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

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themselves through the cist. Mr. Harper removed the skull and the
enclosing roots. These singular objects, as taken out, form one of the
most curious and interesting exhibits of the mound relics in the Car-
negie Museum. No implements or ornaments were found with these
two skeletons. What were supposed to be charred bones were taken
out September loth, and sent with the other relics to the Museum. No
other bones were found later.

Of all these skeletons, but two indicated violent death — ^"The Head-
less Warrior" one, and the young man with the wound in his jaw.
Around the beheaded one there was no stone cist. The beheaded one
measured from top of the head to below the knees six feet two inches.
The position in which he had been found indicated he had been decap-
itated before burial, the skull having been found below the shoulder
blades, the face turned upwards and in an .opposite direction from the
position of the body. The skull was in a crumbling condition. This was
No. 23, before noted.

A large skeleton was unearthed September 2nd ; as it lay, it measured
six feet two inches. A skeleton marked No. 27 is laid out in the Museum
as found in the mound, fifteen feet four inches from the top, considered
from the number of ornaments found around it and from its position
to have been a great warrior, of more than average size. With him
there were taken out a stone tomahawk, five excellent perforators, two
flakers, an amulet, a bone scraper, two spear points, a bear's tooth
encased in a copper sheath, 160 shell beads, 357 loose beads, and a pottery
vessel. These articles have been arranged around the skeleton in the
glass case in which it has been placed. It is a curious sight. A single
glance is sufficient to tell the most casual visitor that the bones are
very old, for they look it. The word relics applies properly to all ma- .
terial taken fi^om the mound.

Among other visitors was Captain J. R. Johnson, of Clarksville,
Pennsylvania, who had opened many mounds in the Southwest and had
obtained a valuable collection of relics from them. He stated the mound
was like many he had seen explored in the Southwest. M. W. Thompson,
then chief engineer for the Pennsylvania railroad, was a visitor, and
was questioned regarding intensive burials in the mound. His opinion
was to the contrary. He said, "From what I know about mounds, I
am positive no such burials were ever made in this mound. The state
of the layers of earth proves that conclusively."

Dr. R. A. Brown, of Leavenworth, Kansas, then president of the
Leavenworth Academy of Natural Sciences, came to see the relics and
the work. He said that thirty-one mounds, several of which had been
opened, were within a few miles of Leavenworth. He advanced the

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theory that these works were original with the mound builders proper,
who had been driven to the West by the Indians, who later added to
the mounds, and that some burials in the Leavenworth mounds that
were near the tops could not have been later than the Revolutionary
War period. From what the Doctor knew of the Indians of that sec-
tion, he was thoroughly convinced that they were absolutely too lazy
to undertake the work of heaping dirt upon the remains of their dead.
The western mounds, Dr. Brown said, were different from that on
McKee's Rocks ; those in the West were covered with stones, while at
McKee's Rocks nothing but soft earth was heaped over the bodies.
Towards the Ohio or to the north, there were the remains of a good
sodded slope and a fine grove on it.

Besides the numerous articles which have been mentioned as taken
out with the bones, there were also many arrow and spear points found
loose, and a number of stone implements such as axes, tomahawks,
and broken pieces of three pottery vessels. All of these were sent to
the Museum, and are part of the collection there of the McKee's Rocks

Dr. Holland, in charge of the work of exhumation, with Mr. Mellor,
his colleague, was at the time chancellor of the University of Western
Pennsylvania, now the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Holland gave the
history of these mounds much study and research. He was much sought
by the reporters for his opinions, and gave them freely, with clear
explanations, which were printed with the daily news of the explorations
in the papers. He said among other things, that the McKee's Rocks
Mound was a genuine work of the class once common in all this region.
He had frequent conversations with the late William M. Darlington,
the Pittsburgh historian, concerning the mounds on McKee's Rocks and
on Grant's Hill, who described the latter. Mr. Darlington related that
he had as a boy played among the stones that surmounted the mound
on Grant's Hill.

