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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 15, No. 3
September, 1937
THE ORIGIN OF THE "NATURAL" MOUNDS OF OKLAHOMA AND ADJACENT STATES.

By Joseph B. Thoburn

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In various parts of the world there are considerable areas of land upon the surface of which there exist numerous low mounds of earth, usually circular, though sometimes elliptical in outline. One of the largest of these areas, over which such low mounds are scattered in profusion, includes a large part of the lower valley of the Mississippi and the region contiguous thereto in the Middle Southwest. It embraces the entire state of Arkansas and the adjacent portions of the states of Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana and small portions of Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Illinois. It extends from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico to the mouth of the Missouri River. Other areas are found in Southern California and elsewhere along the Pacific Coast country in the United States. Similar formations are also to be found in other parts of the world. This principal province, between the Missouri River and the Gulf Coast has an aggregate area of approxmiately 150,000 square miles.

The origin, or possible causes of the formation of these mounds, has long been a matter of conjecture and speculation. While the archaeologists have shown a large measure of willingness to claim these mounds as the work of human hands, it was with a vagueness and a lack of definite, positive statement as to the probable purpose of such earth-works that left practically all the details still open to conjecture. On the other hand, the geologists, with apparent unanimity, had always seen fit to scout every suggestion of the possibility of human agency having had anything to do with the origin of these mounds. In order that the extent and varied character of these discussions may be fully understood, it

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seems well to include herein brief extracts from the published writings of various scientists and others of recognized standing who have been interested in trying to account for the existence of these small mounds.

One of the first scientists who visited Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma was Thomas Nuttall, the English botanist, who ascended the Arkansas River early in 1819. From Fort Smith he made several excursions into the present state of Oklahoma. He noticed and commented upon these mounds in several places. Singularly enough, this first recorded writer on this theme seems to have suspected that each of these small mounds was the ruin of some sort of human habitation, though he attempted no detailed description of them. Of these mounds, he expressed himself as follows:

For several miles in and around the town (Arkansas Post) the accumulation of low mounds, or Indians graves, scattered with those fragments of pots which were either interred or left on the graves with offers of food, by the affectionate friends of the deceased, mark the ancient residences of the natives. In one of these tumuli, on the bank toward the bayou, intersected by the falling away of the earth, a pot of this kind, still employed by the Chickasaws and other natives for boiling their victuals, had fallen out of the grave and did not appear to be of very ancient interment....From the ashes of fires and fragments of charcoal, besides the accompaniment of many indestructible weapons, utensils and pots broken into fragments by force, I suspect that these mounds are merely incidental, arising from the demolition of the circular dwelling in which the deceased had been interred, a custom which was formerly practiced by the Natchez, Cherokees, and other natives.1

Some weeks later and several hundred miles up the river, Nuttall took occasion again to mention these mounds:



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I observed in my ramble, a considerable collection of aboriginal tumuli, toward the center of which, disposed in a circular form, I thought I could still discern an area which had once been trodden by human feet:—but alas! both they and their history are buried in impenetrable oblivion! their existence is blotted out from the page of the living! and it is only the eye which has been accustomed to the survey of these relics, that can even distinguish them from the accidental operations of nature. * * * * Besides these tumuli scattered through the forests, there are others on the summits of the hills, formed by loose stones thrown up in piles. We have no reason to suppose that these remains were left by the Arkansas (Quapaws); they themselves deny it and attribute them to a people distinct and governed by a superior policy.2

In 1820, Captain John R. Bell, U. S. A., commanded the small party which was detached from the exploring expedition of Major Stephen H. Long, for the purpose of descending the Arkansas River, from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to Fort Smith, Arkansas, while Major Long continued his explorations southward into New Mexico and Texas. In the narrative of Captain Bell's journey, the compiler, Edwin James (probably copying from the notes of Thomas Say, the accompanying naturalist), makes mention of these small mounds, which were found to be very numerous within the limits of the present Sequoyah County, Oklahoma, as follows:

Since passing Bayou Viande (Vian), we have observed the country on either side of our path to be distinguished by extremely numerous natural elevations of earth, of some considerable degree of regularity. They are of a more or less oval outline and their general dimensions may be stated at one hundred feet long, by from two to five feet in greatest height. Their existence is doubtless due to the action


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of water. Should the rivers Platte and Arkansas be deprived of their waters the sand islands of their beds would probably present a somewhat similar appearance.3

