Indian Mounds throughout North America

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Charlevoix and Tantiboth speak of Indians who inhabited the region of country around Lake Michigan, who were well skilled in the art of erecting mounds and fortifications, Charlevoix also states that the Wyandots and the Six Nations disinterred their dead and took the bones from their graves where they had lain for several years and carried them to a large pit previously prepared, in which they deposited them, with the property of the deceased, filling up the pit with earth and erected a mound over it.

A string of sleigh-bells much corroded, but still capable of tinkling, is said to have been found among the flint and bone implements in excavating a mound in Tennessee; while in Mississippi, at a point where De Soto is supposed to have camped, a Spanish coat-of-arms in silver, one blade of a pair of scissors, and other articles of European manufacture were found in a mound evidently which had been picked up-by some Indian after the Spaniards had gone, and buried with him at his death as being among his treasured possessions while living.

Two copper plates were found in a Georgia mound, upon which were stamped figures resembling the sculptures-upon the Central American ruins, the workmanship of which is said to be far superior to that displayed in the articles of pottery, stone and bone found in the mound; though, aside from these plates nothing was found to indicate a connection between the mound builders and the Aztecs or the Pueblos.

Great Serpent Mound Postcard
Great Serpent Mound Postcard

Still their origin is not inexplicable; since it is reason able to conclude that communications between the inhabitants of Central America, Mexico and the North American Indians, were possible and even actually existed. But admitting this impossible, yet, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the two copper plates may have found their way from Central America to Mexico; thence to Spain through some one of Cortez’s army; thence to Georgia by some one in the army of De Soto only twenty years after. And, as the string of sleigh-bells, Spanish coat-of-arms and scissors were obtained by the Indians from De Soto’s army so too did the Spaniards obtain the copper plates from the Aztecs; and North American Indians, in turn, from the Spaniards, more reasonable and easier to reconcile with truth, than to believe that the two copper plates, found in the Georgia mound, were the workmanship of a race of people ages prior to the ancestry of the North American Indians. And though several human skulls have been found in North America, which upon examination, have led to the, belief that they be longed to the human race living before v the glacial period, yet that is not sufficient to overturn the reasonable belief that the races of that ancient epoch are those of today, the same cranial and facial forms being found, in spite of the lapse of years and change of environment. Besides in regard to the copper plates found in a mound in Georgia, it is an established fact that the Indians were acquainted with copper three centuries ago. Hudson in exploring the north in 1609, found the Indians using copper pipes and wearing ornaments of the same metal. He states: “They had red copper tobacco pipes, and other things of copper they did wear about their necks.” DeSoto also found that the Southern Indians used copper as well as stone axes, of which I have seen many in Mississippi.

It is an admitted fact that the ancient fortifications of the Southern Indians corresponded exactly with those of the Northern; and it has also been conclusively shown, by careful examination and comparison, that the skulls of the so called “Mound Builders” and the ancient people of Mexico, also the Incas of Peru, together with the Southern Indians of this continent, are so similar that the conclusion is irresistible that they are of the same race of people. Thomas, in his writings upon this subject, affirms: “This proof is conclusive that the Southern Indians, when first visited by the Europeans, were the builders of the mounds of that region, which brings those works down to a date sub sequent to the entry of the civilized tribes of Mexico.” Now, it is certain, according to the statement of the early missionaries sent among them, that all the tribes of the Gulf States, as well as many others of different localities upon the continent, if not all, had traditions of western, north western and southwestern origin. Many of which I have learned from the lips of the Indians themselves.

I will here insert the names of a few of the mounds found in various localities upon the North American continent:

Eagle Effigy mound discovered in Georgia and measuring from tip to tip of the wings, 132 feet; is made of stones and surrounded by a circle composed also of stone.

