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By Cyrus Thomas.




Historical evidence


Similarity of the arts and customs of the mound-builders to
those of Indians


Tribal divisions

Similarity in burial customs

Removal of the flesh before burial

Burial beneath or in dwellings

Burial in a sitting or squatting posture

The use of fire in burial ceremonies

Similarity of the stone implements and ornaments of various

Mound and Indian pottery


Stone graves and what they teach


The Cherokees as mound-builders


The Cherokees and the Tallegwi


No other ancient works of the United States have become so widely
known or have excited so much interest as those of Ohio. This is
due in part to their remarkable character but in a much greater
degree to the "Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley," by
Messrs. Squier and Davis, in which these monuments are described
and figured.

The constantly recurring question, "Who constructed these works?"
has brought before the public a number of widely different
theories, though the one which has been most generally accepted is
that they originated with a people long since extinct or driven
from the country, who had attained a culture status much in
advance of that reached by the aborigines inhabiting the country
at the time of its discovery by Europeans.

The opinion advanced in this paper, in support of which evidence
will be presented, is that the ancient works of the State are due
to Indians of several different tribes, and that some at least of
the typical works, were built by the ancestors of the modern
Cherokees. The discussion will be limited chiefly to the latter
proposition, as the limits of the paper will not permit a full
presentation of all the data which might be brought forward in
support of the theory, and the line of argument will be
substantially as follows:

FIRST. A brief statement of the reasons for believing that the
Indians were the authors of all the ancient monuments of the
Mississippi Valley and Gulf States; consequently the Ohio mounds
must have been built by Indians.

SECOND. Evidence that the Cherokees were mound builders after
reaching their historic seats in East Tennessee and western North
Carolina. This and the preceding positions are strengthened by the
introduction of evidence showing that the Shawnees were the
authors of a certain type of stone graves, and of mounds and other
works connected therewith.

THIRD. A tracing of the Cherokees, by the mound testimony and by
tradition, back to Ohio.

FOURTH. Reasons for believing that the Cherokees were the Tallegwi
of tradition and the authors of some of the typical works of Ohio.



Space will not permit any review here of the various theories in
regard to the builders, or of the objections made to the theory
that they were Indians, or of the historical evidence adducible in
support of this theory. Simple declaration on these points must

The historical evidence is clear and undisputed that when the
region in which the mounds appear was discovered by Europeans it
was inhabited by Indians only. Of their previous history nothing
is known except what is furnished by vague and uncertain
traditions or inferred from the study of their languages and
customs. On the other hand there is no historical or other
evidence that any other race or people than the Indians ever
occupied this region, or any part of it, previous to its discovery
by Europeans at the close of the fifteenth century.

We enter the discussion, therefore, with at least a presumption in
favor of the conclusion that these works were built by the
Indians - a presumption which has not received the consideration
it deserves; indeed, it is so strong that it can be overcome only
by showing that those mounds, or the specimens of art found in
them, which were unquestionably the work of the builders, indicate
an advancement in skill and knowledge entirely beyond that reached
by the Indians previous to contact with Europeans. But all the
genuine discoveries so far made in the explorations of the mounds
tend to disprove this view.

If it can be shown that tribes occupying the mound region at the
time they were first visited by Europeans used mounds, and in some
cases built them, it will be a fair inference that all these
structures are due to the same race until the contrary is proved.

The objection urged by many that the Indian has always been a
restless nomad, spurning the restraints of agriculture, has been
effectually answered, especially by Mr. Lucien Carr. [Footnote:
Mounds of the Mississippi Valley Historically Considered.] History
also bears us out in the assertion that at the time of the
discovery nine tenths of the tribes in the mound district had
fixed seats and local habitations, depending to a great extent for
sustenance upon the cultivation of the soil. So far as the
southern districts, now comprising the Gulf States, are concerned,
it goes further and asserts over and over again that the tribes of
that section were mound-builders when first encountered by the
whites. To verify this assertion it is only necessary to read the
chronicles of De Soto's expedition and the writings of the pioneer
travelers and French missionaries to that section. This evidence
proves conclusively not only that this had been a custom, but that
it was continued into the eighteenth century.

