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Who Were The Mound Builders?

Now, in endeavoring to sum up the results a few points need some discussion. Who Were The Mound Builders? Judging from the following considerations, I should say they were

Not An Indian Race

Whoever built the mounds had a faculty not possessed by modern Indians. Building instincts seem hereditary. The beaver and the muskrat build a house. Other creatures to whom a dwelling might be serviceable, such as the squirrel, obtain shelter in another way. And races have their distinctive tendencies likewise. It never occurs to an Indian to build a mound. From what has been already said as to the fertile localities in which the mounds are found we are justified in believing that their builders were agriculturists. Dr. Dawson in Montreal by the use of the microscope detected grains of charred corn in the remains of Hochelaga. I have examined a small quantity of the dust taken from one of the shells found in the grand mound, with the microscope, and though I am not perfectly certain, yet I believe there are traces of some farinaceous substance to be seen. On skirting the shores of the Lake of the Woods into which Rainy River runs, at the present time, you are struck by the fact that there are no Canadian farmers there, and likewise that there are no mounds to be seen, while along the banks of Rainy River both the agriculturist is found cultivating the soil and the mounds abound. It would seem to justify us in concluding that the farmer and the mound builder avoided the one locality because of its barren rocky character, and took to the other because of its fertility. Moreover the continual occurrence of pottery in the mounds shows that the mound builders were potters as well, while none of the tribes inhabiting the district have any knowledge of the art of pottery. The making of pottery is the occupation peculiarly of a sedentary race, and hence of a race likely to be agriculturists. As it requires the building faculty to originate the mounds, so it requires the constructive faculty to make pottery. In constructive ability our Indians are singularly deficient, just as it is with greatest difficulty that they can be induced even on a small scale to practice agriculture. It has been objected to this conclusion that the Indians can make a canoe, which is a marvel in its way. But there is a great difference in the two cases. In the canoe all the materials remain the same. The approximation to a chemical process makes the pottery manufacture a much more complicated matter. Indeed the Indian in token of his surprise at his success in being even able to construct a canoe, states in his tradition that it is the gift of the Manitou. Furthermore the mound builder used metal tools, and was probably a metal worker. It is true the copper implements mentioned, as having been found were brought to Rainy and Red Rivers. I have, however, pointed out the intimate connection judging by the line of transport subsisting between Rainy River and Lake Superior, the mining locality for copper. To sink a mine in the unyielding Huronian rock of Lake Superior, with mallet and hammer and wedge and fire, take out the native copper, work it into the desired tools, and then temper these requires skill and adaptation unpossessed by the Indians. For centuries we know that the Lake Superior mine in which are found tools and timber constructions, have been buried, filled in for ten feet with debris, and have rank vegetation and trees growing upon them. It is certain that the Indian races, even when shown the example, cannot when left alone follow the mining pursuit. Not only then by the ethnological, and other data cited do we conclude that the mound builders belong to a different race from the present Indians, but the tradition of the Indians is to the same effect. Then

Who Were The Mound Builders?

I would lead you back now to what little we know from the different sources, of the early history of our continent. When the Spaniards came to Mexico in the early years of the 16th century, Montezuma, an Aztec prince was on the throne. The Aztecs gave themselves out as intruders in Mexico. They were a bloody and warlike race, and though they gave the Spaniards an easy victory it was rather a reception, for they were overawed by superstition as to the invaders. They stated that a few centuries before, they had been a wild tribe on the high country of the Rio Grande and Colorado, in New Mexico. The access from the Pacific up the Colorado would agree well with the hypothesis that the chief sources of the aboriginal inhabitants of America were Mongolian, and that from parties of Mongols landing from the Pacific Isles on the American coast, the population was derived. At any rate the Aztecs stated that before they invaded Mexico from their original home, they were preceded by a civilized race, well acquainted with the arts and science, knowing more art and astronomy in particular than they. They stated that they had exterminated this race known as

The Toltecs

The main features of the story seem correct. The Toltecs seem to have been allied to the Peruvians. Their skulls seem of the Brachycephalic type. The Toltecs were agriculturists, were mechanical, industrial, and constructive. In Mexico, and further south in Nicaragua, as well as northward, large mounds remain which are traced to them. According to the Aztec story the Toltecans spread in Mexico from the seventh to the twelfth century at which latter day they were swept away. My theory is that it was this race-which must have been very numerous-which either came from Peru in South America, capturing Mexico and then flowing northward; or perhaps came from New Mexico, the American Scythia of that day, and sending one branch down into Mexico, sent another down the Rio Grande, which then spread up the Mississippi and its tributaries The mounds mark the course of this race migration. They are found on the Mississippi. One part of the race seems to have ascended the Ohio to the great lakes and the St. Lawrence, another went up the Missouri, while another ascended the Mississippi proper and gained communication from its head waters with the Rainy and Red Rivers. When then did the crest of this wave of migration reach its furthest northward point? Taking the seventh century as the date of the first movement of the Toltecs toward conquest in Mexico, I have set three or four centuries as the probable time taken for multiplication and the displacement of former tribes, until they reached and possessed this northern region of “The Takagamies,” or far north mound builders. This would place their occupation of Rainy River in the eleventh century. Other considerations to which I shall refer seem to sustain this as the probable date. The grand mound is by far the

