Popular Science Monthly/Volume 19/September 1881/Ancient Copper-Mines of Isle Royale

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By Professor N. H. WINCHELL.

THESE mines are rude, irregularly disposed, shallow pits in the general surface, which, on being cleared of rubbish, are found rarely to exceed the depth of ten feet, but in some instances reach the depth of twenty. They seem to have been located by the accidental outcropping of native copper, over large areas the rock being entirely bare. In other cases, the mining seems to have been systematically prosecuted along the strike of a known copper-bearing belt of rock. In this case it is a rock of marked lithological characters, being of a red color, and, when once its trend was established by a series of pits, it was followed under the drift-materials, that were thrown off into heaps, in which are found, mingled with charred wood and other relics, a great many stone hammers. In one instance, a cross-drift ran under a rude archway from one red belt to another, through a thin partition of darker rock; but, in general, no planning for easy excavation or skillful and prolonged effort in the operations of the miners can be discovered. So far as can be ascertained, they resorted to the very simplest and most laborious methods of excavation in the rock, using their stone hammers, wielded in the hands alone, sometimes aided perhaps by the application of heat, and by repeated blows battered and broke away the rock surrounding the copper masses. When once a mass was detached or sufficiently uncovered, it was parted into smaller pieces by the same means. Some of the masses found, being too large for removal from the pits, show the marks of long-continued pounding, and about them in the pits are a great many small, thin chips of metallic copper, of irregular shapes, with concavo-convex surfaces, exactly such as would be produced by battering a small nugget of copper to a thin layer by pounding it continuously on the same side. The finding of these thin chips of copper is the first indication to the present miners of the proximity of a large mass. In the summer of 1874 the first of these large masses was discovered. It was sixteen and one half feet below the surface, and under it were poles, as if it had been entirely detached, but it had not been much displaced. This mass was exhibited publicly in the yard of the court-house at Detroit, and was also on exhibition at the Centennial Exposition in 1876. It was subsequently fused and sold as commercial copper. It weighed 5,720 pounds, and has been described by Mr. Henry Gillman, in the annual volume of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for 1875. In the summer of 1879 two other large masses that had been wrought by the ancients were found at the Minong Mine, which is at the head of McCargoe's Cove. One had a weight of 3,317 pounds, and the other 4,175 pounds, the latter being about nine feet long. The largest mass yet found at that place was taken out the previous summer, weighing six tons, but the ancients had not discovered it, though one of their drifts ran within two feet of it. The large masses discovered by the ancients show the labor that has been spent on them in their hammer-marked and pitted surfaces. They seem to have been beaten up into ridges and points, by hammering alone, for the easier removal of parts. One of those found in 1879 was not detached from the inclosing rock, though it was wholly uncovered and undermined. A restoration of its appearance, as represented by Captain William Jacka, is seen in Fig.. 1.

PSM V19 D620 Lines of excavation in isle royale copper mine.jpg

Fig. 1.a, mass of copper; b, the inclosing rock; c, layer of drift excavated, twelve feet thick; d d, line showing surface of the ancient pit before reëxcavation.

Various articles have been found in these old pits or in their neighborhood. Several copper implements, such as a gad, a chisel, knives, and arrow-heads, have been discovered, both on Isle Royale and in the vicinity of similar old mines on the south shore of Lake Superior. Mr. Gillman reports that a large part of a "wooden bowl," originally about three feet in diameter, which had probably been used for boiling water, was taken from one of these pits. The timber found in some of these excavations bore the marks of an axe, the bit of which must have been about two inches in width. Fragments of charcoal and partially consumed sticks abound. The bark of the white birch is still preserved, though the interior woody portion is wholly rotted. At McCargoe's Cove, Captain William Jacka discovered a wooden shovel or paddle, which showed by its worn and battered side that it had been used in moving dirt. The blade was four and three quarters inches wide, and about twelve inches long. The handle had been broken, but still showed the length of about a foot. It was all perfectly wrought and smooth, and very true in form. A rounded ridge on the upper and lower sides of the blade extended along its middle, tapering off along the same sides of the shaft or handle upward. It was wet and swollen when found, but, on drying, it shrank to a width of three fourths of an inch, and curled out of shape. A restoration of this ancient paddle or shovel is seen in Fig. 2, as drawn under the direction

PSM V19 D621 Ancient miner paddle from isle royale.jpg

Fig. 2.—Ancient Paddle, used by the Miners on Isle Royale for moving Dirt.

of Captain William Jacka, and a cross-section of the blade in Fig. 3: a represents the upper side of the blade, and the ridge, evidently designed to strengthen the instrument, extends to within an inch or two of the end, and gradually and smoothly sinks to the level of the surface. This shovel was found within a few feet of one of the large masses of copper, in the summer of 1879.

