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 Alleghany, 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.1 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 46th parallel of latitude. Lewis and Clarke saw them on the Missouri river, one thousand miles above its junction with the Mississippi; and they have been observed on the Kanzas 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 in 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.
It is a fact but recently made known, that there are an abundance of small mounds, or tumuli, in the territory of Oregon. We are not informed, however, whether there are any enclosures, or other works of like character with those usually accompanying the mounds of the Mississippi valley, nor whether the mounds of Oregon are generally disseminated over that territory.2 That they are of frequent occurrence upon the river Gila, in California, and also upon the tributaries of the Colorado of the West, is also a fact but recently ascertained. Whether these mounds possess features identifying them with those of the Mississippi valley, or indicating a common origin, remains to be decided.
It is not to be understood that these works are dispersed equally over the area, above indicated. They are mainly confined to the valleys of the rivers and large streams, and seldom occur very far back from them. Occasional works are found in the hill or broken country; but they are not frequent, and are always of small size.
Although possessing throughout certain general points of resemblance, going to establish a kindred origin, these works, nevertheless, resolve themselves into three grand geographical divisions, which present, in many respects, striking contrasts, yet so gradually merge into each other, that it is impossible to determine where one series terminates and the other begins. In the region bordering the upper lakes, to a certain extent in Michigan, Iowa, and Missouri, but particularly in Wisconsin, we find a succession of remains, entirely singular in their form, and presenting but slight analogy to any others of which we have an account, in any portion of the globe. The larger proportion of these are structures of earth, bearing the forms of beasts, birds, reptiles, and even of men; they are frequently of gigantic dimensions. constituting huge basso-relieves upon the face of the country. They are very numerous, and in most cases occur in long and apparently dependent ranges. In connection with them, are found many conical mounds and occasional short lines of embankment, in rare instances forming enclosures. These animal effigies are mainly confined to Wisconsin, and extend across that territory from Fond du Lac, in a south-western direction, ascending the Fox river, and following the general course of Rock and Wisconsin rivers to the Mississippi. They may be much more extensively disseminated; but it is here only that they have been observed in considerable numbers. In Michigan, as also in Iowa and Missouri, similar elevations. of more or less regular outline, are said to occur. They are represented as dispersed in ranges, like the buildings of a modern city, and covering sometimes an area of many acres.
Further to the southward, in the region watered by the Ohio and its tributaries, we find ancient works of greater magnitude and more manifest design. Among them are a few animal-shaped structures; but they seem to have been erected on different principles and for a different purpose from those just noticed. Here we find numberless mounds, most of them conical but many pyramidal in form, and often of great dimensions. The pyramidal structures are always truncated, sometimes terraced, and generally have graded ascents to their summits. They bear a close resemblance to the Teocallis of Mexico; and the known uses of the latter are suggestive of the probable purposes to which they were applied. Accompanying these, and in some instances sustaining an intimate relation to them, are numerous enclosures of earth and stone, frequently of vast size, and often of regular outline. These are by far the most imposing class of our aboriginal remains, and impress us most sensibly with the numbers and power of the people who built them. The purposes of many of these are quite obvious; and investigation has served to settle, pretty clearly, the character of most of the other works occurring in connection with them.
Proceeding still further southwards, we find, in the States bordering on the Gulf of Mexico, the mounds increasing in size and regularity of form, if not in numbers. Conical mounds become comparatively rare, and the Teocalli-shaped structures become larger and more numerous, and assume certain dependencies in respect to each other, not before observed. The enclosures, on the other hand, diminish in size and numbers; and lose many of the characteristic features of those of a higher latitude, though still sustaining towards them a strong general resemblance. Here, for the first time, we find traces of bricks in the mounds and in the walls of enclosures.
The peculiarities of these several divisions will be more particularly pointed out in the progress of this work; when the points of resemblance and difference will become more apparent. The succeeding observations relate more especially to the remains included in the central geographical section above indicated, where the investigations recorded in this volume were principally carried on, and which, in the extent, variety, and interesting nature of its ancient monuments, affords by far the richest and most important field for archaeological research and inquiry.
The number of these ancient remains is well calculated to excite surprise, and has been adduced in support of the hypothesis that they are most, if not all of them, natural formations, "the results of diluvial action," modified perhaps in some instances, but never erected by man. Of course no such suggestion was ever made by individuals who had enjoyed the opportunity of seeing and investigating them. Simple structures of earth could not possibly bear more palpable evidences of an artificial origin, than do most of the western monuments. The evidences in support of this assertion, derived from the form, structure, position, and contents of these remains, will sufficiently appear in the progress of this work.
1. Some ancient works, probably belonging to the same system with those of the Mississippi valley, and erected by the same people, occur upon the Susquehanna. river, as far down as the Valley of Wyoming, in Pennsylvania. The mound~builders seem to have skirted the southern border of Lake Erie, and spread themselves, in diminished numbers, over the western part of the State of New York, along the shores of Lake Ontario lo the St. Lawrence river. They penetrated into the interior. eastward. as far as the county of Onondaga, where some slight vestiges of their works still exist. These seem to have been their limits at the north-east.
2. The only reference we have to the mounds of Oregon is contained in a paragraph in the Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition, vol. iv. p. 313: "We soon reached the Butt, Prairies, which are extensive, and covered with tumuli, or small mounds, at regular distances asunder. As far as I can learn, there is no tradition among the natives concerning them. They are conical mounds, thirty feet in diameter, about six or seven feet above the level, and many thousands in number. Being anxious to ascertain if they contained any relies, I subsequently visited these prairies, and opened three of the mounds, but found nothing in them but a pavement of round stones."