American Historical Society George Thornton Fleming.

History of Pittsburgh and environs: from prehistoric days to the ..., Volume 1 online

. (page 5 of 81)
Online LibraryAmerican Historical Society George Thornton FlemingHistory of Pittsburgh and environs: from prehistoric days to the ..., Volume 1 → online text (page 5 of 81)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Trustees of the Carnegie Fine Arts and Museum Collection Fund. This
sub-committee consisted of Dr. William J. Holland, since 1898 the
director of the Museum, and Mr. Charles C. Mellor, now deceased.

Professor Gerrodette came to Pittsburgh in June, 1896, as director
of the Carnegie Museum, which had been opened in November, 1895,
on the recommendation of that noted American anthropologist. Dr.
Frederick Ward Putnam, long curator at the Peabody Museum of Arch-
aeology and Anthropology of Harvard University, and in 1896 curator of
anthropology in the American Museum of New York City. Before the
exhumations at McKee's Rocks were completed, Professor Putnam
came on and assisted in the work. Gerrodette, however, resigned Sep-
tember 19, 1896, before the work was concluded.

Gerrodette in his training had awakened in him a taste for ethno-
logical research, and soon after entering on his duties as director urged
the committee on the Museum to permit him to undertake the thorough
examination of the McKee's Rocks Mound. Permission was obtained
from the owners of the land, the McKee heirs, to make the necessary
excavations. Gerrodette was to prepare a monograph upon the subject,
which he did not do. For two months Gerrodette gave all his time to
work of exploration of the mound, which proved a task of considerable
magnitude, involving great and peculiar care. The results of these
explorations were epitomized in the annual report of the director of
the Museum, Dr. Holland, for the year ending March 31, 1898, which
reads : "F. H. Gerrodette and Thomas Harper, Pittsburgh, Pa. Objects
excavated at McKee's Rocks Mound. Consisting of thirty-one skele-
tons, arrow points, shells, beads, bones of various animals, etc. Together
with earth surrounding the burial-places, stones used for encasing the
dead, and sections of large trees growing above the remains. In all,
about 331 objects, besides a series of photographs made during the
excavations. Collected September 30, 1896."

Gerrodette in his explorations accumulated a fine collection of flints
and other Indian implements from the McKee's Rocks bottoms. Har-
per, too, was considerable of an antiquarian in Indian relics. His col-
lection of hundreds of such from various countries is one of the largest
in the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh.

The work of excavating at McKee's Rocks began July 18, 1896, and
from the record above it appears that the relics obtained were safely
and permanently placed September 30th. Th^ actual cost of the excava-

Digitized by



tions and exploring, as given in the financial statement in the Museum
report (supra) under the line "Special Research, etc.," was $712.60.

In the work of exhumation, the first results were obtained August
1st, when two skeletons and two skull bones were brought to light, the
first skeleton five feet under ground, fifteen feet from the summit and
the center of the mound, and sixteen feet from the southern circum-
ference. The thighbones were first discovered, the head lying towards
the center. The skulls were in good condition; the teeth in both jaws
well preserved. The wisdom teeth indicated the skull of an adult. A
few small bones of the skeleton were missing — a humerus and some
vertebrae evidently having decayed, but the pelvic and thighbones were
complete. There were many arrowheads around the skeleton. The
second skeleton was fifteen feet distant from the first, and much like it.
The next day another was taken out — that of a man six feet four inches
in height. August 4th, the fourth skelton was exhumed, and two days
later three more, one of these in a sitting posture, and near the head
was a peculiar piece of pottery, suggestive of a pot of food placed with
the remains. With the other skeletons were the bones of a baby and
other bones badly jumbled together.

August 7th was the great day of the work. The exhibits this day
were most interesting. They included the remains of two ancient fire-
places, in the ashes of which were found fragmentary pieces of bones,
some of which appeared to be portions of a skull. The inference drawn
was that these fragments were portions of a body that had been burned.
They were small and soft, and in a crumbling condition; from a
superficial examination it could not be determined whether they were
animal or human. Thereupon the newswriters began to conjecture.
One said, "If human, it will go to prove that the mound was used by
the ancient mound builders for sacrificial purposes, and on this fireplace
were probably offered human sacrifices — prisoners, or others who were
captured in battle." It will not be necessary to discuss the question
whether "others captured in battle" were prisoners or not.

