Thursday, July 28, 2011

Indian Burial Mounds in Kansas



About 4 miles southeast of White Cloud, Kansas, is the "Taylor Mound," from which Mark E. Zimmerman and William Park took 56 skeletons, or portions of skeletons, in a space not more than 6 by 20 feet. This was clearly an intrusive communal burial of skeletons carried from some other point and interred in the mound which owed its origin to persons who had piled it up at some previous time. The bones, which were not arranged in any order, were 30 inches beneath the present surface of the mound, but this does not mean they were no deeper originally, as the mound has been plowed for many years and is in a situation where it will easily wear down when cultivated.

A few feet away, at a depth of 7 feet, other bones, or fragments of bones, were found in a mass of burned clay. A cremation had taken place at some point away from the mound, and the resultant burned earth, with so much of the bone matter as was not destroyed by the fire, was carried here and buried. The depth in this instance is not significant; the earth is loose and very easily dug; besides, the grave pit was near the margin of the mound and earth had washed down over it from above.

Some stones, carried from neighboring ravines, have been exposed by the wear due to erosion from natural causes and from cultivation. The main portion of the structure is still intact, and it is probable that no deposits belonging to it at the time of its construction have been unearthed. A systematic exploration, showing the original construction as well as the alterations resulting from later burials, is much to be desired.

While this is the largest mound in the vicinity, and is claimed to be the largest mound in Kansas, it is not different except in size from many others within a few miles. All of them are made of the same earth as that which lies around them—a light, sandy loess which is easily removed with a shovel, requiring no picking or other loosening. In fact, it is almost as easy to dig as loose sand would be. Sometimes there are flat limestones in or around the graves; similar slabs are found not far away in the ravines.

[152]Not far from this mound is a large lodge site, one of the so-called "buffalo wallows" as they are commonly known. These are the ruins of aboriginal houses. The general construction is the same, the only practical difference being that some are square in outline, others round. This difference is not always apparent prior to the excavation. In the making, a pit was dug, square or round as desired, and the earth thrown out on every side. Posts were then set around the margin of the excavation, and the house built in the same manner as those with which we are familiar from accounts of early travelers. Many of them have been examined by Zimmerman and Park, who found masses of hard-burned earth in which are cavities and depressions due to the burning of straw, grass, twigs, and poles, used in the construction of the houses. This results from the destruction of the houses by fire. Sometimes the floor has a layer of this burned material which is evidently due to the falling in of the roof. Most of these are on the hilltops, but some of them are on narrow ridges leading from the high land to the creek or river bottoms. In the latter event there is always a village site on the low ground bordering the stream. The relics gathered up on these village sites are in no wise different from those found when the lodge sites are excavated; and also are of the same character as those picked up on what are no doubt modern village sites in the vicinity. This fact militates against the idea that the lodge sites are extremely ancient.


On a low hill, cut off on every side by steep ravines, is a small mound containing a cist grave. The bottom of this, which was dug slightly below the natural surface, was covered with a pavement of limestone slabs. The grave was roughly oval or triangular in outline, measuring about 7 by 9 feet. Around it was a wall of similar stones, set in contact and sloping outward at an angle of about 40 degrees from the vertical. There was nothing whatever in this grave.

At the edge of the mound was a box grave 5½ by 2½ by 2½ feet, the longer axis on a radial line. It was made of small flat stones built up like a wall, the only grave of which I could learn that had any resemblance to the vault graves farther down the Missouri. In the grave were two skulls and some other bones, all bunched in the northern end.


