Sunday, November 25, 2018

Ancient Illinois Indian Mounds - A Technical Examination.

In historical writing and analysis, PRESENTISM introduces present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. Presentism is a form of cultural bias creating a distorted understanding of the subject matter. Reading modern notions of morality into the past is committing the error of presentism. I'm well aware that historical accounts are written by people and can be slanted, so I try my hardest to present fact-based and well-researched articles. 

Facts don't require one's approval or acceptance.

I present [PG-13] articles without regard to race, color, political party, or religious beliefs, including Atheism, national origin, citizenship status, gender, LGBTQ+ status, disability, military status, or educational level. What I present are facts — NOT Alternative Facts — about the subject. You won't find articles or readers' comments that spread rumors, lies, hateful statements, and members instigating arguments and fights.

The use of old commonly used terms, disrespectful today, i.e., REDMAN
or REDMEN, SAVAGES, and HALF-BREED, are explained in this article.



The custom of mound-building by the North American Aborigines, coextensive with the limits of the United States from ocean to ocean, reached its highest perfection and longest duration on the eastern watershed of the Mississippi Valley, between the Great northern lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. And nowhere in that specified region were the earthen monuments of our Indian predecessors more numerous or diversified than in the portion now comprised within Illinois's boundaries. In this State occur every known type of prehistoric artificial mounds ─ the majestic sepulchral and memorial tumuli of high antiquity; the peculiar rock-lined graves and mounds of the "Stone Grave Indians;" the tribal ossuaries (a container or room into which the bones of dead people are placed); the domiciliary, or temple, teocalli, signal, or observatory stations; elongate embankments, and the numerous conical burial mounds of comparatively recent date.

Added to these, there are in four or five of the extreme northern counties of the State, a few of those strange earthen structures known as "effigy mounds" (effigy: a sculpture or model of an animal or person) ─ the frontier outliers of the only area in the world where this class of imitative earthworks was so generally adopted for distinctive tribal symbols by a savage people. The geographical extent of that area is confined to the southern half of Wisconsin and the immediately adjoining portions of Iowa and Illinois.

Isolated effigy mounds elsewhere as the great serpent mound in Adams county, Ohio the two eagle mounds in Eastern Georgia, and some others, are well known, and are regarded as the sporadic work of different Indians actuated in their erection by different incentives.

The Wisconsin effigy mounds were designed to represent birds, rep­ tiles, various local quadrupeds, and nondescript objects impossible to identify. They are often arranged in groups and generally associated with other mounds of familiar shapes and dimensions. Occasionally a solitary effigy mound is seen distant from any other or among several common burial mounds. In rare instances, one of the unusual figures is found alone on an elevated ridge or prominent bluff. They range in length from less than 50 to over 500 feet, and in height above the ground's surface, from 1 to 6, or more, feet. Of the ordinary mounds that almost invariably accompany the effigies, one is more elevated than the others and so situated relatively that from its summit is obtained a full perspective view of the image mound, or mounds, below, including every detail of proportion.

The first published mention of ancient earthworks in Wisconsin Territory is found in the "Narrative of an Expedition to the Source of the St. Peter's River, etc., by Major Stephen H. Long of Philadelphia, 1824." But though Major Long gives exciting accounts of many Indian mounds he saw there in 1823, he strangely failed to observe that any of them were of unusual configuration and intended to resemble animated objects. That class of mounds was first brought to public notice in 1836 by Mr. I. A. Lapham in communications to newspapers descriptive of the "turtle mound" near Milwaukee, where he resided. Subsequently, in 1853-54, provided with the means by the American Antiquarian Society, he systematically surveyed almost the entire portion of Wisconsin containing the imitative earthworks. Mr. Lapham's report was published in 1855 by the Smithsonian Institution as one of its "Contributions to Knowledge." At that time, the extension of those anomalous earthen effigies into Illinois had not been detected. And to this day-notwithstanding, despite the proximity of several great institutions of learning to the limited number of those unique antiquities, long since discovered south of the Wisconsin line-no, survey or exploration of them has yet been made or comprehensive description of them written.

Cursory notices of someone of them occasionally appeared in newspapers, lacking information of value to the archeologist or antiquarian. The first published reference to them to attract the attention of scientists was the postscript to his geological survey of Winnebago County by the late Hon. James Shaw of Mt. Carroll, Carroll County, then-Assistant State Geologist. He was intensely interested in all relics of the primitive Indian race and a close observer of the numerous remains he found during his fieldwork, particularly in the valley of Rock River. In Winnebago County, he "noticed and examined these classes of mounds," the prevailing type 1 being round at the base and conical in form. "The oblong-shaped mound," he says, "is of much rarer occurrence. There is a remarkable one at the locality in Rockford already alluded to. It is one hundred and thirty feet long, about twelve feet wide at the base and three or four feet high. Nearby this one is a mound of the third class, or those having a fanciful resemblance to some form of animal life. In Rockford, it is known as the 'Turtle mound.' But it resembles an alligator with his head cut off more than it does a turtle. We give its dimensions: Whole length, 150 feet width; opposite fore legs, 50 feet width; opposite hind legs, 39 feet; length of tail, from a point opposite hind legs to end of the tail, 102 feet length, from a point opposite hind to a point opposite fore legs, 33 feet; distance from opposite fore legs to where the neck should begin, 15 feet.
These measurements were not made with exactness but are simply paced-off guesses. The figure lies up and down the river on a line about north and south, the tail extending northward. The body rises to a mound as high as a standing man. The feet and tail gradually extend into the greensward, growing less distinct and indefinable until they cannot be distinguished from the surrounding sod. The measurements across the body at the legs include those appendages only a few feet long.

''The effigy, whether of alligator, lizard or turtle, seems to be headless, and no depression in the surrounding soil would indicate that the materials out of which it is constructed were obtained in its immediate vicinity.''

The image mound thus described by Judge Shaw is shown in outline on (Plate 1), marked A. Two similar structures in the same county, represented and numbered 1 and 2 on (Plate 1), were reported and figured in The Antiquarian, in 1897, by George Stevens and described as follows: They are "situated on the sandy, loam soil of Rock River bottom, five miles south of the city of Rockford. No. 2 is 192 feet long; the body 77 and the tail 115 feet. From one forefoot to the other is 62 feet, and the hind feet are 60 feet distant. The greater width of the body, just below the front legs, is 60 feet. No 1 is 110 feet long and 30 feet wide at the broadest part of the body." No depression in the ground's surface near these figures could be observed, denoting from whence the material they are made was taken.

In shape and general appearance, these two effigies, identical in contour with the "lizard mound" in Rockford, are five feet high at the shoulders, and their tails point to the north. Nearby them, as shown on the plate, are four ordinary mounds, two circular in form and two oblongs.

At the time of their discovery, these two "lizards" on the Rock River bottom were regarded as the extreme southern limit of the effigy mound system of Wisconsin. But two other groups of them, farther east and fifty miles south of the Wisconsin state line, were found by Mr. T. H. Lewis, the well-known archeologist of St. Paul, Minnesota. Situated near the city of Aurora, in Kane county, on the sloping eastern terrace of the Fox River, in latitude slightly lower than the mouth of the Chicago River and but thirty-five miles west of it.

They were 150 yards from the stream, and, as usual with the ancient works of that class, there were several mounds near them of the ordinary sort, as represented in the outline on (Plate 2). The image figures are presumed to portray birds flying south-one of which is thought, by some strain of the imagination, to be the horned owl.

By carefully surveying the "bird" in group No. 2, Mr. Lewis ascertained its exact length to be 32 feet and width, from tip to tip of its wings, 36 feet. Its elevation above the surface of the terrace was 18 inches. There was formerly another image of similar design and dimensions ─  a bird, a few yards in advance and a little east of it, which the white man's aggressive and destructive progress had almost wholly obliterated. The bird figures in group No. 1 were also raised above the general surface level of about a foot and a half, and in length and breadth were somewhat more than that in the second group.
A singular monument of this last race of  Mound Builders is found in the lead region, situated at the summit of a ridge near the east bank of Sinsinawa creek. It has the appearance of a huge animal, the head, ears, nose, legs, and tail, as well as the general outlines being as perfectly conceived as if made by men versed in modern art. The ridge upon which it has been upbuilt tops an open prairie, stands 300 feet wide, 100 feet in height, and is rounded off at the top by a thick deposit of clay. Centrally, along the summit line, is an embankment three feet high, forming the outline of a quadruped measuring 250 feet from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail and having, at the center, a width of the body of 18 feet. The head was 35 feet long, the ears 10, the legs 60 and the tail 75. The curvature of the limbs was natural to an animal lying upon its side. The figure generally resembles the now-extinct quadruped known to science as the megatherium. Many scientists believe this animal lived in and roamed the Illinois plains when these ancient Mound Builders first entered the valley of the Mississippi and that this outline was later drawn from memory.

Though desirous of obtaining an accurate drawing of this monument, the location is still unknown. On being interviewed, several intelligent citizens of Jo Daviess County ─ some of whom were born and raised on the banks of Sinsinawa creek ─ said they had never heard of such a mound and, of course, knew nothing about it. But there is, four miles east of Galena, the strangest and best-defined effigy mound in Illinois, which has to the present escaped the attention of all antiquarian writers and which in scarcely any particular corresponds with the one above described. It is on the farm of Mr. J. F. Leekley, occupying a level space on the top of a ridge rising 300 feet above the waters of Fever River. In the configuration, it resembles a horse (Plate 3) and, for that reason, is known locally as the "Horse mound." Its total length, from the forehead to the end of the tail, is 195 feet, the body is 116 feet, the tail is 50 feet long and 14 feet wide at its broadest part, the head is 25 feet, and the neck is 29 feet long, measured from the breast of the figure to its lower jaw. The hind legs are 45 and the front legs 42 feet long, the distance from one to the other being 75 feet. The widest part of the body is 30 feet, and its elevation at the shoulders is 6 feet. Its material is arenaceous (consisting of sand or sand-like particles) clay, the drift, or subsoil of all that region.
This extraordinary work of the aborigines is near the center of the ridge's level area, which has been in cultivation for many years and was last season (1908) covered with a heavy growth of corn. And though worn down somewhat by the plow, it still stands in bold relief with all marginal lines sharply defined.

There may yet be more of the effigiated mounds of this type ─ that in the political division of the northwest into states have fallen within the confines of Illinois ─ than those described in the preceding pages. Raised but slightly above the surface and sometimes over­ grown with trees and bushes, their artificial contour and elevation have perhaps escaped detection. And no doubt, there have been others within the same territory entirely destroyed by the rapacious encroachments of civilization. With one or two exceptions, no efforts have been made to preserve those now well known, nor has any philosophical investigation of them for the benefit of science been undertaken.

