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

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evidence.

We have overlaid the excavation from the sides to the center with brick, and
paved to bottom. We excavated the vault in the center twenty-eight feet in diameter.
It is well walled with brick, and neatly plastered. The rotunda or shaft in the center
is also walled with brick. The foundation of the rotunda is in the center of the lower
vault, and around this we have made departments for the safe keeping of the relics,
nearly where they were found ; this vault we light with twenty candles for the accom-
modation of visitors, many of whom have never seen it

Upon the top of the mound and directly over the rotunda, we have erected a three-
story frame building, which we call the observatory. The lower story is thirty-two feet
in diameter, the second twenty-six feet, and the upper story ten.

Mr. Tomlinson proceeds to further describe this observatory, which
he states was erected in 1837, ^^^ then says: "In addition to the relics
found in the Mammoth Mound, I have a great number and variety
of relics found in the neighborhood, many of them found with skeletons
which were nearly decayed. I have some beads found about two miles
from the great mound, that are evidently a kind of porcelain, and
very similar if not identical in substance with artificial teeth set by
dentists. I have also an image of stone found with other relics about
eight miles distant ; it is in human shape, sitting in a cramped position,
the face and eyes projecting upwards; the nose is what is called Roman.
On the crown of the head is a knot, the hair is concentrated and tied.
The head and features particularly are a display of great workmanship
and ingenuity ; it is eleven inches in height, but if it were straight would
be double that height. It is generally believed to be an idol." Mr.
Craig makes no comments anywhere in Tomlinson's story, save the
foot-note, referring to Tomlinson's sketch, to wit: *'This figure we
must omit."***

Dr. J. W. Foster has inserted a woodcut engraving of the great
mound in his work, "Prehistoric Races, etc." (p. 190), showing large
trees on the summit and on the sides of the great mound, and the
observatory that crowns it. He credits the picture to Squier and Davis.
Dr. Foster's book was first published in 1873.

Dr. Foster quotes at length from Mr. Tomlinson's. account, which
he states Tomlinson had published in pamphlet form when his explora-
tions were completed. Foster gives the exact number of the ornaments
Tomlinson found in the mound, in order to portray a just idea of their
profusion. The discs cut from the shells of the Busycon perversum in all
were 2,350; the small shells known as Marginella apicina^ which were



io"American Pioneer;" Vol. II, p. 239 et seq, "Olden Time;" Vol. I, pp. 2J2-2J&



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MOUNDS AND MOUND BUILDERS 43

pierced at the shoulder for stringing, numbered 500 ; and the specimens
of mica, 25. No date is given by Craig in the reproduction of Tom-
linson's letter. Dr. Foster states that the stone "inscribed with antique
alphabetical characters" was not produced by Tomlinson until two years
after the explorations.

Dr. Clemens, "an observer," is quoted by Dr. Foster, Clemens stating
that in carrying the horizontal excavation, at a distance of twelve or .
fifteen feet there were found numerous masses composed of charcoal
and burnt bones. On reaching the lower vault from the top, Clemens
states further, it was determined to enlarge it for the accommodation
of visitors, when ten or more skeletons were discovered.

Dr. Foster was well satisfied from the descriptions that the principal
occupant of the mound, as indicated by its magnitude, was a royal
personage. He draws the astounding inference and says no other can
be drawn, than that many of this great one's attendants were strangled,
and that others were sacrificed as a burnt offering. The same evidences
of human sacrifice appeared plainly enough in the exhumations at
McKee's Rocks. The strangulation theory we may accept only as infer-
ential. Dr. Foster finds in ancient history good authority for his beliefs.
He quotes Herodotus' account of the burial of the Scythian king.** A
mound very nearly as large as that on Grave Creek is mentioned by Dr.
Foster at Miamisburg, Montgomery county, Ohio, which he states meas-
ures 68 feet in height and 850 in circumference.

