D. S. (David Samuel) Margoliouth.

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mounds.* It appears to be "a kind of hemp, possibly the Apocynum
cannahlnum, formerly used by the Aztecs," or perhaps, as suggested
by Colonel D. A. Robertson, of St. Paul, the fibers of Urtica gracilis.
Cloth of equal fineness is still made by several of the Indian tribes,
particularly by the Navajoes of New Mexico ; and nearly all of the
tribes are known to have had mats and even carpets, woven of various
sedges or of bast-fibers. They are still made by the Chippewa Indians
in northern Minnesota.

The sculptured objects taken from the mounds, even those of the
human face, are generally cut in some very soft stone, or are made of
clay. They are equaled in skill and design by the sculptured pipes

Fio. 8.— From photograph of an image found in the valley of Koot River, near Lanesboro, Minne-
sota, April. 1860. The mound from which it was talcen also contained etone arrow-heade, one
copper ditto, clay-burned pipes, amous: tlie remains of a laree number of human skeletons.
Tlie ima^'e was evidently made of clay burned to be very hard. The back or reverse side is
nearly ttat. The none is partly broken off.

and hatchets the Indians have been known to make ever since the
Columbian discovery, and particularly by those made of the famous
red pipestone or Catlinite f of Minnesota. As illustrative of the sculpt-
ure of the mound-builders. Fig. 8 is here presented. This is from a
photograph of a representation of the human face taken from a mound

* R. J. Farqiiharson, " Recent Explorations of Mounds near Davenport, Iowa,"
" Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science," vol. xxiv,
p. 305.

f Mr. Farquharson (" American Association for the Advancement of Science," vol. xxiv,
p. 306) speaks of a green variety of Cutlinite, which, on the contrary, is always red.
Other American archfcologists have in the same way spoken of Catlinite (?) pipes found in
the mounds, but which by the descriptions given are precluded from being Catlinite. The
Chippewa Indians of Minnesota make pipes of a greenish argillitic slate, obtained near
VOL. XIX. — 39


lately opened at Lanesboro, in Fillmore County, Minnesota. For
this I am indebted to the kindness of Mr. H. G. Day, who states
that the image was found in the same mound with stone arrow-
heads, one copper arrow-head, clay-burned pipes, and the remains of
a large number of human skeletons. This piece of burned clay,
about three inches in height, represents the human face, and is cer-
tainly not evidence of greater skill than the Mandan pottery made by
the women of that tribe, but shows that the burning of clay was a
practice common to both peoples.

There was a time, recently, when the flattening of the shin-bone
was claimed to be a striking peculiarity of the mound-builders. This
view was very fully set forth by Mr. Henry Gillman, in his papers
on the contents of several Michigan mounds, particularly those on
the Rouge and Detroit Rivers, explored by him in 18G9 and 1870
(" Smithsonian Report," 1873). This view has also been advocated by
Dr. A. E. Johnson, before the Minnesota Academy of Sciences, in a de-
scription of bones taken from a mound at Palmer Lake, near Minne-
apolis. If this distinction could be fully established, it would be one of
the most valuable and one of the most remarkable ethnological discov-
eries of American scientists, and would form a basis for future inves-
tigations that might fully establish the distinctness of the mound-
builder among the dynasties of North America. But, according to
Mr. Gillman's own observations, made at a later date, this peculiarity
is not uniform nor constant in the tibia? taken from the Michigan
mounds, and in some mounds it is wanting. The same is true of the
perforation of the humerus, which has also been regarded as pecul-
iar to the mound -builder. Of six humeri taken by the writer from
mounds at Big Stone Lake, Minnesota, but one was perforated. Both
these osteological variations are found occasionally in the present
Indian, and the former is very common in the negro and in the ape.
Dr. Jeffries Wyman informs us, according to Professor J. D. Dana,
that the platycnemic tibia is a common fact among the American
Indians, as well as in the prehistoric remains of Europe. More lately
a platycnemic tibia from the Lanesboro mound was submitted to Pro-
fessor Leidy, of Philadelphia, who, in reply to a question as to its
significance, stated that it was now regarded as of no special signifi-
cance, but was a common occurrence in the early races.*

We come now to consider the most interesting as well as the most
diflicult points in the genetic relationship of the Indian and the
mound-builder. These are the existence of the mounds, the mining

the international boundary, but the Sioux use the Catlinitc of the celebrated pipcstonc
region, in southwestern Minnesota. By trade the Cntlinite sometimes finds its way into
the northern part of the State, and is employed as inlaid ornaments in the dark slate, in
the same manner as lead is used for a similar purpose.