Dr. G. K. Galley also discovered a piece of string, about a foot long, made of some raw-hide, supposed to be of the caribou, tied in the middle

PSM V19 D621 Ancient miner tool blade from isle royale.jpg

Fig. 3.—Transverse Section of the Blade of Ancient Miner's Tool, from Isle Royale.

by "a square knot and a half-hitch." This lay under one corner of the copper mass found in May last (1879), and seemed to break on being pulled out, but the remainder could not be secured. When examined, this string seemed to possess the fiber and much of the strength of dried raw-hide, a circumstance that will not allow the assignment of a very great antiquity to the date of the last mining. Caribou were on the island till a few years ago, and are now common on the shore directly north of the island.

In regard to the main implements of the mines, the stone hammers, they seem not to have been made for the purpose for which they were used. Great numbers of them are found in moving the dirt which the miners handled. They are of various sizes and forms, but generally about five inches in diameter, though some are eight and even ten inches, and of a rounded oval outline. They were certainly gathered as pebbles along the shore of the lake, north from the island, where there are still others of the same shapes and sizes, and of the same varieties of

PSM V19 D622 Rawhide string and knot from the isle royale mines.jpg

Fig. 4.—Raw-hide String and Knot of the Isle Royale Ancient Miners.

rock, formed on the beach by the action of the waves. The great profusion in which they are scattered among the débris of the pits would itself indicate the ease with which they were obtained. They are not grooved for the reception of a withe, like those found on the south shore, near Ontonagon, but they were apparently used for the most part by simply swinging them in the hand, or probably in both hands clasped, thus by repeated blows breaking away the surrounding rock or hammering the desired metal into such shapes as to facilitate its separation in smaller pieces. The rock of which they are composed does not occur as pebbles on Isle Roy ale, and indeed it is doubtful if it exists at all on the island. It forms the coast of the mainland for several miles opposite the island. It is an igneous rock, visually a diabase, as shown in thin sections under the microscope, consisting essentially of a triclinic feldspar and augite, with magnetite. Sometimes the grains are coarser, and the rock would more properly be styled a dolerite or a gabbro. They belong to the formation designated by Sir William Logan The Lower Volcanic Group, but since styled Animikie Group, by Professor T. S. Hunt.[1] Occasionally, however, the workmen seem to have gathered rounded stones of other varieties of rock, though nothing equaling the firmness of the above, and so fit for the purpose of a rude hammer in simple mining, can be selected among all the rocks of the region. One or two, of a granite containing red orthoclase, were seen at the mine, and a few of other granites are reported to have been found. These other varieties are also seen mingled sparsely with the diabase stones along the Canadian shore, and are referable to the drift forces which transported them from farther north and east in Canadian territory.

Although these hammers, as a rule, are not withed, it is still true that occasionally one is found that is withed—i. e., grooved for the reception of a withe handle. One seen at the time of this visit was owned by Dr. Gailey, and was not well wrought. The groove was evidently made by an unskilled hand, and was unfinished. This allies these miners with those of the south shore of the lake. The absence of these hard, rounded stones on the shores of the south side of Lake Superior,[2] owing to the strike of the formation producing them across the interior of the States of Michigan and Wisconsin, made it necessary for the miners on that side to manufacture their hammers, which they did with greater perfection and symmetry than are seen in the beach-wrought hammers of the Isle Royale miners; and they almost invariably grooved them for a withe. Those found on Isle Royale are generally broken with use on one end or on both, a fact which probably caused their abandonment. Fig. 5 shows the imperfectly grooved

PSM V19 D623 Imperfectly withed stone hammer from isle royale.jpg

Fig. 5.—Imperfectly withed Hammer, from the Ancient Mines of Isle Royale.

hammer belonging to Dr. Gailey. Fig. 6 shows the outline and irregularity of three others, also found at the Minong mine. These are a fair average for form, of the most of those found. They are also evidently such as would result from the constant attrition of angular fragments on the beach, and show no evidence of designed shaping.

PSM V19 D623 Stone hammers from isle royale mines.jpg

Fig. 6.—Stone Hammers from the Ancient Mines of Isle Royale.

Their battered and even fractured extremities are the only sign of the agency of man in giving them shape.

If we inquire now who were the men, and when did they live, who did this work, we enter on a very interesting question, but one on which we are not in total darkness. A single observation at the pits at once places them later than the last glacial epoch. The dirt that they moved lies on the drift-clay. This is shown by the subjoined diagrammatic sketch taken on the spot (Fig. 7). It is also shown by the fact that some of the pits are but a few feet above the present lake-level (about thirty feet); since during the period of the drift, and particularly toward its close, the interior lakes and rivers of the North American Continent were much higher than they are now.

It has been agreed for some years, by American archaeologists, that

PSM V19 D624 Isle royale geological layers.jpg

Fig. 7. Explanation.

a, chips and moved earth in which the stone hammers are found; b, the modified drift-clay; c, the cupriferous rock; d d, depressions in the surface indicating the location of the ancient pits, sometimes refilled by the old miners.

the ancient miners of Lake Superior were identical with the mysterious race known as the mound-builders. The evidence of this, first partially elucidated by Messrs. Squier and Davis, has multiplied by subsequent observations, so that there is now a concurrent series of facts pointing to that conclusion. It consists largely in the discovery of many copper implements in the mounds that have been opened. These implements sometimes contain small nuggets of metallic silver closely welded to the copper. At no other place in the United States are copper and silver found thus naturally combined. They must have been pounded into shape, since the melting of the copper for casting would certainly have produced an alloy in which the appearance of the silver would be entirely lost. This, taken in connection with the well-established mining methods of the Isle Royale miners, undeniably identifies them with the mound-builders.