There was a small mound on the "Puckety road," seven miles from
the city, to the north and east, which, in connection with Dr. Hiram
Depuy, Dr. Holland had opened. "We found," said the Doctor, "several
acres which abounded in shells and the bones of Indians, dogs, deer
and other animals, at a depth of from twelve to eighteen inches. We
regarded the site as one once occupied by an Indian village which had
been probably chosen with reference to the safety of the inhabitants, as
the view extending to the Allegheny river on one side and the Monon-
gahela on the other would reveal the approach of an enemy from either
side, and thus afford an opportunity of escape to the river bottom on
the opposite side. The purchase of this land for the erection of a
Roman Catholic church and for cemetery purposes put a stop to the
work of exploration."

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Dr. Depuy, now of Tacoma, Washington, writes that the Puckety
Road Mound, was known as Rich Hill, and was three-quarters of a mile
east of the intersection of that road with Lincoln avenue. The mound
was not known as a burial place until opened in 1886. Dr. Depuy in his
letter describes the work of exhumation as carried on under the direction
of himself and Dr. Holland. His description of the contents of the
mound is so similar to that of the contents of the McKee's Rocks mound,
that it may be omitted here. Several skeletons were exhumed from the
Puckety Road Mound. The situation of this mound was high and cor-
responds with the situation of other mounds mentioned herein.

Dr. Holland's impromptu talks to the newspaper representatives
included substantially the facts of science as narrated before in the
lectures of the scientists who have been quoted. The McKee's Rocks
Mound, he said, had been known for a century and a half, and has been
frequently mentioned in local histories. The relics, implements, and
the bones and the shapes of the skulls, reveal indubitably the existence
in this section of the prehistoric race termed the mound builders.

The Depuy Collection from the Puckety road excavations is in the
Carnegie Museum. It is catalogued in the Annual Report for 1898,
in the Loan Collection lists; the Indian or prehistoric relics — ^pipes,
bones, teeth and stone implements — ^in this collection numbering 364
objects. "The Indian implements were mostly obtained from burial,
places near Pittsburgh," the catalogue said. Captain James R. Johnson
loaned that year a similar and larger collection of Indian relics collected
by his son, H. L. Johnson, of Clarksville, Tennessee, in that vicinity,
comprising 408 items, numbering 758 objects — ^Indian pottery, flint and
stone implements, altogether similar to the relics found about Pittsburgh.
There are many relics such as these in the Museum, one of the notable
that of Isaac Yohe, of Monongahela, Pennsylvania. These are among
the earliest exhibits in the Museum. They have been listed in the cata-
logue of the first annual report, 1898. In looking over these lists there
can be found frequent mention of antiquities of Indian relics picked up
in and about Pittsburgh, and also of "the extinct people," as Dr. Dod-
dridge has termed them.

Having thus given the story of the exploration of the McKee's Rocks
Mound and its lessons, if only for comparison, it is fitting to tell of
others similar, and presenting practically the same story of the mound
builders proper, and to tell also some story of the fortification mounds,
for some of these were in the Western Country, as all the country
beyond the Alleghenies was termed in Colonial and Revolutionary times.
The most elaborate, largest and celebrated work of the mound builders
in North America is the great mound at Moundsville, West Virginia,
known to archaeologists and in history as the Grave Creek Mound.
Moundsville, the county seat of Marshall county, West Virginia, has

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been given that name since the beginning of the Civil War, for geogra-
phies of that period show the name Elizabeth, the first name of the
town. In the story of this great tomb there will be observable through-
out a striking similarity to the mound on McKee's Rocks, and it will
be evident that the same race of people built both. The problem why
one was built of such astounding dimensions, and others of various and
far smaller dimensions, must remain forever unanswered. In the un-
folding of the history of the mounds in this region and in Virginia and
the Upper Ohio Valley, two of our Pittsburgh historians will appear
prominently, and be quoted as authority, and their accounts are old.
These men were Neville B. Craig and Henry Marie Brackenridge, both
natives of Pittsburgh and contemporaries almost from birth: 1787-1786,
respectively. Each knew of the mound on McKee's Rocks, and each
in boyhood romped over the mound on Grant's Hill, and played in the
beautiful grove on its summit and sloping sides.*