Earthen mounds, undoubtedly artificial, projected on massive scales, and plainly imitating common indigenous animals, are well calculated to incite surprise and profound interest. Their inspection irresistibly suggests the inquiries: What was their purpose? Who made them? The candid answer to which must be, we do not know. Until a few decades ago, they were attributed to a mysterious, mythical people, styled Mound Builders, that long since mysteriously and unaccountably disappeared. It is now known that the Mound Builders were simply American Indians. But with our present limited knowledge ─ or rather, absolute ignorance ─ of the habits, customs and methods of life of the primitive race of Indians, any attempt to specify what particular tribe built certain kinds of mounds, and the specific purpose for which they created them, obviously must be primarily a matter of conjecture.

Yet, reasoning by analogy from what we do know of the tribal institutions and culture of modern Indians, rational conclusions may be deduced in some degree explanatory of the meaning of those earth­ works in eccentric forms, which otherwise would appear to be aimless and purposeless freaks. Assuming that that class of mounds was intended by their projectors to portray birds and other animate objects, the legitimate and unavoidable inference is that their design was to represent the various totems of a tribe.

As is well known, the social organization of the American Indians, with some exceptions, was founded; not upon the family but upon the gens, totem or clan, as the tribal unit. "The gens," says Major Powell, "is an organized body of consanguineal kindred," or kinfolk, that elect their own sub-chief and "decide all questions of property, and especially of blood revenge, within its own limits. Several gentes may, and often do, unite in phrases, or brotherhoods, within the tribe."  Each gens was designated by the name of a familiar object, usually that of some bird species, quadruped or reptile, as the wolf gens or that of the turtle, bear, eagle, lizard, etc. Without graphic characters to express or record their language, each gens adopted the picture or image of the animal chosen for its emblem as its distinct designation. Consequently, as many of the customs and tribal regulations of recent Indians are derived, and were perpetuated, from their ancient ancestors, it is a reasonable presumption that the builders of the effigy mounds made them for symbols to mark the range or location or to commemorate noted achievements of their respective gens: or, in many instances, as specialized monuments to the memory of their gentile dead interred in nearby sepulchral mounds.

It must be admitted, however, that no one of these hypotheses ─ or all together ─ furnish an infallible keynote to the intent of all the earthen images in question. The many lengthy linear mounds; the multitude of uncouth, anomalous structures resembling no known animate or inanimate object; the mysterious figures in intaglio (sunk in the ground instead of being raised above it); the headless reptilian forms are wholly inscrutable enigmas. I have heretofore offered tentatively the suggestion that the latter class was initially supplied with heads made of perishable materials, but their great numbers militate against that supposition. However, it may not be improbable that a decapitated alligator, or iguana, was adopted .as the clan's escutcheon because of some incident occurring in its early history.

Mr. R. C. Taylor, who was among the first reliable observers to bring the Wisconsin animal mounds into public notice in 1838, suggested: "that their forms were intended to designate the cemeteries of the respective tribes or families (of Indians) to which they belonged; thus, the tribe, clan or family possessing as its characteristic totem, blazon or emblem, the bear, constructed the burial place of its members in the form of that animal; the clans having the panther, turtle, eagle or other animal or object for their totems, respectively, conforming to the same practice." Mr. Taylor, as has since been proven, was in error in his belief that the adumbrate figures were themselves the cemeteries. They were but the indices to that. Human remains have indeed been found in Some of the Wisconsin effigy mounds, and a large proportion of them were undoubtedly intrusive burials by later Indians. Still, many of them were indeed initial deposits of bodies, or bundled skeletons, on the original surface of the ground.
Those later burials, it may be, were initially in the conventional conical mounds, which were, by the addition of more drift clay, enlarged into the form of the totemic effigy. Mr. Lapham says: "Indeed, the animal-shaped mounds have never been found productive in ancient relics or works of art. It was probably for purposes other than the burial of the dead that these structures were made."

Of all the mounds in the United States of Indian architecture, comparatively, few are constructed of the surface soil upon which they stand, except when built upon clay formations, such as the river bluffs, or upon the sand, as in Florida and other localities. Clay was almost invariably selected for mound structure by the aborigines and in many instances, was conveyed long distances for that purpose. Some of the effigy mounds in southwestern Wisconsin are made of sand, and an exceptional number of them of river bottom loam, but by, far the greater number ─ as well as those in Illinois ─ are composed of the drift clay subsoil. This feature of mound-building will be again adverted to in the parts of this paper that are to follow.

All known effigy mounds in Illinois are so projected as to appear traveling southward. There can be no doubt that they were placed intentionally, and not simply to conform with topical surroundings, but to what significance, if any, is impossible to determine. In the great mass of analogous works in Wisconsin, no attention was paid to the orientation of the raised images, as the heads and tails of those having such appendages point indiscriminately to various points of the compass. (Plate 4), a modified copy of the fifty-first plate of Mr. Lapham's treatise illustrates a group of animal mounds on a high ridge dividing the Kickapoo and Mississippi rivers in southwestern Wisconsin.

It cannot be claimed that the builders of the effigy mounds were gifted to a very high degree with what Ruskin styles the "art instinct." The technique of their work is crude, coarse and clumsy, with no regularity or order and little regard for relative proportion or accuracy of detail. There is manifest design in the earthen images. Not one of them is so artistically· perfect that the bird, quadruped or reptile intended to be imitated can be recognized with certainty, and many of them are but caricatures that bear no likeness to any living thing now known in that region. Strangely, savages evincing such admirable mechanical skill in manufacturing pottery and stone implements should display so little fidelity to nature in their efforts to copy the forms of animals they were daily associated with and knew so well. Time and investigation have dispelled much of the glamour that, a generation or two ago, lent to those curious Indian mounds of Wisconsin a magnified import. The colossal "signs of the cross," inconspicuous relief on the sloping ridges there, gazed upon with reverent amazement as indisputable evidence of the pre-Columbian introduction of Christianity on this continent, are now known ─ as are also the famous man-shaped mounds ─ to be but awkward attempts to portray birds in flight. The marvelous "Elephant mound" in Grant County, cited by embryo scientists as proof positive of the contemporaneous existence here of man and the mastodon, is now conceded to be only a rude image of the bear, the wind having accidentally drifted lose sand to lengthen its nose into the semblance of a proboscis. But yet, with their many imperfections and defects, the effigy mounds are among the most extraordinary and interesting of American antiquities.

Their age is still a question of controversy, and perhaps will always be. The origin of artificial mounds in America is shrouded in fascinating mystery, it was accorded remote antiquity as long as the "Mound Builders" were generally believed to have been an occult, semi-civilized race, distinct from, and far superior to, the invading Indians,  by whom they were supposedly vanquished and exterminated.  But since the researches of archaeologists have positively demonstrated that the Indians here when America was discovered, and the immediate ancestors of those Indians were, in fact, the builders of the mounds and artisans of the Stone Age, not only has American archeology lost much of its olden charm but the chronology of mound-building ─ has experienced a surprising revision, the age pendulum swinging from the dim past to the verge of the present era. Recognized authorities in the science of ethnology now teach that the historic Cherokees built all the mounds, the Shawnees made all the stone-lined graves, and the Winnebagos were the authors of the effigy mounds of Wisconsin! lt will not be surprising to be next informed that the Apaches carved the Calendar stone and the Yaquis erected the Teotihuacan pyramids of the Sun and the Moon!

This statement, however, is not intended to intimate that the early Cherokees did not build mounds or that the primitive Shawnees buried their dead in stone-lined graves. They, as well as other Indians, no doubt did, having inherited those customs from their ancestors. But very little evidence has yet been adduced in support of the assumption that the Winnebagos fashioned the effigy mounds or knew anything of the Indians who did make them. When the Winnebagos were asked by the first white settlers in Wisconsin who made the effigy mounds, they answered: "We do not know. They have always been here." When the same question was asked by the Jesuit missionaries of the Indians then in that locality, they answered: "The Great Manitou made them a6 a sign to His children that this region abounded with game."

An argument of the "modernists" is that Simian Indians ─ inferentially the Winnebagos ─ in recent times constructed, out on the north­western plains, of loose boulders, effigies similar to those in lower Wisconsin. The Sioux and Dakotas, it is true, often designed, on the prairies, with small contiguous boulders, various odd figures in outline, having, however, not the slightest resemblance or affinity to the Wisconsin effigies. They were, as shown by T. H. Lewis and others, simply graphic characters conveying information about the moving party to others of the tribe who were to follow or who chanced to pass that way. Again, it is asserted the Winnebagos reproduced, with paint, the effigy mound figures on dressed buffalo skins. This is a mistake. The paintings on their buffalo robes were of the same import as those of all other hunters Indians of the west, pictographs recounting the prowess and great achievements of the robe's owner in war and the chase, with occasionally a tribal emblem for personal identification.

Obviously, the "Horse mound" on the Leekley farm is important in this discussion; for if ·it is absolutely certain the structure was intended to represent the horse, it must be conceded a modern production, as the horse was not known here prior to 1536. It follows, then, that if that horse mound has no higher antiquity than three and a half centuries, the other effigy mounds of the Wisconsin system are little, if any, older. Therefore, if the Winnebagos were in that region that long ago, the contention that they were the effigy builders and that the horse was one of their gentile symbols, must be materially strengthened. But was the so-called horse mound designed for an image of the horse? As before remarked, those effigy makers, as artists or molders in clay, were egregious bunglers. None of their earthen images can, with certainty, be identified. Mr. Lapham was unable to determine whether one of their commonest figures was that of a lizard or a war club. Considering the absence of ears and the broad, trowel-like tail of the mound image on the Leekley farm, notwithstanding its disproportionate length of legs and neck, it was doubt­ less devised for a totem of the beaver gens and is therefore of the same unknown age of the other works,

With the exception of the Eskimos, a recent intrusive people, both American continents when discovered, were populated by only one race, the American race, since known as Indians. There is no evidence that any other human race had previously existed here. There is, therefore, no proof required to maintain the Indian authorship of the mounds and other art remains of prehistoric times in America. The age, or ages, of those remains, is altogether conjectural. But the oldest will probably not exceed eight or ten centuries prior to the landing of Columbus on San Salvador; the greater number of them, perhaps not the half of that period. The degree of cultural advancement of the American race from the beginning of the mound-building epoch to its close can only be surmised, but there is little reason to believe that the builders of the most ancient mounds in the United States were physically or mentally far different from the Indians found here by De Soto and other early European explorers. Some of them had then become somewhat sedentary, ·depending as much on agriculture for subsistence as upon the chase; but war was the principal pursuit of all. Wars of extermination, the absorption of weak tribes by the strong, and frequent changing of tribal names and locations were their life history. Mr. Lapham says: "Since the Indians have become known to us, numerous tribes have become extinguished, with all their peculiar customs and institutions; yet, as a whole, the Indian remains. Many tribes have been overrun by others and have united with them as one people. Migrations have taken place; one tribe acquiring sufficient power has taken possession of the lands belonging to another and maintaining its possession. In the course of these revolutions, it is not strange that habits and practices, once prevalent in certain places with certain tribes, should become extinct and forgotten."

