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Chapter II - Pre-Historic

[Chapter I] - [Return To Beer's Index] - [Chapter III]

SCATTERED throughout a large portion of the United States are remains which show that the region was once occupied by a race of people possessing more enlightened knowledge than any of the tribes known as Indians of whom the history of this country treats. There is system and order in their work, as shown by the only evidence possessed of their existence. This evidence appears in the form of mounds, earthworks, stone fortifications, domestic and warlike implements, and, last and best, of human remains differing from those of the white race or any of the savage races with which the continent is known to have been peopled. The Aztecs of Mexico and Central America were similar beings, but among them was a knowledge of various arts which placed them far above the plane of the savage. Except the slightest mention in one or two. instances, there is hardly any notice made of the monuments left by these people, as observed by the first European explorers, and it was not until late in the eighteenth century that more extended accounts were given. Nothing was presented that threw any light upon the subject and called the remains general notice until 1806, when Harris, in his account of a Tour into the Territory Northwest of the Ohio,gave an extended description of the ancient works at Marietta, Ohio. H. H. Brackenridge wrote of the works found in various localities-notably Louisiana-in 1814, and since then the work of investigation has been vigorously prosecuted by the men whose interest in it had become great. The report of E. G. Squier, A. M., and E. H. Davis, M. D., on the Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley,published in 1848, in the Smithsonian contributions to knowledge, is one of the most reliable volumes in existence treating upon the remains found in the United States. In observing generally upon the existing structures, this report says:

"The ancient monuments of the Western United States consist, for the most part, of elevations and embankments of earth and stone, erected with great labor and manifest design. In connection with these, more or less intimate, are found various minor relics of art, consisting of ornaments and implements of many kinds, some of them composed of metal, but most of stone. These remains are spread over a vast extent of country. They are found on the sources of the Allegheny, in the western part of the State of New York, on the east, and extend thence westwardly along the southern shore of Lake Erie, and through Michigan and Wisconsin to Iowa and the Nebraska Territory on the west. Ancient works are also found on the Susquehanna, in Pennsylvania. We have no record of their occurrence above the great lakes. Carver mentions some on the shores of Lake Pepin, and some are said to occur near Lake Travers, under the forty-sixth parallel of latitude. Lewis and Clarke saw them on the Missouri River, 1,000 miles above its junction with the Mississippi, and they have been observed on the Kansas and Platte, and on other remote Western rivers. They are found all over the intermediate country, and spread over the valley of the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. They line the shores of the gulf from Texas to Florida, and extend, in diminished numbers, into South Carolina. They occur in great numbers in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Texas. They are found in less numbers in the western portions of New York. Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North and South Carolina as also in Michigan, Iowa and the Mexican territory beyond the Rio Grande del Norte. In short, they occupy the entire basin of the Mississippi and its tributaries, as also the fertile plains along the gulf.

Oregon and other portions of the country also have their tumuli, and the work of the ancient people everywhere presents characteristics which testify to their skill in the details of their simple architecture and the manufacture of the various implements used by them. For want of a better name, this people have been called the found-Builders, and Prof. J. W. Foster, a well-known and interesting writer, asks the question, " Who were the Mound-Builders?"" answering it as best he can in the following language:

"Instead of seeking to establish ethnic relations between the Mound-Builders and any of the races of the Old World, founded on the apparent similarity of manners and customs, I would look rather for their origin to that race who, in times far remote, flourished in Brazil, some of whose crania are found in the bone caves of Minos Geraes, in connection with mammalian bones belonging to genera and species now extinct. These crania, as has been shown, were characterized by a remarkable deficiency of the frontal eminences, amounting to an almost entire absence of the forehead-a type which we find delineated on the monuments of Mexico and Central America, and which is seen in the crania recovered from the shores of Lake Michigan and the banks of the Wabash and Mississippi. If we examine the bas-reliefs of the temple of Prelenque, and the altar tablets of Copan, as delineated by Catherwood, we shall find that all the figures possess the peculiarity of a low forehead, the prominence of which, at this day, is regarded as the type of intellectual face. These sculptured figures are not caricatures, but display an ability on the part of the artists to represent the human form in every posture and with anatomical fidelity. Nor are the people in humble life here delineated. The figures are regal or priestly; some are engaged in offering up sacrifices, or are in an attitude of devotion; many hold a scepter or other baton of authority; their apparel is gorgeous; their head-dresses are elaborately arrayed, and decorated with long feathers, probably of the quezal, which was the sacred bird of that region. Ornaments depend from their ears; beads are entwined in their hair or encircle their necks; costly tunics are thrown over their shoulders; their loins are girt with rich furs; their feet are shod with sandals; in fact, all their parsphernalia indicate a barbaric pomp which an Oriental monarch might envy. Thus, it is evident that this peculiar conformation of skull was characteristic of the most exalted personages; and, admitting that it was the result of artificial compression, which is only in exceptional cases established, still it is clear that there existed a prototype of what they regarded as manly beauty, to which they wished to conform. That prototype can be traced back to the remotest antiquity of man on this hemisphere."

Reasoning, from the light of modern ethnological discoveries, that the civilization of the so-called Old World originated in the tropics and extended naturally toward the temperate climates, where their full physical and intellectual powers were developed, Prof. Foster also deems it proper to conclude that the race of which this article treats migrated northward from the warm climate of Central America, rather than from the "hyperborean regions of Siberia and Behring's Strait," and all historical evidence in North America tends to show that such was the case.

Coming now directly to the remains left by this remarkable people, we will study their characteristics, prefacing with the statement that there is a wide gap to be closed up before the Mound-Builders can be connected with the American Indians, for the latter are essentially different from the former in that they are averse to agricultural pursuits and the restraints of a sedentary life, and have never been known "to erect structures which should survive the lapse of a generation." West of the Mississippi Delta, and extending northward from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arkansas River and beyond, and westward to the Colorado in Texas, is a class of mounds numbered by millions, circular in form and hemispheroidal in elevation, from one to five feet high, and from thirty to 140 feet in diameter, which are supposed to have been erected by man. agency, yet of the origin of which there is no knowledge nor evidence. They have been called "inexplicable mounds." In other localities where these ancient works have been discovered, their origin has been proved by conclusive evidence. They are usually found near to streams, on the several terraces, or "bottoms," and occasionally on the lowest bottom, where it is above high-water mark. In Clinton County, they appear above the first and second bottoms, generally, and neither are they confined to the immediate localities of streams, in all instances, being quite often found in remote fields or timber plats.

Messrs. Squier and Davis, in their report on the Ancient Monuments, etc., classed these remains as inclosures and mounds, subdividing the former into works of defense, sacred inclosures and miscellaneous; and the mounds into those for sacrifice, for temple sites, for sepulture and for observation. These men and Prof. Foster do not agree in all particulars as to the uses of the inclosures and mounds, the latter gentleman reasoning from later observation and known customs. It seems well enough, however, to classify them as above, as probably they were put to the various uses named. The Ohio and Mississippi Valleys are rich in relics of the departed race, and some of the finest works left by them are within the State of Ohio. Several important cities, as Marietta, Circleville, Newark, Portsmouth, etc., are founded on the sites of ancient mounds and fortifications, and scattered throughout the southern and central portions of the State are almost innumerable tumuli, which tell mute tales of the past. The region of the Miamis and the Scioto is particularly interesting for its remains, and in Clinton County, although there is no single extensive work, there are in the neighborhood of five hundred mounds and three inclosures. In the eastern part of Warren County, on a high bluff which frowns upon the Little Miami River, is an irregular fortification, which has received the name of Fort Ancient. It is thus described by Prof. John Locke, of Cincinnati, who made a fine map of it, which was inserted in the work of Squier and Davis:

"This work occupies a terrace on the left bank of the river, and 230 feet above its waters. The place is naturally a strong one, being a peninsula, defended by two ravines, which, originating un the east side, near to each other, diverging and sweeping around, enter the Miami, the one above and the other below the work. The Miami itself, with its precipitous banks of 200 feet, de fends the western side. The ravines are occupied by small streams. Quite around this peninsula, on the very verge of the ravines, has been raised an embankment of unusual height and perfection. Meandering around the spurs, and re-entering to pass the heads of the gullies, it is so winding in its course that it required 196 stations to complete its survey. The whole circuit of the work is between four and five miles. The number of cubic yards of excavation may be approximately estimated at 628,800. The embankment stands in many places twenty feet in perpendicular height, and, although composed of a tough, diluvial clay, without stone except in a few places, its outward slope is from thirty-five to forty-three degrees. This work presents no continuous ditch, but the earth for its construction has been dug from convenient pits, which are still quite deep, or filled with mud and water. Although I brought over a party of a dozen active young engineers, and we lead encamped upon the ground to expedite our labors, we were still two days in completing our survey, which, with goal instruments. was conducted with all possible accuracy. The work approaches nowhere within many feet of the river. but its embankment is in several places carried down into ravines front fifty to one hundred feet deep, and at an angle of thirty degrees, crossing it streamlet at the bottom, which. by showers; must often swell to a powerful torrent. But in all instances, the embankment may be traced to within three to eight feet of the stream. Hence it appears that, although these little streams have cut their channels through fifty to one hundred feet of thin. horizontal layers of blue limestone, interstratified with indurated clay marl, not inure than three feet of that excavation liar been clone since the construction of the earthworks. If the first portion of the denudation was not snore rapid than the last, it period of at least thirty to fifty thousand years would be required for the present point of its progress. But the quantity of material removed from such a ravine is its the square of its depth, which would render the last part of its, denudation much slower, in vertical descent, than the first part. That our streams have not vet, reached their ultimate level, a point beyond which they cease to act upon their beds, is evident from the vast quantity of solid material transported annually by our rivers to be added to the great delta of the Mississippi. Finally, I am astonished to see a work, simply of earth, after braving the storms of thousands of years. still so entire and well-marked. Several circumstances have contributed to this. The clay of which it is built is not easily penetrated by water; the bank has been, and is still, mostly covered by a forest of beech trees, which have woven a strong web of their roots over its deep sides, and a fine bed of moss (Polytrichum) serves still further to afford protection."

Three parallel terraces, supposed to be artificial, are situated upon the steep slope of the hill at the point where the fortification approaches nearest to the river, and other features exist which would best be shown by an accurate plan, such as the one mentioned. Thousands have visited Fort Ancient and been impressed by its magnitude and good state of preservation, and have doubtless wondered much what kind of a race of people erected it. The average height of the embankment is nine or ten feet, while in places it rises to more than twenty feet, and there are over seventy gateways or breaks, probably not all left by the designers of the work. Parallels originally extended eastward from the northeast part for a distance of 1,350 feet., and at the end inclosed a small mound In its conformation to the shape of the peninsula, the work consists of two grand divisions, connected by a long, narrow neck, at the southern extremity of which, at the opening of the south division of the fortification, are two large mounds. The road from Lebanon to Chillicothe is laid across the northern portion of the work. It is said that front Fort Ancient to some works near Milford, in Clermont County, there are from one to three continuous banks, evidently designed as a connecting way between the two fortifications.

From all indications, the Mound-Builders' population was very large in the region which includes Clinton and the adjoining counties. Dr. L. B. Welch, of Wilmington, has been collecting prehistoric relics for more than thirty years in this county, many of them having been brought to him at different times by his patrons. J. M. Richardson, of the same place, is also an enthusiastic worker in the same field, and has expended much money in his researches. About 1867, these two gentleman began together a systematic investigation of the works found in the county, and their labors have met with so much success that they have now in their collection double the number of finely finished slate relics possessed by the Smithsonian Institution at Washington. D. C. Dr. Welch states that the slate relics found in this locality are the finest finished of any he has ever seen. and the fact was also noticed by Mr. Whiteley. of the Champion Agricultural Implement Works at Springfield, Ohio. Many copper implements leave been discovered in the mounds opened by Messrs. Welch and Richardson.