A large quantity of stones, shells, and ashes of charcoal, were found
in each of the fireplaces, one of which was in a scattered condition and
covered a space of two feet wide by four long. The bones were badly
discolored by fire. The first fireplace was on a line twenty feet from
the center of the mound, and the same distance south of the center.
The second was fourteen feet south of the center, on a line ten feet
from it, and three feet from the baseline of mound. The fireplace in
which the bones were discovered was the larger. When touched by
the hand, the bones crumbled to pieces. The usual quantity of arrow
and spear heads, flints, etc., were unearthed, but no skeletons. Some of
the bones were saved by delicate handling.

The operations of August 12th were also of great interest. The

Digitized by



bones of a female skeleton were dug up, and some of a small child which
had evidently been buried in the lap of the female, who was promptly
conjectured to have been the child's mother, from the position when
found. The body of the woman had evidently been buried with great
care, and was sitting in an upright position. Around her had been
placed some large flat stones, forming a cist which completely surrounded
the skeleton. From the cist only a skull protruded above the limbs
below. When the stones were removed, the bones of the child were
revealed, a portion of the skull enclosed. Some tiny teeth and a few
bones were all that were left of the child. A pottery vessel had been
placed alongside of the head of the woman. This vessel was in a fairly
good state of preservation, but a piece had been broken off. The vessel
was of black clay, baked with shells, and was almost entirely smooth.
The skeleton found thus in such a cist and buried with evidences of
great care, appeared to indicate that in life she had been a person of
distinction. Whereupon by the increasing host of conjecturers she was,
with surprising unanimity, dubbed the "Queen of the Mound Builders."
They made no reference to her missing crown. The skeleton indicated
a woman of good size. Underneath the woman and child, the ninth
skeleton was discovered, that of a male. The body of the woman
apparently had rested in the lap of the man at the time of burial. The
bones of the male skeleton were much decayed. They revealed that
they were the framework of a large man.

The finding of the skeleton in a sitting posture alone would indicate
great antiquity, for that form of burial was an ancient usage, and not
confined to the Western Hemisphere. Dr. J. Wells Foster quotes
Herodotus on this point (Book IV, Chap. 190), where "the Father of
History," in speaking of the wandering tribes of Northern Africa, says :
"They bury their dead according to the fashion of the Greeks, ♦ ♦ ♦
They bury them sitting, and are right careful when the sick man is at
the point of giving up the ghost, to make him sit down and not let
him die lying down.*

In many mounds exhumed in Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois, some of
them by Dr. Foster himself, corpses were found sitting, as was this
one taken from McKee's Rocks. Dr. Foster also cites the ancient
Britons, who buried their dead thus, with the hands raised to the neck
and the elbows brought to the knees. The headliners were probably
justified in displaying the line "Mounds of Sacrifice" over the insertion
of the news story from the mound, August 7, 1896. There is ample
authority for the statement that cremation and inhumation have been
practiced for ages, though not always at the same time. The charcoal
layers, while a frequent accompaniment, were not always found by the
mound explorers. The ceremonies of interment, Squier and Davis

^''Prehistoric Races of the United States of America," J. Wells Poster, LL. D.;
Chicago, 188^; p. 196.

Digitized by



remark, as far as could be deduced from the examinations of the mounds
and other burial places, seem to indicate that they were conducted with
great regularity and system, and that burial was a solemn and deliberate
rite, regulated by fixed customs of perhaps religious or supernatural
origin.* These archaeologists found layers of charcoal in the excavation
of a sepulchral mound twenty-seven feet high, near their home town,
Chilicothe, Ohio. Dr. Foster observes, "what strange rites were prac-
ticed around the altars in the sacrificial mounds, must be forever, that
is to some degree, veiled from our comprehension." He thinks that the
mound builders, like the Persian sun-worshippers, had their magi^
without whose presence the sacrifice could not go on, and that the
elaborately carved pipes, precious stones brought from, a distance, and
garments woven with patient toil, were freely condemned to undergo
the ordeal of fire. Worse than all, the reliquuB of charred bones leave
behind the terrible conviction that on these occasions human victims
were offered up as an acceptable sacrifice to the elements the sacrificers
worshipped. With such suggestive reminders of grewsome barbaric
rites, no sighs need be uttered for the passing of the mound on McKee's