* For a knowledge of this correspondence I am indebted to Rev. E. D. Neill, of the
Minnesota Historical Society.


of copper, and the use of copper implements. The Indian, it is said,
knows nothing of the mound — that is, nothing of its origin, lie also
avers, at the present time, that he knows nothing about the copper
knives, axes, and arrow-points that are shown him. This fact, taken
with a sentiment that has exalted the builders of the mounds to a
stage of civilization far in advance of that evinced by the common-
alty of the savage races of North America as they exist in the eigh-
teenth and nineteenth centuries, has erected a barrier between the
Indian and the mound-builder, which, though wholly imaginary when
subjected to close analysis, is so great that they have been regarded
either as misinformed, or rash, who have ventured to question its
validity. Messrs. Squicr and Davis, who first systematically explored
and described the remarkable mounds of the Ohio Valley, were led to
regard the mound-builders as a race wholly distinct from the Indian
(" Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge," vol. i, 1848), and this
view is also maintained by the beautiful and able work of Mr. John
T. Short (" The North Americans of Antiquity," 1880). Mr. Squier,
however, in his work on the "Aboriginal Monuments of the State
of New York" ("Smithsonian Contributions," vol. ii), in 1849, men-
tions many points of resemblance between the mound-builder and the
Indian, though he does not specifically state that the Ohio Valley earth-
works are probably of Indian origin, while he does conclude that the
mounds and earthworks of western New York, as well as their con-
tents, are the product of the Iroquois. Mr. Lapham, in vol. vii of
the " Smithsonian Contributions," unhesitatingly ascribes the mounds
and the copper-mining to the Indians, but his opinion has been gen-
erally ignored. Colonel J. W. Foster, in " Prehistoric Races of the
United States," makes light of Mr, Lapham's views.

Upon consulting a number of works in the library of the Minne-
sota Historical Society that bear on this subject, it is found that there
are a great many more references to the use of copper by the Indians,
and to their knowledge of its origin, than has generally been supposed.
They are too numerous and circumstantial, and are spread over too
wide a stretch of time, to be supposed to be exceptional.

Following are a few quotations from early journals and histories
that seem to demonstrate not only that the Indians used and mined
native copper, but that they also erected mounds of earth, or of stones,
in commemoration of their honored dead, and for sepulture. The
Indian is a dull utilitarian. He is but little given to sentiment. As he
knows nothing of the future, so he remembers little of the past. Hope
and history are alike feeble in his mental garniture. His traditions
are worthless, and " his chronology of moons and cycles is an incohe-
rent and contradictory jumble."* If he says he knows nothing of
these relics, his testimony can apply only to himself jiersonally, for his
ancestors, on the most undeniable evidence, did know all about them,
* Short, " The North Americans of Antiquity," p. 22.


In regard to the use of copper, and the mining of it, by the Ameri-
can aborigines, may be made the following quotations and references :

In the " Collections of the New York Historical Society," second
series, vol. i, is given a translation of the Italian account of the voy-
age of John de Verazzano along the coast of North America, from
Carolina to Newfoundland, a. d. 1524. When about at Narragan-
sett Bay and Harbor he makes these notes : " We saw upon them [the
aborigines] several pieces of wrought copper, which is more esteemed
by them than gold, as this is not valued on account of its color, but is
considered by them as the most ordinary of the metals, yellow being
the color especially disliked by them ; azure and red are those in high-
est esteem by them." Further on he says of another tribe : " In this
region we found nothing extraordinary except vast forests and some
metalliferous hills, as we infer, from seeing that many of the people
wore copper ear-rings."

Henry Hudson's ascent of the river that bears his name is given in
the same volume, in the form of a journal kept by Robert Juet, mate.
Speaking of the natives, on page 323, Juet says : " They had red cop-
per tobacco-pipes, and other things of copper they did wear about
their necks " ; also, " They have great tobacco-pipes of yellow cop-
per " ; also, on page 300, Hudson himself says, " The people had cop-
per tobacco-pipes, from which I inferred that copper might naturally
exist there."

