The Mound Builders Origins of Native American, Shawnee, Cherokee, Creek and Choctaw

The Mound BuildersOrigins of Native Americans

Origins of many Native American Indian tribes like the Choctaw, Creeks, Shawnee and Cherokee can be traced back to the mound builders.

REMOVAL OF THE FLESH BEFORE BURIAL.—This practice appears to have been followed quite generally by both Indians and mound-builders.
That it was followed to a considerable extent by the mound builders of various sections is shown by the following evidence:
The confused masses of human bones frequently found in mounds show by their relation to each other that they must have been gathered together after the flesh had been removed, as this condition could not possibly have been assumed after burial in their natural state. Instances of this kind are so numerous and well known that it is scarcely necessary to present any evidence in support of the statement. The well-known instance referred to by Jefferson in his "Notes on Virginia" [Footnote: Fourth Am. ed., 1801, p. 143; p. 146, in 8th ed.] is one in point. "The appearance," he tells us, "certainly indicates that it [the barrow] has derived both origin and growth from the customary collections of bones and deposition of them together."
Notices of similar deposits have been observed as follows: In Wisconsin, by Mr. Armstrong; [Footnote: Smithsonian Rept., 1879, p. 337] in Florida, by James Bell [Footnote: Smithsonian Rept., 1881, p. 636.] and Mr. Walker; [Footnote: Smithsonian Rept., 1879, p. 398] in Cass County, Ill., by Mr. Snyder; [Footnote: Smithsonian Rept., 1881, p. 573.] in Georgia, by C. C. Jones. [Footnote: Antiq. So. Inds., p. 193.] Similar deposits have also been found by the assistants of the Bureau of Ethnology in Wisconsin, Illinois, northern Missouri, North Carolina, New York, and Arkansas.
Another proof of this custom was observed by Mr. J. D. Middleton and Colonel Morris in Wisconsin, northeastern Missouri, and Illinois. In numerous mounds the skeletons were found packed closely side by side, immediately beneath a layer of hard, mortar- like substance. The fact that this mortar had completely filled the interstices, and in many cases the skulls also, showed that it had been placed over them while in a plastic state, and as it must soon have hardened and assumed the condition in which it was found, it is evident the skeletons had been buried after the flesh was removed.
As additional evidence we may mention the fact that in stone graves, so small that the body of a full-grown individual could not by any possible means be pressed into them, the bones of adult individuals are sometimes found. Instances of this kind have occurred in Tennessee, Missouri, and southern Illinois.
From personal examination I conclude that most of the folded skeletons found in mounds were buried after the flesh had been removed, as the folding, to the extent noticed, could not possibly have been done with the flesh on them, and the positions in most cases were such that they could not have been assumed in consequence of the decay of the flesh and settling of the mound.
The partial calcining of the bones in vaults and under layers of clay where the evidence shows that the fire was applied to the outside of the vault or above the clay layer, can be accounted for only on the supposition that the flesh had been removed before burial.
Other proofs that this custom prevailed among the mound builders in various sections of the country might be adduced.
That it was the custom of a number of Indian tribes, when first encountered by the whites, and even down to a comparatively modern date, to remove the flesh before final burial by suspending on scaffolds, depositing in charnel-houses, by temporary burial, or otherwise, is well known to all students of Indian habits and customs.
Heckewelder says, "The Nanticokes had the singular custom of removing the bones from the old burial place to a place of deposit in the country they now dwell in." [Footnote: Hist. Manners and Customs Ind. Nations, p. 75.]
The account by Breboeuf of the communal burial among the Hurons heretofore referred to is well known. [Footnote: Jesuit Relations for 1636. Transl. in Fifth Ann. Rept. Bur. Ethnol., p. 110.] The same custom is alluded to by Lafitau. [Footnote: Moeurs des Sauvages, vol. 2, pp. 420-435.] Bartram observed it among the Choctaws. [Footnote: Travels, p. 516.] It is also mentioned by Bossu, [Footnote: Travels through Louisiana, p. 298.] by Adair,[Footnote: Hist. Am. Indians, p. 183.] by Barnard Romans,[Footnote: Nat. Hist. Florida, p. 90.] and others.