The Winnebagos were first seen by the Jesuit fathers near the mouth of the Fox River of Green Bay and were then known as Ouimpegonec, or Ouimibegoutz. They were of the Sioux or Dakota stock, and called themselves Ho-chun-ga-ra, or the "trout nation," and had come from the Western Ocean or salt water. Moving south­ ward down Rock River, they came upon the territory of the Illini, who strenuously resented their encroachment, and after years of warfare, finally checked their further advance. They, however, held possession of the Rock River valley as far down as within forty miles of its junction with the Mississippi until the Black Hawk War in 1832.

Neither space nor the scope of this paper permits prolonged discussion of the very little that is known concerning the origin of the effigy mounds. Within the historic era, the territory they occupy has been alternately in the possession ─ in whole or in part ─ of the Mascoutins, Kickapoos, Sauks and Foxes, Chippewas and Winnebagos, all of whom enclosed their dead in conical mounds, until they learned by contact with the whites to dig graves. They all believed the effigy mounds to be natural elevations that had "always been there."

The most reasonable conclusion warranted by the meager data obtainable is that the building of effigy mounds in Wisconsin and Illinois was a custom of indigenous inception and growth ─  for it cannot be traced to an extraneous source ─ of a small tribe of Indians enjoying a century or more of comparative quietude, then finally over­run, partially exterminated, and the survivors absorbed by a predatory incoming branch of the "Siouan"' stock, the building of earthen images abruptly ceased. The identity of their builders was soon lost. 

Of all the artificial mounds in Illinois made by Indians, at least 75 percent were constructed for the final disposition of their dead. Not until they had been for some time in contact with the white people did the Indians here learn to dig graves and bury their dead beneath the surface of the ground. And after having adopted that method of inhumation they often modified it with the traditional practices of their mound-building ancestors. That tendency for adhering to primitive customs was well illustrated in the burial of Black Hawk in 1870. That renowned Indian warrior died on October 3, 1838, at his home near Eldon, on the Des Moines River, in Iowa, and was buried the next day by the members of his band and kinsmen. He was dressed in the uniform of a colonel in the U. S. Army, with a cap on his head elaborately ornamented with feathers in Indian style. On his left side was a sword, on the right, were two canes presented to him in Washington, and on his breast and about his neck were medals and other presents and trophies of his valor that in life he valued highly. Then, wrapped in four fine new blankets, his body was laid on a broad board which, taken to the place of burial, was placed in a slanting position, his feet in a shallow trench about fifteen inches lower than the general level of the ground, and his head raised a foot or more above it.

A forked post was planted at his head and another at his feet, every three feet in height, across which, from one to the other, a ridge pole was laid. Split puncheons fitted side by side closely, with one end resting on the ridge pole and the other on the ground on either side of the corpse, formed a strong roof over him, having its gable ends securely closed with puncheons set upright. That roof was then covered with earth to the thickness of afoot, and the whole was sodded with turf to protect it from the erosive effect of rains and storms. In a circle, thirty feet in diameter, around that rustic tomb sharp-pointed pickets twelve feet high were planted and firmly retained in place by an earthen embankment three feet in depth thrown up against them on either side at the bottom.

Here were seen all the essential conditions of ancient mound-building but slightly modified by the influence of civilization: the innovations upon ancestral custom being the clothing of the defunct warrior in the white man's military garb instead of dressed deer skins, the substitution of blankets for buffalo robes, and the ridge pole and puncheons for the cribwork of logs to protect the remains from the ravages of wild beasts. But for the swarm of white pioneers then spreading over Iowa territory, a further observance of primeval Indian customs would doubtless have occurred. The loyal followers of the dead chief would, in all probability, have manifested their homage to his memory at each recurrent annual visit to his grave by piling upon it more earth until the memorial mound thus made had attained the magnitude commensurate with his fame and distinction in life. As it was, the remnant of Black Hawk's band was removed after his death to the Sac reservation on the Kansas River and never returned. Long after his grave had been rifled of its contents by white vandals, the ridge pole and roof placed over his remains decayed and fell in, forming there quite a perceptible mound. The pickets enclosing it also rotted away, leaving around it the embankment that had supported them in an earthen circle similar to that surrounding the great " Ceremonial " mound at Marietta, which to the early settlers of that region seemed so mysterious and incomprehensible.

But, long before the days of Black Hawk; long before the coalition of the Sauks and Foxes, Illinois was visited, at a remote period in the past, by a colony of Indians who had learned the art of grave-digging and buried their dead in graves from two to four feet deep, lined all around and covered over with thin, broad, flagstones. Distinguished from all other Indians of the United States by that peculiar method of burial, they are known to ethnologists and antiquarians as the Stone Grave Indians. The habitat of their parent tribe was in central Tennessee, more especially in the Cumberland valley, from whence colonies migrated in various directions. The one that came to Illinois traced by their stone-lined graves containing human remains, high-grade pottery, and finely chipped flint implements- crossed the Ohio River at the mouth of the Cumberland, and for a period occupied the district of Salt Springs in Gallatin County. Moving westward, they stopped for a time near the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, then followed the range of bluffs as far up as Monroe County. There they again halted for another period, when, finally crossing the Mississippi, they settled along its western bluffs from the present site of Florissant down to St. Genevieve, in Missouri, where their further trail is lost.

In southeastern Missouri and eastern Arkansas, extensive cemeteries of the aborigines have been discovered similarly in many respects to our own burying grounds of today. The graves they comprise, enclosing remains of deceased Indians with their domestic utensils, stone implements, and bone and shell ornaments, deposited there long ago, are not rock-lined or disposed with any regard to uniform orientation; are but two or three feet superficially unmarked. In, or near, those ancient graveyards are mounds of the ordinary conical form from four to eight feet in height, containing human remains, probably of the more distinguished defunct personages of the same tribe; or it may be they were erected by later Indians who observed the mound mode of burial and knew nothing of grave-digging. No prehistoric cemeteries of that kind have thus far been found in this State, but their presence here may yet be brought to light by the future investigation. Gravedigging, however, was not altogether unknown to the earlier Indians of Illinois, although they very seldom had recourse to that mode of interment. And for the occasional rare exceptions to their usual custom of mound burial, there cannot now be discerned any apparent reason.

The invariable manner for disposing of their dead by almost all prehistoric Indians of the Mississippi valley was, first, to place the body, securely enveloped and bound in deer and buffalo skins, on a scaffold or in the branches of trees, beyond the reach of wolves and other carnivorous animals, to remain there until decomposition and desiccation rendered it no longer alluring to birds and beasts liable to prey upon it. Then, either singly or with the dried skeletons of other deceased members of the family or gens, it was taken down and removed to the spot selected for its last resting place. That was usually an elevation of the ground, a prominent peak or ridge of the bluffs if conveniently accessible. However, the flat, sandy bottoms bordering rivers and lakes were often chosen, and the high, open prairies were always avoided. The surface at that place was then prepared sometimes with a layer of sand spread over it, but more often with a bed of dry grass and bark to receive the mummified remains, which, if of more than one individual, were placed compactly together, either at full length or doubled up, in the embryonic position, and covered with broad pieces of bark. Then clay from the bluffs or the subsoil scraped up with mussel shells, and flint implements were brought in deer skins willow baskets, in many instances from a considerable distance, and heaped upon the gruesome pile until a mound was formed, as represented by (Fig. 1), of sufficient magnitude to protect its contents from molestation. This process, as a rule, permanently concluded the burial. Occasionally, however, but rarely, the same Indians dug the mound down again from the top almost to the enclosed remains, and there placed the bodies of other kinsmen since deceased, over which they rebuilt the mound as before.
Figure 1 - Common Burial Mounds.
The small conical, or oblong, mounds of this type are seen on hilltops near watercourses in all parts of the country formerly inhabited by the red race. They were constructed in the same way from a remote period to sometime after the white race had secured a foothold upon this continent, as is attested by the numerous instances in which articles of European manufacture occur in them as part of their original contents. Excepting in sandy districts, or other localities where clay was entirely absent, no Indian mound of any description was ever made altogether of the surrounding surface soil. The reason for this is obvious: the mound-builders have learned by observation and experience that clay, impervious to water, would resist the erosive action of rains and frosts and afford permanent protection to the relics it covers when mounds of sand or loam, readily permeated by water, could offer no such protection or well withstand the wearing down effects of winds and storms.

The "Memorial" or "Monumental" mounds ─ a classification somewhat arbitrary ─ primarily sepulchral in purpose, differ from the ordinary burial mounds in size and in a relative arrangement of the objects they were built to enclose and preserve. They also differ from them in the technique of construction, having grown so much larger by successive additions of material in course of years, while the common burial mounds were usually completed at once. This is plainly indicated in vertical sections of many of the large memorial mounds by well-marked lines of curvilinear stratification, as shown in (Fig. 2). The dark lines in the cut represent accumulations of surface soil formed by growth and decay of vegetation in long intervals of suspended labor. 

Memorial mounds are found in Ohio with "mysterious strata" (a layer of material, naturally or artificially formed, often one of a number of parallel layers one upon another) an inch or two in thickness, generally of sand, sometimes of river shells or water-worn pebbles, laid in close contact, thought to have had some occult sacred or religious significance. But they, perhaps, only denoted intervals of cessation for a period in the building process, marked in that manner to protect them from molestation during the absence of the builders.