Such statements as the following, attested by various
contemporaneous authors, should suffice on this point:

The caciques of this country make a custom of raising near their
dwellings very high hills, on which they sometimes build their
houses. [Footnote: Biedma, Hist. Coll. La. vol. 2, p. 105.]

The Indians try to place their villages on elevated sites, but
inasmuch as in Florida there are not many sites of this kind where
they can conveniently build, they erect elevations themselves in
the following manner, etc. [Footnote: Garcilasso de la Vega, Hist.
Fla., ed. 1723, p. 69. ]

The chief's house stood near the beach upon a very high mount made
by hand for defense. [Footnote: Gentlemen of Elvas. Bradford Club
series, vol. 5, p. 23.]

The last, which was on Tampa Bay, was most likely near Phillippi's
Point, where tradition fixes De Soto's landing place, and where a
number of mounds and shell heaps have been found. One of these,
opened by Mr. S. T. Walker,[Footnote: Smithsonian Report, 1879
(1880), pp. 392-422.] was found to consist of three layers. In the
lower were "no ornaments and but little pottery, but in the middle
and top layers, especially the latter, nearly every cranium was
encircled by strings of colored beads, brass and copper ornaments;
trinkets, etc. Among other curious objects were a pair of scissors
and a fragment of looking-glass."

An earlier exploration is thus described: "The governor [De Soto]
opened a large temple in the woods, in which were buried the
chiefs of the country, and took from it a quantity of pearls which
were spoiled by being buried in the ground." [Footnote: Biedma.
Hist. Coll. La., vol. 2, p. 101.]

Another chronicler says: "This house stood on a high mound
(cerro), similar to others we have already mentioned. Round about
it was a roadway sufficiently broad for six men to walk abreast."
[Footnote: Garcilasso de la Vega, Hist. Fla., ed. 1723, p. 139.]
(There are good reasons for believing this to be the Etowah mound
near Cartersville, Ga.) [Footnote: Thomas, Mag. Am. Hist., May,
1884, pp. 405, 406.]

The town of Talise is described as being strong in the extreme,
inclosed by timber and earth. [Footnote: Garcilasso, Hist. Fla.,
p. 144.]

Herrera speaks of "a town of 400 houses, and a large square, where
the cacique's house stood upon a mound made by art." [Footnote:
Hist. Am., Stoven's transl., vol. 6, p. 5.]

Father Gravier [Footnote: Shea's Early French Voyages, pp. 126,
136.] speaks of mounds of the Akansea and "Tounika" villages.

M. La Harpe says "the cabins of the Yasous, Courois, Offogoula,
and Ouspie [along the Yazoo about 1700] are dispersed over the
country upon mounds of earth made with their own hands, from which
it is inferred that these nations are very ancient and were
formerly very numerous, although at the present time they hardly
number two hundred and fifty persons." [Footnote: Lu Rarpe, Hist.
Coll. La., part 3, p. 106, New York, 1851.] (This seems to imply
that there were numerous mounds unoccupied.) "In one of the
Natches villages," says Dumont, "the house of the chief was placed
on a mound." [Footnote: Mem. Hist. La., vol. 2, p. 109.]

Another writer says: "When the chief [of the Natchez] dies they
demolish his cabin and then raise a new mound on which they build
the cabin of him who is to replace him in this dignity."
[Footnote: La Petit, Hist. Coll. La., vol. 3, pp. 141, 142, note.
Also Lettres edifiantes et curioses, vol. 1, pp. 260, 261. See Du
Pratz. Histoire Louisiane, 1738, vol. 3, p. 16.]

According to Bartram, in the Cherokee town of Stico the council-
house was on a mound, as also at Cowe. [Footnote: Bartram's
Travels, pp. 345, 367.]

The same writer says [Footnote: Ibid., p. 516.] the Choctaws
raised mounds over their dead in case of communal burials.

It is apparent from Jefferson's language [Footnote: Notes on
Virginia. 4th Am ed., 1801, pp. 142-147.] that the burial mounds
of Virginia were of Indian origin.

These references, which might be indefinitely multiplied, are
sufficient to bear out the assertion that history testifies that
the southern tribes were accustomed to build mounds.