There are many writers who have been interested in the Grave
Creek Mound, and consequently much history of it, some of it old.
Schoolcraft attempted to ascertain the purport of these mounds from
living Indians in his time. Replies given him by the older sagamores
were vague, which he thought could be regarded as designed in some
measure to repress the inquisitive spirit among immigrants, which is
known to be distasteful to the native red men, and calculated to awaken
suspicion. Schoolcraft ventures the opinion that these rude mausolea
were once regarded by the Indians as places of interment of their great
men of past ages, and as places of resort for pious reflection and cor^-
munion. He presents illustrations of a skull, and the stone with the
curious inscriptions upon it, alleged to have been taken from the Great
Mound on Grave creek. Schoolcraft accepted the stone as genuine, but
gave no translation, nor any mention of any.** A footnote in the third
edition of "Doddridge's Notes," (Pittsburgh, 1912, edited by John S.
Ritenour and William T. Lindsey), states that the Grave Creek Great
Mound was opened in 1888 by Mr. Tomlinson. The year is an error in
composition, readily noted from Tomlinson's extended account above.

Dr. Doddridge, familiar with Jefferson's work, quotes him in the

""History;" Book IV, Chap. 72. "Pre-Historic Races ;" Foster, p. 192.
i2"lndian Tribes of the United States, etc;" H. R, Schoolcraft, Vol. VI, p. 6ia.



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44 HISTORY OF PITTSBURGH

original edition of Doddridge's "Notes on the Settlements/' in one of
eleven footnotes made by Doddridge himself in his book. He mentions
Jeflferson's estimate that the mound he examined on the Rivanna, in
Albermarle county, Virginia, near Monticello, might contain a thousand
skeletons. Doddridge, in supposing Jeflferson's estimate warranted,
inquired what must be the number of skeletons in the great mound
of Grave creek. Doddridge requested those curious enough to make
the calculation to do so and make public the results.

The McKee's Rocks Mound yielded but thirty-one that could be
identified. How many had disintegrated into bone dust cannot be
estimated. A casual glance at the skeletons and remains of skeletons
in the Carnegie Museum, and a comparison with the classroom skeletons
for anatomical study, impresses the most ordinary observer that there
is a vast difference in their appearances, and that the former are un-
doubtedly of rare antiquity. The inference that they date back a thou-
sand years is not untenable.

The Grave Creek Mound is also accorded mention by Winsor. In
the chapter, "The Antiquity of Man in America," noting the protracted
controversies over the genuineness of certain relics, he states that the
best known of these was the inscribed stone found in the Great Mound
on Grave Creek. He attests that this is the largest mound in the Ohio
Valley, and that it was earliest described by its owner, Mr. Tomlinson,
in 1838, and mentions Tomlinson's excavations and his construction of
the rotunda in the center of the mound as a showroom for relics, and
then says: "Here as taken from the mound, appeared two years later
what is known as the Grave Creek Stone, bearing an inscription in
inscrutable characters. The supposed relic soon attracted attention.^'
Naturally it did. Schoolcraft was charmed with the find, and was ably
supported by Dr. J. P. McLean in maintaining its authenticity, while
Colonel Charles Whittlesey was sure of its fraudulent character. This
was "the only" inscribed stone of the mound builders of the Upper
Ohio region. None such could have been in the mound on Grant's Hill,
and none was found in that on McKee's Rocks; nor are any mentioned
by Jefferson, Brackenridge, and other early investigators. There are
many persons yet living in the town of McKee's Rocks who saw the
mound opened and what was taken from it, and many in Pittsburgh
also, including Dr. Holland, who had charge of the work of excavation.
All the relics from the mound can be seen in the "Indian Room" in the
Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh.^*

Dr. James M. Callahan, of West Virginia, in a recent work'* says:
"Indian stone graves and earth mounds are found all over West Vir-



i8"Narrative and Critical History of America," Justin Winsor, Vol. I, p. 371.
i^Sce 'Tublications of the Carnegie Museum,** No. 3, 1898; p. 100.
i<("GenealogicaI and Personal History of the Upper Monongahda Valley," Lewis
Pub. Co., New York, 1912; edited by Dr. B. L. Butdier; Vol I, p. 198.



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MOUNDS AND MOUND BUILDERS 45

ginia. The largest mound and the largest anywhere is at Moundsville.
This is one of the best known mounds in the country. A stone with
hieroglyphics found in it many years ago led to a wide discussion among
scholars in many countries. It was hoped for a time that its interpre-
tation might be discovered, and that it would throw light on the origin
of the Indians. The stone was finally pronounced a hoax. It was
probably dropped in by some joker while the mound was being exca-
vated, and when the workmen were temporarily absent."