Raleigh observed copper ornaments among the Indians on the
coast of the Carolinas ; Granville, in his voyage in 1580, observed
copper in the hands of the natives of Virginia, and made an effort to
reach the place where they said it was obtained. After a toilsome jour-
ney into the interior, of some days' duration, the attempt was abandoned.
Heriot's "Voyage," in Pinkerton, vol. xii, p. 594, gives an account of
copper found " in two towns one hundred and fifty miles from the
main, in the form of divers small copper jilates, that are made, we are
told by the inhabitants, by people who dwell farther in the country,
where they say are mountains and rivers which yield white grains of
metal which are deemed to be silver. For confirmation whereof, at
the time of our first arrival in the country, I saw two small pieces of
silver, grossly beaten, about the weight of a tester [an old coin about
the weight of a dime], hanging in the ears of a Wiroance. The afore-
said copper we found to contain silver." McKenzie found copper in
use among some of the extreme northern tribes, on the borders of the
Arctic Sea, according to his " Second Voyage," page 333, as quoted
by Squier.* " They point their arrows and spears with it, and work it
up into personal ornaments, such as collars, ear-rings, and bracelets,
which they wear on their wrists, arms, and legs. They have it in
great abundance, and hold it in high estimation." Alexander Henry,

*" Smithsonian Contributions," toI. ii, p. 117. Bancroft ("Races of the Pacific
Slope") mentions the mining of copper on Coppermine River, b\' existing tribes.


in his "Travels," page 195, states that the Indians obtained copper at
Lake Superior, " which they made into bracelets, spoons, etc." De
Soto found copper hatchets in possession of some of the tribes along
the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, which they stated they obtained from
a province called Chisca, far to the north. Claude Allouez, in 1666,
visited Lake Superioi-, and states that " it happens frequently that
pieces of native copper are found, weighing from ten to twenty pounds.
I have seen several such pieces in the hands of savages; and, since they
are very superstitious, they esteem them as divinities, or as presents
given to them to promote their happiness, by the gods who dwell be-
neath the water. For this reason they preserve these pieces of copper
wrapped up with their most precious articles. In some families they
have been kept for more than fifty years ; in others they have de-
scended from time out of mind, being cherished as domestic gods.
For some time there was seen near the shore a large rock of copper,
with its top rising above the water, which gave an opportunity for
those passing by to cut pieces from it ; but when I passed that vicinity
it had disappeared. I believe that the gales, which are frequent, like
those of the sea, had covered it with sand. Our savages tried to per-
suade me that it was a divinity who had disappeared, but for w^hat
cause they were unwilling to tell " (Foster and Whitney's " Report on
Lake Superior," Part I, page 7). Dablon, in his " Relation " for 1669-
'70, states that " the savages did not agree as to the source of the cop-
per. Some say that it is where the river [Ontonagon] begins, others
that it is close to the lake, in the clay, and others at the forks and
along the eastern branch of the river." Again, Dablon gives an ac-
count of its being reputed to occur on an island about forty or fifty
leagues from the Send toward the north shore, opposite a place called
Missippicoatong (Michipicoten ?). The savages related that the isl-
and was a floating island, sometimes near and at other times far off.
These statements, with other particulars, make it very probable that
the Indians of Lake Superior were familiar with the localities prior to
their acquaintance with the French, and that the place here described
can be no other than the even then celebrated mines of Isle Royal.

Jacques Cartier in 1535 spent the winter at or near Quebec, and
learned several facts concerning copper that was in possession of the
Indians, which he has given in his "Brief Recital." They made an
effort to explain to him where the copper came from. They gave
Cartier to understand that there were large quantities where they
obtained it, situated on a bank of a river near a lake. One of the
chiefs drew from a sack a piece of copper a foot long and gave to
Champlain. "This was quite pure and very handsome." He said
they had " gathered it in lumps, and having melted it spread it out
in sheets, smoothing it with stones." * The Indians at Montreal and

* Champlain's "Voyage du Sicur de Champlain," Paris, 1613, p. 246, as quoted by


Quebec in 1535 were familiar with the fact that Saguenay was a
copper-bearing region. John Gilmary Shea, LL. D., says (Shea's
" Charlevoix ") : " The Saguenay of the St. Lawrence Indians was
evidently the Lake Superior region, and possibly the ports accessible
by the Mississippi. The river Saguenay was not so called from being
in but from leading to Saguenay!''' Thus, at a distance of from eight
hundred to one thousand miles from its origin, Cartier in 1535, and
Champlain in ICIO, encountered Indians who informed them of the
manner of raining, and of manufacturing copper implements, Cham-
plain stating that the copper was melted.

