The Indians do not claim the mounds as depositories for their dead, but are well aware of their containing human bones. They frequently encamp near them, and visit them on their journeys, but more as land marks than on any other account. They approach them with reverence, as they do all burial places, no matter of what people or nation. The Quapaws have a tradition, that they were raised “many hundred snows” ago, by a people that no longer exists; they say, that in those days game was so plenty that very little exertion was necessary to procure a subsistence, and there were then no wars—these happy people having then no employment, collected, merely for sport, these heaps of earth, which have ever since remained, and have subsequently been used by another people, who succeeded them, as depositories of their dead. Another tradition is, that they were erected by the Indians to protect them from the mammoths, until the Great Spirit took pity on his red children, and annihilated these enormous elephants. Most of the Indian nations concur in their having been the work of a people which had ceased to exist before the red men possessed those hunting grounds.
The numerous mounds, fortifications, and burial caverns, and the skeletons and mummies, that have been discovered in these catacombs, sufficiently establish the fact, that a people altogether different from the present aborigines once inhabited these regions. At what period this by-gone people flourished still remains a matter of mere conjecture, for to the present time no discovery has been made that could lead to any plausible supposition.
De Witt Clinton having paid more attention to the antiquities of America than any other person of whom I am aware, I shall here insert his description of the forts. He says, “These forts were, generally speaking, erected on the most commanding ground. The walls, or breastworks, were earthen. The ditches were on the exterior of the works. On some of the parapets, oak trees were to be seen, which, from the number of concentric circles, must have been standing one hundred and fifty, two hundred and sixty, and three hundred years; and there were evident indications, not only that they had sprung up since the erection of these works, but that they were at least a second growth. The trenches were in some cases deep and wide, and in others shallow and narrow; and the breastworks varied in altitude from three to eight feet. They sometimes had one, and sometimes two entrances, as was to be inferred from there being no ditches at those places. When the works were protected by a deep ravine, or large stream of water, no ditch was to be seen. The areas of these forts varied from two to six acres; and the form was in general an irregular ellipsis; in some of them, fragments of earthenware and pulverized substances, supposed to have been originally human bones, were to be found.”
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