The historian Avery in a recent work, in his chapter therein headed
"The Neolithic Americans," gives a good description of the Grave Creek
Mound, which he portrays as seventy feet high and cone-shaped, and
nearly three hundred feet in diameter at its base.* Mr. Avery doubtless
obtains his facts from Craig's "Olden Time," (Vol. I, pp. 232, et seq),
where the editor of that work inserted an extract from the "American
Pioneer," and a long letter from A. B. Tomlinson giving the history of
the mound from the time Tomlinson's grandfather settled on Grave
Creek in 1772. The "Pioneer" in its introductory paragraph said that
great praise was due Mr. Tomlinson for his careful preservation of that
tremendous structure of ancient American aboriginal industry. "Many
of our towns," continues the editor of the "Pioneer," "vandal-like, have
destroyed their ancient curiosities. What a pity!" (Pittsburgh has for
one). The "Pioneer" printed also a short letter from A. B. Boreman,
of Elizabethtown, who sent a facsimile of the "stone" taken from the
mound, of which more anon. Mr. Boreman said there were a great
many mounds in the vicinity of Grave Creek, "some of which had been
digged down, and in which there had been found many bones of human
beings; copper beads, also, and stone tubes ten and one-half inches in
length and having a calibre of three-fourths of an inch, some of which
were full of something that might be called red paint of a light shade,
with other things of a similar character." The mound, he said, was
situated on an extended plain and within the suburbs of the town, 250
yards from the court house, and a quarter of a mile from the Ohio river.
Boreman placed its altitude at 69 feet, and the circumference of the
base a little more than 300 yards. It was shaped like the frustrum of

^"Recollections of Persons and Places in the West," H. M. Brackenridge, 1830;
p. 61.

•"A History of the United States and its People, etc," Elroy McKcndrec Avery:
Cleveland, 1901 ; Vol. I, p. 3^

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a cone, flat on top, the distance across the top 50 feet. These figured
closely approximate Avery's.

Tomlinson's letter reveals so much in telling of the exploration of
his mound that is so similar to the account of the explorations of the
mound on McKee's Rocks that his narrative will be largely drawn on in
order to show the similarities and differences between the mounds, and
that the contents of the mounds was not materially dissimilar with the
exception of the vaults, which betoken much labor. Mr. Tomlinson
first describes the Grave Creek Flats, a large scope of bottom land
extending from north to south about four miles, and containing nearly
3,000 acres. Big and Little Grave creeks both enter into the Ohio
at these flats. The flats and the creeks obtained their names by reason
of the many tumuli, commonly called Indian graves, which were located
on the flats, and especially between the creeks. The creeks were not
navigable, but of the kind known to settlers as mill streams. The flats
were composed of first and second bottoms, the first about 200 yards
wide, running the whole length of the flats. The great flood of 1832,
Mr. Tomlinson asserts, was ten feet on this bottom, but lacked from
ten to twenty feet from the height of the second bottom where the
Indian mounds were. There were no signs of any such works on the
lower land. Mr. Tomlinson thought it could reasonably be inferred that
the brow of the second bottom was the bank of the river when the
works were erected. This was not uncommon, he said, where such works
appear near the streams that have first and second bottoms. This
deduction does not necessarily follow, for the mound builders may have
known of and seen the first bottom frequently overflowed and the second
high and dry, and built accordingly. Elizabethtown, now Moundsville,
is situated on the second bottom, near the mouth of Little Grave creek
and on the widest part of the flats. Mr. Tomlinson wrote as follows
concerning the "Mammoth Mound," as he termed it, which with its
contents formed the subject of his narrative: "This mound is sur-
rounded by various other mounds and ancient works, and in respect
to other localities the situation, as respects defense, was well chosen on
the brow of the second bottom, and partially encompassed by steepes and

Tomlinson recites the dimensions as given by Boreman, stating that
the flat on the top of the mound until about the time he writes, was
dish-shaped. The depth of the depression in the center was three feet,
and its width forty feet. He thought this depression was caused by the
falling-in of the two vaults which were originally constructed in the
mound, but which had fallen in, and the earth had sunken over them.