Other tourists down the Ohio have described the Grave Creek Mound.
Thus James Hall in 1828, who was there April i8th, remarks : "Between
Wheeling and Marietta there is little worthy of attention, except the
mounds and fortifications on Mr. Tomlinson's farm on Grave Creek.
It is a circular mound sixty-eight feet high and fifty-five feet in diameter
at the summit. This is one of the largest mounds in the Western
Country, and exhibits every indication of great antiquity, its whole
surface being covered with forest trees of the largest size, and the earth
presenting no peculiarity to distinguish it from the adjacent soil."*®

Mr. Hall wrote before Tomlinson began his explorations. Henry
Howe in his "Historical Collections of Virginia," (1845), describes the
Grave Creek Mound at some length in his sketch of Marshall county,
and presents a good picture of it.

F. Cuming, voyaging down the Ohio from Pittsburgh in 1806, landed
at Grave creek and stopped with the Tomlinsons. He states that when
he was with them they had been settled there thirty years. His story
of the mound reads thus :

Mrs. Tomlinson obligingly permitted one of her sons to guide us to what is called
the Indian grave, which is about a quarter of a mile to the southward of the house. It
is a circular mound like the frustrum of a cane, about 180 yards in circumference
round the base, sixty round the flat on the top, and about seventy feet perpendicular
height. In the center of the flat top is a shallow hollow like a filled up crater of an old
volcano, which hollow or settle is said to have been formed within the memory of the
first neighboring settlers, and is suppo&ed by them to be occasioned by the settling of
the earth on the decayed bodies.

The whole mound appears to be formed of clay, and is evidently a work of art,
though I am not of opinion that it has been a general or public cemetery, but either
a mausoleum raised over and in memory of a great Indian chief, a temple for religious
worship, or a site of a fortification or citadel to serve as a place of retreat from a
superior foe. About three years ago the neighbors perforated the north side at about
half the elevation, digging in horizontally about twelve feet, without other satisfaction
to their curiosity than the finding a part of a human jaw bone, the bone rough and
honeycombed, but the teeth entire, and the surrounding clay of a white chalky substance.

There are four or five small mounds, all within a few hundred yards of the great
one, each about thirty feet in diameter, much lower in proportion than it, all rounded
over the top, and, like the great one, showing their antiquity by the size of the trees,
plants and shrubs which cover them, and having more than the appearance of tumulL

The bark of the trees which crown this remarkable monument is covered by the
initials of visitors cut into it wherever they could reach — ^the number of which, con-
sidering the remote situation, is truly astonishing.17



i6"Letters from the West, etc.," James Hall, London, 1828; p. ;&
i7"Tour to the Western Country."



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46 HISTORY OF PITTSBURGH

We need not express surprise at Cuming's observations here. The
mound has continued a great curiosity, and is well worth seeing. Mr.
Cuming, in the appendices to his book, inserts one pertaining to mounds
and the so-called "fortifications." He leads an extract of six and a
half pages with this paragraph : "In the sixth volume of the 'American
Philosophical Transactions' will be found the following observations
on the American Antiquities by the Rt. Rev. Bishop Madison of Virginia.
He treats of the supposed Indian fortifications in the Western Country,
and adopts an entirely new opinion concerning them. Having visited
some of these remarkable works on the river Kenhawa and its vicinity,
he has been induced to wholly reject the common belief of their being
fortifications or military works. His reasons for this conviction we oflfer
in his own words."

Bishop Madison's opinion was based upon military principles — ^many
ancient works had a ditch within the enclosure, and the earth that was
thrown up, or the supposed parapet, lacked the elevation necessary for
a defensive work. These circumstances occurred without exception in
all the works he examined, which presented an entire or regular circle.
The imaginary breastwork never exceeded four or five feet in height,
in his time, many only three feet. A bank of earth thrown up in the
usual way does not wash, and loses little of its height in a century, or
twenty centuries, he said. One-fourth of the height would be more
than a sufficient allowance for loss in this manner. The ditches were
shallow — four feet wide usually, and a little more than two feet deep.
He concluded that, making allowance for the operation of all the
causes that tend to diminish the depth of a ditch, and from the meas-
urements of many ditches he had taken, that originally they were very
trifling fossse, and from a study of military art from past ages in many
countries, even in ancient Greece, that these "ancient fortifications"
in North America, as a defense, could not oppose a sufficient obstacle
to human agility, and this point would be decided in nearly the same
manner by every people unacquainted with gunpowder. The decision
would not admit of such fosses and parapets as we find dispersed over
the Western Country, "and man in this new world has lost no portion
of his former agility," he forcefully finished.