The Rev. Isaac McCoy, who was noted as a missionary among the Indians, made the following statement concerning a group of such tumuli near the banks of the Missouri, in the autumn of 1828:

The ancient artificial mounds and fortifications, so common in the western states, are seen less frequently as we go west from the Mississippi River, and they disappear in the prairie country assigned to the Indians [in Kansas]. About a mile west of Fort Leavenworth, on a hill which commands a fine prospect in every direction, we discovered eight mounds near to each other, which from their relative position and their structure, attracted our particular attention. They were about twenty-five feet in diameter at the base, six of them nearly in a direct line, about thirty feet asunder, and the other two were on each side of the line, near the center. They were composed of stones and earth; the former placed in a circle. One of these mounds we excavated and, in the hollow within the circle of stones, we found a few human bones, some of which had belonged to adults and others to children. Excepting the pieces of skulls, they were so much decayed that, with the assistance of Dr. Rice McCoy and Dr. Bryant, surgeon of Fort Leavenworth, it was not easy to discover to what part of the human body they belonged. They had been under the action of fire and were mixed with charcoal, burnt earth and stones that had been heated with fire. It appeared that, after the bodies had been subjected to the action of fire, without being consumed entirely, they were covered with earth.


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Some Indians on the Columbia River burn their dead; but whether they leave any portion of the bones in the place of burning, I have not been informed. The place where these mounds were erected and their internal appearance favoured the conjecture that human sacrifices had there been offered.4

David Dale Owen, who was employed as a geologist in Arkansas, during the years 1859 and 1860, made the following statement concerning the probable origin of these low mounds:

South of the Fountain Hill, the country attains some thirty feet more elevation, with a scattering growth of oak, known as "oak openings." These "oak openings" skirt the prairies of Ashley County and are, like the prairies, interspersed with small mound-like elevations composed of materials which have for a greater time resisted denudation.5

Colonel S. H. Lockett made the following mention of these mounds:

There is one feature in these prairies, as well as much of the bottom lands of Ouachita and Moorehouse parishes, quite peculiar and striking, namely, a very great number of small isolated mounds. **** They are thought by the inhabitants to be Indian mounds and some of them have been excavated and Indian relics found; but it is hardly probable that so many tumuli, so irregularly scattered over so large a scope of country, can all be the results of human labor, but rather of natural origin and then subsequently used in some cases as burying grounds for the aborigines.6

J. W. Foster has quoted Col. Caleb G. Forshey's manuscript notes concerning certain small mounds as follows:

There is a class of mounds west of the Mississippi Delta, and extending from the Gulf to the Arkansas and above,






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and westward to the Colorado in Texas, that are to me, after thirty years' familiarity with them, entirely inexplicable. * * * These mounds lack every evidence of artificial construction, based upon implements or other human vestigia. They are nearly all round, none angular, and have an elevation hemispheroidal, of from one to five feet, and a diameter of from thirty feet to one hundred and forty feet. They are numbered by millions. In many places, in the pine forest and upon the prairies, they are to be seen nearly tangent to each other, as far as the eye can reach, thousands being visible from an elevation of a few feet.
On the Gulf marsh margin, from the Vermillion to the Colorado, they appear barely visible, often flowing into one another, and only elevated a few inches above the common level. A few miles interior they rise to two and even four feet in height. The largest I ever saw were perhaps one hundred and forty feet in diameter and five feet high. These are in Western Louisiana. Some of them had abrupt sides, though they were nearly all of gentle slopes. There is ample testimony that the pine trees of the present forests antedate these mounds. The material for their construction is like that of the vicinity everywhere, and often there is a depression in close proximity to the elevation.
In utter desperation I cease to trouble myself about their origin, and call them "inexplicable mounds."7

In a preliminary report on the hills of Louisiana south of the Vicksburg, Shreveport, and Pacific Railway, Otto Lerch wrote:

Each of these valleys carries a line of lakes, the probable history of which has been given in preceding pages. The mamillae, the little rounded hills are invariably found associated with them, though they are also seen in the recent flats, witnessing the sluggishness and slow retreat of


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periodical flood waters by which they have been peculiarly eroded.8