If we inquire further what relation the mound-builder bore to the aborigines found here by Columbus, we shall be compelled to admit from the evidence that the aborigines themselves were the mound-builders and the ancient miners. As this conclusion is at variance with the generally accepted opinion, it will be necessary to consider some of the characteristics of the mound-builders, as stated by the highest authorities, and to compare them with the known peculiar habits and customs of the Indians:

1. Squier and Davis state that "there probably existed among the mound-builders a state of society something like that which prevailed among the Indians; each tribe had its separate seat, maintaining, with its own independence, an almost constant warfare against its neighbors" ("Smithsonian Contributions," vol. i, p. 44).

2. The mound-builders occupied the entire country from Lake Superior, at least,[3] on the north, to the Gulf of Mexico on the south, and from the Alleghanies, at least, on the east, to the Sierras on the west. This is demonstrated not so much by the distribution of the mounds—though they are said by Lewis and Clark to occur on the upper waters of the Missouri, and, by Mr. A. Barrandt, in the valley of the Yellowstone—as by the existence of copper implements from Lake Superior in the same mounds with mica from the Alleghanies, pearls from the Gulf shores and. from the Carolinas, and sharks' teeth from the cretaceous beds of the South and. West.

3. They were an agricultural people, of generally homogeneous customs, habits, religion, and government, each tribe carrying on a trade with surrounding tribes, and some of them with distant tribes.

4. They worked copper in a cold state, having no knowledge of iron, nor of the methods of smelting any of the ores of the metals by the aid of fire.

5. They built extensive earthworks and mounds, both for purposes of warfare and for sepulture.

6. They exhibited very frequently a remarkable flattening of the shin-bone (platycnemism).

7. They made a coarse kind of cloth, by twisting and weaving the fibers and bast of various plants.

8. They made pottery of clay, which they hardened by burning, and rudely ornamented with figures of animals, or by simpler lining.

9. They wrought stone, making axes, arrow and spear heads, knives, wedges, pestles, discoidal stones, tubes, pipes, beads; and they had a high regard for mirrors of mica.

10. They made rude sculptures, in stone and burned clay, of animals and of the human face.

11. They had no knowledge of writing by the use of an alphabet, nor hieroglyphics; but sometimes resorted to pictures to convey information.

12. They employed shells, pearls, sharks' teeth, obsidian, copper, silver, steatite, black and mottled slate, mica, coralline limestone, the bones of some animals, and some other minerals, especially galena and hematite, for making articles of personal adornment.

13. Besides rude sculptures of most of the present animals of the larger types, the elephant (or mastodon) was also known to them, as evinced by the "elephant-mound" in western Wisconsin, by the discoveries of Dr. Koch in Missouri, and by the "elephant-pipe" lately brought to light in Louisa County, Iowa.[4]

Some of these characteristics it is only necessary to name, to enable any one to recognize also their belonging to the red-men who were here when Columbus discovered America, and who probably are identical with the Skrellings seen by the Norse adventurer, Thorwald Ericson, in 1002, described as having sallow-colored, ill-looking faces, ugly heads of hair, large eyes, and broad cheeks, coming to his ship in canoes for purposes of trade, but becoming hostile and treacherous. The various tribes into which the red-men were, and still are, divided, extended over the whole territory that is known to have been occupied by the mound-builders.

That they were an agricultural people, although given to warlike expeditions, and to long journeys for the purpose of trade and for rice-gathering and hunting, is also abundantly attested by the journals of the earliest explorers. Of these it is only necessary to refer to those of Hudson and Juet in the Half-Moon, who mention in several places the existence of extensive cultivated fields along the banks of the Hudson, and to the historians of De Soto's expedition, who speak frequently of Indian villages containing from fifty to six hundred dwellings, substantially constructed of wood, in which must have dwelt upward of two thousand persons. They frequently mention, also, extensive fields of corn, beans, pumpkins, and other vegetables. In one instance De Soto's army traveled two leagues through fields of corn, and sometimes large quantities of corn and of meal were obtained from the houses (vide Irving's "Conquest of Florida").

The fact that the aborigines worked stone, using stone axes, arrowheads, disks, wedges, hammers, pestles, and scrapers, is authenticated not only by the testimony of early writers, but also by the continuance of the same custom nearly if not quite up to the present time among some of the most inaccessible tribes of North America, though they have almost wholly ceased to be used, in consequence of the metallic implements furnished them by the whites.