The first step in the erection of a stately tumulus of this kind was careful preparation of the chosen ground, in some instances by maintaining on it for some days a brisk fire; in other instances by spreading over it a layer of sand, clay or bark. Upon that base were deposited, either with or without the agency of fire, but doubtless with weird savage ceremonies, the bones of the dead with accompanying offerings. Their preliminary protection was generally an enclosure of heavy logs or rough stones ─ often both combined ─ over which sufficient clay was thrown to cover them. The Indians then left for their annual hunt, or upon some predatory expedition and were gone for a season and sometimes for several years. Returning to that locality, as they eventually did in course of time, they immediately resumed the piling of more clay upon the sepulcher, each individual contribution brought in deerskin or basketful being yet well defined as dumped down in parts of the structure.
Figure 2 - Mound Structure.
 This work was prosecuted, with more or less diligence, until the close of the season, when the Nomads sought other districts for special food supplies, or to engage in aggressive warfare, then continued it again upon their return. By periodical accretions gained in that way, the monument finally attained the proportions deemed to be a worthy tribute to the fame of the warrior or merits of the many Indians and value of the propitiatory offerings, therein interred. It was forever after regarded by all Indians who saw it as sacred and inviolable. In the progress of upbuilding the great mound, it served as a camping ground for some of the builders, as is evidenced by beds of ashes and charcoal interspersed with burnt stones, mussel shells, and bones of various animals met with at different levels, all through it above the log cribwork at its base. And not infrequently, there is encountered nearby one of those campsites, a lone human skeleton, perhaps of a clay carrier who died there and was buried where he fell.

Very few prehistoric Indian earthworks were projected and built with mathematical precision. The few describing accurate geometrical figures in their structural proportions are exceptional and accidental. The greater number of memorial mounds are oblong in form and more or less regular in outline, but the most symmetrical and conspicuous are conical with bases approximating true circles. When exploring memorial mounds, the human remains and associated objects they enclose are often found near one end, or the edge, instead of under the center, the builders having lost their exact location as the process of heaping on more earth advanced. A large mound of that class, two miles west of LaGrange, in Brown County, examined by the writer a few years ago, well-illustrated this erratic architecture and also disclosed a remarkable departure from the hereditary Indian custom habitually observed in monumental mound burials. Situated at the verge of a prominent point of the bluff, irregularly oblong in shape, as seen in the diagram (Fig. 3), it was 125 feet in length, 80 feet in breadth at the widest part, with an average height of. 20 feet, and made altogether of bluff clay. 

Excavations carried down, at different points, to the bluff surface failed to discover the objects so sacred to the Indians or so revered by them as to demand their commemoration a monument comprising 13,000 cubic yards of earth. A trench was then cut through it longitudinally, which revealed little more than two or three intrusive superficial burials. However, at a short distance from the eastern end, space, 8 feet long by 7 feet wide in the solid bluff surface, was observed to be soft and yielding, indicating that the ground there, at some former time, had been disturbed. That fact was soon apparent when on digging at that spot, the loose earth was found to be intermixed with potsherds, flint chips, bones, mussel shells, etc., and on the firm sides of the pit were plainly visible marks of the ancient flint or copper implements employed in its excavation. At the depth of five feet, the broken horn of a deer was thrown out. Ten and a half feet down, a layer of large rough rocks was encountered a foot in thickness. When that mass of rocks, and all the loose earth, were carefully removed, there appeared eight human skeletons, much decayed and crushed by the weight of the superincumbent stones and earth. The bottom of the pit ─ which was fully twelve feet in depth ─ was covered with two inches of dark loam, the decomposed residuum of the bed prepared for the dead, presumably of bark, skins, and prairie grass.

Only one of those entombed bodies had been interred worldly possessions that resisted the gnawing tooth of time, and he, in life, a large, burly man, occupied the central position on the floor, lying full length on his back. Crouched around him the other seven may have been his wives, or slaves, buried with him to attend him in the mythical future. From his extraordinary obsequies and the magnitude of his monument, it may be inferred that he was the head grand chief of the tribe and a copper magnate of distinction. Near his head was a nodular nugget of pure native copper, weighing 24 pounds; ranged along his sides were ten finely wrought copper axes; around his neck were three necklaces, one of the large oblong beads made of the columella (the axis of a spiral shell) of marine shells perforated longitudinally and polished; another of over 200 incisor teeth of squirrels bored at the base; and the third composed of 283 globular copper beads, solid, perfectly spherical, as though cast in molds and highly polished. They ranged in size from two-thirds of an inch in diameter in the middle of the necklace to three-eighths of an inch at either end; and on his breast was a splendid ornament or insignia of authority, consisting of five plates of fluorspar, every six inches in length, two and a half inches wide, a quarter of an inch in thickness, as smooth as glass and resplendent as mirrors. In each was drilled a hole two inches from either end for cords to suspend them an inch apart, and for attachment to the clothing.
Figure 3 - The Copper Mound.
In the diagram (Fig. 3), the letter ‘B’ designates the bluff, ‘M’ the mound and ‘P’ the burial pit. Some idea may be formed of the fervor of esteem or superstitious veneration entertained for the principal individual buried there by his tribe when considering the prodigious amount of manual labor expended in sinking that pit with only the mechanical aid of mussel shells and implements of stone and copper, and of piling up that immense quantity of earth by the primitive methods they employed. But it is difficult to detect the motive impelling them to exercise such extraordinary precaution for the safety of their chief's body and his wealth of copper by that mode of burial; for they must have known that, although Indians frequently buried their dead superficially in mounds erected by other Indians, Indian custom and superstition universally safeguarded all original mound burials' from desecration or despoiling, even by the most inveterate enemies. No buried Indian was ever known to be disturbed by Indians. That this monument was not built in conventional form and immediately over the remains it was intended to commemorate, was perhaps not because the builders forgot the precise location of the burial pit but that the point of the bluff there was too narrow to afford a sufficient width of base for a regular cone-shaped mound of the magnitude required.

There is occasionally found upon examination a large memorial mound that was raised over the remains of but one individual; and in some, no human remains, or other objects whatever, can be discerned as the incentive for erection of the monument. In this latter class of works, the motive is sometimes discovered by an exhaustive exploration of the ground beneath the base of the tumulus, as that shown by (Fig. 3). It is well known, however, that mounds of great magnitude were built for other purposes than a commemoration of the dead ─ as signal stations, elevated bases for wooden buildings, etc. ─ but, as a rule, the Indians were never prodigal of labor excepting when incited by fear, necessity, or superstition. The thought that they toiled at scraping up clay with mussel shells, and carrying it long distances, in deer skins, to pile it up into mounds, merely for diversion or pleasant recreation, is totally at variance with Indian nature. Every earthwork had its definite purpose, though in some instances that purpose is now not readily apparent, as numerous products of their handicraft, of daily use in their domestic economy, are to us unsolvable puzzles because of our ignorance of many of their habits and methods of life.

Notwithstanding the identity of the purpose of all memorial mounds, they present much diversity, not only in size and form but also in their internal design and structure. While they all are sepulchers, no two are exactly alike and often are, internally, so dissimilar as to warrant the conclusion that their builders were of different tribes, each having its peculiar mortuary customs and evidently not contemporaneous. Many years ago, a large mound of this class at East St. Louis, 
Illinois, was demolished, as it stood directly on the line of a new railroad then in course of construction. Over thirty-five feet in height and cone-shaped, it was built throughout of bluff clay, on the sandy alluvial soil of the American Bottom, within half a mile of the Mississippi River. The hidden secrets it had so well guarded in the bygone ages were revealed by its sacrifice to the spirit of modern civilization and shed a broad light upon the savage faith that prompted its building.

As the work of destruction progressed, it was found that about the mound's surface, several Indians of later date had been buried in shallow graves, some of whom still wore ornaments of shell and bone, together with glass beads brought to Canada by early French traders. Nothing unusual beneath those remains was observed in the huge mass of compact earth as it was shoveled down until approaching its base, when several upright cedar posts, in a fair state of preservation, were encountered. More careful and complete removal of the remaining clay then laid bare the design and motives of the ancient authors of the work, plainly showing the inception and details of the impressive barbaric obsequies preceding and occasioning the erection of that majestic earthen tomb. The final disposition thereof a great number of dead bodies ─ more probably their dried skeletons ─ was a modification of the community funeral practiced in 1775 by the Choctaws, as described by Bartram. He says the bones of the deceased were brought in from the field scaffolds and placed "in a curiously wrought chest or coffin, fabricated of bones and splints” and then "deposited in the bone-house, a building erected for that purpose in every town. When this house is full, a general, solemn funeral takes place. "The coffins are then carried out "to the place of general internment, where they are placed in order, forming a pyramid, and lastly covered all over with earth, which raises a conical hill or mount.’

Centrally on the site of the East St. Louis mound, a "bone-house" was built, twelve feet square and seven feet high. The corner posts of cedar were still in place; the other uprights and roof timbers of softer wood were reduced to dust. The sidewalls of the house, constructed of poles planted perpendicularly and interlaced with long slender willow sprouts, or reeds had disappeared, leaving only here and there their impression in the adjacent clay. In that charnel-house had been gathered from the scaffolds and stored the remains of all members of the tribe who died within a certain period; but if each one was encased in "a curiously-wrought chest or coffin," the corroding touch of time left not a distinguishable vestige of it. At that stage of the burial rites, when the bone house was filled, instead of carrying the corpses out "to the place of general internment," as the Choctaws did, the Illinois Indians brought clay from the bluffs and heaped up this mound over the house and its contents where they were, and thereby "raising a conical hill or mount." When all had been cleared away, the bottom of the space bounded by the four cedar corner posts defining the area of the buried bone-house was found to be covered, to the depth of eighteen or twenty inches, with a mass of mingled human bones so far decayed ─ with exception of the teeth ─ that their separation and removal for careful inspection and preservation was utterly impracticable. From among them, however, were recovered many valuable relics of aboriginal art to enrich the private collection of Dr. John J. E. Patrick, of Belleville.

During that progressive period, three other mounds there of the same general character, varying in cubic dimensions and enclosed relics, were torn down and incorporated in the grading of new railroad lines without a record of their structural peculiarities having been preserved ─ if at all closely observed ─ by anyone.

By far the finest and most perfect example of the prehistoric earthen monument in the Illinois River valley ─ a district abounding in aboriginal earthworks ─ was situated immediately on the left bank of the Illinois river, half a mile below its ancient junction with the Sangamon; that junction having since been changed by natural causes to a point six miles farther up. As is often noticed in river bottoms, the land next to the stream is higher than that farther away from it. Such is the topography of that mound location, which is now occupied by the city of Beardstown in Cass County. Formerly a channel, now filled up, carried part of the waters of the united streams from the mouth of the Sangamon to the south, then west-ward, to where it rejoined the Illinois River several miles below, converting an extensive area there ─ especially during the rainy seasons ─ into an island, elevated considerably above the line of highest overflow. From the river there, a sandy alluvial plain stretches four miles in width to the eastern range of bluffs, and across the river westward, a similar flat bottom, a mile wide, separates the stream from the bluffs on that side. The many advantages for savage life presented by that island; the natural beauty of its wild surroundings, and the limitless resources there of fish, game and indigenous fruits rendered it an attractive abiding place for the Indian. From time immemorial, reaching far back into the dim ages of the past, that place was occupied by successive tribes of aborigines. 

