Copyright
American Historical Society George Thornton Fleming.

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

. (page 8 of 81)
Online LibraryAmerican Historical Society George Thornton FlemingHistory of Pittsburgh and environs: from prehistoric days to the ..., Volume 1 → online text (page 8 of 81)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


on or near these grounds, and this opinion was supported by the quality of the lands in
which they are found, those constructed of earth being generally in the softest and most
fertile meadow grounds on river sides, and by a tradition said to be handed down from
the aboriginal Indians, that when they settled in a town, the first person who died was
placed erect and earth put upon him, so as to cover and support him ; and that when
another died, a narrow passage was dug to the first, the second reclined against him,
and the cover of earth replaced, and so on. There being one of these in my neighbor-
hood, I wished to satisfy myself whether any and which of these opinions was just.
For this purpose I determined to open it and examine it thoroughly. It was situated on
the low grounds of the Rivanna, about two miles above its principal fork and opposite
to some hills on which had been an Indian town. It was of a spheroidal form, of about
forty feet in diameter at the base, and had been of about twelve feet altitude, though
now reduced by the plow to seven and a half, having been under cultivation about a
dozen years. Before this it was covered with trees of twelve inches diameter, and
around the base was an excavation of five feet in depth and width, from whence the
earth had been taken, of which the hillock was formed.^^

In the mound, Jefferson found abundance of human bones which
from their position it was evident had been thrown or piled promiscu-
ously there together ; bones of the head and feet being in contact ; some
vertical, some oblique, some horizontal, and directed to every point
of the compass. These bones, when exposed to the air, crumbled to dust.
Some of the skulls, jawbones and teeth were taken out nearly in a
perfect state, but would fall to pieces on being examined. It was evident
that this assemblage of bones was made up from persons of all ages,
and at different periods of time. The mound was composed of alternate
strata of bones, stones and earth. Hence it would seem that barrows,
or mounds as they are most usually called, were formed by the Indians
whose custom it was to collect the bones of their deceased friends at
certain periods and deposit them together in this manner. "Qut," Mr.
Jefferson observes: "On whatever occasion they may have been made,



^•''Notes of Virginia;" Thomas Jefferson, given as on p. 156. I find these para-
graphs in the second American Edition by Carey, Philadelphia, 1704, pp. 138-139.— Edi-
tor. See also "Writings of JeflFerson;'* Library Edition, 1903, VoLII, pp. 134-135.



Pitta— 4



Digitized by



Google



so HISTORY OF PITTSBURGH

they are of considerable notoriety among the Indians ; for a party passing
about thirty years ago through the part of the country where this
barrow is, went through the woods directly to it without any instructions
or inquiry, and having stayed about it some time, with expressions which
were construed those of sorrow, they returned to the high road which
they had left about half a dozen miles to pay this visit, and pursued
their journey."

Says Samuel G. Drake: "In these tumuli are usually found, with
the bones, such instruments only as appear to have been used for
superstitious purposes, ornaments of war. Of the latter kind no more
formidable weapons have been discovered than tomahawks, spear and
arrow heads, which can be supposed to have been deposited before the
arrival of Europeans in America. What Mr. Jeflferson found in the
barrow he dissected, besides bones, or anything, he does not inform us.
In several of the depositories in the city of Cincinnati, which Dr. Daniel
Drake examined, numerous utensils were found. He has g^ven a most
accurate account of them. He divides them into two classes: ancient
and modem ; or, ancient and more ancient. Among the latter, he says,
there is not a single edifice, nor any ruins which prove the existence in
former ages of a building composed of imperishable materials. No
fragment of a column, no bricks, nor single hewn stone large enough to
have been incorporated into a wall, has been discovered."*®

Dr. Daniel Drake was one of the early physicians in Cincinnati, and
an author of medical works, editor of medical journals, and a prolific
writer. S. G. Drake in this citation makes no footnote reference to any
work of Daniel Drake, merely quotes him. There were many mounds
in and about Cincinnati, the largest originally thirty-five feet high, which
was cut down to twenty-seven feet by General Anthony Wayne for
military purposes when he was encamped there in 1794. These mounds
at Cincinnati were all on the Ohio side, and were similar to those in
Pittsburgh and that at McKee's Rocks. Cuming evidently knew the
Rev. John Heckewelder, the Moravian missionary to the Indians in
Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio. Cuming seems to have
written to Heckewelder, for in the appendices to Cuming's book there
is one communicated in a letter to him by Heckewelder, and dated
"Gnadenhuetten (Muskingum, Ohio), 3 Feb. 1810." Heckewelder said
that while in the Big Beaver reg^ion in 1771, that within the earthen
walls of an Indian fortification he saw at the depth of about three feet
"a large body of cinders the same that are found in our smith shops."