Tomlinson's description is most interesting :

The mound was discovered by my grandfather soon after he settled the flats, and
was covered with as large timbers as any in the surrounding forests, and as close

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together. The center of the hollow was occupied by a large black beech. The mound
was early and much visited. Dates were cut on this beech as early as 1734.' It was
literally covered with names and dates to the height of ten feet, none of a more remote
period than the date above; most of them were added after the country began to be
settled, from 1779 to 1790. On the very summit of the mound stood a white oak which
seemed to have died of old age about fifteen years ago. It stood on the western edge
of the dish. We cut it off and with great care and nicety, counted the growths, which
evidently showed the tree to have been five hundred years old. It carried its thick-
ness well for about fifty feet, where it branched out into several large limbs. Top and all,
it was about seventy feet high, which, added to the height of the mound, it might well
have been styled the Ancient Monarch of the Flats, if not of the forest A black oak
stands now on the east side of the mound, which is as large as the white oak was, but
it is situated on the side of the mound, about ten feet lower than the throne of the
white oak.

Prompted by curiosity, or some other cause, on March 19^ i8j8, we commenced
an excavation in this mound. I wrought at it myself from the commencement to the
termination, and what I am about to tell you is from my own personal observation,
which if necessary could be substantiated by others. We commenced on the north side
and excavated towards the center. Our horizontal shaft was ten feet high and seven
feet wide, and ran on the natural surface of the ground or floor of the mound.

At a distance of iii feet we came to a vault that had been excavated in the natural
earth before the mound was commenced. This vault was dug out eight by twelve feet
square and seven feet deep. Along each side and the two ends, upright timbers were
placed which supported timbers that were thrown across the vault and supported the
ceiling. These timbers were covered over with rough unhewn stone, of the same
quality as is common in the neighborhood. These timbers rotted, and the stone tum-
bled into the vault, the earth of the mound following quite filled it The timbers were
entirely deranged, but could be traced by the rotten wood, which was in such condi-
tion as to be rubbed to pieces between the fingers. The vault was as dry as any tight
room; its sides very nearly correspond with the cardinal points of the compass, and it
was lengthwise from north to south.

In this vault were found two human skeletons, one of which had no ornaments or
artificial work of any kind about it The other was surrounded by 650 ivory beads and
an ivory ornament about six inches long, one and five-eights inches wide in the middle,
and half an inch wide at the ends, with two holes through it of one-eighth
of an inch diameter. It is flat on one side and oval on the other. The
beads resemble button moulds, and vary in diameter from three to five-eights of an
inch. In thickness they vary Ifrom that of a common pasteboard to one-fourth of an
inch, the size of the holes through them varying with the diameter of the beads from
one-eighth of an inch in the largest Some of the beads are in good state of preserva-
tion, retaining even the original polish; others not so favorably situated are decayed,
some crumbled to dust I count only the whole ones left The large ornament is in a
good state of preservation, but somewhat corroded. The first skeleton we found on the
4th of April ; the second on the i6th.

Mr. Tomlinson sent a drawing of the ornament, which Craig was
obliged to omit from his story. He was unable to reproduce the other
drawing Tomlinson mentions further on. In fact, with the exception
of one of Celoron's leaden plates and a map of Braddock's route "the
Olden Time" is not illustrated. To continue Tomlinson's story :

After searching this vault, we commenced a shaft ten feet in diameter at the cen-
ter of the mound, on top and in the bottom of the depression before mentioned. At
the depth of thirty-four or thirty-five feet above the vault, at the bottom, we discov-
ered another vault, which occupied the middle space between the bottom and the top.
The shaft we -continued down through the mound to our first excavation.

The second or upper vault was discovered June oth. It had been constructed in

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every respect like that at the base of the mound, except that its length lay east and
west, or across that at the base perpendicularly over it. It was equally filled with earth,
rotten wood, etc., by the falling in of the ceiling. The floor of this vault was also
sunken by the falling in of the lower one, with the exception of a portion of one end.

