Houses of the Mound Builders

View of an Adena Mound Builders house from the Ohio Valley.

     The general view of the house-life and houses of the Indian tribes thus far presented will tend to strengthen the hypothesis about to be stated concerning the earth-works of the Mound-Builders. Apart from the explanation that the long-houses of the Northern Tribes and the joint-tenement house of the Sedentary Indians are capable of affording, they are wholly inexplicable. The Mound-Builders worked native copper, cultivated maize and plants, manufactured pottery and stone implements of higher grade than the tribes of the Lower Status of barbarism; and they raised earth-works of great magnitude, superior to any works of the former tribes. They fairly belong to the class of Sedentary Village Indians, though not in all respects of an equal grade of culture and development. Their embankments, which inclosed a rectangular space, were in all probability, the foundations upon which they erected their houses. It is proposed to consider these embankments under this hypothesis.
Under the name of Mound-Builders certain unknown tribes of the American aborigines are recognized, who formerly inhabited as their chief area the valley of the Ohio and its tributary streams. Traces of their occupation have been found in other places, from the Gulf of Mexico to Lakes Erie and Superior, and from the Alleghanies to the Mississippi, and in some localities west of this river.
Without entering upon a discussion of these works, this chapter will be confined to four principal questions:
I. The house-life of the American aborigines, in the usages of which the Mound-Builders were necessarily involved.
II. The probable center from which the Mound-Builders emigrated into these areas.
III. The uses for which their principal earth-works were designed, with a conjectural restoration of one of their pueblos; and,
IV. The probable numbers of the people.
The Mound-Builders have disappeared, or, at least, have fallen out of human knowledge, leaving these works and their fabrics as the only evidence of their existence. Consequently the proposed questions, excepting the first, are incapable of specific answers; but they are not beyond the reach of approximate solutions. The mystery in which these tribes are enshrouded, and the unique character of their earth-works, will lead to deceptive inferences, unless facts and principles are carefully considered and rigorously applied, and such deductions only are made as they will fairly warrant. It is easy to magnify the significance of these remains and to form extravagant conclusions concerning them; but neither will advance the truth. They represent a status of human advancement forming a connecting link in the progressive development of man. If, then, the nature of their arts, and more especially the character of their institutions, can be determined with reasonable certainty, the true position of the Mound-Builders can be assigned to them in the scale of human progress, and what was possible and what impossible on their part can be known.
It will be assumed that the tribes who constructed the earth-works of the Ohio Valley were American Indians. No other supposition is tenable. The implements and utensils found in the mounds indicate very plainly that they had attained to the Middle Status of barbarism. They do not fully answer the tests of this condition, since they neither cultivated by irrigation, so far as is known, nor constructed houses of adobe bricks or of stone; but, in addition to the earth-works to be considered, they mined native copper and wrought it into implements and utensils—acts performed by none of the tribes in the Lower Status of barbarism; and they depended chiefly upon horticulture for subsistence. They had also carried the art of pottery to the ornamental stage, and manufactured textile fabrics of cotton or flax, remains of which have been found wrapped around copper chisels. These facts, with others that will appear, justify their recognition as in the same status with the Village Indians of New and Old Mexico and Central America. They occupied areas free from lakes as a rule, and, therefore, the poorest for a fish subsistence. This shows of itself that their chief reliance was upon horticulture. The principal places where their villages were situated were unoccupied areas at the epoch of European discovery, because unadapted to tribes in the Loner Status of barbarism, who depended upon fish and game as well as upon maize and plants.
A knowledge of the general character of the houses of the American aborigines will enable us to infer what must have been the general character of those of the Mound-Builders. This, again, was influenced by the condition of the family. Among the Indian tribes, in whatever stage of advancement, the family was found in the pairing form, with separation at the option of either party. It was founded upon marriage between single pairs, but it fell below the monogamian family of civilized society. In their condition it was too weak an organization to face alone the struggle of life, and it sought shelter in large households, formed on the basis of kin, with communism in living as an incident of their plan of life. While exceptional cases of single families living by themselves existed among all the tribes, it did not break the general rule of large households, and the practice in them of communism in living. These usages entered into and determined the character of their house architecture. In all parts of North and South America, at the period of European discovery, were found communal of joint-tenement houses, from those large enough to accommodate five, ten, and twenty families, to those large enough for fifty, a hundred, and in some cases two hundred or more, families. These houses differed among themselves in their plan and structure as well as size; but a common principle ran through them which was revealed by their adaptation to communistic uses. They reflect their condition and their plan of life with such singular distinctness as to afford practical hints concerning the houses of the Mound-Builders.