Heckewelder conversed with the oldest Indians, and to him these
related the story of the nation, the Delawares, called the "Tallegawe,"
who had inhabited the region before the Delawares came, and these
old Indians affirmed that all the fortifications had been erected by the

20"Picturc8 of Cincinnati and the Miami Valley," 1815.



Digitized by



Google



MOUNDS AND MOUND BUILDERS S^

"Tallegawe;" that the nations coming in from the west and northwest
(namely, the Delawares and those of their stock), had been attacked
by them at their crossing of the Mississippi ; that great and bloody wars
had been carried on between them, but that in the end, the Tallegawe
were totally routed and extirpated; that these people had been a very
tall race, much taller and stouter than the Delawares; and that the
word "Allegheny" had derived its name from the Tallegawe.^^

The spelling "Tallegawe" i^ Cuming's. Heckewelder's spelling is
"Talligue, or Talligewi." He mentions Colonel John Gibson's opinion
that the proper title is "Alligewi," for the Delawares to Heckewelder's
knowledge called the Allegheny river "Alligewi Sipu," or the River of
the Alligewi. Heckewelder, who lived for years among the Lenape,
or Delawares, saw everything with Delaware eyes and wrote from the
Delaware point of view. The story of the passing of the mythical
Alligewi is a typical Indian traditional story. The Lenape did most
of the fighting with these enemies, while the Mengwe, or Iroquois, hung
in the rear and enjoyed the fruits of victory. Battles were fought without
quarter given, and hundreds fell on each side. This, war lasted for
many years, Heckewelder relates that the Alligewi fortified their large
towns and erected fortifications on the large rivers and near lakes,
where they were successively attacked, and sometimes stormed by
the allied enemy nations. After an engagement, the slain were buried
in holes or gathered together in heaps, and earth piled over them.

This procedure will account for many small moilnds in which bones
were found promiscuously, but it cannot account for the elaborate
mounds such as the Grave Creek and McKee's Rocks, for the manner
of interments in them and the all too suggestive evidences of barbaric
rites preclude any ideas of hasty burial. On the contrary, there is every
reason to believe these mounds were gradually erected, with delibera-
tion, and without interference. However, in the story of the prehistoric
races, that of the Talligewi, or whatever name we may call them, is
not without pertinence to the history of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania,
for the Indians who came hither by reason of that conquest, figure largely
in our State and city's history. Their chiefs have left their names, and
their town's names also have come down to us in commemoration and
as fixed designations, of which more anon.

Mr. Charles A. Hanna, in his comprehensive work, "The Wilderness
Trail," quotes Dr. Cyrus Thomas, who wrote a monograph on "The
Cherokees in Pre-Columbian Times," wherein Thomas advances the
theory that the Cherokees were the Talligewi of Heckewelder, and that
they reached the heads of the Tennessee river from the Ohio Valley

SI See "History. Manners and Customs of the Indian Nations who once Inhabited
Pennsylvania and the Neighboring States;" Rev. John Hedcewelder; originally pub-
lished by him in i8i8^ under the auspices of the American Philosophical Society;
reprint 1876, by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.



Digitized by



Google



52 HISTORY OF PITTSBURGH

by way of the Great ICanawha, and cites in proof the similarity between
the great mound at Moundsville, the burial mounds in the Kanawha
Valley near Charleston (described by Bishop Madison. — Ed.), and those
constructed by the Cherokees in Eastern Tennessee and Western North
Carolina. Dr. Thomas noted that the names first applied by the Spanish
to the Kanawha and Tennessee rivers were variations of the spelling,
Cherokee. Heckewelder's recital of the disappearance of the Tallegewi
is that they finally abandoned the Pennsylvania region and the Ohio
Valley to their conquerors and fled down the Mississippi and were never
afterwards heard of.