Largest Mound

on Rainy River. It is likewise at the mouth of the Bowstring River, which is its largest tributary and affords the readiest means of access from the Mississippi up which the Toltecan flood of emigration was surging. My theory is that here in their new homes, for three centuries they multiplied, cultivated the soil, and built the mounds which are still a monument to their industry. Here they became less warlike because more industrious, and hence less able to defend themselves. I have already stated that the Aztec Whirlwind Of Conquest swept into Mexico from the Northwest about the twelfth century. The sanguinary horde partly destroyed and partly seized for its own use the civilization of the Toltecans. We have specially to do with an Aztec wave that seems to have surged up the valley of the Mississippi. As the great conquering people captured one region, they would settle upon it, and send off a new hive of marauders. Indian tribes, numerous but of the same savage type, are marked by the old Geographers as occupying the Mississippi valley. It was when one part of the northern horde came up the valley of the Ohio, as the Savage Iroquois, and another up the head waters of the Mississippi as the Sioux, the tigers of the plains, that we became familiar in the sixteenth century with this race. The French recognized the Sioux as the same race as the Iroquois and called them “Iroquets” or little Iroquois. The two nations were confederate in their form of government; they had all the fury of Aztecs, and resemblances of a sufficiently marked kind are found between Sioux or Dakota and the Iroquois dialect, while their skulls follow the Dolichocephalic type of cranium. With fire and sword the invaders swept away the Toltecs; their mines were deserted and filled up with debris; their arts of agriculture, metal working and pottery making were lost; and up to the extreme limits of our country of the Takawgamis, only the mounds and their contents were left.

Our Historic Era saw the expiring blaze of this tremendous conflagration just as the French arrived in Canada. Cartier saw a race in 1535 in Hochelaga, who are believed to have had Brachycephalic crania, who were agriculturists, used at least implements of metal, dwelt in large houses, made pottery and were constructive in tendency. In 1608 when Champlain visited the same spot, there were none of the Hochelagans remaining. This remnant of the Toltecans had been swept out of existence between the Algonquian Indians wave from the east and the Iroquoian Indians from the southwest. The French heard of a similar race called the Erie and of another the Neutrals, who had the same habits and customs as the vanished Hochelagans, but who had been visited by the scourge of the Iroquois on the Ohio as they ascended it, and had perished. Thus from the twelfth century, the time set for the irruption of the tribes from New Mexico, two or three centuries would probably suffice to sweep away the last even of the farthest north Takawgamis. This, say the fifteenth century, would agree very well, not only with time estimated by the early French explorers, but also with the tradition of the Cree who claim that for three or four centuries they have lived sole possessors upon the borders of Lake Superior, Lake of the Woods, and Lake Winnipeg. Our theory then is that the mound builders occupied the region of Rainy and Red Rivers from the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries. Their works remain.

How Old

then are the mounds? If our conclusions are correct the oldest mound in our region cannot exceed 800 years, and the most recent must have been completed upwards of 400 years ago. Look at further considerations, which lead to these conclusions. We learn, that 200 years ago, viz.: in 1683, the “Clistinos” and “Assinipouals” (Cree and Assiniboine) were in their present country. The Cree were at that time in the habit of visiting both Lake Superior and Hudson’s Bay for the purpose of trade. They were then extensive nations and no trace of a nation which preceded them was got from them. The fallen tree on the top of the grand mound, judging by the concentric rings of its trunk is 150 or 200 years old, and yet its stump stands in a foot or more of mould that must have taken longer than that time to form. Even among savage nations it would take upwards of half a dozen generations of men, to lose the memory of so great a catastrophe as the destruction of a former populous race. Then some 400 years ago would agree with the time of extermination of the Hochelagans, or with the destruction of the Erie, who according to Labontan were blotted out before the French came to the continent. The Hochelagans, Eries, and Takawgamis being northern in their habitat, I take it were among the last of the Toltecans who survived. The white man but arrived upon the scene to succeed the farmer, the metal worker and the potter, who had passed away so disastrously, and to be the avenger of the lost race, in driving before him the savage red man.

MLA Source Citation:

A Lost Race Described by Dr. Bryce, President of the Historical Society of Manitoba, Season 1884-85 Web. 29 July 2016.
- Last updated on Oct 18th, 2013

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