A. C. Veatch has held the view that, of the many theories advanced concerning the origin of the low, circular mounds of the Mississippi Valley and Texas, three seemed to deserve the most careful attention, namely: (1) The spring and gas vent theory; (2) the dune theory, and (3) the ant hill theory. After reviewing these very briefly Secretary H. F. Bain, of the Washington Geological Society, concluded as follows:

Of the theories of origin yet suggested, none are entirely satisfactory, and the dune and ant hill theories are the only ones well supported. If either of these hypotheses is correct, the mounds are indications of important climatic changes in very recent time. It was suggested that the matter should be approached by careful excavation of a number of these mounds at widely different points in order to determine the relation of the mounds to the beds which underlie them and the soil surrounding them.9

In a paper upon this subject, Dr. J. C. Branner described the so-called "natural mounds" or "hog wallows" of California, Oregon and Washington and enumerated the theories most commonly advanced as to their probable origin. Referring to the common occurrence of mounds of the same character in South America, Doctor Branner continued:

Similar mounds occur in many places and covering large areas over the flat prairie lands along the eastern slopes of the Andes in the Argentine Republic. I used to think the Argentine mounds were of aeolian origin but, while some mounds are evidently made in this way, the explanation is not satisfactory for the great bulk of them.




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On the theories spoken of above, the ant hill theory seems to be the most plausible, but with our present knowledge it is far from satisfactory.10

In commenting on the paper of Veatch, Dr. E. W. Hilgard stated that he had made many excavations and continued as follows:

Having just previously investigated the mud-lumps of the Mississippi Passes, my first conjecture was that of mud-spring origin; but the total absence of the characteristic "onion" structure of such mud-spring cones at once made me abandon this hypothesis. The total absence of any regular structure or stratification, such as characterizes all dune or other wind-drift structures, equally excluded these, as well as water erosion, since the soil and sub-soil of the surrounding prairie are quite distinctly in horizontal layers. I, therefore,...considered their ant-hill origin as the only reasonable explanation; raising the question as to how the once teeming population of these vast areas came to be destroyed. Climatic changes suggested themselves to me, but the present existence of ant villages in the adjoining state of Texas seemed to negative this assumption also.

A number of years afterward, I was forcibly reminded of the inutility of supposing climatic changes to have occurred when, having camped in the Yellowstone Valley after nightfall, on a convenient elevation above the sodden ground, I was put to precipitate flight by an army of large ants issuing from beneath my rubber mattress. Daylight observations revealed to me the counterparts of the Louisiana mounds, only, as a rule, less thickly grouped than on the Louisiana prairies; and on excavating some of those mounds which had been deserted by their aggressive inhabitants, I noticed precisely the same structureless earth I had seen on the Opelousas Prairie, only this time traversed by the half-obliterated burrows, which in the Louisiana



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mound-fields were almost wholly imperceptible, or at least undistinguishable from the old root-tracks.
It therefore seems to me that the question of the Louisiana mounds resolves itself into a biological problem, viz., what kind of an ant might have built up these elevations and what causes might have operated to depopulate them. For, if mud-building ants now live in both Texas and Montana, it is hardly necessary to call in climatic changes to account for the facts.11

W. J. Spillman, of the United States Department of Agriculture, wrote of these mounds as follows:

These mounds are exceedingly numerous in Southwest Missouri, also. They are a characteristic feature of the landscape in Lawrence County, Missouri, (second tier of counties from Kansas and from Arkansas), where the writer lived for many years.
They are abundant both in the timber and on the prairies, but are more noticeable on the prairies because of the fact that on them the prairie grasses give place to taller forms of vegetation. Before the lands were put in cultivation these mounds were from one to three feet high and usually twenty to thirty feet in diameter. On newly reclaimed lands, crops grow much more luxuriantly on the mounds than elsewhere. Corn is usually the first crop planted on new lands in that section and, it is usual for corn on the mounds to grow nearly twice as tall as on the surrounding areas the first year. This difference in growth gradually disappears as cultivation continues.
These mounds have probably originated from different causes in different regions. In Southwest Missouri their origin is probably due to the following causes: The soil of the region has been formed by the decay of the great sub-carboniferous limestones. Where these strata are ex-


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posed in cliffs there may occasionally be found concretions of flint several feet in diameter. The flint is broken into rather small fragments, which fall apart more or less when the surrounding limestone disintegrates into soil. The flint resists disintegration far greater than the limestone. These masses of flint fragments later become prominent mounds by the more rapid denudation of the surrounding soil containing comparatively little flint. This theory is strengthened by the fact that the material forming the mounds to the depth of several feet consists very largely of small flint stones.12