It is a matter of surprise that so little is to be found regarding
the mounds in the older records of the Northern States. There is
but one statement in the Jesuit Relations and no mention in the
writings of the Recollects, so far has been found, and yet one of
the missionaries must have passed a good portion of the winter of
1700 in the very midst of the Cahokia group. Colden notes that "a
round hill was sometimes raised over the grave in which a corpse
had been deposited." [Footnote: Hist. Five Nations, introd., vol.
1, London, 1755, p. 16.] Carver noticed ancient earthworks on the
Mississippi near Lake Pepin, but knew nothing of their origin.
[Footnote: Travels, ed. 1796, Phila., p. 36; ed. 1779, London, p.
57.] Heckewelder observed some of these works near Detroit, which
he was informed had been built by the Indians. An account of them
was published in a Philadelphia periodical in 1780 or 1790. This
description was afterwards given briefly in his "History of the
Manners and Customs of the Indian Nations."

These older records mention facts which afford a reasonable
explanation of some of the ancient monuments found in the northern
section of the country; as for example the communal or tribal
burials, where the bones and remains of all the dead of a village,
region, or tribe, who had died since the last general burial
(usually a period of eight to ten years) were collected and
deposited in one common grave. This method, which was followed by
some southern tribes, has been described by Bartram, [Footnote:
Travels (1791), p.516.] Dumont, [Footnote: Memoires Hist. La.,
vol. 1, p. 246.] Romans, [Footnote: Nat. and Civil Hist. Fla., pp.
88-90.] and others, but most fully by Jean deo Brebeuf. [Footnote:
In his account "Des ceremonies qu'ils [les Hurons] gardent en leur
sepulture et de leur deuil," and "De la Feste solemnelle des
morts." - Jesuit Relations for 1636, pp. 129-139. See translation
in Thomas's "Burial Mounds of the Northern Section of the United
States," Fifth Annual Rept. Bur. Ethnol., p. 110. See also
Lafitau, "Moeurs des Sauvages," vol. 2, pp. 447-455.]

It is a well-attested fact that northern as well as southern
Indians were accustomed to erect palisades around their villages
for defense against attack.

Some evidences of mound building by northern Indians may be found
in the works of comparatively modern writers. Lewis C. Beck
[Footnote: Gazetteer of the States of Ill. and Mo., p. 308.]
affirms that "one of the largest mounds in this country has been
thrown upon this stream [the Osage] within the last thirty or
forty years by the Osages, near the great Osage village, in honor
of one of their deceased chiefs." It is probable this is the mound
referred to by Major Sibley, [Footnote: Featherstoubaugh, Excur.
through Slave States, p. 70.] who says an Osage Indian informed
him that a chief of his tribe having died while all the men were
off on a hunt, he was buried in the usual manner, with his
weapons, etc., and a small mound was raised over him. When the
hunters returned this mound was enlarged at intervals, every man
carrying materials, and so the work went on for a long time, and
the mound, when finished, was dressed off to a conical form at the
top. The old Indian further said he had been informed, and
believed, that all the mounds had a similar origin.

Lewis and Clarke mention not only the erection of a mound over a
modern chief, but also numerous earthworks, including mounds,
which were known to be the work of contemporaneous Indians.
[Footnote: Travels, Dublin ed., 1817, pp. 30, 31, 55, 67, 115,
117, 122-125, etc.]

L. V. Bierce [Footnote: Historical Reminiscences of Summit County,
Ohio, p. 128.] states that when Nicksaw, an old Wyandotte Indian
of Summit County, was killed, "the Indians buried him on the
ground where he fell, and according to their custom raised a mound
over him to commemorate the place and circumstances of his death.
His grave is yet to be seen."

Another writer says: "It is related by intelligent Indian traders
that a custom once prevailed among certain tribes, on the burial
of a chief or brave of distinction, to consider his grave as
entitled to the tribute of a portion of earth from each passer-by,
which the traveler sedulously carried with him on his journey.
Hence the first grave formed a nucleus around which, in the
accumulation of the accustomed tributes thus paid, a mound was
soon formed." [Footnote: Smith's History of Wisconsin, vol. 3,
1834, p. 245.]