This is evidenced by the fact that for quite a distance back from the riverfront, the sandy surface soil has been artificially raised twenty or more inches by the accumulation and admixture of ashes, charcoal, fire-stained rocks, bones of various birds, beasts and fishes, mussel shells and other refuse common about all old Indian campsites. The vast length of time required for the addition of that depth to the original surface, to be made by that process of gradual accretion, can only be conjectured. The great mound there (Fig. 4) was another silent witness ─ of undoubted high antiquity ─ of the centuries that passed since the first Indian village was pitched upon that island. The smaller adjacent mounds may have enclosed the dead of the tribe that built the large one; or, perhaps, were of more recent construction.
Figure 4 - The Beardstown Mounds in 1817.
When the vanguard of the horde of immigrants that began pressing into the "Sangamon Country" in the first years of the nineteenth century came to that place, they found a village of Kickapoo Indians, who had been there but comparatively a short time, and who possessed not the slightest tradition of their predecessors on the island or of the mounds. The early white settlers designated the collection of buffalo and elk skin lodges there "The Mound Village," until, in 1826, Thomas Beard established a flat-boat ferry across the Illinois river at that point, when the name of the embryo white settlement he started there was changed to Beard's Ferry; and again changed in 1829, when the town was platted and recorded as Beardstown.

There is no one now living who saw those mounds in the completeness of symmetrical proportions they had when seen by the earliest settlers of this region. They have long since totally disappeared and are now only ideally restored, as seen in (Fig. 4), from descriptions and accounts of a few of the oldest residents of the county.

The drawing of them, copied in (Fig. 4), and their measurements, as above stated, were furnished by Mr. H. F. Kors, circuit clerk of Cass County for years, who was born and raised at the southern margin of the mound adjoining the large one; whose account of them is, in the main, corroborated by the few remaining citizens of Beardstown older than himself. 

They were all conical in form; the large one was fully sixty feet high, with the base four hundred feet in diameter. The burial mound almost contiguous to it was fifteen feet in height, with the corresponding width of the base. About forty yards to the west stood an ordinary burial mound ten feet in elevation, and farther down the river was another, the smallest of the group, about eight feet high. The three smaller mounds were destroyed early in the history of Beardstown, their removal being deemed necessary for opening and properly grading the road leading down the river, and the clay of which they were made as needed for filling up sundry holes and depressions in the principal streets of the village. By 1837 Beardstown had become quite an important trading point. It was situated on a drift deposit of sand, which in the summertime, when dry, was blown by the winds in stifling clouds in all directions; and at all times rendered traveling and teaming through the town slowly and laborious. To remedy that condition, some bright genius who had discovered: that the great mound was composed of clay suggested to the town trustees the idea of "macadamizing" the sandy streets with that material.

That expedient was at once adopted, and the criminal folly of digging down the mound ─ one of the grandest and most perfect specimens of its kind and the second in magnitude in the State ─ was commenced that year and continued for years until the last vestige of it was hauled away to "clay" the deep sand of the streets and about two miles of the main road to the eastern bluffs. At that time, Beardstown had several citizens of culture and education, but American archaeology had not yet been elevated to the dignity of a distinct science, and Indian antiquities were then so commonplace that the extraordinary opportunity afforded by the mound's removal for investigation and study of the spiritual ideation and sepulchral arts of the aboriginal red race was practically unnoticed. However, from reliable sources ─  particularly from Mr. John Davis, a native of the county, town marshal of Beardstown for many years, and superintendent of the mound's destruction ─ it was learned that all over it were many superficial intrusive burials of later Indians, accompanied, as usual, with their implements and ornaments of stone, shell, and bone. Among them was found the remains, evidently of a missionary priest who had long ago penetrated the wilderness thus far, and there laid down his life in the exercise of his faith and was entombed by his converts in that majestic sepulcher of their unknown predecessors. Around his skull was a thin silver band an inch in width; on his skeleton breast reposed a silver cross, and nearby were the jet and silver beads of his rosary.

Fragments of broken pottery, flint chips, and mussel shells occurred all through the homogeneous mass of clay, with here and there the ash beds, charred wood, animal bones and other debris usual about old Indian campfires. At the base of the mound, about its center, resting ground surface, the workmen uncovered a pile of large, rough flagstones, which proved to be a rude vault, six feet square and four feet high, enclosing five human skeletons, far decayed, and "a number of relics" buried with them; the reliquiae (fossil remains of animals or plants), doubtless, of renowned chieftains, to whose memory their tribe had reared this imposing monument.
Figure 5 - The Great Beardstown Mounds in 1850.
(Fig. 5) is the copy of a sketch by Mr. Kors of what was left of the mound in 1850, a section of it on the north side, next to the river, having been specially excavated for the building of the four-story grain warehouse shown in the cut. When I first visited it in the spring of 1865, the buildings seen in this cut had been destroyed by fire, and the mound's obliteration was complete, with the exception of remnants, from three to five feet in depth, about its margins, sufficient to define its original line of circumference. Those remnants of the mound, and much of the same material that still covered the sandy streets, were seen at a glance to be the earth of a very different kind from that of the ground upon which the mounds had stood. In a vertical section of the geological formation at Beardstown, as shown by (Fig. 6), the letter ‘C’ denotes a limestone ledge of the lower coal measures; ‘B,’ a deposit of true till or boulder clay, ‘DD,’ a stratum of fine brick clay; ‘SS,’ drift, or diluvial (relating to a flood) sand, from six to fifteen feet in depth; M, the large mound; and R, bed of the Illinois river, at that point over a quarter of a mile wide. The clay composing the mounds was upland v tertiary) loess, identical in color and ingredients with the ''bluff formation" constituting all the (earthen) river bluffs of Illinois as far south as glacial action extended. The brick clay (DD) at the bottom of the river, exposed at either bank in low stages of water, differs from that of the mounds in color, texture, and analysis.
Figure 6 - Geological Section at Beardstown, Illinois.
No depression of the land in the near proximity of the mounds could be discovered from whence material of their bulk could have been taken for their construction. The inference must, therefore, be held conclusive – until more exhaustive investigation refutes it ─ that those Beardstown mounds, located at the verge of the riverbank on a base of loose sand, were built of clay, almost impervious to water, brought there for that purpose from the bluffs four miles east, or from those across the river one mile west. If this deduction is correct, conception may be formed of the fervor and tenacity of Indian veneration for illustrious leaders ─ that impelled them to perform the stupendous labor of carrying over 50,000 cubic yards of earth that distance to construct a monument for the safekeeping of their remains and the perpetuation of their memory. Possibly superstition or other consideration besides the preservative or lasting properties of drift clay influenced them to adopt it for that purpose at the cost of such arduous toil.

The large sepulchral Indian mounds dotting our Illinois landscape in homely grandeur are geographically distributed also throughout the eastern and middle portions of the Mississippi valley and the Gulf States. In this state, they are seen in proximity to all the principal streams, particularly in the valleys of the Wabash, Kaskaskia and Illinois rivers and on the bottoms and bluffs of the Ohio and Mississippi, from Shawneetown and Cairo to Galena. The intrinsic evidence of great age they present on investigation suggests the probability that the custom of building this class of anamnestic monuments was in decadence, or had entirely ceased, before the invasion of America by Spanish adventurers. All artifacts associated with the human remains they contain are of distinctively native Indian type. In none of them so far examined has any article of European manufacture been discovered, but in a few have been found devices wrought of sheet copper of unquestioned Mexican or Central American origin. And in many occur profusion of seashells, implements, ornaments, and weapons made of copper, hematite, catlinite
, mica and obsidian, transported from far distant regions.

Pipestone (catlinite) is traditionally the sacred red claystone used as a Native American ceremony stone for making peace pipes, prayer and ceremonial pipes and other totems and talismans.

They are all of the essential mnemonic intent and were the material expression of the same sentiments that have actuated civilized peoples in all countries to rear splendid granite monuments and shafts of sculptured marble over the graves of their dead. Properly interpreted, they legibly reveal many of the Indian's mythological and religious conceptions. The basin-shaped "altar" of burnt, or otherwise indurated clay, at the mound's base, filled with ashes of the funeral pyre; the charred remains of astonishing sacrifices of the finest and most beautiful articles of personal adornment, and their wealth of implements and utensils, cast in the seething fire; the thousands of artistically chipped flints and other rare objects fashioned by months ─ perhaps years ─ of patient labor and brought from great distances, there deposited as votive offerings or to appease supernal wrath ─ all testify to the Indian's faith in immortality and belief that his destiny was controlled by contending, all-powerful good and evil spirits.

The builders of those mounds in Illinois ─ doubtless of various tribes and probably of different primitive stocks ─ were in the Neolithic stage of culture when they arrived. Their arts were not developed here from crude beginnings, as they had already attained elsewhere superior skill in chipping flint, as well as in shaping and polishing the hardest and most refractory stones into forms of grace and beauty. But notwithstanding their surprising proficiency in the technical, and even esthetic, manipulation of such materials as nature furnished them, the structure of their skeletons found in the oldest mounds ─ the apelike prognathism (having protrusive jaws), the flattened tibiae, perforated humerus, retreating forehead and prominent supraorbital ridges ─ places them low in the scale of humanity, physically and mentally. The problem of their origin remains unsolved. It may be that it never will be satisfactorily explained. But some light may yet be shed upon the dark page of their ethnography and migrations by the persistent, systematic and intelligent study of the broad and inviting archaeological field our State presents. With some highly creditable exceptions, antiquarian research in Illinois has heretofore been conducted principally by curiosity mongers and mercenary vandals for selfish gain only. It demands and should receive, before it is too late, the earnest attention of active, scholarly workers in the interest of science.

The large level-top mounds built by Indians, known to antiquarians as Temple or House mounds, are in this latitude an exceptional class. There are less than fifty of them in the State of Illinois, but in that limited number is included the largest earthwork of the aborigines in the United States. They are not regarded as memorial monuments; nor are they believed to be sepulchers; but whether or not they were primarily projected to entomb the dead is not known, as not one of them has yet been fully explored. In form, they are either truncated pyramids, square or oblong ─ the "teocalli" of the Mexicans ─ or describe the frustum of a cone with a circular base. They vary in outline, as well as in dimensions, from low platforms elevated but a few feet above the surrounding surface to huge structures elaborately terraced and provided with broad ascending roadways.