Burial beneath or in dwellings.—The evidence brought to light by the investigations of the Bureau of Ethnology, regarding a custom among the mound-builders of Arkansas and Mississippi, of burying in or under their dwellings, has been given, in part, in an article published in the Magazine of American History. [Footnote: February, 1884.] It is a well-attested historical fact that such was also the custom of the southern Indian tribes. Bartram affirms it to have been in vogue among the Muscogulgees or Creeks,[Footnote: Travels, p. 505.] and Barnard Romans says it was also practiced by the Chickasaws.[Footnote: Nat. Hist. Florida, p. 71] C C. Jones says that the Indians of Georgia "often interred beneath the floor of the cabin, and then burnt the hut of the deceased over his head;"[Footnote: Antiq. So. Indians, p. 203.] which furnishes a complete explanation of the fact observed by the Bureau explorers, mentioned in the article before alluded to.
Burial in a sitting or squatting posture.—It was a very common practice among the mound-builders to bury their dead in a sitting or squatting posture. The examples of this kind are too numerous and too well known to require repetition. I may add that the yet unpublished reports of the Bureau show that this custom prevailed to a certain extent in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, North Carolina, Missouri, Ohio, and West Virginia. Instances have also been observed elsewhere. [Footnote: Jones's Antiq. So. Indians (Georgia and Florida). pp. 183-185.] That the same custom was followed by several of the Indian tribes is attested by the following authorities: Bossu, [Footnote: Travels, vol. 1, p. 251.] Lawson, [Footnote: Hist. Carolina, p. 182.] Bartram, [Footnote: Travels, p. 515.] and Adair.[Footnote: Hist. Am. Indians, p. 182.]
The use of fire in burial ceremonies.—Another observance in which the burial customs of mound-builders corresponded with those of Indians was the use of fire in funeral ceremonies. The evidences of this custom are so common in mounds as to lead to the supposition that the mound-builders were in the habit of offering human sacrifices to their deities. Although charred and even almost wholly consumed human bones are often found, showing that bodies or skeletons were sometimes burned, it does not necessarily follow that they were offered as sacrifices. Moreover, judging from all the data in our possession, the weight of evidence seems to be decidedly against such conclusion.
Among the Indians fire appears to have been connected with the mortuary ceremonies in several ways. One use of it was to burn the flesh and softer portions of the body when removed from the bones. [Footnote: Barnard Romans, Nat. Hist. Florida, p. 90.] Breboeuf also mentions its use in connection with the communal burial of the Hurons. [Footnote: Jesuit Relations for 1636, p. 135.] According to M. B. Kent [Footnote: Yarrow's Mort. Customs N. A. Indians, 1st Ann. Rept. Bur. Ethnology (1881), P. 95.] it was the ancient custom of the Sacs and Foxes to burn a portion of the food of the burial feast to furnish subsistence for the spirit on its journey.
Pickett says [Footnote: Hist. Alabama, 3d ed., vol. 1, p. 140.] the Choctaws were in the habit of killing and cutting up their prisoners of war, after which the parts were burned. He adds further, in reference to their burial ceremonies: [Footnote: Ibid., p. 142] "From all we have heard and read of the Choctaws, we are satisfied that it was their custom to take from the bone- house the skeletons, with which they repaired in funeral procession to the suburbs of the town, where they placed them on the ground in one heap, together with the property of the dead, such as pots, bows, arrows, ornaments, curiously-shaped stones for dressing deer skins, and a variety of other things. Over this heap they first threw charcoal and ashes, probably to preserve the bones, and the next operation was to cover all with earth. This left a mound several feet high." This furnishes a complete explanation of the fact that uncharred human bones are frequently found in Southern mounds imbedded in charcoal and ashes.
Similarity of their stone implements and ornaments.—In addition to the special points of resemblance between the works of the two peoples, of which a few only have been mentioned, we are warranted in asserting that in all respects, so far as we can trace them correctly, there are to be found strong resemblances between the habits, customs, and arts of the mound-builders and those of the Indians previous to their change by contact with Europeans. Both made use of stone implements, and so precisely similar are the articles of this class that it is impossible to distinguish those made by the one people from those made by the other. So true is this that our best and most experienced archaeologists make no attempt to separate them, except where the conditions under which they are found furnish evidence for discrimination. Instead of burdening these pages with proofs of these statements by reference to particular finds and authorities, I call attention to the work of Dr. C. C. Abbott on the handiwork in stone, bone, and clay of the native races of the northern Atlantic sea board of America, entitled "Primitive Industry." As the area embraced in this work, as remarked by its author, "does not include any territory known to have been permanently occupied by the so-called mound- builders," the articles found here must be ascribed to the Indians unless, as suggested by Dr. Abbott, some of a more primitive type found in the Trenton gravel are to be attributed to an earlier and still ruder people. Examining those of the first class, which are ascribed to the Indians, we observe almost every type of stone articles found in the mounds and mound area; not only the rudely chipped scrapers, hoes, celts, knives, and spear and arrow heads, but also the polished or ground celts, axes, hammers, and chisels, or gouges.