Lewis and Clark, in their journal, mention that when camped near the mouth of the Nemaha, one or both of them went to an Indian village about 2 miles up the stream. He, or they, climbed a low ridge near the river and stood on a mound which commanded a fine [153]view of the surrounding country. There is a dispute as to the site of this mound; but the journal plainly says it was on the lower (east) side of a little creek which comes in here. Two miles farther up is a larger mound on higher ground which is generally supposed to be the one meant by the explorer; but this is on the other side of the creek and at some distance from the Pawnee village which was located near the mouth of the creek, on the lower side. The ground where this village stood is covered over a space of several acres with the ordinary d├ębris of an Indian settlement; and it is significant that all the relics found are so similar to those which are called "ancient" when found in the lodge sites, that no one could determine from inspection which kind came from which place. Unless it may exist in the markings in the pottery, no distinction can be made between these specimens and similar ones from other localities.

The Pawnees lived here until 1837, when the Iowas and Otoes made a sortie upon the unsuspecting inhabitants and killed all of them they could overcome. Two women of the Iowa tribe who were living on the reservation in 1914 remember seeing dead bodies lying around wherever the invaders could find and kill a resident.

A short distance below the explorers carved their names on a rock which projected into the stream. Accounts as to this spot differ; it is generally stated that in making a road around here, the rock containing the names was blasted away; but a man in the neighborhood who claims to know the exact spot says the blasting did not extend quite so far and that the names are covered by a mass of earth and rock which slid from the bluff many years ago. If this be true, a thrill awaits the man who finds the names some centuries from now, when the river has washed away all this accumulated material.


Near the mouth of Wolf River is a village site on which Dr. R.S. Dinsmore, of Troy, has counted 125 tipi sites. Relics are very abundant here, especially the small chert "thumb-scrapers," which outnumber all other specimens.


Four miles east of Troy, on a ridge so steep that its top is inaccessible from either side, and so narrow that a wagon would make a track on each slope, is a little mound worn down until its true nature would not be suspected. Dr. Dinsmore was on this ridge one day and noticed a flat limestone rock. Knowing that it had no place in the loess, he began digging to ascertain the reason for it being there. At a depth of a few inches he found bones, and soon unearthed a number of skulls, with only his hands or a stick. Coming back later with tools, he found, in all, 56 skulls. Afterwards he found [154]others, and persons in the neighborhood have exhumed many more. The deposit represents a communal burial, from a village which probably stood on the level creek bottom not far away. A few skeletons showed an attempt at orderly arrangement. These were probably of individuals who had not been dead long at the time of the general burial. Most of the bones, however, skulls and others, were piled in the smallest possible area, as if gathered up in sacks or baskets from previous burials and carried here for reinterment. The soil is so loose as to be easily dug with the hands, like sand; but at the same time so fine and close packed as to shed water almost like a roof. Owing to the steep slope at every point, except toward the summit of the ridge, there must be some erosion, and consequently the age of the burials can not be great. Yet, the same conditions prevail in other places where a great antiquity is claimed for the remains. Frost necessarily disintegrates the soil to some extent; the wind or rain carries away the loosened portions; and this process is continuous. The shape of the mound shows that when the burials were made the ridge was essentially identical in form with its present aspect. The bones also are comparatively fresh in appearance, and it may be considered certain that they can not date back many generations.

On the top of a hill rising from the opposite side of Mosquito Creek Dr. Dinsmore found a low mound, which, like that just described, would not have been suspected as such but for a stone projecting from the surface. Under this stone, with 8 inches of earth intervening, was a skull so completely mineralized that it appears to be carved from a block of limestone. No other portions of the body to which it belonged remained, though traces in the surrounding earth showed that at least the larger bones and perhaps the entire skeleton had been deposited. Bones in other parts of the mound were in their natural condition; that is, they were not altered from their ordinary appearance, although only in fragments. It is remarkable that this entire cranium should thus change while all the other bones, even the jaw, had disappeared. The description of this find is from Dr. Dinsmore, who has the skull in his office. Possibly he may be in error in stating that traces were found of other bones belonging with it. These may have belonged to another individual. The soil is ordinary sandy loess, containing lime but not in such quantity as to account for this alteration. Perhaps the skull may be from an older burial somewhere, the petrifaction having taken place before it was buried here.