In the Wabash valley, it is said are two mounds of this kind, but the report of them is too vague and unreliable to be available in this paper. There is one near Mill Creek in the northeastern corner of Alexander county, "nearly square and some six or eight feet high," on which is now a dwelling house. It may, however, not be of the class under consideration but a buried aggregation of stone graves, as were two others in its immediate vicinity. On the Illinois River bottom two miles below Le Grange, in Brown County, is a circular platform mound ninety-eight feet in diameter, originally eight feet in height, having yet the vestige of a graded way leading to its top from the surrounding level plain. It is made of compact clay taken from the bluffs nearby, and when first observed thirty years ago, there was scarcely a perceptible abrasion in its vertical periphery. Apart from the few truncated mounds above mentioned, it is only in the American bottom and in one of the upland prairies a short distance farther east that the true type of temple mounds are found in Illinois. If there are others in the State, they are only locally known and have not been brought to general notice. 

For form and magnitude, and for surprising numbers in such a limited area, the well-known group of Indian mounds in the northern end of the American Bottom is the most remarkable of all aboriginal works in the United States. In their explanatory note of the very accurate and reliable map of that wonderful antiquarian district, published in 1906 for private distribution by Dr. Cyrus A. Peterson and Clark McAdams, of St. Louis, they say of the great Cahokia mound that it is "treble the size of any other similar structure" in this country and "was originally the central feature of several hundred mounds within a radius of six miles." As sixty-nine mounds are figured on their map within a radius of two miles, their estimate of the probable number once occupying a circle of twelve miles does not seem extravagant, t Brackenridge, who visited that district in 1811, says: "I crossed the Mississippi at St. Louis, and, after passing through the wood which borders the river, about half a mile in width, entered an extensive open plain.

In fifteen minutes, I found myself in the midst of a group of mounds, mostly of a circular shape and, at a distance, resembling enormous hayricks scattered through a meadow. One of the largest, which I ascended, was about 200 paces in circumference at the bottom, the form nearly square. However, it had evidently undergone considerable alteration from the washing of the rains. The top was level, with an area sufficient to contain several hundred men.

"Around me, I counted forty-five mounds, or pyramids, besides a great number of small artificial elevations; these mounds form something more than a semi-circle, about a mile in extent, the open space on the river. Pursuing my walk along the bank of the Cahokia, I passed eight others in the distance of three miles before I arrived at the largest assemblage. When I reached the foot of the principal mound, I was struck with a degree of astonishment not unlike that which is experienced in contemplating the Egyptian pyramids. What a stupendous pile of the earth! To heap up such a mass must have required years and the labor of thousands. Nearly west, there is another of a smaller size and forty others scattered through the plain. Two are also seen on the bluff at a distance of three miles. I everywhere observed a great number of small elevations of earth, to the height of a few feet, at regular distances from each other, and which appeared to observe some order; near them, I also observed pieces of flint and fragments of earthen vessels. I concluded that a very populous town had once existed here, similar to those of Mexico, described by the first conquerors.

Many of the mounds seen there by Brackenridge in 1811 have long since vanished before the inexorable agencies of civilization. Many of those still there are rapidly yielding to the disintegration of natural causes accelerated by the plow and harrow. In that Cahokia creek district may yet be counted a dozen mounds of the domiciliary type ─ square or circular with flat tops ─ the most noted of which is, of course, the great Cahokia mound, deriving its name from that of the creek near its base that formerly joined the Mississippi at the old village of the same name, six miles below their present junction. On the crest of the bluffs three miles directly east of the great mound, there were formerly situated two "sugar loaf" mounds overlooking, on opposite sides, a wide ravine formed by a small rivulet that cut its way at that place through the bluffs in its course from the higher lands beyond. They were signal stations, as is shown by the following report of the thorough examination of one of them, in 1887, by employees of the Bureau of Ethnology; "This was conical in shape and formed a landmark for some distance around. At the depth of about three feet, the earth, which was a yellowish clay, became dry and very hard and quite different in character from the loess of the bluff on which the mound stands. At the depth of about twelve feet (farther down) a layer of ashes, nearly an inch thick, was disclosed, and a foot below this, another layer of ashes, a foot or more in thickness. Except for some thin, flat pieces of sandstone, there were no relics or other remains, not even a portion of bone.

In the early settling of that part of the State, there was still plainly seen a well-worn trail, or road, leading from the mound village on the banks of Cahokia creek to the eastern bluffs and up that ravine between the two lofty signal stations, and on through the timbered hills and across Silver creek, to another square mound in the western edge of Looking Glass Prairie, a distance of fifteen miles, known in early pioneer days as the Emerald mound because of its dark green color in the spring and summer seasons, it was a conspicuous and attractive object in plain view for many miles to the northeast and southward. It is situated at the eastern end of a high wavelike swelling of that beautiful prairie, a mile from the (then) timberline, and two and a half miles northeast of Lebanon ─ the seat of McKendree College ─ in St. Clair County. It is the most perfect and best-preserved mound of its class in the State; a truncated pyramid in form, approximately true mathematical proportions, each line of its quadrilateral base measuring almost exactly 300 feet, and its level top 150 feet square. Its height is within a few inches of 50 feet, rising from the ground surface on each side with the even grade of a modern railroad embankment. As shown by (Fig. 7), it has survived the passing of centuries with but little abrasion, still retaining to a marked degree the integrity and symmetry of all its outlines and angles due to the tough clay of which it is made. And of that, it is computed to comprise 56,787 cubic yards; much of it doubtless brought from a distance or scraped up from the subsoil of an extensive area of the surrounding country, as no corresponding excavations can be seen in its vicinity. Its corners directed to the four cardinal points of the compass indicate that it was projected with regard to the correct orientation, vaguely suggesting worship of the sun by its builders.
Figure 7. Emerald Mound in 1820.
Figure 8. Diagrams.
Extending a hundred feet from the base of the mound, on its northwestern side, there was originally an artificial terrace 280 feet wide and two or three feet high, marked “T” on the diagram (Fig. 8), upon which an inclined way 20 feet wide ascended to the top. In all directions from the mound, except the west, the ground slopes down as gradually and evenly as a shelving beach of the ocean; on the west, it continues with but slight depression to the timber. A hundred yards to the north is a small brook that drains a portion of the prairie and wends its course westward to Silver creek. Near the bank of that rivulet, beneath the spreading branches of stately old elms and oaks, there gushed from the earth ─ at “S” on the diagram ─ a bold spring of clear, cold water in the days before the era of well-digging and corn-raising. It furnished the water supply of the colony of mound builders whose lodges were pitched all around it on both sides of the branch, as was attested by the numerous hut rings and fire-places, obliterated only after many years of annual plowing. 

Directly in front of the northeastern side of the square mound and 350 feet from its base, there stood a circular mound, 75 feet in diameter at the ground, 12 feet in height, with a level top 30 feet across. East of the east corner of the large square mound, and 300 feet from it, was conical mound No. 2, the exact counterpart of No. 1. Both were carefully constructed of hard, tenacious clay and described true circles, both at their bases and flat summits. On the broad undulation to the west of these works, and 600 feet distant from the western corner of the truncated pyramid, is mound No. 3, presumably artificial and perhaps sepulchral. It is of the ordinary rounded form, ten feet in height, 150 feet in length and 100 feet wide at the base. West of it, a hundred feet, is another similar but smaller mound, No. 4, in length 75 feet, by 50 feet in width, and 6 feet high. No exploration of that very interesting assemblage of Indian earthworks has ever been made. In 1840 Mr. Baldwin, then proprietor of the premises, built a dwelling house that encroached several feet upon the large square mound near its eastern corner. In excavating for the cellar and foundations of that building, he unearthed, from about a foot beneath the mound's edge, sixteen large flint spades, from ten to eighteen inches in length, smoothly polished at their broad ends by long-continued use ─ evidently, tools of the mound builders, secreted there after their work was done. Forty years later, a narrow trench, two or more feet deep, was cut into the northeastern side of that mound in which to embed an iron pipe for supplying water to a distributing reservoir placed on its top. Only dense, solid clay was penetrated in digging that trench, and not an object of human fabrication was discovered in it; but about the center of the square top was found a bed of ashes and charcoal, a few inches below the surface, denoting that, long ago, the fire had been maintained there for an indefinite period of time.

There is not another instance in the State of Illinois of an Indian mound approximating this one in dimensions, and certainly not one of its technical form, situated, like this one, on the broad, open prairie. The number of ancient lodge rings, with their central fire beds, and the camp refuse and the many fragments of pottery and flint, scattered far and wide around these mounds, as seen there at an early day, prove that locality to have been occupied for a long time by a numerous population identical in characteristics and culture and contemporaneous with the Indians of the American Bottom, who built the great mounds of the Cahokia creek district. Assuming they were the same people, the conclusion is justified that they erected the Emerald mound pyramid, on the most elevated point of their vicinity, with its view of the eastern horizon and the rising sun unobstructed, for a specific purpose connected with their forms of worship and religious rites.

Passing southward from Cahokia creek, where it joins the Mississippi at East St. Louis, on down to the lower extremity of the American Bottom at Chester, Indian mounds are occasionally seen on the alluvial plain but limited in numbers and far apart. The first American settlers in that region ─ subject to overflow by the Mississippi River ─ selected, when they conveniently could, those artificial elevations to build their dwellings upon. Reynolds says, in his Pioneer History, that Robert Kidd, one of Colonel George Rogers Clark's soldiers, located on the American Bottom in 1781 and "lived many years on a mound near Fort de Chartres." That mound was probably "the eminence near Fort de Chartres" from which Captain Bossu in 1752, witnessed the massacre of a band of Cahokia and Michigami Indians by a foray of Foxes, Kickapoos, and Sioux that came down the Mississippi in 180 bark canoes to wreak vengeance upon that unfortunate remnant of the once-powerful Illinois confederacy. Edmund Flagg writes in 1836: "As I journeyed leisurely," from Columbia to Cahokia, "here and thereupon, the extended plain stood out in loneliness like a landmark of centuries, one of those mysterious tombs of a departed race. Some of them were to be seen rearing up their summits from the hearts of extensive maize fields, and upon one of larger magnitude stood a white farmhouse, visible in the distance for miles down the prairie. The number of these ancient mounds upon the American Bottom is estimated at three hundred”

That farmhouse mentioned by Mr. Flagg, shown in (Fig. 9), was made of brick, with only its woodwork painted white. The mound in which it was built is the only one of the distinctive temple classes now known in the Bottom south of those in the Cahokia creek district. It is in St. Clair County, within less than a mile of the Monroe county line, five miles south of Old Cahokia and three and a half miles southeast of Jefferson Barracks, in Missouri. A truncated pyramid in form, it is 30 feet high, 180 feet square at the base, and each side of its square top measures 80 feet. The ground all around it is level as a floor, with a general altitude considerably above the flood line of the Mississippi. Less than a mile to its south was formerly a long, crooked, dismal sheet of water known as Back Lake, now well-nigh drained; and for a distance around that was a very dense forest of large trees, mainly oaks, hickories, and pecans. For quite a distance to the north, the view up the Bottom was unobstructed except by scattered patches of crab apples, persimmons, and hazels. On sandy loam soil, the well-preserved mound, composed altogether of clay, is correctly oriented, each side facing one of the cardinal points of the compass. The house upon and partly in it, built-in 1825, is still in fairly sound condition. 

