We must first try and locate the territory occupied by the remains of the mound builders. They are not to be found broadcast over the whole country. We recall, in this connection, that the early civilization of the East arose in fertile river valleys. This is found to be everywhere the case, so we are not surprised to learn that the broad and fertile valley of the Mississippi, with its numerous tributaries, was the territory where these mysterious people reared their monuments and developed their barbarian culture. Throughout the greater portion of this area we find numerous evidences of a prolonged occupation of the country. We are amazed at the number and magnitude of the remains. Though this section has been under cultivation for many years, and the plow has been remorselessly driven over the ancient embankments, yet enough remain to excite our curiosity and to amply repay investigation.
This portion of the United States seems to have been the home, the seat of the mound building tribes. We can not expect to find one type of remains scattered over this entire section of country. Indeed, to judge from the difference of the remains, they must have been the work of different people or tribes, who were doubtless possessed of different degrees of culture.3 We will notice in our examination how these remains vary in different sections of the country. But it is noticeable that these remains become scarce and finally disappear as we go north, east, and west from the great valley. Although they are numerous in the Gulf States, yet they are not to be found, except in a few cases, in States bordering on the Atlantic.4 Some wandering bands, perhaps colonies from the main body of the people, established works on the Wateree River, in South Carolina,5 In the mountainous regions of North Carolina occur mines of mica, which article was much prized by the mound builders; and here also are to be found traces of their early presence.6 We do not know of any authentic remains in New England States. In Western New York there exists a class of remains which, though once supposed to be the work of these people, are now generally considered as the remains of works erected by the Indians,7 and of a similar origin appears to have been the singular fortification near Lake Winnipiseogee, in New Hampshire.
We have no record of their presence north of the great lakes. Passing now to the western part of the valley, we do not find definite traces of their presence in Texas. On this point, however, some authors state the contrary, apparently basing their views on a class of mounds mentioned by Prof. Forshey. But the very description given of these mounds, and the statements as to the immense number of them, seem to show they are not the work of men. We do not think the West, and especially the North-west, has been carefully enough explored to state where they begin. It is certain that the head waters of the Mississippi and the Missouri were thickly settled with tribes of this people, and some writers think that they spread over the country by way of the Missouri Valley from the North-west. Mr. Bancroft quotes from the writings of Mr. Dean, to show the existence of mounds and inclosures on Vancouver Island, and in British Columbia. And the statement is made that a hundred miles north of Victoria there is a group of mounds ranging from five to fifty yards in circumference, and from a few feet to fifty feet in height.
The inclosures, however, are described as being very similar to those in Western New York, and are probably simply fortified sites, common among rude people the world over, and such as were often erected by Indians. The remains on the upper Missouri and its tributaries are very numerous, and to judge from the brief description given us of them, they must be very interesting.This section has, however, been too little explored to speak with confidence of these works.
As showing how much care should be exercised in this matter, we refer to the account given by Capt. in his journal of the United States exploring expedition. Speaking of the mounds on the gravelly plains between the Columbia River and Puget Sound, he tells us that the Butte Prairies are covered with small mounds at regular distances asunder. Some of them are thirty feet in diameter, six or seven feet above the level of the ground, and many thousands in number. He opened some of them, and found a pavement of round stones, and he thought he could detect an arrangement of the mounds in groups of five, thus.
It was his impression that they were the works of men, and had been constructed successively and at intervals of several years. This observation of Capt. Wilkes is referred to by many as evidence of the former existence of Mound Builders in this section.
More careful research in recent times has established the fact that these mounds were certainly not erected by human hands, and no one else has been able to discover the supposed arrangement in groups of five. The pavement of round stones is common to the whole prairie.
But the greatest objection is the number of the mounds. A population larger than could have found a living in the country must have been required to erect them, unless we assume that a great length of time was consumed in this work. Some other explanation must be given for these mounds, as well as for those mysterious ones mentioned by Prof. Forshey. This cut gives us a fair idea of the scenery of this section and the mounds.
Indian Mound Prairie Located on the Columbia River
Within the area we have thus defined are located the works of the people we call the Mound Builders. What we wish to do is to learn all about these vanished people. A great many scholars have written about them, and large collections of the remains of their handiwork have been made. There is, however, a great diversity of opinion respecting the Mound Builders and their culture. So we see we have a difficult subject to treat of. In order to gain a clear understanding of it, we must describe the remains more closely. About all we can learn of these people is from a study of their monuments. We can not call to our aid history or tradition, or rock-carved inscription, but must resort to crumbling mounds, broken down embankments; study their location, and observe their forms. To the studies in the field we must add those in the cabinet, and examine the many objects found in and above the mounds and earth-works, as well as the skeletons of the builders of the works. Rightly used, we can draw from these sources much valuable information of the people whose council-fires blazed all along the beautiful valleys of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers in times far removed from us.
We will first speak of the simplest form of these works, the ordinary conical mound. This is the one form found all over the extensive area designated. They exist in great numbers on the banks of the upper Missouri, as well as the river bottoms of the South. This cut represents a very fine specimen of a mound, in this instance surrounded by a circular embankment. We must not forget that mounds are found all over the world. "They are scattered over India, they dot the steppes of Siberia and the vast region north of the Black Sea; they line the shores of the Bosphorus and the Mediterranean; they are found in old Scandinavia, and are singularly numerous in the British Islands."