Garcellasso de la Vega, says, in laying off the ground for a town, the first thing that the Indians did, was the erection of a mound, upon the top of which the houses of the chief and his family and attendants were built; and at the base a large square was laid off, around which the principal warriors built their houses, while the common people placed theirs on the opposite side of the mound from the square.
All the early explorers repeatedly state that they saw the mounds in all parts of the country through which they passed. Here then we learn of Mound Builders (Indians) nearly three and a half centuries ago. They were also thrown up as a means of defense. When the French under Bienville defeated the Natchez Indians in 1730, and drove them from their; country, where the city of Natchez, Mississippi, now stands, and for whom the city was named, they established themselves upon the Lower Washita, Louisiana. Two years after they were again attacked and defeated by the French, yet they had in those two years-constructed mounds and embankments covering an area of 400 acres, which they used as means of defense against the French in their second attack upon them. This is attested by several authors, some of whom were eye witnesses. This was done nearly 200 years after De Soto’s invasion. Some of these mounds were very large, and were still to be seen 40 years ago; and no doubt still stand as monuments of the thrilling scenes which once were enacted there, during which a once proud, prosperous, and happy people were blotted out as a nation. Truly what sad emotions must awaken in the heart of the Christian when he contemplates and ponders upon such dramas acted in nature’s vast theater! Who can mistake them? Verily, life is a storm, and war and bloodshed are its gloomy clouds.
McCulloh, in his “Researches,” p. 516, says, when speaking of the larger mounds: “They were sites for the dwellings of the chiefs, for council houses, temples and cemeteries, which fancy and conceit have constructed into various shapes and variously situated, one to the other.” All know, who have any knowledge of the early history of the western continent, that these mounds and fortifications have been found scattered all over the continent, and whenever or wherever a mound has been excavated, human bones, together with various ornaments, wampum, pottery, arrow heads, all of rude manufacture, have been found, clearly indicating” their Indian origin. On the land of Judge Messier, 21 miles from Fort Gaines, Ala. were, years ago, a very remarkable group of mounds. The largest was 70 feet in height and 600 in circumference, and was covered with large forest trees, estimated to be, from appearance, from 400 to 500 years old. A shaft has been sunk in the center to the depth of “60 feet, and at its lower portion a bed of human bones, five feet in thickness, and in a perfectly decomposed state, was discovered. Two in this group of mounds are thirty feet in height, having hearthstones on the top similar to the largest, with charred wood around them, evidently showing that they were used for sacrificial purposes. A wall of earth encloses the three largest, outside of which are four, twenty feet high1.
The Choctaws, who lived in large villages before their exodus from Mississippi to the west, first placed their dead upon scaffolds, near the villages; and those living in the country near their homes, where they were carefully guarded from the beasts and birds of prey, until decomposition had thoroughly accomplished its work. Afterwards on a previously appointed day, the remaining flesh was picked from the bones by officials called Bone-Pickers many of whom I have seen in the days of my boyhood. When their duty had been performed, the bones were deposited in a box and carried away and placed in the common bone-house, and there sacredly kept until the appointed day rolled around for a general bone burying; which was once a year. Then all from neighboring villages and country brought, in solemn and imposing ceremony, the boxes containing the bones of their dead to the place of interment where they were laid away in one common grave, into which were cast as memorial tokens various articles, such as earthen pots, bows and arrows, tomahawks, ornaments, etc.; all of which were first covered with ashes and charred coals, then filled up with earth; then over all was erected a mound. The same cemetery or mound was used as a place of deposit for the bones of their dead for a long series of years, until it be came in size and height inconvenient, and then another spot was chosen, upon which, in like manner, another mound gradually arose. That the custom of the ancient Choctaws in disposing of their dead was also practiced by many of the North American Indian, is evident from the fact that, in digging into these mounds, wherever found, after passing through a stratum of earth about two feet in thickness a bed of ashes and charcoal is first met, then a bed of human bones together with fragments of pottery, arrow heads, and Indian ornaments; then follows another stratum of earth, which is succeeded by a stratum of ashes and charcoal, then of human bones, pottery, ornaments and arrow points, thus on to the bottom. It is a conceded fact that, in nearly every mound that has been excavated, there have been found human bones, with more or less of various articles such as broken pottery vessels, implements of stone and copper; flint heads of spears and arrows; figures of various birds and reptiles, shells and teeth of carnivorous animals; ornaments of silver, tin, copper and beads.
Pickett, Vol. 1, p. 168 ↩