The manner of making pottery among the Mandan Indians is described in detail by Catlin, who states that "earthen dishes are made by the Mandan women in great quantities, and modeled in a thousand forms and tastes," and that they are nearly equal in hardness to our own manufactured pottery, though they knew not the art of glazing. Fragments of pottery, evidently made by these Indians, are found about Bismarck, in Dakota, and on the Heart River, and in various parts of northern Minnesota, where it was doubtless made by the Chippewas; and they greatly resemble the pottery taken from the mounds, being unglazed, gray, slightly baked or unbaked, and somewhat ornamented by lines and figures.

The articles of cloth that have been found in the mounds are made of the bast-fibers of certain plants, and have been preserved by "the antiseptic action of the salts of copper," the cloth having been wrapped about copper axes and nuggets prior to being placed in the mounds.[5] It appears to be "a kind of hemp, possibly the Apocynum cannabinum formerly used by the Aztecs," or perhaps, as suggested by Colonel D. A. Robertson, of St. Paul, the fibers of Urtica gracilis. Cloth of equal fineness is still made by several of the Indian tribes, particularly by the Navajoes of New Mexico; and nearly all of the tribes are known to have had mats and even carpets, woven of various sedges or of bast-fibers. They are still made by the Chippewa Indians in northern Minnesota.

The sculptured objects taken from the mounds, even those of the human face, are generally cut in some very soft stone, or are made of clay. They are equaled in skill and design by the sculptured pipes

PSM V19 D627 Ancient clay image found at lanesboro mn.jpg
Fig. 8.—From photograph of an image found in the valley of Root River, near Lanesboro, Minnesota, April, 1880. The mound from which it was taken also contained stone arrow-heads, one copper ditto, clay-burned pipes, among the remains of a large number of human skeletons. The image was evidently made of clay burned to be very hard. The back or reverse side is nearly flat. The nose is partly broken off.

and hatchets the Indians have been known to make ever since the Columbian discovery, and particularly by those made of the famous red pipestone or Catlinite[6] of Minnesota. As illustrative of the sculpture of the mound-builders. Fig. 8 is here presented. This is from a photograph of a representation of the human face taken from a mound lately opened at Lanesboro, in Fillmore County, Minnesota. For this I am indebted to the kindness of Mr. II. G. Day, who states that the image was found in the same mound with stone arrow-heads, one copper arrow-head, clay-burned pipes, and the remains of a large number of human skeletons. This piece of burned clay, about three inches in height, represents the human face, and is certainly not evidence of greater skill than the Mandan pottery made by the women of that tribe, but shows that the burning of clay was a practice common to both peoples.

There was a time, recently, when the flattening of the shin-bone was claimed to be a striking peculiarity of the mound-builders. This view was very fully set forth by Mr. Henry Gillman, in his papers on the contents of several Michigan mounds, particularly those on the Rouge and Detroit Rivers, explored by him in 1869 and 1870 ("Smithsonian Report," 1873). This view has also been advocated by Dr. A. E. Johnson, before the Minnesota Academy of Sciences, in a description of bones taken from a mound at Palmer Lake, near Minneapolis. If this distinction could be fully established, it would be one of the most valuable and one of the most remarkable ethnological discoveries of American scientists, and would form a basis for future investigations that might fully establish the distinctness of the mound-builder among the dynasties of North America. But, according to Mr. Gillman's own observations, made at a later date, this peculiarity is not uniform nor constant in the tibiæ taken from the Michigan mounds, and in some mounds it is wanting. The same is true of the perforation of the humerus, which has also been regarded as peculiar to the mound-builder. Of six humeri taken by the waiter from mounds at Big Stone Lake, Minnesota, but one was perforated. Both these osteological variations are found occasionally in the present Indian, and the former is very common in the negro and in the ape. Dr. Jeffries Wyman informs us, according to Professor J. D. Dana, that the platycnemic tibia is a common fact among the American Indians, as well as in the prehistoric remains of Europe. More lately a platycnemic tibia from the Lanesboro mound was submitted to Professor Leidy, of Philadelphia, who, in reply to a question as to its significance, stated that it was now regarded as of no special significance, but was a common occurrence in the early races.[7]

We come now to consider the most interesting as well as the most difficult points in the genetic relationship of the Indian and the mound-builder. These are the existence of the mounds, the mining

of copper, and the use of copper implements. The Indian, it is said, knows nothing of the mound—that is, nothing of its origin. He also avers, at the present time, that he knows nothing about the copper knives, axes, and arrow-points that are shown him. This fact, taken with a sentiment that has exalted the builders of the mounds to a stage of civilization far in advance of that evinced by the commonalty of the savage races of North America as they exist in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, has erected a barrier between the Indian and the mound-builder, which, though wholly imaginary when subjected to close analysis, is so great that they have been regarded either as misinformed, or rash, who have ventured to question its validity. Messrs. Squier and Davis, who first systematically explored and described the remarkable mounds of the Ohio Valley, were led to regard the mound-builders as a race wholly distinct from the Indian ("Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge," vol. i, 1848), and this view is also maintained by the beautiful and able work of Mr. John T. Short ("The North Americans of Antiquity," 1880). Mr. Squier, however, in his work on the "Aboriginal Monuments of the State of New York" ("Smithsonian Contributions," vol. ii), in 1849, mentions many points of resemblance between the mound-builder and the Indian, though he does not specifically state that the Ohio Valley earthworks are probably of Indian origin, while he does conclude that the mounds and earthworks of western New York, as well as their contents, are the product of the Iroquois. Mr. Lapham, in vol. vii of the "Smithsonian Contributions," unhesitatingly ascribes the mounds and the copper-mining to the Indians, but his opinion has been generally ignored. Colonel J. W. Foster, in "Prehistoric Races of the United States," makes light of Mr. Lapham's views.

