Early Native American Indian Mound Builders in Indiana: Marshall County

Historic Map showing location of Early native American Indian burial mounds in Marshall County, Indiana

One Township’s Yesterdays”, The History of Union Township, Marshall County
      Beginning at another beginning, this time concerning the earliest man in what is now Union Township, we run into a real problem. Who was the first man to reside in the township? What kind of being was he? Was our earliest human inhabitant a so-called Mound-Builder? It is true that mounds have been found in the township. But were they the work of those little-known aborigines, or merely of later comers, the Indians? We cannot answer. So far, the mystery of the mounds of Union Township remains unsolved.. and doubtless will remain forever without a satisfactory explanation.

      Those mysterious people of the past, the Mound-Builders, are said on good authority to have been inhabitants of certain sections of Indiana, and it is reasonable on our part to claim at least a small portion of their population for Union Township. We shall do that. Assuming that they were here.... how long ago, we cannot conjecture... we must give them at least passing mention in our history.

      Let us first turn the clock back again... a long, long way. We find ourselves ... in another flight of imagination ... at the beginning of the great Ice Age. “Vast ice-flows march down upon northern American.” The clock ticks, seconds for year, or more likely for centuries, or for ages. We have little idea what extent of time our fanciful seconds should represent. But time flies, for now “appears man, hunter and savage, fighting for his life on the edge of the retreating ice.” The history of mankind beings.

  It was about six thousand years ago that the written record of history began... and enough has been written since then to make some mighty big mounds /// we have been unable, to date, to find a single word mentioning the Mound-Builders of Union Township. This may have been an oversight. At all events, their place in the history of mankind is hidden behind a very dark cloud of doubt. But we do know that the Mound-Builders were a terribly ancient race and a very industrious race to have built “the mighty mounds that overlook the rivers, or that rise in the dim forest crowded with old oaks.” Since that race lived and died, there have been many and sundry ”footsteps on the prairies.” And says Bryant, “I think of those on whose rest he tramples,” the rest of the dead of other days.

     Little we know, and we may wonder greatly. Let them. The dead answer our questions. Let them tell us the secret of the mounds. A race, that long since has passed away, built them:--a disciplined and populous race heaped, with long toil, the earth while yet the Greek was rearing the Parthenon. So says the poet. Finally, the red man came, the roaming hunter tribes, warlike and fierce, and the Mound-Builders vanished from the earth.

Homes on High Land

    The Mound-Builders were said to have built their homes on high points of land. They left mounds of sundry shapes and sizes, representing serpents, elephants (it seems that they must have known the mammoth or mastodon after all), various other animals, and what-not. Their history is sealed: we have learned little about them. It is said by some writers that traces of them were left in Union Township. These traces have been carefully investigated, and we shall let our readers know just about all we know about them, which is scarcely anything to crow about.
       On the “Burr Oak Flats,” mounds were discovered many years ago on what was then the J.S. Garver farm, located south of Burr Oak community. The portion of the farm on which the mounds were standing is that which includes the original Garver homestead. It is now, in 1934, the William Lake farm. Daniel McDonald reported, in 1881, “There are three what are called Indian Mounds near Maxenkuckee Lake, on the farm of John Garver, on the “Burr Oak Flats.” He said they were not over two hundred or three hundred feet apart and were situated in a triangular position from each other. They were probably thirty feet in diameter, and when first discovered were about six feet in height above the surface of the ground. Since the settlement of this part of the country, they have been cut down and plowed over until, even in 1881, they were not more than half as high as originally.
Indian Mounds on Maxenkuckee Lake

     Excavations were made in one or these mounds in the 70’s or thereabouts, and some human bones were discovered, from which it was conjectured that a battle at some time had been fought there, and the mounds had been made in burying the dead. This, however, was more or less guess-work.

Mounds on Garver Land

     J. S. Garver, in the 70’s, had property on both sides of the road connecting Burr Oak with Lake Maxinkuckee. The homestead, still standing, is sought of the Hibbard cross-road and on the east side of the Burr Oak road. Mr. Gaver had rather extensive lands. He had one parcel east of the Franklin Overmyer property and north of the Hibbard cross-road. The mounds are situated south and east of the old Garver farmhouse. The mounds are situated south and east of the old Garver farmhouse, a couple of hundred feet or more from the Burr Oak road. They are in the southeast corner of the present Lake farm, which takes in only a portion of the much more widespread Garver lands as originally owned.

