Choctaw Indian Mounds

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I read the following in the American Antiquarian over the signature of H. F. Buckner:

“Mr. Maxwell, in a historical address, says: My conviction is that the high grade of military skill displayed by the Mound Builders at Carthage, Alabama, attests a know ledge of the necessities of attack and defense unknown to the mode of warfare practiced by the tribes found here by De Soto.”

Mr. Maxwell does not state in what respect the high grade of military engineering skill displayed by the Mound Builders at Carthage, Alabama, attests a knowledge of the necessities of attack and defense unknown to the mode of warfare practiced by the tribes found here by De Soto. However, I will here state that the old Shakchih Humma fort, within the enclosure of which was established the missionary station among the Choctaws, called Hebron, of which I have already spoken, and where I spent many years of my life, displayed as “high grade of military engineering skill” and attested a “knowledge of the necessities of attack and defense” equal to our high grade of military engineering skill displayed in the military forts erected throughout the present Indian Territory, of which I have had an ocular demonstration.

“Who the Mound Builders were it is impossible to determine,” continues Mr. Maxwell. “They were not built by the ancestors of the tribes found here by De Soto, as they pretended no knowledge of their construction, traditional or otherwise.”

Bayou Lacomb Choctaw Mound
Bayou Lacomb Choctaw Mound

Truly, a poor basis upon which to predicate the above broad assertion; since De Soto expedition was made alone for the purpose of finding gold, while to learn the history of the Indians, whom he regarded as a species of the, human race scarcely above the brute creation, was not in all his thoughts; nor did the Indians, unasked, ever mention the subject of their history to the white man never.

“The only tradition they had or have is, that their fore fathers found the mounds when they emigrated from the Mexican Empire to the east of the Mississippi river, exterminated the ancient inhabitants and appropriated the country, so that we are compelled to go back to remote ages for the only reasonable solution.”

The above is an egregious error, as far as the Choctaws and Chickasaws are concerned, for their traditions were utterly silent in regard to the mounds, except that of Nunih Waiyah (of which I have already spoken), which is one among the largest, if not the largest, ever found in the now state of Mississippi.

Is it not greatly inconsistent and unreasonable for Mr. Maxwell to boldly assert, “My conviction is that the high grade of military engineering skill displayed by the Mound Builders at Carthage, Alabama, attests a knowledge of the necessities of attack and defense unknown to the mode of warfare practiced by the tribes found here by De Soto,” and then at once assert that the Indians, ignorant of all knowledge “of the necessities of attack and defense,” could ex terminate the ancient inhabitants (Mound Builders) and appropriate the country to their own use?

Buckner, quoting from Maxwell’s address, continues:

Prescott says (vol. 2, pp 368 and 391) that the ancient Aztecs long before the days of Montezuma, had a tradition that when they entered the Mexican valley they found similar mounds containing just the same kind of materials as I found in those at Carthage, Alabama, and that two of the largest had been dedicated to the worship of the sun and moon (another proof that they were built by the ancestors of our Indians, among whom the Natchez Indians were worshipers of the sun even after they had settled upon the banks of the Mississippi river), and that two of the largest were dedicated to the worship of the stars, and served as sepulchers for the great men of the Nation besides.”

Exactly. They served as sepulchers for the great men of the Nation, for which the ancient Natchez of Mississippi erected the mounds, as well as other North American tribes. “That the plane on which they stood was called Micoati, or The Path of the Dead.” Another proof that they were the ancestors of the North American Indians, for the word Mi coati is a corruption of the Choctaw words Miko, king or chief, and aiantah, to occupy; i. e., occupied by the king or chief; and “Now, when the laborer turns up the ground, he still finds numerous arrow-heads and blades of obsidian.”

The same things that are found in all the mounds scattered over the North American continent, with the exception of obsidian, as there were no volcanoes east of the Mississippi river, “which attest the war-like character of its primitive population.” Still additional proof that they were the ancestors of the North American Indians.

Continuing, Mr. Buckner says: “I prefer to leave it still open for investigation until greater pains shall have been taken to explore the archaeological wonders of this country.” And which no discovery will ever prove the mound builders to-be others than the ancestors of the North American Indians.

“Of one tiling we are sure, the Choctaws loved the bones of their ancestors and of their people. This unlocks the mystery of their funeral rites. They believed in immortality and eternal life; and such was their veneration for their dead that they picked the flesh from their bones. Knowing that they could not carry all their remains, and when forced to remove from one place to another, it was the business of certain appointed persons to carry these bones with them until they could be again deposited in a place of rest and safety.”

The last clause above is but one of the thousand errors published about the Indians. The ancient Choctaws, it is true, did pick the bones of their dead, after having been placed upon a high scaffold and decomposition had completed its work, but never for the purpose Mr. Buckner has above stated. After the bone-pickers (appointed for that business) had picked all the flesh from the bones which decomposition had not wholly destroyed, the bones were taken down and placed in a box, then the box was carried to the bone-house, and therein placed; and when the bone-house be came full of boxes all were taken to the cemetery-mound and placed thereon and covered with earth to the depth of about three feet. When this custom was abolished, the Choctaws adopted the mode of burial in a sitting posture; then this mode was abolished and that of the whites adopted which is continued to this day. The Choctaws, as all North American Indians of whom I ever read, or with whom I was personally acquainted, never carried the bones of their dead from one place to another, but buried them, and woe to him who desecrated the mound cemetery by digging into it, or in any way disturbed its sacred contents. But to return from my digression.

Bartram, in his “Travels,” page 516, positively asserts that the Choctaws, when the bone-houses were full, took the bones and buried them in a common grave and erected a mound over them. And it is evident that the bone-houses of the ancient Choctaws, when first known to the Europeans, were but miniature temples of their ancestors who preceded them centuries before. Bartram also discovered many peculiar mounds in East Florida, during his early explorations through the now southern states. Some were square, surrounded by walls of earth, and others were pyramidal of great height. “From the river St. John, southwardly to the point of the peninsula of Florida,” he states, “are to be seen high pyramidal mounds, with spacious and extended avenues leading from them out of the town to an artificial lake or pond of water.” In another place he says: “At about 50 yards distance from the landing place stands a magnificent Indian mound. But what greatly contributed to the beauty of the scene was a noble Indian highway, which led from the great mound in a straight line three-fourths of a mile through a forest of live oaks to the verge of an oblong artificial lake, which was on the edge of an extensive level savannah. This grand highway was about fifty yards wide, sunk a little below the common level, and the earth thrown on each side, making a bank about two feet high.”



MLA Source Citation:

Cushman, Horatio Bardwell. History Of The Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez Indians. Greenville, Texas: Headlight Printing House. 1899 AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 24 July 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/choctaw-indian-mounds.htm - Last updated on Apr 8th, 2014


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