THE GLACIER MAX--EXCLOSURE MOUNDS--ALTAR AND BURIAL MOUNDS--
SIGNAL MOUNDS--CHARACTERISTICS OF THE MOUND BUILDERS--COMMERCE AND INDUSTRIES--FIRE
AND SUN WORSHIPERS--DRIVEN FROM THEIR HOMES UV THE RED--ALVN MAJOR WILLIAMS'--ACCOUNT
"BONE YARD HOLLOW."
Along the fronts of the great glaciers, which centuries ago came from the north
and covered a large part of the state of Iowa, there lived a race of people not
unlike the present Eskimos. As the glaciers receded these people moved northward.
They were short of stature, stout, flat-featured men and women. we know very little
about them, except the accepted belief of their existence. They were succeeded by
another race of people, whom for sake of a better name we call Mound Builders. We
know more of the Mound Builders than of the race which preceded them. The mound
builder was superior both in intelligence and civilization to the glacier man. All
over the American continent are scattered the alluvial mounds of this extinct and
prehistoric people. They are countless in number, often vast in extent, and varied
in character. The mounds are of two general classes, enclosures and mounds proper.
The chief purpose of the enclosures was defense. Many of them are of vast extent.
One at Aztalan. Wisconsin, covers seventeen acres. Its shape is that of an irregular
parallelogram, with embankments twenty-two feet wide and from one to five feet in
height. At Newark, Ohio, is a very intricate series of earthworks covering an area
of two square miles. It consists of circles, octagons, and avenues with parallel
walls nearly 5,000 feet in length. In places the parapets rise to a height of sixteen
feet, with a ditch thirteen feet deep, making the altitude in the interior about
thirty feet. Within this enclosure is the race course of the fair association of
the present day, the banks of earth making grand stands, from which another civilization
may view the contests of speed. These banks are todav covered with gigantic hardwood
trees, manv of them black walnut.
A striking form of the sacred enclosure is th.at known as the "Animal Mound."
These are particularly numerous in Wisconsin. The outlines of these works show the
bas-reliefs of sacred animals: probably the totem of the different tribes, as the
turtle, lizard, serpent, alligator, eagle, night-hawk and buff'alo. The one
representing the turtle has a body fifty-six feet long, with a tail two hundred
and fifty feet long, and with the general height of the body about six feet. The
Gireat Serpent" in Adams county Ohio, is 700 feet in length, and the "Alligator'*
in Licking county, of the same state, is 250 feet in length. In Dane county
HISTORY OF WEBSTER COUNTY
Wisconsin, there is a mound showing the figure of a man driving his dog team hitched
to a sleigh. The fortified enclosures extend in a line from western New York to
the Ohio river.
The mounds proper are most numerous in Ohio and extend southward into Kentucky and
westward to the Des Moines valley in Iowa. In the latter state they are most numerous
in the counties of Jackson, Louisa, Qayton, Scott, Boone and Webster. This class
of mounds may be subdivided, according to the pur- pose for which they were used,
into altar or sacrificial, temple, sepulchral and observation. The altar or sacrificial
mounds occur only near the sacred enclosure. They are stratified in structure and
contain symmetrical altars or hearts of burned clay or stone, on which were deposited
various remains, which in all cases have been subjected to the action of fire. They
contain charred bones, charcoal, carved pipes and small trinkets, indicating that
they were used for cremating dead bodies and it may be for human sacrifice. Temple
mounds are chiefly in the form of truncated pyramids, with graded avenues to their
top, which are always level. In Kentucky there is one fifty feet in height. The
Teocallis struc- tures in Alexico and Central America were faced with flights of
steps and sur- mounted by temples of stone. The sepulchral mounds are the most numerous.
They contain the remains of one or more bodies, together with trinkets, cups, and
vases. The vessels were probably filled with food for the use of the dead upon their
long journey. In general this class of mounds are not large. Where they are of any
considerable size they are the burial place of a chief. One near Wheeling is seventy
feet in height and nine hundred feet in circumference. There were found in this
three bodies and over 3.000 shell beads. Sometimes urns are found containing charred
human remains suggesting a possible cremation. The observation mounds are so called
because of the belief that they were used for signal towers. Their site, however,
may have been chosen simply because of the beauty of the spot for sacrificial or
sepulchral purposes. They are found on points of land overlooking the river valleys
and commanding an extensive view. Here a smoke by day and a fire by night could
carry its message of war or peace.
The Mound Builders must have been a very populous and comparatively civilized agricultural
people or they could not have created the vast structures which they did. It is
estimated that in the state of Ohio alone there are 10,000 of these mounds. They
were a people with settled habitations, dwellers, and not wandering nomads. They
had a government, so far centralized as to have an executive head, with power sufficient
to maintain order and discipline, and direct intelligently the building of such
large public works. An examination of the crania show them to have been a homogeneous
people, but differing from the Indian. Their cranial development was of low order.
