Miscellaneous Papers Relating to Anthropology/Mounds in Spoon River Valley

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By W. H. Adams, of Peoria, III.

On what is usually termed a bog-back, on the north side of the Spoon River, 75 yards distant, 80 rods west of the east line and 20 rods south of the north line of section 12, township 11 north, range 43 east of the fourth principal meridian, is a round mound about 30 feet in diameter. On the highest point of the hog-back, at the surface, is some evidence of fire. The evidence of a former fire increases very rapidly. At a depth of from 12 to 16 inches five skeletons were found, of which nearly all the bones were calcined, and many of them entirely consumed by the fire. One of the skulls lay to the north, one to the northwest, one to the south-west, one to the south, and one to the northeast. With the bones were fragments of sandstone burned red; at or near each skull, and nearly on a line between the point of the shoulder and ear, was a water-worn pebble, except in one instance, and in that it was an angular piece of flint.

33-Fig 1 mound on Spoon river.jpg

Fig. 1.

The pebbles had not been acted upon by the fire, so that they most evidently have been placed there after the intense heat had sided. From the appearance of the earth one would be strongly inclined to believe that the fire in this instance had been one of unusual intensity. From the position of the skulls with reference to one another, the feet of one body would reach to the head of the next, if laid at full length. One of the skulls was rather thinner than those we usually find in other mounds. Some of the teeth evidently belonged to a person of great age, while others were very small, but I cannot say that they belonged to an infant. The skulls were in fragments, the largest piece obtained being about 2 inches square.

On another hog-back, east of the one described, commencing on section 12, township 11, range 4 east, and extending across the northwest corner of section 7, township 11, range 5, and also some distance on section 6, township 11, are thirteen common round mounds, varying in height from 18 inches to 5 feet. As far as examined these are burial mounds, and nineteen skeletons were found in one of them. This mound was 45 feet in diameter and 5 feet high. The bones in it were in a fair state of preservation. I opened four or five of this group, and in each were found pieces of trap-rock from 1½ to 2 inches square, pieces of burnt §and-rock, and small water- worn pebbles, which I suppose to be jasper or something of that character, and in the largest mound was discovered a very small fragment of red pottery.

On the high bluff between Spoon River and Walnut Creek, on the south line of the southeast quarter section 6, township 11 north, range 56, are three mounds of some importance. The first is a common round mound, 3½ feet high, with a base diameter of 40 feet. This mound is three rods north of the sectional line between sections 6 and 7, and 60 rods west of the east line of section 6. (The land is owned by Henry Jaques.) I opened this mound at the apex, and at a depth of 2 feet found quite an amount of ashes, also one piece of trap-rock of irregular shape, and about the size of a small boy's head; also a honestone arrow point of the leaf-shape pattern. Eight feet east of this is a mound 62 feet long and 19 feet wide, with the greatest length from southwest to northeast. I made a cross cut of this mound at the middle, and in the center found a bed of charcoal, 10 inches deep, intermingled with ashes. I also made an opening near the east end and found nothing. Twenty rods east of this, on the sectional line, is an oblong mound, measuring 64 feet from west to east, and 47 feet from north to south, with an apparent height, above the surrounding level, of 3 feet. I made an opening in the center of this mound, 4£ feet in diameter, and at a depth of 2 feet I found some ashes and fragments of stone which had been polished, and 3 inches of yellow clay. This clay has the appearance of having been rammed or packed while in a plastic state. Below the clay is a thin stratum of red paint, and below the paint were ashes and paint intermingled. In this material were found fourteen arrow points made of honestone, all of the leaf pattern except one, and this was 3 J inches long, with notches at the base, and had the appearance of having been used; also a small piece of galena was exhumed. There was a slight depression on the surface above the deposit. I made an opening 9 feet east of the center, in which was obtained a copper awl or needle 3½ inches long, and three-sixteenths of an inch square, thick in the middle, and sharp pointed at each end. This copper implement was inclosed in some material, which, under a microscope of low magnifying power, has the appearance of being the bark of a tree. This tool lay with the points southwest and northeast. I also found a white-flint spear-point or lance head, 4 inches long and 1½ inches wide, without notches at the base. We found the flint implement about 10 inches southwest of the copper. This was surrounded by the same red material as the first. We first made an opening 14 feet west of the center of this mound, and at a depth of 3 feet 8 inches we found one copper needle or awl, rounded and pointed; three copper beads one-quarter of an inch in diameter and three sixteenths of an inch in length; one piece of copper tubing or bead 1 inch in length and one-quarter of an inch in diameter; one piece of tubing or bead three-sixteenths of an inch in diameter and 1 inch in length; one piece 1⅝ inches in length and one-quarter of an inch in diameter; and five other pieces very much like those described; also a small fragment of a tooth supposed to be human, and several small flint pebbles.

