American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
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Ohio Valley Mound Culture

Ancient Native North Americans created vibrant and long-lived cultures throughout the Eastern Woodlands, but especially along the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys. One major seat of culture, dating back to 2450 BCE, was in Ohio and along its portion of the Ohio River (Webb and Baby, 1975, 103). In the year 1908, even after two centuries' worth of destruction by settlers, 12,000 mounds still existed in Ohio (Randall, 1908, 16). By 1951, between "developers" and archaeologists, that number was down to 5,000 (Shetrone, 1951, 6).

There were four consecutive Mound cultures in the Ohio Valley. Archaeologists call the first Adena, the second Hopewell, the third Erie, and the fourth Fort Ancient. Natives reject as racial slurs the terms Adena and Hopewell, and, since 2004, they have forced Ohio Historical Society personnel to stop using these terms to name Native peoples, not the least because tradition names exactly who the Mound Builders were. Of the first two, the so-called Adena were the Moon-Eyed People, and the Hopewell the Cherokees. The Eries—a true, Iroquoian name—were western Senecas. Simultaneous with the Iroquois (the Eries) in the north were the Lenápes in the southeast. Somewhat later, the Shawnees came into the southwest of the Ohio Valley to form the so-called Fort Ancient culture.

Mounds are artificial hills or mountains created by hand, in various shapes. There are planting mounds, platform mounds, conical burial mounds, animal effigy mounds, geometric "ceremonial" mounds, and long, straight loaf mounds running along either side of wide, straight, depressed highways that connect ceremonial centers. Mounds often tower sixty or seventy feet in the air, although the tallest have since been dismantled by the settlers. According to Ohio tradition, since Mother Earth is a woman, it was the women who carried and packed high the dirt of the mounds, often transporting basket loads of it from their home villages to the mound sites.

Ohio oral tradition does not agree with archaeologists that anyone lived atop the platform mounds in Ohio, although it does say that civic centers existed there for governmental reasons. There is a lot of flooding in Ohio, and some oral traditions claim that, in case of floods, people sought temporary refuge in the large council houses on the platform mounds while awaiting the water to recede. Otherwise, people did not live in the ceremonial centers, but merely visited them at certain times of the year. Towns were located at a safe distance from so many collected spirits.

Ceremonial complexes featured burial mounds in the vicinity of circle-and-square designs, which stood for Sky (circle) and Earth (square), the two living halves of the cosmos, which must be kept in balance through ceremony. Alternative (and almost certainly earlier) designs used the circle of Sky in combination with animal effigies of Earth, such as the Great Horned Serpent effigy in Adams County, Ohio, who carries his medicine pouch slung between his horns. Like the Octagons at Newark and High Bank, the Great Horned Serpent is also an observatory. Bringing together Sky and Earth this way produced powerful medicine (Mann, 2003, 169–238).

The ancient mounds are sacred sites; so protecting the remaining mounds from further depredation is a prominent issue for Natives in Mound Builder states. This is not always easy. One major ceremonial site, the Newark Earthworks in Newark, Ohio—categorized worldwide as one of the wonders of the ancient world (Fagan, 1998)—covered 10.4 square kilometers (Lepper, 1998, 130). Included in its structures were a massive circle-and-square combination, numerous burial mounds, effigy mounds, and a rare circle-octagon mound, since shown to have been a very sophisticated observatory, capable of tracking the 18.61-year lunar cycle (Hively and Horn, 1982). In addition, the Great Hopewell Road connects this complex to the only other extant circle-octagon, also a sophisticated observatory, ninety kilometers southwest, at Chillicothe (Hively and Horn, 1984; Lepper, 1995; Squire and Davis, 1848, 67).

A major burial mound at the center was dismantled to build the Licking Reservoir in the 1830s, while the Ohio Canal demolished still more of the center in 1848, and the Ohio Railroad ran through it from 1852 to 1855, using burial mound dirt for its pilings. By 1854, the square was destroyed and the great circle was first turned into the Licking County Fairgrounds and then used as a boot camp during the Civil War, before finally being "developed" as Idlewild Park, an amusement park, in 1896. Nearly destroyed by the twentieth century, the Great Circle was finally set aside as Mound Builders State Memorial Park in 1933 (Mann, 2003, 99–100).

The all-important circle-octagon complex fared even worse. After being granted to the Ohio Historical Society (OHS) in 1910, it was leased by OHS to the Mound Builders Country Club in 1911, for use as a members-only golf course (Mann, 2003, 103). In 2001, the Ohio Historical Society, in a secret meeting, extended the country club's lease on the sacred site to 2088 (Mann, 2003, 306). Today, the country club's heavy mowing equipment is shoving the earthworks level with the ground, even as its golfers regularly slice chunks out of the sides of the sacred mounds. Although the original 1910 lease required the land to be open to the public, the country club refuses to allow visitors, especially Native Americans. When Grandmother Barbara Crandell, the head mother of the Ohio Cherokees, went to the circle-octagon created by her own Cherokee ancestors to pray on June 26, 2002, she was arrested (Shaw, 2002).