Bishop Madison noted particularly the constant similarity of the
"antiquities" he examined. It was as constant, he said, as the rude
edifices or cabins that the first white settlers reared. The description
of one answered for all. There was no anomoly observable except
that occasionally the variation of a few yards in the diameter of the
circles.

These observations in the main will apply to the "imaginary forti-
fications," as Bishop Madison terms them, about Pittsburgh. In Vir-
ginia, in nearly all he examined, in a direct line with the gateway to
the fort, there was a mound of easy access, from ten to twenty-five feet



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MOUNDS AND MOUND BUILDERS 47

in height. These mounds effectually commanded the whole enclosure.
There was not a missile weapon, the Bishop said, that would not, from
the height and distance of the mound, fall within the fortification, and
that they would not have fallen in vain.

To rear a fortification and then build a castle or mound around it,
v^rhich would give to an enemy the entire command of the fortification,
would, in his opinion, be as little recomtnended by an Esquimau as by
a Bonaparte. There was no such blunder committed, he contended —
no such discordancy of means to be found. On the contrary, there
could be traced a perfect harmony of parts. Bishop Madison follows
these statements with much matter relating to the mounds, and his
remarks and conclusions are pertinent to the story of Pittsburgh's
mounds. To quote Bishop Madison freely:

These mounds are universally cemeteries. Wherever they have been opened, we
find human bones and Indian relics. They have grown up gradually as death robbed
a family of its relatives, or a tribe of its warriors. Alternate strata of bones and earth,
mingled with stones and Indian relics, establish this position, and hence it is, we find,
near the summit of these mounds, articles of European manufacture such as the toma-
hawk and the knife, but never at any depth. in the mound. Besides, it is well known
that among many of the Indian tribes the bones of the deceased are annually collected
and deposited in one place; that funeral rites are then solemnized with the warmest
expressions of love and friendship ; and that this untutored rac^ urged by the feelings
of nature, consigned to the bosom of earth, along with the remains of their deceased
relatives and friends, food, weapons of war, and often those articles which they pos-
sessed and most highly valued when alive. This custom has reared, beyond doubt, those
numerous mounds. Thus, instead of having any relation to military arrangements or
involving any of the absurdity above mentioned, they furnish, on the contrary, strong
evidence that the enclosures themselves were not destined for defensive works, because
reared as these motmds have been, by small but successive annual increments, they
plainly evince that the enclosures which are so near to them have been, not the tem-
porary stations of a retiring or weakened army, but the fixed habitations of a family
and a long line of descendants.

That these mounds, or repositories of the dead, sometimes also called barrows,
were formed by the deposition of bones and earth at different periods, is now rendered
certain by the perfect examination to which one of them on the Rivanna was subjected
by the author of the "Notes on Virginia." His penetrating genius seldom touches a
subject without throwing on it new light. Upon this he has shown all that can be
desired. The manner in which the mound or barrow was opened, afforded an oppor-
tunity in viewing its interior with accuracy.

Bishop Madison quotes Jeflferson here:

Appearances certainly indicate that it has derived both origin and growth from
the accustomary collection of bones and deposition of them together; that the first col-
lection had been deposited on the common surface of the earth, and a few stones put
dver it; that the second had been laid on this, had covered more or less of it in pro-
portion to the number of bones, and was then covered with earth, and so on. The
following are the particular circumstances which gave it this aspect: (i) The number
of bones; (2) their confused positions; (3) their being in different strata; (4) the
strata in one part having no correspondence with those in another; (5) the different
states of decay in these strata, which seem to indicate a difference in the time of
inhumation ; (6) the existence of infant bones among them.is



i«"Note8 on Virginia," in "Writings of Jefferson;" Library Edition, 1903, Vol. II,
pp. 137-138.