We can have no doubt that the original races of Aborigines warred
much among themselves; that is, one Indian stock against another.
Iroquoian was ever antagonistic to Algonquian, and the Iroquoian
conquered and subdued. Whether the Tallegewi were the mound
builders, or whether the mound builders antedated them, must be left
to conjecture. Some light may be thrown on this question in the
chapter on the Indians (Chap. Ill) in narrating the events that led to
wars among two rival European nations, and the condition of the Indian
tribes about the Forks of the Ohio when the white man came.

Brackenridge, in a chapter headed ''Antiquities in the Valley of the
Mississippi,"^' states that no apology is needed for devoting a chapter
to a subject that has been dignified by the pens of Mr. Jefferson, Dr.
B. C. Barton and Bishop Madison. Says Brackenridge: "With all
possible deference to these respectable names, I cannot but think their
theories founded on very imperfect acquaintance with these remains,
having never themselves visited any but the least considerable, and but
few having been described with accuracy. The subject is still new, and
I know of none which opens a wider field of interesting and amusing
speculation."

Brackenridge devoted considerable space to the long since exploded
theory that the mounds were erected by a colony of Welsh or Danes
who were supposed to have found their way to North America by
accident. He describes the difference between the mode of fortifying
in Europe almost from time immemorial, and the ancient fortifications
of the Western Country. He said : "The place is usually such as con-
venience would dictate, or as best adapted to the ground; three miles
below Pittsburgh, on a kind of promontory called McKee's Rocks, nearly
inaccessible on three sides there is a fortification formed by a single
line on the land side. They are sometimes, it is true, laid off with
regularity, in the form of a parallelogram, semicircle, or square, but
most commonly they are irregular."

We know the McKee's Rocks Mound was not a fortification in any
sense. It was on high ground. Brackenridge scouts the idea that

22**vicws of Louisiana, with a Journal of a Voyage up the Missouri River in
z8ii/' by H. M. Brackenridge, Esq., Pittsburgh, 1814.



Digitized by



Google



MOUNDS AND MOUND BUILDERS 53

any Europeans were connected in any way with the antiquities. This
notion had had widespread diffusion in the time he was writing, and
has since been given much space by Winsor and other historians.

Brackenridge describes himself on the title page of his "Recollec-
tions of Persons and Places in the West," as a "Traveler, Author, Jurist."
His "Views of Louisiana" is one of his first books. He was in no
large sense a scientist. He wrote principally of the great Cahokia
Mound and those in the American Bottom on the Illinois side of the
Mississippi. As his death occurred in 1871 in Pittsburgh, at the age
of eighty-four, he had ample opportunity to keep pace with archaeo-
logical research almost to the end of his life. He seems to have done
so, for in the last edition of his "Recollections" (1868), the final appendix
bears the heading: "Mounds, or Pyramids," and in this he tells further
of the mounds opposite St. Louis, which he first visited in 181 1. He
quotes at length from an article on these mounds in a St. Louis paper
printed that year.

In the twenty-seventh chapter of his "Recollections," writing of his
return to Missouri, and mentioning his literary pursuits then (1830),
he reverts to his collection of essays published in his "Views of Lou-
isiana," as showing him "thus aspiring to the ambitious distinction of
authorship." He states also that this youthful production was favor-
ably mentioned by the "London Quarterly" and the "Edinburgh Review."
He goes on to say: "Nothing interested me so much as the remains
of antiquity, the evidences of a more numerous and more civilized people
throughout the Valley of the Mississippi. Besides the chapter on this
great subject, I made a special communication to Mr. Jefferson, who
as president of the American Philosophical Society transmitted it to that
enlightened body, who published it among their Transactions. This
led to my being chosen a member of the Antiquarian Society of Boston,
and of a similar society at Copenhagen in Denmark."

He said further : "In imagination I peopled this now silent plain with
the numerous human beings who once animated it, busily engaged
in the occupations of peace, or more deeply agitated by the thrilling
incidents of pestilence and war. In my book, which may now be found
in some public library, there will be seen a full account of these mounds,
and in the meantime hath not my friend, Caleb Atwater, in his curious
and interesting volume on the Antiquities, made honorable mention of
me, my theories on this subject and descriptions of those which came
under my personal observations? Mr. Jefferson and Bishop Madison of'
Virginia were among the first to notice these Western Antiquities, and
afterwards a Mr. Harris, in his journal, gave a particular account of
those at Marietta."'*



