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THE PROBLEM OF THE OHIO MOUNDS.
By Cyrus Thomas.
Similarity of the arts and customs of the mound-builders to those of Indians
Similarity in burial customs
Removal of the flesh before burial
Burial beneath or in dwellings
Burial in a sitting or squatting posture
The use of fire in burial ceremonies
Similarity of the stone implements and ornaments of various tribes
Mound and Indian pottery
Stone graves and what they teach
The Cherokees as mound-builders
The Cherokees and the Tallegwi
No other ancient works of the United States have become so widely known or have excited so much interest as those of Ohio. This is due in part to their remarkable character but in a much greater degree to the "Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley," by Messrs. Squier and Davis, in which these monuments are described and figured.
The constantly recurring question, "Who constructed these works?" has brought before the public a number of widely different theories, though the one which has been most generally accepted is that they originated with a people long since extinct or driven from the country, who had attained a culture status much in advance of that reached by the aborigines inhabiting the country at the time of its discovery by Europeans.
The opinion advanced in this paper, in support of which evidence will be presented, is that the ancient works of the State are due to Indians of several different tribes, and that some at least of the typical works, were built by the ancestors of the modern Cherokees. The discussion will be limited chiefly to the latter proposition, as the limits of the paper will not permit a full presentation of all the data which might be brought forward in support of the theory, and the line of argument will be substantially as follows:
FIRST. A brief statement of the reasons for believing that the
Indians were the authors of all the ancient monuments of the
Mississippi Valley and Gulf States; consequently the Ohio mounds
must have been built by Indians.
SECOND. Evidence that the Cherokees were mound builders after reaching their historic seats in East Tennessee and western North Carolina. This and the preceding positions are strengthened by the introduction of evidence showing that the Shawnees were the authors of a certain type of stone graves, and of mounds and other works connected therewith.
THIRD. A tracing of the Cherokees, by the mound testimony and by tradition, back to Ohio.
FOURTH. Reasons for believing that the Cherokees were the Tallegwi of tradition and the authors of some of the typical works of Ohio.
THE HISTORICAL EVIDENCE.
Space will not permit any review here of the various theories in regard to the builders, or of the objections made to the theory that they were Indians, or of the historical evidence adducible in support of this theory. Simple declaration on these points must suffice.
The historical evidence is clear and undisputed that when the region in which the mounds appear was discovered by Europeans it was inhabited by Indians only. Of their previous history nothing is known except what is furnished by vague and uncertain traditions or inferred from the study of their languages and customs. On the other hand there is no historical or other evidence that any other race or people than the Indians ever occupied this region, or any part of it, previous to its discovery by Europeans at the close of the fifteenth century.
We enter the discussion, therefore, with at least a presumption in favor of the conclusion that these works were built by the Indians—a presumption which has not received the consideration it deserves; indeed, it is so strong that it can be overcome only by showing that those mounds, or the specimens of art found in them, which were unquestionably the work of the builders, indicate an advancement in skill and knowledge entirely beyond that reached by the Indians previous to contact with Europeans. But all the genuine discoveries so far made in the explorations of the mounds tend to disprove this view.
If it can be shown that tribes occupying the mound region at the time they were first visited by Europeans used mounds, and in some cases built them, it will be a fair inference that all these structures are due to the same race until the contrary is proved.
The objection urged by many that the Indian has always been a restless nomad, spurning the restraints of agriculture, has been effectually answered, especially by Mr. Lucien Carr. [Footnote: Mounds of the Mississippi Valley Historically Considered.] History also bears us out in the assertion that at the time of the discovery nine tenths of the tribes in the mound district had fixed seats and local habitations, depending to a great extent for sustenance upon the cultivation of the soil. So far as the southern districts, now comprising the Gulf States, are concerned, it goes further and asserts over and over again that the tribes of that section were mound-builders when first encountered by the whites. To verify this assertion it is only necessary to read the chronicles of De Soto's expedition and the writings of the pioneer travelers and French missionaries to that section. This evidence proves conclusively not only that this had been a custom, but that it was continued into the eighteenth century.
Such statements as the following, attested by various contemporaneous authors, should suffice on this point:
The caciques of this country make a custom of raising near their dwellings very high hills, on which they sometimes build their houses. [Footnote: Biedma, Hist. Coll. La. vol. 2, p. 105.]
The Indians try to place their villages on elevated sites, but inasmuch as in Florida there are not many sites of this kind where they can conveniently build, they erect elevations themselves in the following manner, etc. [Footnote: Garcilasso de la Vega, Hist. Fla., ed. 1723, p. 69. ]
The chief's house stood near the beach upon a very high mount made by hand for defense. [Footnote: Gentlemen of Elvas. Bradford Club series, vol. 5, p. 23.]
The last, which was on Tampa Bay, was most likely near Phillippi's Point, where tradition fixes De Soto's landing place, and where a number of mounds and shell heaps have been found. One of these, opened by Mr. S. T. Walker,[Footnote: Smithsonian Report, 1879 (1880), pp. 392-422.] was found to consist of three layers. In the lower were "no ornaments and but little pottery, but in the middle and top layers, especially the latter, nearly every cranium was encircled by strings of colored beads, brass and