The inclosures known to exist in Clinton County are three in number- one near Springfield Meeting-House, in Adams Township; another at Clarksville, near the railway, station and the west. line of the county: and the third near Villars Chapel. on the Little East Fork of the Little Miami diver. The first and last mentioned art, each about an acre in extent, surrounded by a ditch and outer circular wall. The first-named is partly on the premises of David Curl, and within it are the sheds and graveyard of the Springfield Meeting House. A sacrificial mound near by, also on Mr. Curl's land, is about seventy-five feet in diameter at the base. and eight feet high, its height having been much reduced by its being repeatedly plowed over. The nature of the surface of the mound is the same as that of the surrounding soil. Investigation showed that, next underneath, was earth which had apparently been thrown over the embers while they were yet. hot. then appeared the altar composed of burnt clay and slightly depressed in the center at the top, the heat having been so intense that the elements in the wood and sand had been formed into coarse glass. Some badly decomposed pieces of human bones and a copper awl were found in this mound, and other copper implements were found close by. From a mound on the Seth Linton farm, three miles west of Wilmington, in Union Township, were taken several curiously constructed copper spools. Three mounds are here close together, on Todd's Fork, in which have been discovered some fine and rare relics, among them a butterfly-shaped tablet of banded slate, and another tablet of Waverly sandstone. both covered with hieroglyphics. North of Wilmington, on Todd's Fork, was found a pipe. on which were figures of a face. a beaver (or otter) ant'. numerous characters. Two miles south of Wilmington, on the Fit Hugh farm, in elegant ax was found by Mr. Richardson, which is highly polished, of curious shape, and has carved upon it a face-apparently that of a female and a death's head. Occasionally fragments of pottery are fennel in tome of the mounds, but seldom any whole specimens. Some pieces, shown by Mr. Richardson. are thin and delicate as china ware, lighter colored on the inner side than on the outer. and showing evidence of great care in their manufacture. Within a radius of five miles of Wilmington are, says Mr. Richardson, fifty-six well-defined mounds, with probably numerous others not so readily noticed, and many more are nearly within the same circle. None of them are very large, except one, on the George Pillars farm, on Cowan's Creek. southwest of Wilmington. which is perhaps thirty feet high and a hundred feet in diameter. This and one near Lumberton, in Liberty Township, on Anderson's Fork; are the largest in the county, and differ but little in size. With probably one exception, all the mounds found in Clinton County are circular in form, the exception being a long mound near Silo, in Adams Township. The enclosure previously mentioned at Clarksville is on the first bottom of Todd's Fork.

In 1880, Mr. Richardson excavated, at a cost of $222, what is known as the Cooper Mound, in Highland County, south of Leesburg. His labors wore rewarded by finding numerous implements, pieces of bones (showing it to have been a sacrificial mound) and quantities of cloth. The latter is of several distinct textures, and establishes the fact. beyond question, that the ancients understood the art of manufacturing cloth front something besides plaiting it out of bark, as this was evidently made in a rude loom, being perfectly regular and even. A Cincinnati chemist tested pieces of it, and concluded that it was made of some material furnished by the vegetable kingdom. It is the intention of Messrs. Welch and Richardson, as soon as it can conveniently be done, to publish a volume descriptive of their investigations and the relics they have discovered, and to their co-laborers in the same field it must prove intensely interesting. Dr. Welch has a large number of beautiful water-color and India ink drawings of relics in the collection, from which it is his intention to have colored lithographic plates made, and these will add greatly to the value of the work. Few men have, through a genuine ardor for the work, instead of a hope of subsequent financial gain, carried their investigations to such an extent as the gentlemen named, and their zeal is yet unflagging.