The house was built, and part of the land around it was put into cultivation by Adam W. Snyder, who named the farm "Square Mound.”

When excavating on the south side for the building and cellar, human remains, with primitive artifacts of archaic types, are said to have been discovered, doubtless from intrusive burials of more recent Indians than the builders of the mound.
Figure 9. Square Mound.
About six miles east of the ancient village of Cahokia, the rounded bald bluffs defining the limits of the American Bottom on that side are suddenly replaced by a perpendicular wall-like escarpment of rock, rising to the average height of 200 feet. A mile and a half farther down is the famous "Falling Spring,” where a moderate stream of water, from an opening in the massive strata of carboniferous limestone, leaps eighty feet to the ground below. That lofty mural barrier extends down to a point a mile and a quarter east of the Square mound (Fig. 9), there terminating in a projecting vertical cliff over 200 feet high, to reappear in the same rugged grandeur at Prairie du Rocher. Perched upon the verge of that towering terminal precipice is a noted signal station of the prehistoric Indian, known far and near for more than a century as "The Sugar Loaf." It is a conical mound, thirty feet high, made of clay, tramped so solidly as to have- in its exposed position ─ successfully defied for ages the destructive forces of the elements. The view presented to the eye from its summit on a clear day is truly magnificent. Below, the American Bottom, for miles around, dotted here and there with groves and farms, lakes and villages. In the distance, the spires and domes of the city of St. Louis and its thriving neighbor, East St. Louis, and of Jefferson Barracks, almost opposite, with glimpses of the Mississippi and its bold, rocky cliffs beyond, make a picture of unsurpassed splendor.

From beneath the great ledge of rock surmounted by this signal mound, there issues a large spring of pure cold water, which has (or had) the strange peculiarity of regular ebb and flow as the ocean tides. At a short distance from the spring commences a foot-worn path leading, by a steep, tortuous way, up to the mound above. So conspicuous and familiarly known is that noted landmark that the district in which it is situated was long ago officially named "Sugar Loaf township.”

The American Bottom ─ particularly that part of it north of a line drawn from the mouth of Cahokia creek east to the bluffs ─ was, and still is, the richest field for archeological research in the State of Illinois, if not in the entire United States. It was for a protracted period the abode of Indians much higher in the scale of barbarism as judged by their progress in mechanical arts than the tribes surrounding them and far in advance of those found there upon discovery of the country. When the white race came into possession of that region, there were in the area specified three groups of ancient earthworks, extraordinary in dimension and numbers, and many of them of forms seldom seen elsewhere north of the Ohio River. The first group, of forty-five, described in 1811 by Brackenridge as placed in a semi-circle of a mile or more in extent, with the open side to the Mississippi River, have all totally disappeared and are replaced by the buildings and paved streets of East St. Louis.

"Some twelve miles north of East St. Louis, a sluggish creek or slough with high banks, called Long Lake, joins Cahokia creek; and on its banks, near the point of juncture, stands a group of some thirteen or fourteen mounds, circled around a square temple mound of moderate height.” That collection of mounds, the second and smallest of the three groups mentioned, has also completely vanished; the material of which were made and valuable relics they contained having long ago been utilized for grading the road-beds of several railroads passing that point. Only the third and largest group farther east remains intact. Of all those splendid earthworks at East St. Louis and Long Lake, recklessly destroyed and gone, the technical structure and enclosed objects of but three or four were critically observed and reported by persons versed in the lore of American antiquities. The grandeur of this system of aboriginal remains as it appeared so long ago. Lines of mounds at irregular intervals serve to connect these groups, and scattered over the entire extent of these rich lowlands are mounds standing alone or in groups of two or three, while occasionally one may be seen surmounting the bluffs and upon their very verge, two hundred feet above the bottomland. It has been stated that there are two hundred in the series, but that falls far short of a correct estimate and that a survey would show that a much larger number may still be plainly traced, for it must be remembered that many of the lesser tumuli have been so altered by the plow that they are not now discernible. Of the central square temple mound at Long Lake, nothing further is known; not so much as its external measurements have been preserved.

Only one other mound in that cluster was partially examined by competent observers while it was in process of being demolished. At the western border of this group, and close to Mitchell Station, stood originally three conical mounds of considerable size, which were first cut into laying the tracks of the Chicago & Alton Railroad. The mound was originally about 27 feet high and measured 127 feet in diameter at the base. During an excavation, the workmen found, at a height of four or five feet above the base of the mound, a deposit of human bones from six to eight feet in width and averaging some eight inches in thickness, which stretched across the mound from east to west, as though the remains had been gathered together and buried in a trench. On this level, scattered about within an area of six or eight feet square, were discovered a number of valuable relics, together with a large quantity of matting, in which many of them had been enveloped.

The relics there discovered were chiefly of copper, including a number of small imitation tortoise shells "made of beaten copper, scarcely more than one sixty-fourth of an inch in thickness, remarkably true to nature in form, proportions and external markings. Among them was the front end of a deer's lower jaw, with its incisor teeth intact, finely plated all over with sheet copper as thin as tissue paper. There were also pointed implements of wood and bone, polished discs of bone and other articles, copper plated in the same manner ─ the entire workmanship evincing a delicate skill of which we have never before found traces in any discovered remains of the arts of the Mound Builders." These singularly exquisite products of ancient Indian art were separately enclosed in three envelopes; the first, a fine textile fabric made of bark fiber; the second, woven of rabbit hair; and the third, outer wrapping, coarse grass, and split cane matting.

Until a comparatively recent period, there was much diversity of opinions regarding the origin of the mounds. Those who believed they were artificial attributed their construction to a semi-civilized race here, antedating ─ and in every element of culture superior to ─ the Indians by whom they were displaced and, in some mysterious manner, totally exterminated. Others, among whom were the most intelligent and best educated of our early settlers, maintained -and proved to their own satisfaction ─ that the mounds were products of natural geological forces. Prof. John Russell, the brilliant writer and scholar, contributed to a number of the Illinois Magazine articles, a paper embodying an array of facts and arguments he considered unanswerable in support of his view that the mounds were merely natural elevations. All around his home, at the foot of the Illinois River bluffs, were mounds of various dimensions, several of which he carefully examined and was convinced that "they were not the productions of human art." Dr. John Mason Peck expressed, in his Gazetteer of Illinois and his later New Guide for Emigrants, the decided opinion "that the mounds of the west are natural formations." They both pronounced the human bones found in the mounds the remains of recent Indians, whose custom was to bury their dead in elevated places wherever convenient. Prof. A. H. Worthen, State Geologist of Illinois, a man of broad learning and eminent in science, declared that ninety percent of the mounds were natural formations and the great Cahokia mound simply an outlier of the glacial drift.

But at present, it is positively known that the mounds ─ with some exceptions ─ are genuine antiquities made long ago for special purposes by Indians. Ninety percent were primarily built for depositories of the dead, and human remains were interred, either originally or intrusively, in almost all of them. That the earthworks now under consideration ─ the temple and domiciliary mounds ─ are correctly classified is well established, not only by ocular proof but by abundant historical evidence. All mounds having flat, level tops were erected or adapted by the change of other forms, for platforms or bases, for buildings of some description. Those of that class in Illinois examined before they were defaced or mutilated by the inroads of civilization exhibited the fire-beds and other unmistakable remains of human habitations, seen in and about similar structures in the southern States through which De Soto passed in 1540-41. The chroniclers of that marvelous expedition give highly interesting, though sometimes conflicting, accounts of Indian villages and village life they saw there. Still, all agree in their descriptions of the temple or domiciliary mounds then occupied by their builders.

The natives always endeavored to build upon the high ground or at least to erect the houses of the cacique (chief) upon an eminence. As the country was very level and high places seldom to be found, they constructed artificial mounds of earth, the top of each being capable of containing from ten to twenty houses. Here resided the cacique, his family and attendants. At the foot of this hill was a square, according to the size of the village, around which were the houses of the leaders and most distinguished inhabitants. The rest of the people erected their wigwams as near to the dwelling of their chief as possible. An ascent in a straight line, from fifteen to twenty feet wide, led to the top of the hillock and was flanked on each side by trunks of trees, joined one to another and thrust deep into the earth; other trunks of trees formed a kind of stairway. All the other sides of the mound were steep and inaccessible.

Du Pratz wrote in 1758: "Thus, when the French first arrived in the colony, several nations (still) kept up the eternal fire and observed other religious ceremonies, and many of them still continue to have temples. The sovereign of the Natchez showed me their temple, which is about thirty feet square and stands upon an artificial mount about eight feet high by the side of a river.”

In the account of his journeys through several of the Southern States in 1773-1777, William Bartram makes frequent mention of Indian temple mounds, upon some of which the buildings surmounting them were still standing. In his travels about the source of the Tennessee River, he remarks: "On these towering hills appeared the ruins of the famous ancient town of Sticoe. Here was a vast Indian mount or tumulus and a great terrace on which stood the council house. The council or townhouse is a large rotunda capable of accommodating several hundred people. It stands on top of an ancient artificial mound of earth of about twenty feet perpendicular. The rotunda on the top of it, being about thirty feet more, gives the whole fabric an elevation of about sixty feet from the common surface of the ground. The mounds or terraces on which formerly stood their town-house or rotunda and a little back of this on a level height or natural step above the low grounds is a vast artificial terrace or four-square mound now seven or eight feet high.” Riding through this large town, the road carried me winding about through their little plantations of corn, beans, etc., up to the council house, which was a very large dome or rotunda situated on top of an ancient artificial mount, and here my road terminated.

As the flat-top mounds of the American Bottom and vicinity are in every respect similar to those in the southern States seen with houses upon them, as described by the followers of De Soto, Du Pratz, Herrera, Bartram and others, there is little room to doubt that the purpose of their construction was also to serve as elevated platforms or foundations for buildings. The object of this paper, however, is not to enter the tempting field of speculation and discuss the questions of why or when or by whom the mounds of the American Bottom were built but to consider technically how they were built. The few in the East St. Louis and Long Lake groups critically examined when demolished, of which we have any record, were undoubtedly wholly artificial and ─ with one or two exceptions ─ made of loess or the "bluff formation;" at any rate, not of sand, silt or loam. Inferentially, therefore, those still undisturbed are also wholly artificial and identical in composition. But this is not a demonstrated fact, as there has yet been no systematic investigation of any of them. Much has been written of the central figure of the remaining group, the great Cahokia mound, and yet nothing is positively known of its actual structure. 