It is not presumed that this is a complete list of historic references
to the use of copper and copper mining by the Indians, but it is amply
sufficient to show that it is not necessary to invoke a strange race,
prior to the Indian, to account for all the copper implements and
the nuggets of copper that have been found in the mounds, as well
as for those found on the surface of the ground throughout the

The term mound-builders is distinctively applied to the race that
constructed the remarkable earthworks of the valley of the Ohio,
and of the interior of the United States in general, but it is true
that in nearly all parts of the world the practice of mound-building
has prevailed, sometimes among nations that come within historical
epochs. Mounds are found among the Celts and the Scythians, in the
Sandwich Islands and in New Zealand, in Japan and India, and
throughout the central parts of the Eastern Continent, as well as in
both Americas, from the country of the Esquimaux to Chili and
Fuegia. The earliest of human records refer distinctly to this method
of honoring the dead. The heroic age of Greece, as sung by Homer,
abounded with ceremonies and curious details relating to the tumulus
erected over the bones of the slain hero. The burial of Patroclus, as
related in the twenty-third book of the " Iliad," is an illustration of
the practice of mound-building by the ancient Greeks :

"The sacred relics to the tent they bore,
The urn a veil of linen covered o'er.
That done, they bid the sepulchre aspire,
And cast the deep foundations round the pyre ;
High in the midst they heap the swelling bed
Of rising earth, memorial of the dead."

At the burial of Hector, the Trojans erect a pile of large stones
over the urn containing his remains, and upon that pile up the tumu-
lus. When ^neas buried the pilot of his fleet, Misenus, he

"... piously heaped a miglity mound sepulchral."

ArtachKas, superintendent of the canal at Athos, was honored by
Xerxes with a memorial mound which still remains, in remembrance
of the skill of that engineer, and an evidence of the custom of the


Persians. The Scythian kings are entombed in tumuli along the banks
of the Dnieper, Orestes, bewailing his father, Agamemnon, says :

" If but some Lycian spear 'neath Ilium's walls

Had lowly laid tliee,
A mighty name in tlie Atridan halls

Thou wouldst have made thee.
Then hadst thou pitched thy fortunes like a star,
To son and daughter shining from afar,
Beyond the wide- waved sea the high-heaped mound

Had told for ever
Thy feats of battle, and with glory crowned

Thy high endeavor."

In Asia Minor the tomb of Alyattes, the Lydian king, has a cir-
cumference of nearly a mile, requiring ten minutes to ride round its
base. In the same neighborhood, near the lake Gygrea, are numerous
other circular mounds.

The same practice was continued into the later days of Grecian
history. Alexander raised a mound over Demaratus, which, Plutarch
says, was " eighty cubits high and of vast circumference." The tumulus
erected on the plain of Marathon, in commemoration of the one hun-
dred and ninety-two Athenians who fell in the battle, is near the sea,
and is to be seen by all travelers. It is about one hundred feet in cir-
cumference, and about twenty-five feet high. Finally, coming within
the scope of modern history, the construction, at the order of the Eng-
lish Government, of a mound of earth on the plains of Waterloo, at-
tests the tenacity of that sentiment of veneration for the dead who
die in the service of their country, and the persistence of a practice,
which seems to be common to all mankind and to have survived from
prehistoric times, of resorting to the mound of earth, as being at once
the easiest made and the most enduring monument in memory of the

The practice of mound-building not being distinctive of any race,
tribe, or epoch of the human family, it may be considered not at all
unlikely that the aboriginal tribes of America, perhaps without ex-
ception, had their ceremonies and habits of burial, if not other rites of
a sacred character, in one way and another associated with the erection
of mounds of earth. Indeed, it would be a remarkable exception if
the native Americans did not erect mounds. They possessed the land
without molestation prior to the discovery of Columbus. They had
the necessary elements of perpetuity and stability, at least so far as
these can be predicated of savage tribes. They cultivated the soil and
conducted a considerable trade with their neighbors. They exhibited
all other characteristics common to mankind in an uncivilized state.
The denial of their resort to mound-building, for the same purposes
as other tribes in similar circumstances, carries with it the necessity
to account for such an anomalous exception.