38The Rev. Thaddeus Ma«on Harris, whose "Journal" was imbtished in Boston,
1805. His voyage in a flatboat down the Ohio was made in 1803. Dr. Atwater was
one of the early historians of Ohia



Digitized by



Google



54 HISTORY OF PITTSBURGH

Flints, arrow and spear heads were found in all the region about
Pittsburgh. In 1876, when the "History of Allegheny County" was
published by Everts & Company, the number of these relics and the
frequency with which they were picked up, especially in the Sewickley
Valley, received mention in the book. Stone axes were common, and
pieces of pottery and various utensils were often unearthed near Leets-
dale, in the Sewickley bottom, and within one mile in this locality five
mounds were at one time visible. Near Ford City, on the Allegheny,
in Armstrong county, the remains of an ancient fort could be readily
traced to about the middle of the nineteenth century. Writers of
Armstrong county history, as late as 1883, tell of various aged persons
they had met who had seen the vestiges of this ancient fort, and had
traced and measured the fosse and parapet, and who had dug up quan-
tities of lead from the front of the parapet, evidently shot from across
the river. The writers of the history of the vicinity could tell also of
aged persons who had dug up, and of farmers who had plowed up,
great numbers of flint arrow heads and broken pottery of rare design
and of various types and colors. The old people told also of a wonder-
fully walled well near the fort, which was cleaned out, bringing to
light unmistakable parts of human bones — a deep well, indeed, such
as no Indian ever dug, for the red men pitched their teepees and built
their towns near running water always. This well was found acci-
dentally by settlers who came on the spot in 1813, and it was used for
many years. It remained a small spring until about 1902, when it
was filled up and obliterated.**

These Armstrong county pioneers were of course not aware of such
elaborate works of the aboriginal people as those near Newark, Miamis-
burg, Chilicothe, Circleville, Fort Ancient, and other places in Ohio.
They may have thought their ancient fort was the only one of its kind.

The mounds about Pittsburgh, which were well known to past
generations and many of the present, have passed away and left only
thoughts such as inspired Dr. Doddridge a century ago. He thought
these primeval people were a race of barbarian^, and has told us they
had left nothing but their forts or town walls and their graves. He
says: "It is often asked whether those people who have left behind
them the antiquities of our country, were the ancestors of the present
Indians? Unquestionably they were; and, reader, their contemporaries
of Europe and Asia were your ancestors and mine. Humiliating as
this statement may seem, it must be true; otherwise there must have
been two creations of the human race, and that we have no reason to
suppose.'***^



2*"Ford City, Pennsylvania; a Locational Skctdi," etc.; edited by John N. McCue,
1917; pp. S-7.

25"Notes on Settlement, etc.;" Edition 1912, p. 36.



Digitized by



Google



MOUNDS AND MOUND BUILDERS 55

In estimates of the great age of the works of the mound builders,
great stress is laid upon the fact that immense forest trees grew upon
the mounds, and even greater stress upon the condition of the masses
of human bones found in them, which did not admit of removal, crum-
bling into dust on exposure to air. Such was the case with many
exhumed at McKee's Rocks. There are records of tumuli, especially of
tumuli in England, known to be older than the Christian era, from which
bones were taken out and which have remained entire, Brackenridge,
closing his chapter above mentioned, quotes appropriately from Selleck
Osbom :

He grasped a hero's antique bust,

The marble crumbled into dust

And sank beneath the shade.

The study of primeval man is fascinating; the more pursued, the
more the student is puzzled. Others present only mystery.

Dr. Thomas Wentworth Higginson in his article, "The First Ameri-
cans," has given us an interesting story. He said c^* "The mound builders
were formerly regarded as a race so remote from the present Indian
tribes that there could be nothing in common between them, yet all
recent inquiries tend to diminish the distance." He discussed also the
evidences that aboriginal man in America was contemporary with the
mammoth, and left the question open. He closed his article inquiringly
thus: "Must we admit that in our eflForts to explain the origin of the
first Americans it is necessary, after all, to end with an interrogation
point?" He inclined to the opinion of Lewis H. Morgan, that there
never was, in North Americst at least, a prehistoric civilization, properly
so-called, but only an advanced and wonderfully skilled barbarism, or
semi-civilization at the utmost.^^

We may concede that the most recent explorations of these ancient
tumuli erected by a people that existed before American history, or any
history, could be written, have radically changed all our conceptions
of such a people. Modem archaeologists admit that the notions of their
predecessors in the science were partly if not wholly in error in their
notions. In the more accurate studies and researches of late years,
many assumptions of former years have not been substantiated. Whether
or not the so-called Mound Builders and the American Indians were two
distinct races is not pertinent to this history. It is now accepted that
they were not. The best authorities in archaeological researches hold
fast to the theory that they were one and the same people.^® A mass
of testimony is furnished in support of the settlement of the long mooted
question, and the speculations of former years have been swept away.