There are traces of a breastwork or fort, commencing at the south-western part of this mound, about 6 to 12 inches in height. Commencing at the mound it extends southwest 120 feet, thence south 67 feet, thence south-southeast 106 feet, thence to bluff of Spoon River 130 feet (the bluff is 40 feet high), from the mound to the bluff in a straight line southeast 186 feet.

All the arrow points were finely finished, and far superior to those found on the surface of the ground. This mound is 42 rods west of Spoon River. The bluffs here are composed of the usual yellow clay, and contain very little sand. On the northeast corner of the northwest quarter of the southeast quarter section 5 are three common round mounds, standing in a triangular position to each other, with the largest to the north, the next in size directly south of it, and the smallest to the east, somewhat like the following figure:

35-mounds in triangular position.jpg

On or near the southwest corner of section 4, township 11 north of the base line 5, east of the fourth principal meridian, are a series of common round and long mounds of more importance than any other yet discovered in this part of Illinois. (See Fig. 2.) Commencing at a point near the foot of a long bluff sloping to the south, and 40 rods north of the south line of section 4, and 10 rods east of the west line, are three common round mounds. For convenience we have numbered these, commencing with the most westerly. The distance is reckoned from center to center of round mounds, and from end to end of long mounds.

From 1 to 2 is 39 feet from center to center, from 2 to 3 is 30 feet from center to center, from 3 to 4 is 50 feet from center to center. This last mound is 80 feet long, with a cross mound at the center 33 feet long, 2 feet high, and 10 feet wide. The principal mound is 15 feet wide.

36-Fig.2 - mound sections.jpg

Fig. 2.

From No. 4 to No. 5 is 123 feet. No. 5 is a common round mound, 3 feet high, with a base diameter of 40 feet. No. 6 is 53 feet from No. 5, 98 feet long, 2 feet high, and 18 feet wide, with the greatest length from south west to northeast. No. 7 is 75 feet west-northwest of No. 6, and is 104 feet long, 2£ feet high, and 18 feet wide, with the greatest length from southwest to northeast. No. 8 is 100 feet from No. 7, and is 140 feet long, 3 feet high, 20 feet wide. Fifty feet from the south end of this is a black-oak tree, 3 feet in diameter, standing in the middle of the mound. (In accordance with the usual rule in this vicinity of computing sixteen growths to the inch, measuring on one side of the center, this tree was nearly three hundred years old.) This mound is 100 feet west of the bluff of Spoon River. The bluff is 40 feet high at this place, and very precipitous. In company with Mr. W. J. Morris, I made a cross cut in this mound to the original soil. At every spadeful we would bring up flint chips, and we found several pieces of trap-rock, some of them being polished on one side. Around the mound where the surface is bare great quantities of flint chips are picked up. We made a slight examination of Nos. 6 and 7, and found nothing, excepting traces of ashes and charcoal. On opening No. 3, at a depth of 2 feet, we found ashes; at 2½ feet, 6 to 8 inches of charcoal and ashes; at 3 feet, hard-packed earth; at 3 feet 3 inches, two skeletons, all the bones very much decayed, except the teeth, and these were not worn, showing the owners to have been not over thirty years of age. We opened Nos. 1 and 2, and found nothing. All the mounds appear to have been built at the same time, by the same people.

Spoon River at this point is 100 feet wide. We found no depressions whence the material of which these mounds are built was taken.