Upon consulting a number of works in the library of the Minnesota Historical Society that bear on this subject, it is found that there are a great many more references to the use of copper by the Indians, and to their knowledge of its origin, than has generally been supposed. They are too numerous and circumstantial, and are spread over too wide a stretch of time, to be supposed to be exceptional.

Following are a few quotations from early journals and histories that seem to demonstrate not only that the Indians used and mined native copper, but that they also erected mounds of earth, or of stones, in commemoration of their honored dead, and for sepulture. The Indian is a dull utilitarian. He is but little given to sentiment. As he knows nothing of the future, so he remembers little of the past. Hope and history are alike feeble in his mental garniture. His traditions are worthless, and "his chronology of moons and cycles is an incoherent and contradictory jumble."[8] If he says he knows nothing of these relics, his testimony can apply only to himself personally, for his ancestors, on the most undeniable evidence, did know all about them.

In regard to the use of copper, and the mining of it, by the American aborigines, may be made the following quotations and references:

In the "Collections of the New York Historical Society," second series, vol. i, is given a translation of the Italian account of the voyage of John de Verazzano along the coast of North America, from Carolina to Newfoundland, a. d. 1524. When about at Narragansett Bay and Harbor he makes these notes: "We saw upon them [the aborigines] several pieces of wrought copper, which is more esteemed by them than gold, as this is not valued on account of its color, but is considered by them as the most ordinary of the metals, yellow being the color especially disliked by them; azure and red are those in highest esteem by them." Further on he says of another tribe: "In this region we found nothing extraordinary except vast forests and some metalliferous hills, as we infer, from seeing that many of the people wore copper ear-rings."

Henry Hudson's ascent of the river that bears his name is given in the same volume, in the form of a journal kept by Robert Juet, mate. Speaking of the natives, on page 323, Juet says: "They had red copper tobacco-pipes, and other things of copper they did wear about their necks"; also, "They have great tobacco-pipes of yellow copper"; also, on page 300, Hudson himself says, "The people had copper tobacco-pipes, from which I inferred that copper might naturally exist there."

Raleigh observed copper ornaments among the Indians on the coast of the Carolinas; Granville, in his voyage in 1580, observed copper in the hands of the natives of Virginia, and made an effort to reach the place where they said it was obtained. After a toilsome journey into the interior, of some days' duration, the attempt was abandoned. Heriot's "Voyage," in Pinkerton, vol. xii, p. 594, gives an account of copper found "in two towns one hundred and fifty miles from the main, in the form of divers small copper plates, that are made, we are told by the inhabitants, by people who dwell farther in the country, where they say are mountains and rivers which yield white grains of metal which are deemed to be silver. For confirmation whereof, at the time of our first arrival in the country, I saw two small pieces of silver, grossly beaten, about the weight of a tester [an old coin about the weight of a dime], hanging in the ears of a Wiroance. The aforesaid copper we found to contain silver." McKenzie found copper in use among some of the extreme northern tribes, on the borders of the Arctic Sea, according to his "Second Voyage," page 333, as quoted by Squier.[9] "They point their arrows and spears with it, and work it up into personal ornaments, such as collars, ear-rings, and bracelets, which they wear on their wrists, arms, and legs. They have it in great abundance, and hold it in high estimation." Alexander Henry, in his "Travels," page 195, states that the Indians obtained copper at Lake Superior, "which they made into bracelets, spoons, etc." De Soto found copper hatchets in possession of some of the tribes along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, which they stated they obtained from a province called Chisca, far to the north. Claude Allouez, in 1666, visited Lake Superior, and states that "it happens frequently that pieces of native copper are found, weighing from ten to twenty pounds. I have seen several such pieces in the hands of savages; and, since they are very superstitious, they esteem them as divinities, or as presents given to them to promote their happiness, by the gods who dwell beneath the water. For this reason they preserve these pieces of copper wrapped up with their most precious articles. In some families they have been kept for more than fifty years; in others they have descended from time out of mind, being cherished as domestic gods. For some time there was seen near the shore a large rock of copper, with its top rising above the water, which gave an opportunity for those passing by to cut pieces from it; but when I passed that vicinity it had disappeared. I believe that the gales, which are frequent, like those of the sea, had covered it with sand. Our savages tried to persuade me that it was a divinity who had disappeared, but for what cause they were unwilling to tell" (Foster and Whitney's "Report on Lake Superior," Part I, page 7). Dablon, in his "Relation" for 1669-'70, states that "the savages did not agree as to the source of the copper. Some say that it is where the river [Ontonagon] begins, others that it is close to the lake, in the clay, and others at the forks and along the eastern branch of the river." Again, Dablon gives an account of its being reputed to occur on an island about forty or fifty leagues from the Saut toward the north shore, opposite a place called Missippicoatong (Michipicoten?). The savages related that the island was a floating island, sometimes near and at other times far off. These statements, with other particulars, make it very probable that the Indians of Lake Superior were familiar with the localities prior to their acquaintance with the French, and that the place here described can be no other than the even then celebrated mines of Isle Royal.