In a contribution to Science, Prof. A. H. Perdue reviewed several of the theories which had been advanced as to the origin of these mounds and rejected them all, including the ant-hill theory. In describing the mounds, he stated that they "always occur on clay soil," which is at variance with the observations of other investigators, and he concludes by suggesting that the mounds may be due to the lifting of the underlying shales by some unknown force.13

D. I. Bushnell, Jr., who was at one time connected with the Peabody Museum of Harvard University, has also contributed a brief paper in which he gave some details of his own experience and observations in excavating some of these small mounds:

Both papers to which I have referred (i. e., those of Messrs. Veatch and Branner) mention the mounds as existing as far north as the Arkansas, but do not allude to the numerous groups which occur in Missouri. These are of a similar form and size and a description of one group appears to be applicable to all.
About four years ago I had occasion to excavate many small mounds that stood on the site of the World's Fair in St. Louis. They formed two groups, one on the ridge, the




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other, not more than six hundred yards distant, was in the lowland on the bank of the small River des Peres. All the mounds of both groups were of uniform size and were considered as being the same in every respect. But when excavated those on the ridge were found to be ruined habitations. The original surface, which had served as the floor, was readily distinguished. Near the center was the fire-bed with ashes and charred wood, worked flint and many small fragments of cloth. Marked pottery was also found on the same level. The mounds of the lower group were likewise examined, but, unlike the others, nothing was found to indicate their origin or use. It will thus be seen that the same theory of origin will not apply to mounds of the same size and appearance when only a third of a mile apart. How unreasonable it is, therefore, to attempt to apply the same theory to those several thousand miles distant from one another.
I have already mentioned the large groups that exist in Missouri. In Dallas County, in the southern part of the state, they are particularly numerous; many extend in parallel rows along the water courses in the lowlands and others, hundreds, occur in rows on the western slopes, while comparatively few are found on the eastern. Many of these mounds were examined but nothing was discovered to shed any light on their origin; they resembled the lower of the two groups on the fair site, to which I have already referred.
Probably if these small mounds were not so numerous the question of their origin would never have been raised and they would have been considered, together with the larger mounds, as having been made by man, but the question of number should not influence the decision. It is doubtful if the combined bulk of all these small mounds in the Mississippi Valley is more than equal to that of the one great mound of the Cahokia group.

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Without conclusive proof to the contrary, I feel that the most plausible theory of the origin of these small mounds, in Missouri and other localities where they occur under similar conditions, is that they were made by man, probably to serve as elevated sites for habitations.14

In reply to Bushnell's discussion above quoted, Veatch wrote as follows:

The writer has assisted in the excavation of a number of Indian village sites and mounds in Indiana and Kentucky, and has observed and described Indian mounds and village sites occurring in various parts of Louisiana, and feels that the theory of human origin is in no way applicable to the great class of natural mounds which he has observed in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas and along the Iron Mountain Railroad in Southeastern Missouri. The idea of human origin suggests itself at once to every observer, and it strongly attracted the writer when he first examined these natural mounds in Louisiana in 1898, but a more extended study showed such a hypothesis to be entirely indaequate. Opposed to this theory are the following facts: (1) The natural mounds in many cases do not occur in situations favorable for camp sites. (2) They often occur in elevated locations where there is absolutely no reason for artificial elevated sites for habitations. (3) Regarded as ruined habitations or wigwam sites, it is very important to consider their vast number and the extent of territory covered. On this basis they would indicate, in many parts of Louisiana and Texas, an intensity and multiplicity of life not now duplicated in any rural community in the world. The sustenance of such vast communities would be entirely beyond the capabilities of the people who built the true Indian mounds. (4) The natural mounds generally occur on the poorest land in the northern Louisiana region, and this fact is strongly opposed to any agricultural significance.


