Friday, October 12, 2007

The Persistence of the Mound Builder's Culture among Recent Indian Tribes

"Passing now to another form of interment, that of the cairn, we again find conclusive evidence. Indeed the practice continued until within the memory of persons now living. Yarrow speaks of them as having been erected in recent times by “tribes living in the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas.” (Mortuary Customs of North American Indians, p. 48). Cairns were often raised over communal burials. Col. C.W.Jenckes, who was among the Cherokees says: “We have Indians all around us, with traditions extending back for 500 years. In this time they have buried their dead under huge piles of stones. We have at one point the remains of 600 warriors under one pile.” (Poster,Prehistoric Races, p.149). Lafitua states positively that some tribes of the Iriquois raised cairns over single graves. (Moeurs des Sauvages Ameriquains, vol.II, p.416) and Adair tells us that the Mohawkes were accustomed to honor their dead in this way. (N.American Indians, note to p.85). The tribes of the Muskogian stock certainly raised cairns over the temporary graves of their dead (See Lawson, History of Carolinas, p.22; Bartram, Travels, p.348, and Adair, History of N. American Indians, p.184). The same custom was prevalent among the tribes west of the Mississippi. Hunter says that the Osages “cover the grave with stones, and for years after resort to it.” (Captivity, p. 309). The Osages, if we are to believe his story, also used the so called “stone graves” for, speaking of burial in general, he says: “This ceremony was performed differently, not only by different tribes, but by individuals of the same tribe - - - the body being some times placed on the surface of the ground, between flat stones set edge upward, and then covered over, first by similar stones, and then by earth
brought a short distance.” (Captivity,p. 355) He also speaks of “elevatio - - - which were formerly and are at present exclusively devoted to burying their dead”, and which “are composed of stones and earth, place in such a manner as to cover the separate one dead body from another.” (Captivity,pp. 307 - 308). These stones graves are found over a large area, and many cases of mounds composed entirely of stone cists and earth have been reported. For instance Dr. Cyrus Thomas says: “It is not unusual to find a mound containing a number of these cists arranged in two, three or more tiers. As a general rule cists not in mounds are near the surface of the ground and in some instances even projecting above it.”(Shawnees in Pre-Columbian Times,American Anthro. Vol. IV, Nos. 2-3). Hunters account and the archaeological finds thus tally fairly well, but there is abundant evidence from other and perhaps more reliable historical sources. Thus Loskiel says of the Delawares: “They buried their dead by digging a grave of the required size and about one or two feet deep; they put flat stones at the bottom and set others at each end and each side, on the edge; then laid the body in, generally on the back, at full length; covered the grave with the same kind of stone, laid as closely together as practicable, without cement, sometimes laying smaller stones over the joints or cracks to keep the earth from falling into the grave. Then they covered the grave with earth, not generally more than two or three feet high.” (Hist. Miss. United Brethren, p.120). The practice continued among the middle western tribes until comparatively recent times, thus Thomas says: “An old lady of Jackson Co. (Illinois) personally known to the writer, informed one of the bureau assistants that she had seen a Kaskaskia Indian burried in a stone grave of the type under consideration, which she pointed out to him (Shawnee in Pre-Columbian Times, p. 47). Dr. Rau also says: “It is a fact well remembered by many persons in this
neighborhood (Monroe Co. Ill.) that the Indians who inhabited this region during the early part of the present century buried their dead in stone coffins.” (Jones. Antiq.So. Indians, p.220)."


Geophile said...

Good one! Where did you get this? Interesting to see the reference to stones set edge-up, which we see sometimes, often not in the context of burials as far as I can tell. The reference to the Delaware/Lenape is also interesting. Thanks!

theseventhgeneration said...

I found some information on the Delaware County, NY History website about an early cemetery with mounds in it. The webpage is
Check out items 14 to 22. The writer describes grave sites as 'mounds' and/or stone with no writing. It reminds me of your post on 'Pioneer Cemetery' where one Indian and early settlers were buried together.