^•"Harper's Magazine," July, 1882.

37"Montezuma's Dinner," Lewis H. Morgan, in '^orth American Review," April,
1876

28"Twelf th Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology ;" p. 17, Art 7 ; quoted by
Dr. Archer Butler Hulbert, in "Historic Highways;" Vol. I, p. 38.



Digitized by



Google



56 HISTORY OF PITTSBURGH

Beyond a doubt, the region about Pittsburgh for untold ages before
the white man came was inhabited by human beings of the American
race, perhaps the Red Race, in error called Indians by Columbus, a
misnomer that will endure for all time. But there has been no tes-
timony adduced that supports the theory that a teeming population
was anywhere in North America. Such a theory is now regarded as
altogether fanciful. The sizes and dimensions of the largest mounds
do not reveal that a vast number of men were employed in their con-
struction, hence the examination of the works does not imply a great
population. It is now believed that the population in the mound
building era never exceeded the population of the continent when the
first white man landed here and made records. There were undoubtedly
congested areas such as along the rich alluvial bottoms, and especially
those in the Ohio Valley where the mounds and works are most numer-
ous, for thes6 bottoms were most fertile, and we must believe the Amer-
ican race primeval was to some extent an agricultural people and lived
otherwise than by the chase and by fishing. The Aborigines were car-
niverous, hence brave, for primitive man slew the primitive beasts with
primitive weapons. Pittsburgh people and many aged people of the
community about McKee's Rocks of fifty years ago, will readily recall
the fine farm lands along Chartier's creek, and the wide well tilled
bottoms on the Ohio now occupied by the shops and yards of the Pitts-
burgh & Lake Erie railroad, and by the immense works of the Pressed
Steel Car Company. F. Cuming in 1807 described the "Rocks" and
McKee's fine farm land. It is easy of belief that these alluvial and
easily cultivated loam soils were put to practical use agriculturally by
the primitive people who left their mound upon the promontory of the
famous Rocks, an object of curiosity for ages, to be exhumed in these
modern years of scientific research ; and its sacred relics and crumbling
bones are destined, amid the magnificence of Pittsburgh's Carnegie
Museum, to awaken awe and give rise to strange speculations in the
minds of curious observers for perhaps centuries to come.

While it must be admitted that this chapter cannot as a whole be
called historical, its contents have not been incorporated in any history
of Pittsburgh heretofore published; for, although the explorations of
the McKee's Rocks Mound took place a quarter of a century ago, its
lessons and the story of its exploration are subsequent to all our
histories except Miss Killikelly's, published in 1906, who made no
mention of the work of exploration and its results. It may be admitted
also that it was unnecessary to go into such an extended account, for
the many care little for such a story, and, not well informed on archae-
ological researches, may consider the story but a chain of conjectures,
though some deductions seem plausible enough. To this it may be
answered that the opening of McKee's Rocks Mound was a national



Digitized by



Google



MOUNDS AND MOUND BUILDERS 57

scientific event, as well as a local affair of interest, and even beyond the
community o£ Pittsburgh; that eminent scientists came here, and that
the explorations lasting nearly three months, were given ample space
in the newspapers, and these newspaper accounts are records made at
the time, and have now passed into history. Finally, the results o£ the
explorations have been for twenty-five years an exhibit of a more than
ordinary nature in the Carnegie Museum, daily viewed by hundreds of
visitors, on holidays by thousands, and that these visitors should be
interested in the story of the mound and the Mound Builders generally,
is a logical conclusion. We may extend this conclusion to apply to all
Pittsburgh people and those of the city's environs ; not only to the people
of today, but to future generations — as long at least as the Museum



Online LibraryAmerican Historical Society George Thornton FlemingHistory of Pittsburgh and environs: from prehistoric days to the ..., Volume 1 → online text (page 8 of 81)