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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/634

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616
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

It is often stated that the Indian, when interrogated concerning the mounds and earthworks of the country, shakes his head in ignorance, affirming that he knows not their origin. This fact is carried further than it should be when it is invoked to prove the non-Indian origin of these mounds. Admitting, with some reservation, that the Indian at present knows nothing of the origin of the mounds, still it may be true that his immediate ancestors were familiar with the facts of their erection. The Indian has been driven from the home where he was born, and where his ancestral traditions and customs have centered and exhibited their unconstrained development, and has been a fugitive for several generations, from the cupidity and the bayonet of the white man. When it is remembered that the erection of a mound, such as are seen all over the Northwest, was not the act of a day, nor of a year, but of many years, and perhaps generations, it is easy enough to understand why the custom has become so nearly extinct. The Indian has become greatly modified by contact with the European. He has gradually been compelled to forsake many customs and abandon arts, which came into competition with the customs and the arts of the stronger race. The semi-nomadic life which he has been compelled to adopt has not been favorable to the erection of mounds, which requires the quiet of permanent and peaceful residence.

We are not, moreover, without testimony to the fact that the present Indian tribes did build mounds. Lewis and Clark mention the custom among the Omahas, saying that "one of their great chiefs was buried on a hill, and a mound twelve feet in diameter and six feet in height erected over him. Bertram states that the Choctaws covered the pyramid of coffins taken from the bone-house with earth, thus raising a conical hill or mound. Tomochichi pointed out to General Oglethorpe a large conical mound near Savannah, in which he said the Yamacraw chief was interred, who had, many years before, entertained a great white man with a red beard, who entered the Savannah River in a large vessel, and in his barge came up to the Yamacraw bluff. Featherstonhaugh, in his "Travels," speaks of the custom among the Osages, referring to a mound built over the body of a chief, called Jean Defoe by the French, who unexpectedly died while his warriors were absent on a hunting expedition. Upon their return they heaped a mound over his remains, enlarging it at intervals for a long period, until it reached its present height. Bradford says[1] that many of the tumuli formed of earth, and occasionally of stones, are of Indian origin. They are generally sepulchral mounds—either the general cemetery of a village or tribe, funeral monuments over the graves of illustrious chiefs, or upon a battle-field, commemorating the event and entombing the fallen, or the result of a custom, prevalent among some of the tribes, of collecting at stated intervals the bones

  1. ↑ "American Antiquities and Researches into the History of the Red Race," 1841, p. 17.