From day to day, skeletons were taken from the mound. On August

2 1 St, the twentieth and best preserved skeleton was taken out; all the
large bones, the vertebrae, ribs and leg bones and the arm bones and
those of the hands, were in excellent condition, but the skull had been
crushed in by a heavy stone. The femures measured twenty-one inches.
The jaws also were in good condition, with not a tooth missing. The
stone had crushed the head and chest far down upon the chest. In
life, this man measured seven feet in height. The skeleton, as it lay,
with the lower bones of the feet gone above the ankle, measured six
feet three inches ; allowing four inches for the neck and six for the feet,
would show the man to have been over seven feet ; the thigh bones alone
revealed a man of extraordinary size. Again were the headliners happy.
This was "the King of the Tribe." The body was found close to three
skeletons exhumed a few days before, and was on a center line from
them, about three feet distant and fifteen inches deeper.

Skeleton No. 21 was taken out August 25th, and No. 22 the next
day. With No. 21 were some implements and many specimens of
ancient handicraft pronounced by the archaeologists to be the finest
specimens that had been discovered to that date. Among them was
a fiat amulet five inches long and three and a half wide. The ornaments
and some stone implements were found between the thigh bones. No.

22 was found only three feet and six inches below the surface, in the
center of the mound. They composed a heterogeneous heap, and so
badly broken that only a few of the skull bones could be identified.

(('' Ancient Monuments of the Mississipin Valley," Squier and Davis; pp. 196-197.

Digitized by



This body had been buried in a stone cist. The skeleton was in the
roots of the tree, and indicated a man of extraordinary size. He can
truthfully be said to have been "rooted to the spot/' and the reporters
did not neglect to say so.

No. 23 was headless — "A Beheaded Warrior," the headliners called
him — rather, what was left of him. This skeleton lay under a giant
oak three feet six inches in diameter, or about eleven feet in circum-
ference, which showed one hundred sixty-eight rings, thus indicating
its age. The skeleton parts were intermingled with the roots of the
tree. This was a most interesting find. The bones indicated a man of
extraordinary size.

The news of the opening of the mound and the "finds" therein
brought several noted scientists to Pittsburgh. There were also some
local archaeologists. Thomas Malone of Pittsburgh testified through
the newspapers that he had assisted in opening several of the Ohio
mounds, and some in Indiana and Tennessee, and from his knowledge
of them he was thoroughly convinced that the bones taken from the
McKee's Rocks Mound were more than five hundred years old. Mere
opinion, this, but it is supported by other and noted scientists.

Charles F. Trill, formerly of the Smithsonian Institution, visited the
mound August 28th. Trill attested that the work of exhumation had
been well and methodically done. The reporters interviewed him. He
told them among other things: "The ancient mound builders built
several distinct kinds of mounds: One pyramidal with a flat top; the
second, the fortifications made from earth; the third, the burial, those
of a conical shape. These latter were usually found with the apex worn
away by the elements, or by attrition from the feet of men, and the
tops thus gradually became rounded." Further, Trill's account reads:

The prehistoric mounds were of course erected by the tnound builders proper,
that unknown race that has left so many traces of that character on this continent
These mounds were evidently held in high reverence by the Aborigines — ^what we
know as the Indians, and they too interred their dead in the mounds. The secondary
burials were always near the surface, and they were generally found in a sitting posi-
tion. If the mound at McKee's Rodcs had been built by the mound buiiders proper,
the grave of the chief, or dignitary, they covered, was about three feet below the origi-
nal surface of the grotmd or the base line of the motmd. In these graves calcined
bones are frequently found, undeniably indicating cremation. This sort of grave was
directly beneath the apex of the motmd, and if found, indicates that the mound was
built by the unknown race that once inhabited this continent in portions. In their
mounds this pottery is found, always black and nearly so, and of good workmanship. The
implements found are highly polished, and made from attractive species of stone. The
pipes usually have the figure of an animal carved on them, and are short, while the
Indians' pipes are longer.