"When we stand at the base of the great Cahokia mound," says Prof. Cyrus Thomas, "and study its vast proportions, we can scarcely bring ourselves to believe it was built without some other means of collecting and conveying material than that possessed by the Indians. But what other means could a lost race have had? The Indians had wooden spades, baskets, skins of animals, wooden and clay vessels and textile fabrics; they also had stone implements.  Moreover, the fact should be borne in mind that this great mound is unique in respect to size, being more than treble in contents than that of any other true mound in the United States. Nor has it yet been ascertained with satisfactory certainty that it is entirely artificial.”

Its size has been variously estimated. Brackenridge and Dr. Peck thought it was about ninety feet high. Featherstonhaugh, the English geologist, who saw it in 1834, says, "Its summit is 115 feet from the ground." William McAdams of Alton, having surveyed it, says: "It covers 16 acres, 2 roods and 3 perches of ground, with the base 998 long by 721 feet wide, and is 100 feet high." The dimensions given it by Dr. Peterson and Clark McAdams, on their map are as follows: Length of the base, 1080 feet; width, 710 feet; area covered by the base, 17 acres; altitude, 104 feet; and cubic contents, 1,500,000 yards. In 1882 a careful survey of the mounds in the Cahokia creek district was made and platted by Dr. John J. R. Patrick, an enthusiastic archaeologist residing at Belleville, six miles east of the American Bottom. In connection with that work he employed C. H. Shannon, then chief engineer of the Wabash Railroad, to specially examine and measure the great mound. By the method of triangulations familiar to civil engineers, Mr. Shannon found the greatest height of the mound to be a fraction over 97 feet. Measured with an engineer's chain and making due allowance for the indistinct line of junction of the mound's lower edge with the common surface of the plain, he ascertained the extreme length of its base to be 1010 feet and its width 710 feet. The area it covers ─ by his calculation ─ is 13.85 acres; the rectangular plateau of its summit comprises 1.45 acres, and the earthen material of the mound "approximates very closely 1,076,000 cubic yards.”

To form an adequate conception of the immensity of this earthwork, by comparison, it may be stated that the most gigantic achievement of aboriginal labor in the United States (next to the Cahokia mound) is Old Fort Ancient, in Warren County, Ohio, whose four miles of a huge embankment and included mounds contain 738,000 cubic yards of displaced earth. The basal area, 760 feet square, of the pyramid of Cheops in Egypt, one of the "seven wonders of the world," is just 13 acres.

The Cahokia mound, at its base and for the first 37 feet of its height, is a rectangular parallelogram (Fig. 10) is Dr. Patrick's ideal restoration of its appearance when its builders left it. "From the top to the base," says Mr. Shannon's report, "toward the west, the slope is quite flat, being about one perpendicular to 3.8 horizontal; while to the north, northeast, and east the slope is more abrupt, being 1.75 horizontal to one perpendicular. At the south end of the mound is a terrace, 60 feet below the top, having an area of one and three-quarter acres. The slope from this second plateau to the east, west and south is the same as above, 1.75 horizontal to one perpendicular. Supposing the material for its construction to have been procured from the immediate vicinity and estimating the barren pit was excavated to an average depth of three feet, it would have exhausted the soil to that depth from the surface of a little over 222 acres; while if the barren pit had averaged but two feet deep, it would have extended over 333 acres. The weight of a cubic foot of common soil is about 137 pounds. A man can carry 70 pounds, or half a cubic foot, in addition to the weight of the receptacle he carries it in. This is a fair estimate when the weight now carried by hod-carriers is considered. Assuming the material was carried from a distance of not more than a quarter of a mile and that the Indian worked 10 hours each day in the year, carrying each day 13 ½ cubic feet, or half a cubic yard, of earth, he could have completed the job in 5898 years; or 2448 of them, working at that rate, could have done it in two years.”
Figure 10. Cahokia Mound - Restored.
There is little probability, however, that any Indians of the mound-building era worked on the ten-hours-a-day system. Attaching no value to time, their labor was desultory and fitful; persistent for periods, then suspended for long intervals. The moving of all the earth comprised in the Cahokia mound, by their methods, could only have been accomplished by the united efforts of numerous tribes during a great many years. And was then never completed.

The inequalities of level, or offsets, in the upper part of the truncated pyramid evidently mark unfinished stages of construction. For it must undoubtedly have been the architect's design to carry the four lateral slopes up to a plane uniform with that of the present highest plateau. Hence, the inference follows that before that design could be executed, the tribe became demoralized and abandoned the work. The arrest of their laborers may have resulted from one of two causes. They were, perhaps, overwhelmed and dispersed by an incursion of wild savages; or, owing to the incoming herds of the buffalo, they relapsed from their higher development of semi-sedentary life and agricultural pursuits back into nomadic savagery and subsistence by the chase.

Until the Cahokia mound is thoroughly and scientifically investigated, the problem of its construction will never be determined with certainty. That it is entirely a product of human agency has seldom been doubted, and that belief seems to be confirmed by its regular geometric form; the exact coincidence of its long axis with the north and south points of the compass, and the fact that the mounds around it that have been examined proved to be unquestionably artificial. On the other hand, its extraordinary bulk and the character of the material largely employed in its composition justify the assumption that it may be, in part, a natural elevation modified in shape by the Indians -a parallel instance to that of the celebrated Selsertown mound of Adams County, Mississippi. Certain elements of probability apparently sustain Professor Worthen's contention that it was originally an "outlier of the bluff formation, "left there by the surging torrents that plowed out the American Bottom in Pleistocene times.

In 1905 the few professionals still devoted to the study of American antiquities were startled by a well-written description in an eastern magazine of an Indian mound of enormous magnitude in Illinois that we had never before heard of the author, modestly styling himself an "amateur," named it "The Kaskaskia Mound," and says of it: "One mile to the west of the little town of Damiansville, in Clinton County, is situated the monarch of all mounds ─ the masterpiece of monumental structures at the hands of the prehistoric race of mound builders. It is, in fact, the largest mound in the world. It excels the great Cahokia mound both in altitude and area, having a height of 105 feet and covering a total of 14 acres of ground. It is conical in shape, its extreme surface resembling a perfect table, and rests serenely in the midst of an ideal fertile prairie. It is undoubtedly the largest structure of ancient times and quite possibly of our modern era." It is represented by (Fig. 11). Having passed all the years of my boyhood within twenty-five miles of that marvelous mound, in profound ignorance of its existence, its discovery at that late date was astounding. I sent the publication to Dr. Cyrus A. Peterson of St. Louis, who, as soon as practicable after receiving it, with Dr. W J McGee, Clark McAdams and one or two other scientists, hurried over to Clinton county to inspect the new-found wonder. A brief investigation satisfied them that it is a "natural hill," an outlier of the loess or bluff formation, unchanged by prehistoric aborigines, except by building a signal mound upon its summit. Possibly a similar outlier may have formed the nucleus of the Cahokia mound. That suggestion is not entirely visionary. From the foundation of that great tumulus up for two-thirds of its height, the earth of which it is made is identical with that of the bluffs, so far as has been ascertained. Several years ago, its proprietor, Hon. Thomas T. Barney, dug a tunnel 90 feet in length in direction of its center, on the north side, about 30 feet above the base. In that exploration, a small cube of lead ore was discovered, but no charcoal or ashes; nor a flint, potsherd or bone was found to indicate that the solid bluff clay excavated had ever been previously disturbed. But in that clay taken out of the tunnel, I afterward detected and secured several specimens of the small semi-fossil fluviatile shells, often occurring in the drift deposits of the bluffs, namely, psysa heterostropha, limnea humilis, helix concawa, succinea obliqua, helix striatella and others. In the same drift deposits, fragments of galena are not uncommon. Close observers of the great mound have noticed that the south terrace and the lower part of the pyramid (made of clay) have retained comparatively well the integrity of their original design, but the upper parts ─ particularly about the northeastern angle of the summit ─ are deeply seamed and gashed by the action of rain and frost. They have further noticed that the yawning channels of erosion seen there were cut through sandy soil and black silt. From this, it is conjectured that the builders, becoming weary of carrying clay from a distance, concluded to complete the mound more speedily with such surface soil, sand or loam they could more conveniently scoop up nearby. (Fig. 12) is a bird's-eye view of the mound as it appears at present, well displaying the effect of centuries of rains and storms in wearing away and washing down the lighter and less coherent materials of its upper section.
Figure 11. Kaskaskia Mound.
Figure 12.  Cahokia Mound - Present Appearance (1909)
The meager facts I have cited regarding the composition of the Cahokia mound are all that are positively known. It may be, but a bluff or every pound of it may have been placed there by human labor, and much of it brought by the Indians from the bluffs three miles distant. The definite solution to this problem will be a distinct gain for science. The technical construction of Indian mounds probably appears to many a matter of trivial consideration. Still, it is really an important preliminary step in the systematic investigation of their history, by which there may be learned something of the motives and characteristics of their builders.

Our desultory study of the American Bottom antiquities leads to the conclusion that in the remote past, that interesting region was for long periods of time occupied by two different colonies of aborigines, not contemporaneous, but both having migrated there from localities south of the Ohio River. The earlier of the two were the builders of the large mounds- people of semi-sedentary habits, depending in great measure for subsistence upon the products of the soil, particularly the cultivation of corn. For many years, perhaps centuries, they were numerically strong enough to defend themselves from incursions of aggressive enemies and enjoy the peace and quietude necessary for the very considerable advancement they made in the rudiments of civilization. The other more recent and more limited ─ occupants, who buried their dead in stone-lined graves, built only such mounds to enclose certain aggregations of their cist burials.

At this unsystematized beginning of an individual inquiry into the aboriginal savage life, all knowledge of the builders of the temple or domiciliary mounds in Illinois ended. Active research in this embryonic stage of Illinois history should not be abandoned.

Additional Reading: Ancient and Frontier Fortifications in Illinois.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 


  1. Thank you for this blog. I believe my property may include indian mounds. Could someone please send information or post as to how I may confirm authenticity?

  2. There is still mounds between Virginia and Jules just before Beardstown, I drive past there daily. There are huge mounds that have shelves. It has always caught my eye.


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