Jacques Cartier in 1535 spent the winter at or near Quebec, and learned several facts concerning copper that was in possession of the Indians, which he has given in his "Brief Recital." They made an effort to explain to him where the copper came from. They gave Cartier to understand that there were large quantities where they obtained it, situated on a bank of a river near a lake. One of the chiefs drew from a sack a piece of copper a foot long and gave to Champlain. "This was quite pure and very handsome." He said they had "gathered it in lumps, and having melted it spread it out in sheets, smoothing it with stones."[10] The Indians at Montreal and Quebec in 1535 were familiar with the fact that Saguenay was a copper-bearing region. John Gilmary Shea, LL. D., says (Shea's "Charlevoix"): "The Saguenay of the St. Lawrence Indians was evidently the Lake Superior region, and possibly the ports accessible by the Mississippi. The river Saguenay was not so called from being in but from leading to Saguenay." Thus, at a distance of from eight hundred to one thousand miles from its origin, Cartier in 1535, and Champlain in 1610, encountered Indians who informed them of the manner of mining, and of manufacturing copper implements, Champlain stating that the copper was melted.

It is not presumed that this is a complete list of historic references to the use of copper and copper mining by the Indians, but it is amply sufficient to show that it is not necessary to invoke a strange race, prior to the Indian, to account for all the copper implements and the nuggets of copper that have been found in the mounds, as well as for those found on the surface of the ground throughout the Northwest.

The term mound-builders is distinctively applied to the race that constructed the remarkable earthworks of the valley of the Ohio, and of the interior of the United States in general, but it is true that in nearly all parts of the world the practice of mound-building has prevailed, sometimes among nations that come within historical epochs. Mounds are found among the Celts and the Scythians, in the Sandwich Islands and in New Zealand, in Japan and India, and throughout the central parts of the Eastern Continent, as well as in both Americas, from the country of the Esquimaux to Chili and Fuegia. The earliest of human records refer distinctly to this method of honoring the dead. The heroic age of Greece, as sung by Homer, abounded with ceremonies and curious details relating to the tumulus erected over the bones of the slain hero. The burial of Patroclus, as related in the twenty-third book of the "Iliad," is an illustration of the practice of mound-building by the ancient Greeks:

"The sacred relics to the tent they bore,

The urn a veil of linen covered o'er.
That done, they bid the sepulchre aspire,
And cast the deep foundations round the pyre;
High in the midst they heap the swelling bed

Of rising earth, memorial of the dead."

At the burial of Hector, the Trojans erect a pile of large stones over the urn containing his remains, and upon that pile up the tumulus. When Æneas buried the pilot of his fleet, Misenus, he

". . . piously heaped a mighty mound sepulchral."

Artachæas, superintendent of the canal at Athos, was honored by Xerxes with a memorial mound which still remains, in remembrance of the skill of that engineer, and an evidence of the custom of the Persians. The Scythian kings are entombed in tumuli along the banks of the Dnieper. Orestes, bewailing his father, Agamemnon, says:

"If but some Lycian spear 'neath Ilium's walls

 Had lowly laid thee,
A mighty name in the Atridan halls
 Thou woaldst have made thee.
Then hadst thou pitched thy fortunes like a star,
To son and daughter shining from afar,
Beyond the wide-waved sea the high-heaped mound
 Had told for ever
Thy feats of battle, and with glory crowned

 Thy high endeavor."

In Asia Minor the tomb of Alyattes, the Lydian king, has a circumference of nearly a mile, requiring ten minutes to ride round its base. In the same neighborhood, near the lake Gygæa, are numerous other circular mounds.

The same practice was continued into the later days of Grecian history. Alexander raised a mound over Demaratus, which, Plutarch says, was "eighty cubits high and of vast circumference." The tumulus erected on the plain of Marathon, in commemoration of the one hundred and ninety-two Athenians who fell in the battle, is near the sea, and is to be seen by all travelers. It is about one hundred feet in circumference, and about twenty-five feet high. Finally, coming within the scope of modern history, the construction, at the order of the English Government, of a mound of earth on the plains of Waterloo, attests the tenacity of that sentiment of veneration for the dead who die in the service of their country, and the persistence of a practice, which seems to be common to all mankind and to have survived from prehistoric times, of resorting to the mound of earth, as being at once the easiest made and the most enduring monument in memory of the departed.