Professor Trill explained further — ^for the reading public of Western
Pennsylvania and adjacent territory was hungry for news from the
mound, and explanation of its mysteries. He said: "The fact that
skeletons are found near the surface, always indicates secondary burials,

Digitized by



and, if in sitting posture, to my mind there is no doubt that they are
the remains of the Aborigines, possibly the warriors slain in battle and
taken to the mound for final interment. An interesting fact is that of
locality. The mounds were always built on the second terrace or level
from a river. This is true of the mound at McKee's Rocks. If a white
man's knife were found in it, it would serve only to show that the later
Indians who were buried there had come in contact with civilization."

Trill at this point in his explanatory discourse told of the researches
of Squier and Davis, and informed the reporters that their book shed
much information on the subject of our American mounds. It surely

Dr. Trill mentioned a fourth species of mound, animal mounds, and
he said he had found these only in the Northwest. They were not
burial mounds, but were built in the shape of some animal — some rough
outline, most often that of the bear, perhaps without ears, but the
general contour plainly indicating what was intended to be represented.
There were mounds whose shape was fully as plain as a human figure.

Dr. Frederick Ward Putnam came to Pittsburgh, September i, 1896,
in response to an invitation from the local committee of the Carnegie
Museum in charge of the exploration of the McKee's Rocks Mound —
Dr. W. J^ Holland and Mr. Charles C. Mellor. Dr. Putnam was at
the time secretary of the Association for the Advancement of Science,
as well as curator of the Peabody Museum at Cambridge. He was
the guest of the committee. He repaired immediately to McKee's Rocks
and inspected the work. That afternoon a skeleton was taken out, with
the usual attendant relics, among these a gorget about four inches square.
Dr. Putnam regarded this find of much value, and ventured the opinion
that it placed the age of the mound as one thousand years, certainly not
less than seven hundred, he said. He, too, talked to the reporters. He
said :

There is not the slightest doubt that the McKee's Rocks Mound is an Indian
burial place similar to hundreds of others in the Ohio Valley. Its size and arrange-
ment proves that it is of g^eat age. The work of exhumation has been done in
the most satisfactory manner. I myself found the remains of a skeleton just to
the left of the main cut and near the center, which settles the matter of age in my
mind The skeleton was at the base of the mound, upon iron-impregnated ground, and
had been there for hundreds of years, beneath tons of clay which would preserve the
bones almost indefinitely; yet when taken out, there was nothing left but small par-
ticles of bone dust or cells imbedded in the clay, and renmants of spear heads, and the
gorget This particular skeleton was undoubtedly the first interment in tbat place,
doubtless a person of importance in life. Others may be upon the same level, and I
think are.

Later, more bodies were buried on top of the first, and another layer of dirt This
alteration of corpses and layers of earth was followed until the mound reached its
height previous to this exploration. Now I cannot say positively as to intensive burials.
There is certain proof that an entrance had been made at the top of the mound and
continued down for two 01: three feet, but if anyone has been buried there, it is not yet

•"Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley."

Digitized by



known. This is the only intrusion, and may have been merely an attempt to explore the
mound, and soon abandoned. I saw a skull when it was brought to the surface, which
was alleged to have been that of a Mohawk, but I do not think it ever belonged to any
of the Iroquois tribes. This mound was constructed a burial mound, and is not of the
fortification type. The skeleton I found was below the cut made by Bennett in 1887,
and had not been disturbed.7

The same day (September 2nd), Prof. W. J. Magee, of the Smith-
sonian Institution, arrived in Pittsburgh. He came especially to see
the work at the mound. Dr. Magee was head of the Bureau of Ethnology
at the Institution. With Dr. Holland and Mr. Mellor, Magee visited the
mound and viewed the work and listened to the report on the progress
and the results of the work so far.

There had become widespread a story that the McKee's Rocks ex-
plorations were a great hoax; that an old burying ground had been
desecrated, and the remains of many of the first settlers ruthlessly
destroyed or carried away. This story received much credence. Some
of the names of such early settlers were given; some of later date
were also named. In one instance the man was found alive ; in another,
the doubters were taken to an old graveyard in the vicinity and shown
the grave of a man plainly marked, who was alleged to have been
buried in the ancient mound. Therefore, to fully refute such silly and
impossible allegations, it was determined by the Museum Committee on
the Mound to hold a public meeting where the visiting scientists could
lecture on Historic Mounds and Prehigtoric Mound Builders, and instruct
the people of Pittsburgh and others interested, concerning recent archae-
ological investigations, and what had been revealed by them.