This sorry saga echoes what happened to other mounds. Settlers seemed remarkably unconcerned about disturbing sacred places, regularly plundering burial mounds to gather materials for their own building projects. Modern Ohio Natives do not find it accidental, therefore, that the first capital building of Ohio burned to the ground. Its bricks had been made from the clay of a massive burial mound that, standing on the site of modern-day Columbus, was dismantled as a "resource" for the project (Randall, 1908, 18).

In addition to dirt mounds, the Lenápes and Shawnees of Ohio constructed stone mounds, which were promptly taken down by early settlers, partly to remove the evidence of Native engineering skills, and partly to use the stones in their own building foundations. The great sandstone mound at Flint Ridge, Ohio, standing up to 55 feet in the air with base diameter of 183 feet, was plundered of its flat stones, weighing up to 60 pounds, between 1831 and 1832, to build the unnecessary Licking Reservoir (Hill, 1881, 489). Work crews dragged off from ten to fifteen thousand wagonloads of stones. Those left behind as too small to bother with were then plundered through the 1890s by local farmers, who used them to build their cellars (Fowke, 1902, 2: 389; Morris, 1871, 126; Powell, 46–47).

If the mounds themselves have been treated with almost no consideration by the settlers, the cultures that spawned them were (and continue to be) misrepresented by Western archaeologists, historians, and hobbyists. Since racist settler mythology posited Natives as "savages" incapable of either intellect or organized culture, settlers hatched fevered theories throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries concerning the true architects of the mounds. Seriously put forth as the "lost race" of Mound Builders were (among other equally ludicrous candidates) the: Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, Ancient Greeks, Ancient Romans, Hindus, Phoenicians, and Atlanteans. Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon rests on, and is a direct expression of, these over-heated speculations (Brodie, 1971, 35–58, passim; Mann, 2003, 51–89; Silverberg, 1968, 94–96; Williams, 1991, 159–67).

What all of these wild-eyed theories had in common was the stubborn refusal to admit that Native North Americans were the creators of American Mound Culture. Once the monumental work of Cyrus Thomas in the 1890s conclusively demolished these harebrained notions, archaeologists began downplaying the mounds, so that modern students of Native American history are hard-pressed even to hear of 4,000 years' worth of Mound Cultures. Moreover, modern archaeologists dismiss clear evidence that the mounds of Ohio were built by the direct ancestors of the Cherokees, Lenápes, Iroquois, and Shawnees. Natives believe much of this dismissal is politically motivated, for, given such an admission, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA) would kick in, forcing the immediate repatriation of hundreds of thousands of skeletons and grave items seized from the mounds and held by modern universities, historical societies, and museums—importantly including the Smithsonian.

Although either ignored or, worse, mixed and matched in irresponsible ways by archaeologists, much oral tradition exists from the Iroquois, Shawnees, Lenápes, and Cherokees concerning the history of the Mound Builders of the Ohio Valley. Ohio Valley Natives insist that their Mound traditions be differentiated by nation, and that traditions of more westerly or southerly nations (such as the Miamis and Lakotas) not be interpolated into theirs.

Of those nations whose traditions claim tenure in ancient Ohio, the earliest were the Moon-Eyed People (Barton, 1976, xliv). Moon-Eyes tracked time by watching the night sky (Shaffer, 1992, 42). When the old Cherokees first came into Ohio around 200 BCE, the Moon-Eyed culture combined with theirs in a new flowering that continued until around 500 (Duncan, 1998, 199).

According to the Cherokees and the Iroquois, they were once the same people speaking the same language and living in towns only a three-day walk from one another, far to the southwest of Ohio. When the area became too crowded, the Cherokees stood up and walked east, causing the two groups to develop distinct languages (Norton, 1970, 46), a split that modern linguists date at 3,500 to 3,800 years ago (Lounsbury, 1961, 11). The Cherokees eventually traveled into Ohio, where they met and absorbed the Moon-Eyed People, becoming the Tsalages, the Great Mound Builders of Ohio (Adair, 1930, 3; Barton, 1976, 9; Duncan, 1998, 199; Haywood, 1823, 236–237; Mann, 2003, 154–156).

