Mormon History

 Fascination With Indian Civilizations - 1818

Palmyra Register January 21, 1818

Indian Antiquities. -- The following account, which we take from the Western Gazetteer, adds something to our former knowledge of those hitherto inexplicable wonders, that are found in such abundance in our western country. We have not room to examine any of the speculations, which have entered the heads of our philosophers and antiquarians on the subject; and if we had, we should hardly expect, where all is conjecture and uncertainty, to afford much amusement or profit to our readers. There is something, however, extremely curious in the inquiry itself; although we cannot hope, that any very important or certain results can be drawn from the few facts, which have as yet been given to the world. We can safely infer from them nothing more, than that this immense tract of country, which has every mark of having been for centuries past a desolate wilderness, has been thickly inhabited at some former period by a warlike people, who had made much greater advances in the arts of civilized life, than any of the aboriginal inhabitants of North America, who have been. known since its discovery by Europeans. The mounds described below are situated in the town of Harrison, Indiana Territory.

'We examined from 15 to 20. In some, whose heights was from ten to fifteen feet, we could not find more than four or five skeletons. In one, not the least appearance of a human bone was to be found. Others were so full of bones, as to warrant the belief, that they originally contained at least one hundred dead bodies; children of different ages, and the full grown, appeared to have been piled together promiscuously. We found several scull, leg and thigh hones, which plainly indicated that their possessors were men of gigantic stature. The scull of one skeleton was one fourth of an inch thick; and the teeth remarkably even, sound and handsome, all firmly planted. The fore teeth were very deep, and not so wide as those of the generality of white people. Indeed, there seemed a great degree of regularity in the form of the teeth, in all the mounds. In the progress of our researches, we obtained ample testimony, that these masses of the earth were formed by a savage people. Yet, doubtless possessing a greater degree of civilization than the present race of Indians. We discovered a piece of glass weighing five ounces, resembling the bottom of a tumbler, but concave; several stone axes, with grooves near their heads to receive a withe, which unquestionably served as a helve; arrows formed from flint, almost exactly similar to those in use among the present Indians; several pieces of earthern ware; some appeared to be parts of vessels holding six or eight gallons; others were obviously fragments of jugs, jars, and cups: some were plain, while others were curiously ornamented with figures of birds and beasts, drawn while the clay or material of which they were made was soft, and before the process of glazing was performed. The small vessels were made of pounded or pulverized muscle shells, mixed with an earthern or flinty substance, and the large ones of clay and sand. There was no appearance of iron; one of the sculls was found pierced by an arrow, which was still sticking in it, driven about half way through before its force was spent. It was about six inches long. The subjects of this mound were doubtless killed in battle, and hastily buried. In digging to the bottom of them we invariably came to a stratum of ashes, from six inches to two feet thick, which rests on the original earth. These ashes contain coals, fragments of brands, and pieces of calcined bones. From the quantity of ashes and bones, and the appearance of the earth underneath, it is evident that large fires must have been kept burning for several days previous to commencing the mound.

Almost every building lot in Harrison village contains a small mound; and some as many as three. On the neighbouring hills, northeast of the town, is a number of the remains of stone houses. They were covered with soil, brush, and full grown trees. We cleared away the earth, roots and rubbish from one of them, and found it to have been anciently occupied as a dwelling. It was about twelve feet square; the walls had fallen nearly to the foundation. They appeared to have been built of rough stone, like our stone walls. Not the least trace of any iron tools have been employed to smooth the face of them, could be perceived. At one end of the building, we came to a regular hearth, containing ashes and coals; before which we found the bones of eight persons of different ages, from a small child to the heads of the family. The positions of their skeletons clearly indicated, that their deaths were sudden and simultaneous. They were probably asleep, with their feet towards the fire, when destroyed by an enemy, an earthquake, or pestilence."