The meeting was held in the Carnegie Music Hall, the auditorium
of the Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny, at Federal and Ohio streets,
now on the North Side of the city of Pittsburgh. The meeting was
presided over by Samuel H. Church, of Pittsburgh. Seated with him on
the platform were the Rev. Father A. A. Lambing, Dr. Holland, Mr.
Mellor, Mayor Henry P. Ford of Pittsburgh, and the speakers of the
evening (September 2d).

Professor Magee spoke first. He began with the geological phase
of his subject, then passed to the ethnological and archaeological
aspects. He announced that the McKee's Rocks Mound was a thor-
oughly typical structure of the prehistoric class, (laying special emphasis
on the words mound and structure) such as are found in all parts of our
country. He said at one point: "I desire to say with emphasis that
the builders of all of them were the same race. As to the antiquity
of this mound at McKee's Rocks, I do not desire to venture an opinion.
Though one tree found growing on its surface is shown to have been
at least one hundred and seventy years old, the mound itself may have
existed centuries before the tree began to grow."

7No account of this "cut" has been obtained.
Pitts.— s

Digitized by



Dr. Putnam followed. He stated that he had devoted more than
thirty years of his life to the study of mound building, and that he
had been present at the opening of hundreds of them, and, in addition,
had superintended the opening of hundreds more. He described the
best known mounds in the United States, illustrating many by drawing
sketches on a blackboard. He dwelt on the two great varieties of the
prehistoric races, termed by scientists the "Longheaded" and the
"Shortheaded" stocks. He said the relics found at McKee's Rocks were
common to those found in the mounds in the Mississippi Valley. The
bones might determine the kind of "old people" that originally populated
Western Pennsylvania, for the skulls denoted a people of the "broad-
headed" stock. The Doctor illustrated this from skulls he had brought
with him, showing points in common with those of the Southwest. An
underjaw indicated formatively and structurally that it had not belonged
to a white man. The upper arm bones of the skeleton numbered eighteen
and twenty, both found near the surface of the mound, gave indubitable
evidence that they were parts of the framework of prehistoric men ; the
same evidence was presented by the flattened tibiae. With much more
proof of a similar character. Dr. Putnam kept the interest of his audience
attentive to the end of his discourse. He concluded: "The evidence
I have produced proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that these bones
are those of the *old people' of the Ohio Valley, and there is no evidence
even of the slightest character, in any bone taken from the mound at
McKee's Rocks, that a white man was ever interred in it."

The heads, a tooth covered with copper, and the ornaments found
with the skeletons, were given full consideration by Dr. Putnam. He
said they showed intimate relations between the builders of the McKee's
Rocks Mound and those farther down the Ohio river. Stereopticon
views of the skeletons were shown by Professor Gerrodette in their
original positions, and also views of the work of excavation at various
stages. There was a large audience present.

"The Last of the Wyandottes," the reporters called No. 29, which
was brought to light September 8th. This skeleton was found on the
top of the mound, only eighteen inches under the sod. Like some others,
he was evidently at interment crouched in a heap, with head towards
the center, and a rude cist of stones built around him. No. 28 was
alongside, the two forming the shape of a T. Some arrow heads, a
tooth, a piece of pottery, were about these bones. No. 29, the reporters
noted, "had the distinction of having been buried higher than any in
the sacred pile, fourteen feet six inches from the natural level." This
"brave" did not live his allotted time ; an arrow, perhaps a bullet wound
in his left jaw had taken him off in his prime. He had all his teeth
in most excellent condition.

Among the last skeletons taken out were two on September 5th,

Digitized by



interred in a single cist. The skull of one was within the interlaced
roots of a tree, the roots over an inch in diameter, which had forced

Online LibraryAmerican Historical Society George Thornton FlemingHistory of Pittsburgh and environs: from prehistoric days to the ..., Volume 1 → online text (page 5 of 81)