The Cherokee's relatives, the Iroquois, lingered in that far southwestern place for another 1,500 to 1,800 years, until they, too, stood up and walked east, as they recalled their relations had done, so long before. When the Iroquois reached the Mississippi River, they encountered the Lenápes, also walking east, to a place their scouts had already visited and named Dawnland. Much confusion exists among Western scholars regarding this portion of tradition, because they do not understand that, for woodlanders, the Allegheny, Ohio, and lower Mississippi are one river, the Mississippi of oral tradition (Hale, 1883, 14). After feeling one another out, the Lenápes and Iroquois formed an alliance, as they both walked east (Beatty, 1768, 27–28; Barton, 1976, 29; Clinton, 1811, 92; Haywood, 1811–1859, 215; Heckewelder, 1971, 47–48; Mann, 2003, 144–145; Schweinitz, 1870, 32–33).

To reach Dawnland, which lay on the mid-Atlantic coast, the Lenápes and Iroquois had to cross through Ohio, which they easily saw was heavily populated already by people the Lenápes called Talligewi (i.e., Tsalages, or Cherokees). Although refused permission to settle along the Ohio River, the newcomers were granted safe passage across Ohio on their trek east. Once they began crossing the Ohio, however, they were attacked by the Tsalages, whose priests took alarm at the size of the force crossing the river. Many Lenápes and some Iroquois, mostly women and children, were killed in the Tsalages' unprovoked attack. Angered, the Lenápes and Iroquois retaliated in a massive assault of their own, which began a prolonged war for the Land of the Three Miamis (Ohio) (Cusick, 1892, 10–11; Heckewelder, 1971, 47–48; Schweinitz, 1870, 32–37; Mann, 2003, 145–149). Hostilities raged for at least two centuries, until the Iroquois invented bowand-arrow technology, between 300 and 550, which quickly overcame the old atlatl weapons of the Tsalages (Cusick, 1892, 10–11; Shaffer, 1992, 50).

Having deposed the Tsalages, the Lenápes and Iroquois banished them from Ohio, pushing them first into present-day Tennessee and then—that not being far enough south to suit the Iroquois—to North Carolina, where they continued their Mound Builder culture. The victors then split Ohio between them, the Iroquois taking the northern half of the state, and the Lenápes the southeastern portion, with both becoming Mound Builders in their own right. Around the 1300s, Ohio became too crowded, so the Lenápes stood up and walked the rest of the way east to Dawnland (Heckewelder, 1971, 50–51; Mann, 2003, 147–52). Eventually, for the same reason, many of the Iroquois spread out into Ontario, western Pennsylvania, and New York, although they always maintained a presence in Ohio as the Eries, who were western Senecas (Cusick, 1892, 31; Johnson, 1978, 176; Thwaites, 1959, 33: 63).

The last Mound Builders in Ohio were the Shawnees, linguistic isolates in North America, whose original tongue was lost by the early nineteenth century. They most probably came from Mexico, in one wave, coming during the time of the Spanish conquest, for Shawnee traditions speak of the people desperately fleeing a monstrous new enemy by making a dangerous voyage across the open sea to reach Florida. After sojourning in North Carolina, where they learned to build mounds, groups traveled to southwestern Ohio, where they continued as Mound Builders (Barton, 1976, 3; Johnston, 1820, 273; Mann, 2003, 121–127; Spencer, 1908, 383; Spencer, 1909, 320; Townbridge, 1939, 2–3, 9, 57–59).