The same author says [Footnote: Ibid., p. 262.] the tumulus at the
Great Butte des Morts (Great Hill of the Dead) was raised over the
bones of Outagami (Fox Indian) warriors slain in battle with the
French in 1706.

According to a Winnebago tradition, mounds in certain localities
in Wisconsin were built by that tribe, and others by the Sacs and
Foxes.[Footnote: Wis. Hist. Soc., Rept. I, pp. 88, 89.]

There is another Indian tradition, apparently founded on fact,
that the Essex mounds in Clinton County, Mich., are the burying
places of those killed in a battle between the Chippewas and
Pottawatomies, which occurred not many generations ago. [Footnote:
Smithsonian Report, part 1, 1884, p. 848.]



The historical evidence is, as we have seen, conclusive that some
of the tribes of Indians were mound builders.

The explorations by the Bureau of Ethnology in the South and West
have also brought to light so many corroborative facts that the
question may be considered settled. These will shortly be given to
the public; only a few can be noticed here, and that in a very
brief and general way.

As the country was inhabited only by Indians at the time of its
discovery, and as we have no evidence, unless derived from the
mounds, of its having ever been occupied by any other people,
every fact indicating a similarity between the arts, customs, and
social life of the mound-builders and those of the red Indians, is
an evidence of the identity of the two peoples. The greater the
number of these resemblances, the greater the probability of the
correctness of the theory, so long as we find nothing
irreconcilable with it.

Architecture. - One of the first circumstances which strike the
mind of the archaeologist who carefully studies these works as
being very significant, is the entire absence of any evidence in
them of architectural knowledge and skill approaching that
exhibited by the ruins of Mexico and Central America, or even
equaling that exhibited by the Pueblo Indians.

It is true that truncated pyramidal mounds of large size and
somewhat regular proportions are found in certain sections, and
that some of these have ramps or roadways leading up to them. Yet
when compared with the pyramids or teocalli of Mexico and Yucatan
the differences in the manifestations of architectural skill are
so great, and the resemblances are so faint and few, as to furnish
no grounds whatever for attributing the two classes of works to
the same people. The facts that the works of the one people
consist chiefly of wrought and sculptured stone, and that such
materials are wholly unknown to the other, forbid the idea of any
relationship between the two. The difference between the two
classes of monuments indicates a wide divergence - a complete step
- in the culture status.

Mexico, Central America, and Peru are dotted with the ruins of
stone edifices, but in all the mound-building area of the United
States not the slightest vestige of one attributable to the people
who erected the earthen structures is to be found. The utmost they
attained in this direction was the construction of stone cairus,
rude stone - walls, and vaults of cobble-stones and undressed
blocks. This fact is too significant to be overlooked in this
comparison, and should have its weight in forming a conclusion,
especially when it is backed by numerous other important

Though hundreds of groups of mounds marking the sites of ancient
villages are to be seen scattered over the Mississippi Valley and
Gulf States yet nowhere can there be found an ancient house. The
inference is therefore irresistible that the houses of the mound-
builders were constructed of perishable materials; consequently
that the builders were not sufficiently advanced in art to use
stone or brick in building, or else that they lived a roving,
restless life that would not justify the time and trouble
necessary to erect such permanent structures. As the last
inference is irreconcilable with the magnitude and extent of many
groups of these remains we are forced to the conclusion that the
first is true.

One chief objection to the Indian origin of these works is, as
already stated, that their builders must have been sedentary,
depending largely upon agriculture for subsistence. It is evident,
therefore, that they had dwellings of some sort, and as remains of
neither stone nor brick structures are found which could have been
used for this purpose, we must assume that their dwellings were
constructed of perishable material, such as was supplied in
abundance by the forest region in which they dwelt. It is
therefore apparent that in this respect at least the dwellings of
mound-builders were similar to those of Indians. But this is not
all that can be said in reference to the houses of the former, for
there still remain indications of their shape and character,
although no complete examples are left for inspection. In various
places, especially in Tennessee, Illinois, and southeast Missouri,
the sites of thousands of them are yet distinctly marked by little
circular depressions with rings of earth around them. These
remains give the form and size of one class of dwellings that was
common in the regions named. Excavations in the center usually
bring to light the ashes and hearth that mark the place where the
fire was built, and occasionally unearth fragments of the vessels
used in cooking, the bones of animals on whose flesh the inmates
fed, and other articles pertaining to domestic use.