They were of a mild disposition, inofifensive and unwarlike in their habits, and
content to toil like Egyptian serfs in the vast and profitless labors of mound building.
If unmolested, they would have in time developed a partial civilization of an agricultural
type, in the favorable environment of the Mississippi and Ohio valleys. Their disposition
however made them an easy prey to warlike tribes, even if of an inferior civilization.
Dr. Foster, in his book on the "Prehistoric Races of America," considers that these
earliest inhabitants were in their cranial conformation and civilization closely
linked to the people of Mexico, Central
HISTORY OF WEBSTER COUNTY
America and Peru. Their long occupancy of the Mississippi valley developed a domestic
economy and civil relationship, that widely distinguished them from the Indian races.
They were probably sun or fire worshipers, and may have even sometimes offered human
sacrifice. The gigantic structures, which they built, could only have been erected
by a people among whom food was cheap. That food was undoubtedly maize, the most
prolific cereal in the world.
The remains found in the mounds show an advanced knowledge of both art and manufacturing.
There are arrow heads, stone axes, fleashers and scrapers for stripping hide from
slaughtered animals and cleaning it, pestles and mortars for grinding corn, and
pipes. ]^Iany of these pipes are elaborately carved and fashioned in the shape of
animals and the human form. The best examples of these, thus far found, have been
in Scott county, Iowa. They were made in the image of elephants and other animals
now unknown to Iowa, thus indicating that these people may have lived in Iowa at
the time when the mastadon existed. In some of the mounds have been found discs
of hard quartz, the circumferences of which are perfect circles. These were probably
used in games of chance.. There have also been found implements used in the spinning
of thread and manufacture of cloth. The cloth found in the mounds is closely woven.
A specimen, now in the museum of the Davenport Academy of Science, shows great advance
in textile art. The warp is composed of four cords, that is, of two double and twisted
cords, while the woof is composed of one such double and twisted cord, which passes
between the two parts of the warp, the latter being twisted at each change, allowing
the cords 'to be. brought close together, so as to cover the woof almost entirely.
The pottery ware exhibits graceful forms and elegant ornamentation, besides displaying
much skill-in its, manufacture. On some the human face and form have been delineated
w^ith much fidelity and grace. The features, as pictured upon this ware, differ
greatly from that of the Indian. The native Indian seldom made pottery. At Saline
Springs, Illinois, there is found evidence of the manufacture of salt by evaporation.
These people were also skilled basket makers.
The most important domestic industry of the Mound Builders was the making of copper
implements, such as knives, chisels, axes, awls, spears, arrow- heads and copper
bracelets. The softness of the metal made it impossible to use in cutting stone,
and consequently they did not erect structures of stone like the peoples of the
south in IVIexico and Central America. They had no tin to use as an alloy in making
bronze. However, they had some knowledge of the art of reducing metals.
The copper mines of the Mound Builders were in the Lake Superior region, where they
mined the native copper. At Ontanagon and Kewanee Point on the south shore of the
lake, and at Isle Royal on the north shore, are found the remains of their mining
operations. Here w^as found a mass of native copper lying upon oaken sleepers and
raised over five feet above its matrix. This mass of copper weighed six tons. Strewn
about the place were the tools of the miners, their stone mauls and hammers, props,
levers and ladders. These were not used by the present race of Indians, for when
the Jesuits first visited them they had no knowledge or use of copper except occasional
fragments. On the rubbish of one mine refuse heap early investigators found growing
a hemlock tree, which showed 395 annular rings.
HISTORY OF WEBSTER COUNTY
The commerce of the Mound Builders was extensive and in some degree well organized.
In their mounds are found copper from Lake Superior, mica from North Carolina, iron
from Missouri, obsidian from Mexico, and ornamental shells from the Gulf Coast.
Their commerce and exchange must have covered a large portion of the LTiited States
and Mexico. The same mica quarries, in North Carolina, which supplied these earlier
races, is today the chief source of supply for the United States.
After the Mound Builders had been in possession of the countr\- for some time, savage
races from the east and west came down upon them. The Algon- quins, pushing westward
by way of the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes, met in the Mississippi valley the
Sioux or Dakotahs, who had come down the Missouri from the Rocky Mountains. The
Sioux were even more warlike than the Algon- quins. Between the two the Mound Builders
were crushed. In vain they opposed. Their resistance may have been slight, or they
may have fought long and valiantly, and behind their mounds made many a brave defense.