Sketch of Serpent Mound
Sketch of Serpent Mound

The Great Serpent mound, discovered in Adams County, Ohio. Another effigy mound, and erected on a hill formed by the junction of a ravine, with the main branch of a creek known as Brush creek, which rises 150 feet above the creek. The hill is said to be in a wild region of country, and affords an extensive view. The form of this mound is said to be irregular, crescent shaped, and points to the northwest; thus pointing, seemingly, to the direction whence its builders came to the continent, while being erected as a memorial of that event. The traditions of all the tribes with whom I am personally acquainted, and of all of whom I have read, point to the northwest as the direction of the country whence they came to this. The entire length, according to MacLion’s measurement of the serpent part, is 116 feet, and the space of the extended jaws, 100 feet; the oval figure, 113 feet long and 50 feet wide; the head portion is 55 feet. Mr. Squier affirms that the length, if extended, would reach 1000 feet, while Prof. Putnam, of Harvard, says it would reach to the distance of 1415 feet.

The Cahokia Mound, standing near St. Louis, is said to be the largest artificial mound upon the continent. It is 700 feet long by 500 feet wide at-the base, and 90 feet high, covering 8 acres of land, with about 20,000,000 cubic feet of con tents so it has been declared.

Many effigy mounds have been found in Wisconsin. Some are over 150 feet long and about 15 feet in width, and varying from 1 to 4 feet high.

Besides the effigy mounds there are Memorial Mounds, Cemetery Mounds, Signal Mounds, Mounds erected for the houses of chiefs, etc., scattered over the various Southern States.

But who has ever found the line between the so-called Mound Builders and the North American Indians? No one. Nor will it ever be found. The Indians not only erected mounds for various specific purposes, but fortified their villages with walls, and ditches filled with water; also with rows of palisades interwoven with branches of trees.

At Tampa Bay, where De Soto is said to have landed in his wild search for gold, his chroniclers state, “That the house of the chief was erected near the shore on a very high mound made by hand.”

And Garcillasso says: “The town and the house of the Cazique (chief) Ossachile” (Choctaw words corrupted from Ossi, eagle, chahlih, swift) are like those of the other caziques.”

Biedman says: “The caziques of this country, (supposed to be now Arkansas) make a custom of raising, near their dwellings, very high hills, on which they sometimes build their huts.

La Harpe, in visiting the Indians on the lower Mississippi in 1820, says: “They are dispersed over the country upon mounds of earth made with their own hands.”

The Natchez, who were exterminated by the French in 1739, were also Mound Builders. Du Pratz, who had lived among them in 1718, says “of their customs,” Their temple was about 30 feet square, and erected on a mound 8 feet high; that the house of the chief was built on a mound of the same height and sixty feet over the surface. (Father Le Petit, Note, page 142,)

Charlevoix, a Jesuit priest, describes the mounds erected to a considerable extent in his writings, he says:

“When a chief died, the mound upon which his house was erected, was abandoned, and a new one thrown up for his successor.”

Golden says of the Iroquois, “They make a round hole in which the body is placed, then they raise the earth in a round hill over it.”

It was the custom of the ancient Choctaws to gather the bones of all who had died during several years, which had been safely kept in their bone-houses in boxes, bury them all together in a common grave and then erect a mound over them. It is also stated that the ancient Iroquois, at the expiration of every eight or ten years, gathered together the bones of their dead and erected a mound over them.

Catlin, in his North American Indians (p. 95), states that when he visited the pipe-stone quarry in Dakota, in 1832, he saw a conical mound 10 feet high which had been erected over the buried body of a young man who was accidentally killed two years before.

Jefferson, in his “Notes on Virginia” (p. 191), in reference to the mounds, says: “A party of Indians passing about 30 years ago through the part of the country where this mound is, went through the woods directly to it without any instruction or inquiry; and having staid about it some time, with expressions of grief, they returned to the high road, which they had left about a half dozen miles to pay the visit, and pursued their journey.” They had but visited the grave of their loved ones for the last time.



MLA Source Citation:

Cushman, Horatio Bardwell. History Of The Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez Indians. Greenville, Texas: Headlight Printing House. 1899 AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 17 August 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/indian-mounds-throughout-north-america.htm - Last updated on Apr 8th, 2014

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