In the upper vault was found one skeleton only, but many trinklets, as 1,700 ivory
beads, 500 sea shells of the involute species, that were worn as beads, and five copper
bracelets that were about ihe wrist bones of the skeleton. There were also 150 pieces
of isinglass (mica), and the stone of which I send you a drawing herewith. The stone
is flat on both sides, and is about three-eights of an inch thick. It has no engraving
on it except on one side. There is no appearance of any hole or ear, as if it had been
worn as a medal. It is of sandstone, of a very fine and close grit The beads found m
this vault were like those found in the other one, as to size, material and decay. The
bracelets are of pure copper coated with rust as thick as brown paper. They are an
oblong circle (?). The inner diameter of one is two and one- fourth inches one way,
and two and five-eighths the other. They vary in size and thickness; the largest is
half an inch thick, and the smallest half that thickness. They were made of round
bars beat so that the ends came together, which forms the circle. The five bracelets
weigh seventeen ounces. The shells in this vault were three-eights of an inch long and
one-fourth inch in diameter at the swell, or largest part The pieces of isinglass are
but little thicker than writing paper, and are generally from one and a half to two
inches square ; each piece had two or three holes through it about the size of a knitting
needle, most likely for the purpose of sewing or in some way fastenening them to the

The beads were found about the neck and breast bones of the skeleton. The sea
shells were in like manner distributed over the neck and breast bones of the skeleton in
the upper vault The bracelets were around the wrist bones, the pieces of isinglass
were strewed all over the body. What a gorgeous looking object this monarch must
have been. Five bracelets shining on the wrists, seventeen beads and five hundred sea
shells that we found whole about his breast and neck, besides one hundred and fifty
brilliants of mica on all parts of his bodyl No doubt oft the object of the thronged
admiring gaze. The stone with the characters on it was found about two feet from the
skeleton. Could it be read, doubtless would tell something of the history of this illus-
trious bed, interred high above his quite gorgeous companion in the lower story.

The skeleton first found in the lower vault was lying on the back, parallel with
and close to the west side of the vault. The feet were about the middle of the vault;
its body was extended at full length; the left arm was lying along the left side; the
right arm as if raised over the head; the bones lying near the right ear and crossed
over the crown of the head. The head of this skelton was towards the south. There
were no ornaments found with it The earth had fallen and covered it over before the
ceiling fell, and thus protected it was not much broken. We have it preserved for the
inspection of visitors ; it is five feet nine inches high, and has a full and perfect set of
teeth in a good state of preservation; the head is of a fine intellectual mould; whether
male or female cannot be ascertained, as the pelvis was broken. Opinions differ as to
sex ; my own is, that it is of a male.

The second skeleton found in the vault, and which had the trinkets about it, lay on
the west side, with the head to the east, or in the same direction to that on the opposite
side. The feet of this one were likewise near the center of the west side. The earth
had not crumbled down over it before the ceiling fell, consequently it was not much
broken (as was also that in the upper vault). There is nothing in the remains of any of
these skeletons which differ materially from those of common people.

The skeleton in the upper vault lay with its feet against the south side of the vault,
and the head toward the northeast It is highly probable that the corpses were aU
placed in a standing position, and subsequently fell. Those in the lower vault most
likely stood on the east and west sides, opposite to each other— the one in the upper
vault on the south side.

The mound is composed of the same kind of earth as that around it, being a
fine loamy sand, but differs very much in color from that of the natural ground. After
penetrating about eight feet with the first or horizontal excavation, blue spots began to

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appear in the earth of which the mound is composed. On close examination these spots
were found to contain ashes and bits of bones. These spots increased as we approached
the center; at the distance of 120 feet within, the spots were so numerous and con-
densed as to give the earth a clouded appearance, and excited the admiration of all
who saw it. Every part of the mound presents the same appearance, except near the
surface. I am convinced that the blue spots were occasioned by the depositing remains
of bodies consumed by fire. I am also of the opinion that the upper vault wa« con-
structed long after the lower one, but for this opinion I do not know that there is any

Online LibraryAmerican Historical Society George Thornton FlemingHistory of Pittsburgh and environs: from prehistoric days to the ..., Volume 1 → online text (page 6 of 81)