Iowa was tl:e battle ground, but the records are lost. The mounds alone bear mute
testimony to the deeds of the races that were. It is possible that the IVIound Builders
may have fled to the southwest and there became the Cliff Dwellers of Arizona and
The mounds of Webster county consist of the two classes, observation and burial
mounds. They are found on both sides of the Des Moines river and along the banks
of the Lizard creek. They are especially numerous in the neighbor- hood of Lehigh
and McGuire's Bend. Mrs. George Marsh and a number of others living in that vicinity
have fine collections gathered from these mounds and about them. Numerous skeletons
have also been found in the Webster county mounds, and one recently opened in Boone
county, a few miles north of Boone, contained many fine specimens. In 1876 an exceptional
find was made on the Marshall farm near the southern boundary of Humboldt county.
A nvmiber of people had gathered here to celebrate the Fourth of July and as part
of the ceremony decided to erect a flag pole upon a large mound near the house.
In excavating for the pole they unsuspectingly opened a burial place of the ancient
Mound Builders. In it they found the skeletons of thirteen people. The bodies had
been buried in a sitting posture, and were arranged in a circle facing outward.
Major Williams, writing to the 'Iowa Northwest' in 1866. says: "We found many remains
of ancient fortifications and mounds, which had evidently, from their location and
construction, been at some remote period raised for defense, and positions of observation,
giving evidence that this northern country was inhabited by a race of people living
before the present race of Indians inhabited it. On viewing the location and tracing
the lines, we found them arranged with some judgment. Others evidently were burial
places. On directing the attention of the Indians to them, we were unable to find
any, even among the oldest Sioux, who had any knowledge of them, either by traditions
or otherwise. They all asserted that they were here when their people first came
into the country. The most distinct of these ancient works will be found in the
forks of the Boone, on and in the neighborhood of L. Mericle's place, on the west
side of the Des Moines near where Mr. Beam lives, also on Indian creek about twelve
miles north of Fort Dodge, on Lizard river and at Fort Dodge. Some of the mounds
HISTORY OF WEBSTER COUNTY
at Fort Dodge have been removed, and in digging into them they were found to contain
the remains of human beings ; such as parts of skulls, teeth, thigh-bones, etc.,
and along with them pieces of burnt or charred wood and coals. From their location
on high and dry ground, covered with sand and gravel, together with the appearance
of the bones, their color, etc., physicians and all who examined them were of the
opinion that a great length of time had elapsed since they had been deposited there,
perhaps two hundred years or more. The ancient mound builders were in the habit
of burning their dead, which is not the custom of any of the Indians of whom we
Some three or four miles north of the town of Lehigh is what is known as ''Boneyard
Hollow." There a little wet weather stream enters the Des Moines river from the
adjacent bluff, making a terrace. This terrace is flat-topped, eight or ten rods
wide and five to ten feet above the normal stage of water in the river. The river
is here bounded by bluffs fifteen to thirty feet in height, and extending some distance
back from the river. It is a picturesque gorge cut in the carbon- iferous sandstone.
The age of the terrace is probably that of the Wisconsin glaciers. Whether or not
the terrace is later than the deposit of bones, which have been found in connection
with it, is difficult to tell. Intermingled with the bones are found arrow points.
This would indicate that man and the animals were contemporaneous. It looks as if
there had been no disturbance of the ter- race or addition to its materials since
they were first deposited there. Forest trees have grown to maturity upon the earth
covering the bones. The bone deposits occur upon both sides of the stream, which
has evidently cut its way through the deposit. The bones that have been discovered
resemble those of the deer, elk and buffalo. Upon exposure to the air they immediately
crumble. The teeth, Ijeing of a harder substance, are still fairly well preserved,
and have been gathered by various collectors. Scattered among the bones there have
been found, besides the arrow heads, numerous flint and stone implements. Some of
the imple- ments were made of native copper, which must have been brought from some
distance. It is the opinion of some people, who have visited the "Hollow," that
this deposit was the kitchen refuse from a settlement of Mound Builders, and that
afterwards they were covered with silt from the Wisconsin drift. Professor Samuel
Calvin visited this locality a number of years ago, but was unwilling to give an
opinion as to the origin of the deposit, except that it was old as compared with
the historic period of Iowa. He however thought it was highly improbable that the
deposit was either preglacial or interglacial.
Another interesting find, which, however, is not connected with the Mound Builders,
was a deposit of bones found by Mr. Henry Engholm upon his farm in Deer Creek township.
These bones were the skeletons of the American bison. They were found in a slough
where they had evidently mired down while in search of water, or where they were
driven to escape from some pursuing enemy. Mrs. C. B. Hepler has a very fine specimen
of a skull of one of these bisons.