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No one doubts that there are numerous Indian mounds throughout this region, but the natural mounds belong to an entirely different class and should not be confused with the artificial ones.15

He has enumerated different theories of possible origin, grouping them under five general agencies, namely: (1) human; (2) animal; (3) water erosion; (4) eruptions; (5) wind, action. At that, he did not mention glaciation or seismic action and several other theories which have not lacked for advocates. Veatch closed his discussion of this subject in the guarded language of a careful scientist as follows:

In conclusion it may be said that these mounds are clearly due to causes not now in operation in this region, and no theory as yet suggested is entirely satisfactory. The dune and ant-hill theories are perhaps the best supported. On either of these hypotheses the mounds are indications of important climatic changes in recent time, and so offer a line of investigation which may develop important and far-reaching results.16

A paper by Marius R. Campbell, on the subject of "Natural Mounds," was published, in which, after enumerating eleven different theories, the writer proceeded by the process of elimination to dispose of most of them, continuing as follows:

The case is now narrowing down to two modes of origin, namely, human construction and the action of burrowing animals.
Although much has been written regarding the human origin of these mounds, the arguments against it are so strong that it may be classed with the other hypotheses which have been disregarded. It is doubtless true that simi-




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lar mounds have been erected by prehistoric man, but it is absurd to suppose that the countless millions of mounds which exist in the regions noted above (i. e., Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas) have been the result of human activity.
This disposes of all hypotheses except that which ascribes their origin to the action of burrowing animals; but whether the mounds are due to ants or to small rodents, the writer is unable to say. Personally, he inclines to the anthill hypothesis, but there is little or no evidence to determine which is correct. No burrows or chambers of any kind have been discovered in the mounds and, in the cases observed by the writer, no differences were observed in the character of the underlying clay which would indicate the former presence of chambers, even though they are now filled. No excavations were noted in the neighborhood which could have supplied outside material for the mound and, consequently, it was assumed that this material must have come from a long distance underground and the minute channels through which it was transported have been closed by material falling in from above or carried in by water in suspension.
The constructional feature is considered to have been proved in this particular case, but it remains to account for the agent that performed the work. It is believed, however, that careful work in trenching some of the best preserved examples of these mounds would furnish some evidence to determine this part of the question, but such investigations have never been undertaken, at least not on an extensive scale.17

The natural mounds, so-called, of the Puget Sound region have been discussed in considerable detail by M. J. Harlen Bretz in his paper entitled, "Glaciation of the Puget Sound Region."18 Of the





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two types of mounds which he describes, one; namely, the Mima type (so called from their abundance on the Mima prairies) seems to have many chaacteristics in common with the prairie mounds of Eastern Oklahoma. His description was in part as follows:

Where best developed, the open prairie, bearing mounds of this type, appears like a meadow dotted with haycocks. The mounds have a symmetrical, flowing outline, appearing to the eye to be segments of spheres, though their lower slopes blend into the adjacent ground with the surface concave upward. They range in height from those so little as to be just perceptible, to a maximum of seven or eight feet, and in diameter from six or seven feet to sixty feet or more. In any one locality there is a striking uniformity in the size of these mounds. Almost none exceed the dimensions prevalent in that locality, and few fall below.
They are uniform in shape as well as in size. There is commonly an elongation so that one diameter exceeds the other at right angles to it by a small fraction. Two mound crests may be so closely placed that the bases blend, with only a saddle between the crests. The elongation, when present, does not conform to any definite orientation.19

Concerning the composition of the mounds of the Mima type, Mr. Bretz states that:

A constant feature of the gravel outwash bearing the mounds is the presence of a black surficial silt. This silt is present in many places where no mounds are developed but is never lacking in mound-bearing areas. Road and railroad sections on several different prairies show that the mounds are composed of a mixture of loose gravel and black silt. The gravel below the mounds is stratified and free from the black silt. The transition between the mound material and the underlying clean gravel is sharp.


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A gravel pit, forty feet deep, is being worked in Mima Prairie by the Northern Pacific Railroad, in which cross sections of mounds are constantly being made. The black silt here has a thickness of but few inches between the mounds. In the mound sections, however, the silt is seen to descend lower than in the intermound spaces, giving, with the mound profile a distinct double convex lens shape to the black silt aggregation.
The lower limit of the silt in the Mima sections in many places has broad, blunt, root-like downward projections, seldom more than a foot in length. These bend abruptly here and there in the of the section or appear as patches of black silt in the gravel just below the mounds, where the section crosses their direction of bend.
The explanation of the Mima type mounds of Vashon outwash of Puget Sound glaciation is believed to lie in some combination of water and ice action under the limitation imposed above, such combination being unique so far as the writer is aware. Details of this explanation can probably go no further until observation has detected the formation of similar deposits in the outwash of existing Piedmont glaciers or ice sheets.20