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48 HISTORY OF PITTSBURGH

Bishop Madison continues:

The number of bones in this barrow, which was only forty-five feet in diameter
at the base and about twelve feet high, authorized the conjecture (by Jefferson) that it
contained a thousand skeletons. Now as all of these numerous barrows have the most
obvious similarity, we may conclude that what is true of one is cceteris paribus, appli-
cable to all. The only difference consists in their dimensions. I visited one situated on
the low grounds of the Kenhawa which might be almost called the pyramid of the West.
Its base measured 140 yards in circumference, its altitude very nearly forty feet. It
resembles a truncated cone; upon the top there is a level of twelve or thirteen feet in
diameter. A tall oak of two and a half feet in diameter which had grown on the top,
and had long looked down on the humbler foresters below, had experienced a revolu-
tionary breeze which swept it from its majestic station, apparently about six or seven
years before my visit. Within a few miles of this stands another which b said to be
higher. No marks of excavation near the mound are to be seen. On the contrary, it is
probable from an examination of the work that the earth composing the mound was
brought from some distance. It is also highly probable that this was done at different
periods, for we cannot believe that the savages would submit to the patient exertion of
labor requisite to accomplish a work at any one undertaking. Near to this large one are
several upon a much smaller scale. But if that upon the Rivanna, which was so accu-
rately examined, contained the bones of a thousand people, this upon the Kenhawa
would contain forty times that number, estimating their capacities as cones. But who
will believe that war has ever been glutted with so many Indian victims by any one
battle The probability seems to. be that these mounds, formed upon so large a scale^
were national burying places, especially as they are not connected with any particular
enclosure, whilst those upon a smaller scale, and which are immediately connected with
such a work, were the repositories of those who had there once enjoyed a fixed habita-
tion. But whether the conjectures be admitted or not, the inferences from what has
been said, that those enclosures could not be designed as fortifications, will, I think,
be obvious to any one.

Bishop Madison gives three more strong reasons for his belief ; first,
some were built at the foot of a hill where stones could have been
rolled down on them by the thousands; again, many were too remote
from water, and no indications of any wells; water is most necessary
to the besieged. Still again, the works were too numerous, every foot
of the Western Country was covered by them, had been valiantly and
obstinately disputed. Those met with on the Kanawha and every
tributary of that stream, several in a square mile, were as thick as the
cabins of the farmers. There were no advantageous selections of ground
for forts such as at the junction of the Kanawha and Elk rivers, and too
many in low places; in short, no fortifications where civilized people
would have built them.

James Madison, above quoted, born in 1749, died in 1812, was the
first Protestant Episcopal Bishop of Virginia. He was first a member
of the faculty and then president of William and Mary College. He
was consecrated bishop in 1790. He published sermons and occasional
papers, and was best known for his eulogy on Washington in 1800, and
for a map of Virginia which he prepared.

How much these deductions and opinions may differ from those
of more modern antiquarians can be left to the reader to be determined
from the close reading of the extracts from the writings and discourses



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MOUNDS AND MOUND BUILDERS 49

of such archaeologists as Drs. Putnam, Foster, Moorhead, Holland and
others, who have been quoted. In connection with the story of the
McKee's Rocks Mound they are most interesting. Thomas Jefferson
has been mentioned as having been interested in Indian antiquities, and
discourses on them. He observes :

They consist of nothing like monuments. I would not honor with that name
arrow points, stone hatchets, stone pipes, and half-shapen images. Of labor on the
large scale, I think there is no remain as respectable as would be a common ditch for
the draining of lands, unless indeed it would be the Barrows, of which many are to be
found all over in this country. These are of different sizes, some of them constructed of
earth and some of loose stones. That they were repositories of the dead has been obvious
to all, but on what particular occasion constructed was a matter of doubt. Some have
thought they covered the bones of those who have fallen in battles fought on the spot of
the monument Some ascribe them to the custom said to prevail among Indians, of collect-
ing at certain periods the bones of all their dead wheresoever deposited at the time of death.
Others again, suppose them the general sepulchre for towns conjectured to have been



Online LibraryAmerican Historical Society George Thornton FlemingHistory of Pittsburgh and environs: from prehistoric days to the ..., Volume 1 → online text (page 7 of 81)