The practice of mound-building not being distinctive of any race, tribe, or epoch of the human family, it may be considered not at all unlikely that the aboriginal tribes of America, perhaps without exception, had their ceremonies and habits of burial, if not other rites of a sacred character, in one way and another associated with the erection of mounds of earth. Indeed, it would be a remarkable exception if the native Americans did not erect mounds. They possessed the land without molestation prior to the discovery of Columbus. They had the necessary elements of perpetuity and stability, at least so far as these can be predicated of savage tribes. They cultivated the soil and conducted a considerable trade with their neighbors. They exhibited all other characteristics common to mankind in an uncivilized state. The denial of their resort to mound-building, for the same purposes as other tribes in similar circumstances, carries with it the necessity to account for such an anomalous exception.

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[11] 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 of the dead, and interring them in a common repository. A mound of the latter description was formerly situated on the low grounds of the Rivanna River, in Virginia, opposite the site of an old Indian village (Jefferson's "Notes on Virginia," pp. 100, 103). It was forty feet in diameter and twelve feet in height, of a spheroidal form, and surrounded by a trench, whence the earth employed in its erection had been excavated. The circumstances attending the custom alluded to were, the great number of skeletons, their confused position, their situation in distinct strata, exhibiting different stages of decomposition, and the appearance of bones of infants. A mound of similar character, and constructed in layers or strata at successive periods, existed near the south branch of the Shenandoah, in the same State. A tumulus of stones, in New York State, is said to have marked the grave of a distinguished warrior (McCauley's "History of New York," vol. ii, p. 239). "Beck's Gazetteer" (p. 308) states that "a mound of the largest dimensions has been thrown up, within a few years, in Illinois, over the remains of an eminent chief." The Natchez Indians, when expelled from Louisiana in 1728, erected a mound "of considerable size" near Natchitoches, as stated in the documents accompanying the President's message for 1806. C. C. Jones, referring[12] to plate xl of the "Brevis Narratio," says that "here we have a spirited representation of the ceremonies observed by the Florida Indians upon the occasion of the sepulture of their kings and priests. Located in the vicinity of the village appears a small conical mound, surmounted by the shell drinking-cup of the deceased, and surrounded by a row of arrows stuck in the ground. Gathered in a circle about this sepulchral tumulus, the bereaved members of the tribe, upon bended knees, are bewailing the death of him in whose honor this grave-mound had been heaped up." Jones also mentions an instance of a primary burial under a mound erected in honor of the dead, on the coast a few miles below Savannah, in which, along with an earthen pot, several arrow-heads, a stone celt, and bones of a human skeleton, was found in immediate association a portion of an old-fashioned sword. This tumulus, thus proved to have been erected since the advent of the Europeans, was seven feet high and about twenty feet in diameter at the base. Of the sword, the parts preserved were the oak handle, most of the guard, and about seven inches of the blade. The rest had perished from rust. The Mandans, according to Catlin ("North American Indians," vol. i, p. 90), constructed mounds in commemoration of their dead, and the same is said of the Arickarees by Professor Lewis H. Morgan (twenty-first report of the New York State Cabinet). The mounds at Lanesboro, in the State of Minnesota, are said by the old Winnebago chief Winneshiek[13] to have been erected by the Sioux, in commemoration of a great victory won there over the Winnebagoes many generations ago. The same old chief, when shown a clay pipe taken from the Lanesboro mounds, said it was like those made by the Sioux, and, pointing to an earthen spittoon for illustration, said the Sioux made many like it. In the "Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science," for 1875, Dr. Sternberg, of the United States Army, critically analyzes the contents of certain mounds near Pensacola, Florida, and concludes that they were built by different but contemporaneous tribes of Indians, one being probably the Natchez. In these mounds were found pottery, red hematite for pigment, flint weapons, and shell ornaments in the shape of beads and perforated disks, in conjunction with blue-glass beads and fragments of iron. The latter show that these mounds were still used, or in process of erection, later than the advent of Europeans.

Mr. E. G. Squier, in the second volume of the "Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge," has described in detail many mounds and earthworks of western and central New York, remarking that they extend down the Susquehanna as far as the valley of the Wyoming, northward into Canada, along the upper tributaries of the Ohio, and westward along the shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario. These mounds and earthworks are said generally to be smaller than those in the Ohio Valley. They were found to contain ornamented pottery, pipes of clay regularly and often fancifully molded, or bearing the forms of animals, stone axes and hammers, stone disks and implements which the author remarks are almost identical in shape and material with some described by him from the mounds of the Ohio Valley, and spear points and bodkins of bone. In connection with these are described articles of European manufacture, such as cast copper and iron axes, and kettles of copper, iron, and brass. Although Mr. Squier had previously expressed the opinion that the earthworks of western New York were of like nature and origin with those of the Ohio Valley, when confronted with the fact of articles of European manufacture commingled with aboriginal, discovered by his own investigations, he was forced to assign the New York mounds to the Iroquois. It seems not unreasonable to assume that the New York series of mounds will be found undistinguishable from those of northern Ohio and eastern Michigan, which have unquestioningly been regarded as of the same age as those of the Ohio Valley, as well as synchronous with those of Wisconsin, which, while possessing all the essential characters of the Ohio Valley mounds, have been assigned as unhesitatingly to the existing races of Indians by the late J. A. Lapham, of Milwaukee.