During the explorations of the Bureau in southeastern Missouri and
Arkansas, finding the remains of houses in low, flat mounds was a
common occurrence. Although the wood in most cases had
disappeared, what had not been converted to coals and ashes having
rotted away, yet the size and form, and, in part, the mode of
construction, were clearly indicated. The hard-tramped, circular,
earthen floor gave the size and form; the numerous fragments of
burnt clay forming a layer over the floor - often taken by
explorers for brick-revealed the method of plastering their
dwellings; the charred remains of grass and twigs showed that it
had been strengthened by this admixture; the impressions left on
the inner face of these lumps of burnt plastering revealed the
character of the lathing, which was in some cases branches and
twigs, but in others split cane. The roof was thatched with grass
or matting, the charred remains of which were found in more than
one instance. In probably nine cases out of ten it was apparent
these dwellings had been burned. This was found to be due to the
custom of burying the dead in the floor and burning the dwelling
over them, covering the remains with dirt often before the fire
had ceased burning.

As a general rule the strata are found in this order: (1) a top
layer of soil from 1 foot to 2 feet thick; (2) a layer of burnt
clay from 3 to 12 inches thick (though usually varying from 4 to 8
inches) and broken into lumps, never in a uniform, unbroken layer;
immediately below this (3) a thin layer of hardened muck or dark
clay, though this does not always seem to be distinct. At this
depth in the mounds of the eastern part of Arkansas are usually
found one or more skeletons.

Take, for example, the following statement by Dr. Edward Palmer in
regard to these beds:

As a general and almost universal rule, after removing a foot or
two of top soil, a layer of burnt clay in a broken or fragmentary
condition would be found, sometimes with impressions of grass or
twigs, and easily crumbled, but often hard, and stamped,
apparently, with an implement made of split reeds of comparatively
large size. This layer was often a foot thick, and frequently
burned to a brick-red or even to clinkers. Below this would be
found more or less ashes, and often 6 inches of charred grass
immediately over the skeletons. These skeletons were found lying
in all directions, some with the face up, others with it down, and
others on the side. With each of these were one or more vessels of

Remains of rectangular houses were also discovered, though much
less frequent than other forms. These consisted of three rooms,
two in front and one in rear. For example, Dr. Palmer found in a
broad platform like elevation not more than 3 feet high the
remains of a house of this form which he traced by the burnt clay.
The lines of the upright walls were very apparent, as also the
clay which must have fallen from them, and which raised the outer
marginal lines considerably higher than the inner area. Dr. Palmer

The fire must have been very fierce, and the clay around the edges
was evidently at some height above the door, as I judge from the
irregular way in which it is scattered around the margins.

Excavations in the areas showed that they were covered with a
layer of burnt clay, uneven and broken; immediately below this a
layer of ashes 6 inches thick, and below this black loam. On these
areas large trees were growing, one a poplar 3 feet in diameter.
Below one of these floors were found a skeleton, some pottery, and
a pipe. A large oak formerly stood at this point, but it has been
blown down.

Subsequently the remains of another dwelling of precisely the same
form, that is, two square rooms joined and a third of the same
size immediately behind these two, were discovered in the same
region by Colonel Norris. In this case remnants of the upright
posts and reed lathing forming the walls were found, also the clay

Prof. G. C. Swallow [Footnote: 8th Rept. Peabody Museum, 1875, pp.
17, 18.] describes a room formed of poles, lathed with split cane,
plastered with clay both inside and out, which he found in a mound
in southeastern Missouri. Colonel Norris found parts of the
decayed poles, plastering, and other remains of a similar house in
a large mound in the same section.

From the statements of the early writers, a few of which are given
here, it is evident that the houses of the Indians occupying this
region when first visited by the whites were very similar to those
of the mound-builders.

La Harpe, speaking of the tribes in some parts of Arkansas, says:
"The Indians build their huts dome-fashion out of clay and reeds."
Schoolcraft says the Pawnees formerly built similar houses. In

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