Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/703

This page has been validated.

dwellings were inhabited the country was better watered than now. It has been suggested that these houses were inhabited only for a part of the year, when the streams were high from the spring freshets; but, as the structures are of stone, built with great labor, and in a permanent manner, and as the season when there is water in the streams is at most of but a few weeks' duration, the theory seems scarcely tenable. Moreover, within the observation of white men, the amount of water has decreased. Springs, which a very few years ago were important watering-places for travelers, have decreased in size, and in a few cases have dried up. Still, at that time the climate, though less arid, was in a measure such as it is now, since we find the timber used for beams, etc., in the houses, is the same species of cedar now so abundant on the plateaus—a species peculiar to a dry climate.

The study of the ancient inhabitants of America is one of surpassing interest, and the deep mystery in which the past is wrapped only adds to the zest with which we strive to draw the veil away. But thus far little has been discovered. We know that at some time, far back in the dim past, a great people lived in the Mississippi Valley; that they built there enormous structures, mere traces of which remain, scarcely enough to mock at the seeker after their history. Whence they came, and whither they went, we know not. In the Southwestern Territories we find these structures of a semi-civilized people—whether the same as the mound-builders, no one can tell. No one knows their earlier history; their later history has been sketched in its general features.


TRAVELERS to Rome, endowed with a reasonable measure of that taste for the repulsive which is natural to our paradoxical race, have long been accustomed to include in their round of sights a Capuchin convent, noted only for the singular manner in which the bones of its deceased inmates have been made to serve as emblems of mortality to the devout. The published accounts of the spectacle here presented are too generally familiar for quotation. A letter before me, dated in November, 1821, will furnish a description which will at least have the merit of not having already appeared in print.

"I went to the cemetery of the Capucins" (the writer adopts the French spelling of the name), "where we found, in the cellar of the convent, forty graves in the loose earth, always occupied by Capucins in their usual dress, without coffins. When a new man dies, they take up him who has been longest in the earth, coat and all, and place him