In the introductory chapter of his paper entitled "Mound Explorations," Cyrus Thomas wrote as follows concerning house sites and hut rings:

The works to which the latter of these names is applied are usually small rings or circles of earth from fifteen to fifty feet in diameter, the enclosed area being more or less depressed. This name is given them because it is now conceded that they are the remains of circular houses or wigwams. In Arkansas and other southern sections these ruins appear to be replaced by low, flattened, mostly circular mounds, in which are found the indications of remains of


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houses which in most cases appear to have been consumed by fire. To these and other similar remains, though not covered by mounds, the name of "house sites" has been applied.21

Under the head "hut rings" Mr. Thomas gave a detailed description of such remains as he found and examined them in the Dakotas—evidently the ruins of long deserted village-sites of the Arikara and Mandan Indians:

In the counties of Scott and Mississippi, in Southeastern Missouri, apparently at the point of transition from the one form to the other, he found numerous specimens of both in the same vicinity with larger mounds, describing them as follows:
The house sites or hut rings cover the remainder of the area....They are not confined to the natural level of the enclosure, as some are found on the level tops of the (larger) mounds. They are circular in form, varying from thirty to fifty feet in diameter, measuring to the tops of their rims, which are raised slightly above the natural level. The depth of the depression in the center is from two to three feet. Near the center, somewhat covered with earth, are usually found the baked earth, charcoal and ashes of ancient fires, and, around these and beneath the rims, split bones and fresh-water shells. Often mingled with this refuse material are rude stone implements and fragments of pottery.22

George W. Featherstonbaugh, the British geologist and minerologist, who made a scientific reconnaissance in Missouri and Arkansas, in 1934, under the auspices of the Corps of Topographical Engineers, of the United States Army, mentioned these small mounds only incidentally; yet, at that, he did what most subsequent writers failed to do, namely, recognized them as being the ruins of earth-covered habitations.





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Lofty hills are found there, composed entirely of this material. On one of these I saw several large pits, twenty to thirty feet deep, and as many in diameter, resembling inverted cones, the insides of which were covered with broken chips of this beautiful mineral, some white, some red, some carmine, some blue, some quite opalescent. In and near these pits, round and long masses were scattered about, of a hard greenstone I had found in place eighteen miles distant, and none of them too large for the hand. They were, undoubtedly, Indian tools, and these were the quarries from whence the Indians had formerly obtained the materials they used for their arrow heads, and other weapons of offence. I found no arrow heads there, however, but subsequently on many of the alluvial banks of the streams in the country around, amidst the circular holes and mounds, where their now fallen mud cabins formerly stood, prodigious quantities of chips of the same material, and of broken arrow heads also, were strewed around; from whence it may be inferred that they resorted to the mountains for pieces of the mineral, and carried it to their villages to fabricate.23

In a paper entitled "The Clays of Arkansas," Dr. J. C. Branner briefly alluded to these small mounds, and expressed himself conservatively as follows:

Over much of the prairie region there are numerous small spheroidal mounds, which are rarely more than two feet high or fifty feet across the base. They are different from the larger mounds of undoubted human origin. The origin of these mounds has been a great mystery to all those who have studied them.
By some they are thought to have been built by Indians; others have considered them as having been built by ants; and still others have attributed their origin to natural agencies, as winds and waves.


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The similarity in size, form and general appearances of these depressions and earthen rings to those of the earth lodges of the abandoned Mandon towns along the Missouri River, leaves no doubt that they mark the dwelling sites of the people who formerly occupied this locality.24

Gerard Fowke wrote of the small mounds in Minnesota and Wisconsin, his statements being that, in 1887, he had learned from an old Scottish trader and trapper named William Cameron, of an extinct aboriginal tribe designated in the traditions of the Sioux as the "Ground House People." Fowke's statement continues as follows:

The "old men" of the Sioux corroborated this tradition and told Cameron that as they went westward they came to a race of people who lived in mounds which they piled up. These people were large and strong but cowardly. "If they had been as brave as they were big," said the Sioux, "between them and the Chippewas we would have been destroyed; but they were great cowards and we easily drove them away."
Mr. B. G. Armstrong, of Ashland, Wisconsin, told me that he had taken great pains to investigate this tradition. From all that he could gather by much inquiry among the Indians and from his own observations, he was satisfied of the correctness. These people whom the Sioux called Ground House Indians built houses of logs and posts, over and around which they piled earth until it formed a conical mass several feet thick above the roof. Their territory extended from Lake Eau Claire, about thirty miles south of Lake Superior, to the Wisconsin River near Wausau or Stevens Point; down the Wisconsin a short distance; thence west into Minnesota, but how far he could not say; then around north of Yellow Lake, back to the Eau Claire region. The Sioux exterminated the tribe, the last survi-


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vors being an old man and a woman who had married a Sioux. They were taken to the present site of Superior, or Duluth, and "died about 200 years ago"—that is, in the last quarter of the Seventeenth Century.
Gordon, an intelligent Indian, living at the town of the same name, a short distance south of Superior, was familiar with the tradition, as were other Indians, with whom I talked, and who accepted it as a well-known fact. Gordon related that he had heard "the old men" say these Indians erected their houses of wood and piled several feet of dirt over them; and they buried their dead in little mounds, i. e., small, timber-framed, earth-covered structures out in front of their houses and a few hundred feet away. He told of a mound that was opened near Yellow Lake in which the postion and condition of the skeletons, two or three children being among them, showed "as plainly as anything could" that they had been sitting or lounging around the fire, when the roof fell in and crushed them.
There is a "Ground House River" in Eastern Minnesota, which probably derived its name from this people.25

A. J. Conant, in writing of the archaeology of Missouri, advanced the theory that the small mounds of the states immediately west of the Mississippi were erected for agricultural purposes. His discussion of the subject is in part as follows:

There are evidences of tilling the soil, of quite a novel character, which still exist in prodigious numbers, not only in Missouri, but also in other regions west of the Mississippi. I have heard of but very few east of that river. These works consist of low circular elevations, generally two or three feet above the level of the natural surface or nearly so, sloping off gently around the edges. All that I have seen among the Ozark hills are composed of black alluvial soil and disclosed, when excavated, no implement or


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relic of any sort. Their presenec may always be detected in cultivated fields, when covered with growing crops, by the more luxuriant growth and deeper green of the vegetation. They abound in all the little valleys among the flinty hills of the Ozarks, from Pulaski County, Missouri, to the Gulf of Mexico, and westward to the Colorado in Texas, and as far north as Iowa. Their size in the hilly regions seems to be determined by the amount of rich vegetable mold which could be scraped together in a given spot. Residence sites they could not have been, or they would have contained some relic of stone or bone, or fragment of pottery, or at least the ashes of the family fire.
From all that can be learned about them, I see no reason to doubt that they were erected for agricultural purposes, and have therefore presumed to name them Garden Mounds.
It would seem perfectly natural, in a sterile country, and where the inhabitants had few materials for artificial fertilization, to gather into heaps the thin vegetable mold upon the surface, thus increasing its richness and capacity for retaining moisture. But the question may be asked, why should the same practice be necessary in the prairies and bottom lands, the richness of which is proverbial and inexhaustible? For answer we are not left to conjecture.
In the rich lowlands of the west, the chief difficulty is too much moisture, especially in seasons of unusual rainfall. This, the corn raisers in American Bottom know from repeated experience. Hence, acres of corn are often utterly ruined in such seasons, when planted upon low and level fields which have not ample artificial or natural drainage: when, had the earth been raised a few inches even in drills or mounds, such as have been described, a good crop could have been secured. An intelligent Iowa planter informed me that he had often seen this demonstrated in corn fields which were filled with these mounds. The low

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ground between them, if the season was usually rainy, would yield no returns, while upon the mounds themselves the crop would be excellent. From these considerations, there can be but little doubt that the garden mounds were raised for the better cultivation of maize, which was doubtless the staple article of ancient husbandry.26

In closing the presentation of the evidence and of the theoretical conclusions submitted by previous writers relative to the origin or possible cause of the formation of these tumuli, it would seem worthy of remark that, unanimity of opinion is not to be expected.

It is believed that the extracts herein submitted are sufficient to exemplify the wide diversity of opinion concerning the origin of these peculiar earth formations. However, it is scarcely to be hoped or expected that this word may be accepted as final upon a question which has so long been a subject of dispute.

In any event the writer will be pleased if this paper may lead to renewed interest and development of further information in regard to the theme.27





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