It is often stated that the Indian, when inteiTOgated concerning
the mounds and earthworks of the country, shakes his head in igno-
rance, affirming that he knows not their origin. This fact is carried
further than it should be when it is invoked to prove the non-In-
dian origin of these mounds. Admitting, with some reservation, that
the Indian at present knows nothing of the origin of the mounds, still
it may be true that his immediate ancestors were familiar with the
facts of their erection. The Indian has been driven from the home
where he was bom, and where his ancestral traditions and customs have
centered and exhibited their unconstrained development, and has been a
fugitive for several generations, from the cupidity and the bayonet of
the white man. When it is remembered that the erection of a mound,
such as are seen all over the Xorthwest, was not the act of a day, nor
of a year, but of many years, and perhaps generations, it is easy enough
to understand why the custom has become so nearly extinct. The
Indian has become greatly modified by contact with the European.
He has gradually been compelled to forsake many customs and aban-
don arts, which came into competition with the customs and the arts
of the stronger race. The semi-nomadic life which he has been com-
pelled to adopt has not been favorable to the erection of mounds,
which requires the quiet of permanent and peaceful residence.

We are not, moreover, without testimony to the fact that the
present Indian tribes did build mounds. Lewis and Clark mention
the custom among the Omahas, saying that " one of their great chiefs
was buried on a hill, and a mound twelve feet in diameter and six
feet in height erected over him. Bertram states that the Choctaws
covered the pyramid of coffins taken from the bone-house with earth,
thus raising a conical hill or mound. Tomochichi pointed out to Gen-
eral Oglethorpe a large conical mound near Savannah, in which he
said the Yamacraw chief was interred, who had, many years before,
entertained a great white man with a red beard, who entered the
Savannah River in a large vessel, and in his barge came up to the
Yamacraw bluff. Featherstonhaugh, in his " Ti-avels," speaks of the
custom among the Osagos, referring to a mound built over the body
of a chief, called Jean Defoe by the French, who unexpectedly died
while his warriors were absent on a hunting expedition. Upon their
return they heaped a mound over his remains, enlarging it at intervals
for a long period, until it reached its present height. Bradford says *
that many of the tumuli formed of earth, and occasionally of stones,
are of Indian origin. They are generally sepulchral mounds — either
the general cemetery of a village or tribe, funeral monuments over
the graves of illustrious chiefs, or upon a battle-field, commemorating
the event and entombing the fallen, or the result of a custom, prevalent
among some of the tribes, of collecting at stated intervals the bones

* "American Antiquities and Researches into the History of the Red Race," 1841,
p. 17.



of the dead, and interring them in a common repository. A mound of
the latter description was formerly situated on the low grounds of the
Rivanna River, in Virginia, opposite the site of an old Indian village
(Jefferson's " Notes on Virginia," pp. 100, 103). It was forty feet in di-
ameter and twelve feet in height, of a spheroidal form, and surrounded
by a trench, whence the earth employed in its erection had been exca-
vated. The circumstances attending the custom alluded to were, the
great number of skeletons, their confused position, their situation in
distinct strata, exhibiting different stages of decomposition, and the
appearance of bones of infants. A mound of similar character, and
constructed in layers or strata at successive periods, existed near the
south branch of the Shenandoah, in the same State. A tumuhis of
stones, in New York State, is said to have marked the grave of a dis-
tinguished warrior (McCauley's " History of New York," vol. ii, p.
239). " Beck's Gazetteer " (p. 308) states that " a mound of the largest
dimensions has been thrown up, within a few years, in Illinois, over
the remains of an eminent chief." The Natchez Indians, when ex-
pelled from Louisiana in 1728, erected a mound " of considerable size "
near Natchitoches, as stated in the documents accompanying the Pres-

Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthThe Popular science monthly (Volume 19) → online text (page 77 of 110)