     In describing the mounds, Minnie H. Swindell says that at one time their tops rose to a height of about six feet and they were about seventy-five feet across. Upon them grew trees and shrubbery. John McFarlin and Henry Grube of Plymouth remembered when the mounds were very high; but since the settlement of this region, they have been plowed under until very little trace of them remains. They were supposed to have been burial places. Grisly skulls covered with mold, and other human bones were found when the mounds were excavated. Near the bones were tools and implements of stone, iron, pottery and copper. These showed that the tribe they represented was somewhat advanced in civilized methods. According to this historian, they built their homes on high ground as a protection from roving Indians, and where spring floods could not reach them. Also, during such floods, animals took refuge on high ground: thus the inhabitants had an abundance of food. They were clever people; instead of permitting the elements to do them harm, they turned such would-be menaces to account.

    Wilbur Brown and other old residents remember when the mounds on the Garver farm used to be conspicuous, while today they are barely distinguishable, having been greatly leveled in the cultivation of the fields. Anyone not already familiar with their location, would have considerable difficulty in finding the old mounds today, since they are now so unassuming. The erosion brought about by wind and rain, added to the leveling-off due to cultivation of the soil, has about obliterated the original contour of the mounds. They now appear like natural waves or swells on the surface of the land, and much like the rolling ridges so common to the countryside in this region. On close observation, however, the mounds can be discerned in their triangular formation, the larger mound of the three being the easternmost.

Find Relics
     A visit to the former Garver farm by the writer was without what may be called success, insofar as supplying further evidence to help solve the enigma: who built the mounds? Some proofs of Indian or other early occupation of the territory were found in the form of chips such as are cast aside by the ancient arrowmakers. These chips were invariably of white or greyish flint. On the mounds and near by were some pieces of granitic stone, broken off apparently from primitive implements, such as grinding stones and tomahawks. Some of these fragments were of serpentine, the technical name for a greenish grey granite, a hard solid rock that was a favorite with the Indians for the make of certain utensils and weapons. Other debris indicated that an antique race once frequented the spot. Fossils and geological specimens were also found in the glacial drift near the mounds. Today there are no trees or shrubbery directly on the mounds, but between one of them and the dry bed of a former pond to the east is a clump of quick-growing trees.

In his later history, published in 1908, Daniel McDonald speaks of the Mound-Builders leaving traces since the days of the mastodon. These strange people are supposed to antedate the American Indian, he said. Mr. McDonald examined two mounds situated close together, on the “Burr Oak Flats.” “Digging a considerable distance into them,” he wrote, “nothing unusual was found.” In a comparatively level country, the height of the mounds indicated to him that they had been built for some purpose by human hands, but as they were composed of solid earth with nothing in them to show why they were built, it was difficult to figure out what they were for. A mile or so farther west from these mounds, he found quite a large mound which seemed to have been investigated, for there had been considerable digging in and around it. He knew of no discovery in this mound of anything that would indicate its purpose or use. Mr. McDonald could not say whether these were the work of Mound-Builders. “They were here, however, long before the Indians came to this part of the country.” He wrote, “as trees and shrubbery grew on some of them and were of considerable size when they came. These mounds were supposed to have been intended as burial places for the dead, as, in excavating in some of them, human bones were found as well as tools and implements of stone, pottery, iron and copper.”

Another Large Mound.

     In the early days quite a large sized mound existed on the west side of Lake Maxinkuckee, on or very near Long Point. It was dug into more than half a century ago, and from time to time since then many curious investigators repeated the process. Some human bones were found. Also charcoal, stone arrow-points and other trinkets and relics. The discovery of these vestiges seemed to indicate that this was a burial place of Mound-Builders or of Indians of a later period, most probably the latter. Practically the same conclusion may be advanced regarding several small mounds at “Pashpo” as originally known, located west of the Michigan Road and three miles south of Plymouth. Investigation of the Pashpo mounds was also made at an early date.

History Varies

      The pliocene skull that Bret Harte versed abut, was said to be a remnant, not only of the earliest pioneer of California, but the oldest known human being. A geologist thought that man existed contemporaneously (a contemptible word) with the mastodon, but this fossil was said to prove that he was here before the mastodon was known to exist.  The Mound-Builder has various reputations. He was said to be of gigantic height, and a cannibal,

Wheels of Time, Ervin Stuntz
    We now walk east past a few waterholes. About one quarter mile, we came to another wooded area with a ridge running diagonally through it from the northwest, located in the northeast quarter of the northwest quarter of Section 12 West Township. About in the center, we find two trenches of breastwork. These are about fifty feet apart and nearly 100 feet long.

Stuntz says Burr Oak mounds were in Section 5 Union Township and also mounds in Section 17.

Section 17, Green Township, in the west center used to be a mound, according to Frank Cowen, age 93.