It hence seems demonstrable, as well as admitted by some of the best American ethnologists, that the existing Indian races formerly carried on extensively and methodically the practice of mound-building. The mounds of sepulture are often referred to by historians and travelers. They were built by slow accretions. Not to mention the veneration which impelled the untutored savage to cast a handful of earth on a mound every time that he passed it, in testimony of his remembrance of the departed, it may be well to refer to what has been known as the feast of the dead. This is asserted to have been common to many tribes, although conducted with some variation of details. Gathering the bones of the dead from their temporary resting-places, the tribe assembled at a chosen spot, and with solemn ceremonies performed the last rites of sepulture. Sometimes they were placed in coffins separately, and buried within a pit over which was erected a mound of earth, and sometimes they were arranged serially, and simply buried under a mound. More frequently the bones were burned, the cremation being accompanied with lamentation and followed by feasting. The ashes and the unconsumed fragments were then covered with earth. For many generations this feast of the dead, which occurred sometimes every eight years, or every ten, or when the accumulated bones made it necessary, was doubtless performed on the same spot; and in course of time a mound of considerable dimension was the result, which, while containing human bones, or fragments of them, and much evidence of fire in the form of ashes and charcoal, and reddened stones, yet discloses, on exhumation, no perfect skeletons.

As further testimony to the erection of mounds by the present Indians, the statements and opinions of a few who have investigated the subject, or have dwelt long with them, may be referred to.

Mr. Jones, in his review of the "Antiquities of the Southern Indians," remarks: "During the progress of this investigation it will be perceived that mound-building, which seems to have fallen into disuse prior to the dawn of the historic period, was entirely abandoned very shortly after intercourse was established between Europeans and the red-men." Again, in summing up the evidence, Mr. Jones says, in conclusion, "In a word, we do not concur in the opinion, so often expressed, that the mound-builders were a race distinct from and superior in art, government, and religion, to the Southern Indians of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries." Bradford, in "American Antiquities and Researches," affirms that "from very respectable authority it appears that many tribes still continue to this day to raise a tumulus over the grave, the magnitude of which is proportioned to the rank and celebrity of the deceased."

From the foregoing it appears that every known trait of the mound-builder was possessed also by the Indian at the time of the discovery of America. It hence becomes unnecessary to appeal to any other agency than the Indian. It is poor philosophy and poor science that resorts to hypothetical causes when those already known are sufficient to produce the known effects. The Indian is a known adequate cause. The assignment of the mounds to any other dynasty was born of that common reverence for the past, and for the unexplainable, which not only unconsciously augments the actual, but revolts at the reduction of these works to the level of the existing red-man.

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  1. Vide "Trap Dikes and Azoic Rocks of Southeastern Pennsylvania," "Second Geological Survey of Pennsylvania," pp. 68, 240.
  2. Ship-loads of these stones are transported from the north shore of Lake Superior for paving streets in Chicago and other cities.
  3. Along the boundary-line between Minnesota and the Canadian territory are occasional mounds. One very large one is on the Canadian side of Rainy Lake River, at the Big Sioux Rapids (N. Butler). They are found near Grand Marais, on the north shore of Lake Superior.
  4. John T. Short, "The North Americans of Antiquity," p. 530.
  5. R. J. Farquharson, "Recent Explorations of Mounds near Davenport, Iowa," "Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science," vol. xxiv, p. 305.
  6. Mr. Farquharson ("American Association for the Advancement of Science," vol. xxiv, p. 306) speaks of a green variety of Catlinite, which, on the contrary, is always red. Other American archæologists have in the same way spoken of Catlinite (?) pipes found in the mounds, but which by the descriptions given are precluded from being Catlinite. The Chippewa Indians of Minnesota make pipes of a greenish argillitic slate, obtained near the international boundary, but the Sioux use the Catlinite of the celebrated pipestone region, in southwestern Minnesota. By trade the Catlinite sometimes finds its way into the northern part of the State, and is employed as inlaid ornaments in the dark slate, in the same manner as lead is used for a similar purpose.
  7. For a knowledge of this correspondence I am indebted to Rev. E. D. Neill, of the Minnesota Historical Society.
  8. Short, "The North Americans of Antiquity," p. 22.
  9. "Smithsonian Contributions," vol. ii, p. 117. Bancroft ("Races of the Pacific Slope") mentions the mining of copper on Coppermine River, by existing tribes.
  10. Champlain's "Voyage du Sieur de Champlain," Paris, 1613, p. 246, as quoted by Slafter.
  11. "American Antiquities and Researches into the History of the Red Race," 1841, p. 17.
  12. "Antiquities of the Southern Indians."
  13. This old chief is still living, near Trempeleau, Wisconsin, and is said to be about one hundred years old.