Barbara Alice Mann

Further Reading
Adair, James. [1775] 1930. History of the American Indians. Edited by Samuel Cole Williams. Johnson City, TN: Watauga Press.; Barton, Benjamin Smith. [1798] 1976. New Views of the Origin of the Tribes and Nations of America. Millwood, NY: Kraus Reprint.; Beatty, Charles. 1768. The Journal of a Two Months Tour. London: William Davenhill and Geroge Pearch.; Brodie, Fawn. [1945] 1971. No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, The Mormon Prophet, 2nd ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.; Clinton, De Witt. 1811–1859. "A Discourse Delivered before the New-York Historical Society, at Their Anniversary Meeting, 6 December 1811." Collections of the New-York Historical Society for the Year 1811. Vol. 2, 37–116. New York: I. Riley.; Cusick, David. [1825] 1892. "Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations." In The Iroquois Trail, or, Footprints of the Six Nations in Customs, Traditions, and History. Edited by William Martin Beauchamp. Fayetteville, NY: H. C. Beauchamp.; Duncan, Barbara R. 1998. Living Stories of the Cherokee. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.; Fagan, Brian. 1998. From Black Land to Fifth Sun: The Science of Sacred Sites. Reading, MA: Helix Books.; Fowke, Gerald. 1902. Archaeological History of Ohio: The Mound Builders and Later Indians. 2 volumes. Columbus, OH: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society.; Hale, Horatio. [1883] 1963. The Iroquois Book of Rites. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.; Haywood, John. 1823. The Natural and Aboriginal History of Tennessee, up to the First Settlements Therein by the White People, in the Year 1768. Nashville: George Wilson.; Heckewelder, John. [1819, 1976] 1971. History, Manners, and Customs of the Indian Nations Who Once Inhabited Pennsylvania and the Neighboring States. The First American Frontier Series. New York: Arno Press and New York Times, 1971.; Hill, Normal Newell. 1881. The History of Licking County, Ohio: Its Past and Present. Newark, OH: A. A. Graham.; Hively, Ray, and Robert Horn. 1982. "Geometry and Astronomy in Prehistoric Ohio." Archaeoastronomy 4: 1–20.; Hively, Ray, and Robert Horn. 1984. "Hopewellian Geometry and Astronomy at High Bank." Archaeoastronomy 7: 85–100.; Johnson, Elias. [1881] 1978. Legends, Traditions, and Laws of the Iroquois, or Six Nations. New York: AMS Press.; Johnston, John. 1920. "Account of the Present State of the Indian Tribes Inhabiting Ohio." Archaeologica Americana: Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society 1: 271–298.; Lepper, Bradley T. 1995. "Tracking Ohio's Great Hopewell Road." Archaeology 48, no. 6 (November/December): 52–56.; Lepper, Bradley T. 1998. "The Archaeology of the Newark Earthworks." In Ancient Earthen Enclosures of the Eastern Woodlands. Edited by Robert E. Mainfort, Jr., and Lynne P. Sullivan. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.; Lindestrom, Peter. 1925. Geographia Americae with an Account of the Delaware Indians, Based on Surveys and Notes Made in 1654–1656. Translated by Amandus Johnson. Philadelphia: Swedish Colonial Society. [This 1925 edition added a footnote, "Square and round hills had a wide distribution and were found in South America, also," Lindestrom, Geographia Americae, 179 (n. 15).]; Lounsbury, Floyd G. 1961. "Iroquois-Cherokee Linguistic Relations." Bulletin of the Bureau of American Ethnology. Vol. 180, 11–1. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.; Mann, Barbara Alice. 2003. Native Americans, Archaeologists, and the Mounds. New York: Peter Lang.; Mann, Barbara Alice. 2006. Land of the Three Miamis: A Traditional Narrative of the Iroquois in Ohio. Toledo, OH: University of Toledo, Urban Affairs Press.; Morris, C. 1871. "The Extinct Races of America." The National Quarterly Review 24 (December): 121–144.; Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). 1990. Public Law 101–601.; Norton, John [Teyoninhokarawen]. 1970. The Journal of Major John Nortion, 1816. Edited by Carl F. Klinck and James J. Talman. Toronto, ON: Champlain Society.; Powell, John G. 1887. Fifth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1883–1884. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.; Randall, Emilius Oviatt. 1908. The Masterpieces of the Ohio Mound Builders: The Hilltop Fortifications, Including Fort Ancient. Columbus, OH: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society.; Schweinitz, Edmund de. 1870. The Life and Times of David Zeisberger, the Western Pioneer and Apostle to the Indians. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co.; Shaffer, Lynda Norene. 1992. Native Americans Before 1492: The Moundbuilding Centers of the Eastern Woodlands. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.; Shaw, Julie. 2002. "Mounds Home to Varying Opinions: Earthworks the Site of a Curious Dilemma." The Advocate, August 11. Available at: 20020811/topstories/409718.html. Accessed March 10, 2005.; Shetrone, Henry Clyde. 1951. Primer of Ohio Archaeology: The Mound Builders and the Indians, 5th ed. Columbus, OH: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society.; Silverberg, Robert. 1968. Mound Builders of Ancient America: The Archaeology of a Myth. Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, Ltd.; Spencer, Joab. 1908. "The Shawnee Indians: Their Customs, Traditions and Folk-Lore." Transactions of the Kansas State Historical Society 10: 382–402.; Spencer, Joab. 1909. "Shawnee Folk-Lore." Journal of American Folk-Lore 22 : 319–326.; Squire, Ephraim George, and E. H. Davis. [1848] 1965. Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley: Comprising the Results of Extensive Original Surveys and Explorations. Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge. Vol. 1. New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation.; Thomas, Cyrus. 1894. Report on the Mound Explorations of the Bureau of Ethnology. Bureau of Ethnology Report no. 12. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.; Thwaites, Reuben Gold, ed. and trans. 1959. The Jesuit Relations: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, 1610–1791. 73 volumes. New York: Pageant Book Company.; Trowbridge, Charles Christopher. [1824] 1939. Shawnee Traditions. Edited by Vernon Kinietz and Erminie W. Voegelin. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.; Webb, William S., and Raymond S. Baby. [1957] 1975. The Adena People, No. 2. 4th printing. Columbus, OH: Ohio Historical Society.; Williams, Stephen. 1991. Fantastic Archaeology: The Wild Side of North American Prehistory. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

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