Here we also find drills, awls, and perforators, slick stones and dressers, pipes of various forms and finish, discoidal stones and net sinkers, butterflys tones and other supposed ceremonial objects, masks or face figures and bird-shaped stones, gorgets, totems, pendants, trinkets, etc. Nor does the resemblance stop with types, but it is carried down to specific forms and finish, leaving absolutely no possible line of demarkation between these and the similar articles attributed to the mound-builders. So persistently true is this that had we stone articles alone to judge by, it is probable we should be forced to the conclusion, as held by some writers, that the former inhabitants of that portion of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains pertained to one nation, unless possibly the prevalence of certain types in particular sections should afford some data for tribal districting.
This strong similarity of the stone articles of the Atlantic coast to those of the mound area was noticed as early as 1820 by Caleb Atwater, who, knowing that the former were Indian manufactures, attributed the latter also to the same people although he held that the mounds were the work of the ancestors of the civilized nations of Mexico and Central America.
Mound and Indian Pottery.—The pottery of the mound-builders has often been referred to as proof of a higher culture status, and of an advance in art beyond that reached by the Indians. The vase with a bird figure found by Squier and Davis in an Ohio mound is presented in most works on American archaeology as an evidence of the advanced stage of the ceramic art among the mound-builders; but Dr. Rau, who examined the collection of these authors, says:
Having seen the best specimens of "mound" pottery obtained during the survey of Messrs. Squier and Davis, I do not hesitate to assert that the clay vessels fabricated at the Cahokia Creek were in every respect equal to those exhumed from the mounds of the Mississippi Valley, and Dr. Davis himself, who examined my specimens from the first-named locality, expressed the same opinion. [Footnote: Smithsonian Rept., 1866, p. 349.]
The Cahokia pottery which he found along the creek of that name (Madison County, Ill.) he ascribes to Indians, and believes it to be of comparatively recent origin.
Most of the mound pottery is mixed with pulverized shells, which is also true of most Indian pottery. [Footnote: Dumont, Mem. Hist. La., vol. 2, 1753, p. 271; Adair, Hist. Am. Indians, p. 424; Loskiel, Gesell. der Miss., p. 70, etc.] Du Pratz says that "the Natchez Indians make pots of an extraordinary size, cruses with a medium-sized opening, jars, bottles with long necks holding two pints, and pots or cruses for holding bear's oil;" [Footnote: Hist. La., p. 79.] also that they colored them a beautiful red by using ocher, which becomes red after burning.
As is well known, the bottle-shaped vase with a long neck is the typical form of clay vessels found in the mounds of Arkansas and southeastern Missouri, and is also common in the mounds and stone graves of middle Tennessee. Those colored or ornamented with red are often found in the mounds of the former sections. It is worthy of notice in this connection that the two localities—near Saint Genevieve, Mo., and near Shawneetown, Ill.—where so many fragments of large clay vessels used in making salt have been found, were occupied for a considerable time by the Shawnee Indians. As will hereafter be shown, there are reasons for believing this pottery was made by the Shawnees.
The statement so often made that the mound pottery, especially that of Ohio, far excels that of the Indians is not justified by the facts.
Much more evidence of like tenor might be presented here, as, for example, the numerous instances in which articles of European manufacture have been found in mounds where their presence could not be attributed to intrusive burials, but the limits of the paper will not admit of this. I turn, therefore, to the problem before us, viz, "Who were the authors of the typical works of Ohio?"
As before stated, the answer is, "These works are attributable in part at least to the ancestors of the modern Cherokees."
As a connecting link between what has been given and the direct evidence that the Cherokees were mound-builders, and as having an important bearing upon both questions, the evidence derived from the box-shaped stone graves is introduced at this point.