’ plans, so the Europeans struck first and that was the end of Carib occupation of the island.
The Kalinago were war-like and raided other Amerindian tribes on neighboring islands, and were seen as such a threat that the English and French actually joined forces to fight them (then they returned to fighting each other). A handful were spared and forced into slavery.
Bloody River itself flows through the geologically-diverse Stone Fort Canyon on the southwest side of the island from the Camp volcano crater. It was considered a sacred area to the Kalinago, and historians theorize that this is why the massacre occurred there – to intimidate the Kalinago found on other islands.
The hike into the canyon itself is a short one; during the rainy season it’s very wet (meaning you will get wet) but conditions vary during the dry season. It has an aura of mystery to it, and when the skies are overcast it’s eerily dark.
This monkey skull at the beginning of the trail was an ominous welcome to the canyon. Cue the Indiana Jones soundtrack…
It’s less than a mile to a large boulder blocking the canyon, and the entire hike can be done in two hours.
A survey at the end of the 20th century identified 115 petroglyphs on the walls of Stone Fort Canyon; some of them have been damaged by modern-day painters, but you can still find other au natural carvings camouflaged in the rock.
Historians theorize that these carvings were made during the Saladoid period, which lasted roughly from 545 B.C. to 545 A.D. The Saladoid culture was a seafaring one, identified by their ceramics. They originated from the Orinico River in modern Venezuela and sailed through the Antilles, all the way into Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti).
The site is very sensitive to both human and natural destruction. Besides the painters, the sandstone is also subject to erosion from the elements. It is for this reason that conservationists urge visitors to go in with a guide and generally keep the trailhead as secret as possible. A guide will also be able to point out areas of interest that you might not otherwise see, and provide some more interesting history of the area.
The St. Kitts National Trust is planning on making this area an addition to their national parks system, formalizing conservation efforts and tourism into the canyon.
It’s definitely a hidden treasure on the island and deserves the preservation efforts!