The existence of curious effigy-mounds in the southern counties of Wisconsin was noted by Mr. Lapham in 1836. Subsequently, Mr. Taylor, Professor Locke, and Messrs. Squier and Davis furnished additional information in regard to the distinctive characteristics of these unusual structures. It was reserved, however, for the Smithsonian Institution, in the seventh volume of its “Contributions,” to furnish, from the pen of Mr. Lapham, the most complete account of these interesting remains. They were quite numerous along the great Indian trail or war-path from Lake Michigan, near Milwaukee, to the Mississippi above the Prairie du Chien. Generally representing men, buffaloes, elks, bears, otters, wolves, raccoons, birds, serpents, lizards, turtles, and frogs, in some instances they were supposed to typify inanimate objects, such as bows and arrows, crosses, and tobacco-pipes. While the outlines of not a few had been seriously impaired, others in a spirited and correct manner declared the objects of their imitation. Constructed of earth, they varied in height from 6 inches to 7 feet. In certain localities the animals were delineated not in relief but in intaglio, by excavations and not by elevations.
Two animal mounds have been observed in Ohio. On an elevated spur of land near Granville is an earthwork known in the neighborhood as the Alligator. Its total length is 250 feet. The head and body, four sprawling legs and a curled tail, were all clearly defined. Across the body it was 40 feet broad, and the length of the legs was 36 feet. Four feet, expressed the average height, while at the shoulders the mound attained an elevation of 6 feet. It was manifestly the effort of the primitive workmen to preserve the proportions of the reptile.
Situated on a ridge rising 150 feet above Brush Creek, in Adams County, is a still more remarkable structure, which, from its configuration, has received the appellation of the Great Serpent. “Conforming to the curve of the hill, and occupying its very summit, is the serpent, its head resting near the point and its body winding back for 700 feet in graceful undulations, terminating in a triple coil at the tail.” If extended, its entire length would be not less than 1,000 feet. The embankment is upward of 5 feet high, with a base diameter of 30 feet at the center of the body, whence it diminishes somewhat toward the head and tail. “The neck of the serpent is stretched out and slightly curved, and its mouth is opened wide, as if in the act of swallowing or ejecting an oval figure, which rests partially within the distended jaws.”
When and by whom these remarkable tumuli were built is not known. The object of their construction is equally a matter of conjecture.
It has been supposed that these animal-shaped mounds existed only in Wisconsin and a few other localities in the West. Our recent observations prove, however, that the primitive dwellers in the South have left similar traces of their constructive skill.
Six miles and a half north of Eatonton, in Putnam County, Georgia, on a plantation owned by the heirs of the late Mr. I. H. Scott, may now be seen a bird-shaped mound of definite configuration. Located in the midst of a beautiful wood, and crowning a high ridge near the headwaters of Little Glady Creek, it is composed entirely of bowlers of white quartz rock, gathered from the adjacent territory. Most of these bowlers are of such size that they could have been transported by a single individual. For the removal of others two or three persons would have been requisite. These bowlers were carefully piled one above another, the interstices being filled with smaller fragments of milky quartz. Into the composition of the structure enters neither earth nor clay.
This stone mound represents an eagle lying upon its back, with extended wings. (See Fig. 1.) The head is turned toward the east. In the construction of this tumulus respect was had to the object imitated; the height of the tumulus at the breast of the bird being between 7 and 8 feet, its altitude thence decreasing toward the head and beak, where it is not more than 2½ feet high, and also toward the extremity of the wings and tail, where it has an elevation of scarcely 2 feet The beak is decidedly aquiline, and the tail is indented. Measured from the top of the head to the extremity of the tail this structure is 102 feet long. From tip to tip of the wings, measured across the body, we have a distance of 120 feet. The greatest expanse of tail is 38 feet, the same as the lateral diameter of the body. The proportions of the head, neck, wings, and tail are cleverly preserved. That this tumulus was designed to typify an eagle, we think may be affirmed with some degree of confidence, and that it possesses unusual attractions will not be denied. Surrounded by primitive forest and composed of most durable material, its antiquity is evidently very considerable. If undisturbed, it will preserve its integrity for an indefinite period.
By some curious persons an attempt was made, years ago, to pry into its secrets. A partial opening was affected in the breast, but with what results we could not learn. It excites no surprise that the eagle should have been selected in ancient times as a symbol of all that was swift, powerful, watchful, daring, and noble. Of its feathers was the battle flag of the Creeks made. Their council-lodges were surmounted with carved images or stuffed skins of this regal bird. None among the Cherokees, save approved warriors, were permitted to wear its plumes. To this king of the feathered tribe were religious honors paid by the Natchez, who regarded its feathers not simply as ornaments and trophies, but as marks of dignity and insignia of no common import.
About a mile and a half from Lawrence’s Ferry, on the Oconee River, and situated on a stony ridge near the main road, on the plantation of Mr. Kinchen D. Little, in Putnam County, is another of these bird shaped mounds. Like the former, it is composed wholly of boulders of white quartz rock, collected from, the hill on which it stands. (See Fig. 2.)
Its dimensions do not materially differ from those of the tumulus on the Scott place. The tail, however, is bifurcated. The head of the bird lies to the southeast, and its wings are extended in the direction of northeast and southwest. The entire length of the structure, from the crown of the head to the end of the tail, is 102 feet and 3 inches. For a distance of twelve feet the tail is bifurcated, and just above the point of bifurcation it is 12 feet wide. Across the body, and from tip to tip of the wings, the tape gave us a measurement of 132 feet. The body of this bird, which is evidently lying upon its back, is stouter than that of the eagle, being 76 feet in diameter. Its wings are relatively shorter. The proportions of the head, neck, and tail are tolerably well observed. What particular bird this tumulus is designed to typify, we are at a loss to suggest. The altitude at the breast is about 5 feet, and from that point the structure tapers to the head and tail, which are some two feet high. At the tips of the wings, which are short and curved, the height is not more than a foot and a half. The ridge upon which this mound rests has never been cleared.
Surrounding this bird-shaped tumulus is an enclosure of rocks similar to those of which the mound is built. This stone-circle is symmetrical in outline, and at its nearest approach passes within a few feet of the tips of the wings.
Crowning the elevated ridges by which this county is traversed, are occasional rock-mounds of artificial origin. Usually from 4 to 8 feet high, and with base diameters of from 30 to 40 feet, they are circular in form, and are composed of the fragments of milky quartz so common in the region. Some have been opened, and from them have been taken human bones and relics of various sorts. Manifestly such are grave-mounds, it being easier in the rocky neighborhood to heap such stone piles above than to cover the dead with earth. Of this class of tumuli we instance one on the plantation of Dr. J. T. de Jarnette, 12 miles from Eatonton and about a mile from the Oconee River, and another on the land owned by Capt. A. S. Reid, four miles from Eatonton and near Little River.
It was intimated by some of the early observers that tumuli of this description were not infrequently temporary in their character, and designed as a protection to the dead who perished away from their homes, until such time as they could be conveniently removed and carried back for interment in the established burial-grounds of the tribe or community of which the deceased were members. While it may be true that some, and perhaps many of the smaller rock-piles so frequent in many portions of Cherokee Georgia, may have originated in this way, we are of opinion that the substantial structures to which we have alluded are permanent in their character, and were erected as enduring memorials of the primitive dead of this region. Surely no more lasting monuments could have been devised at that early period.
The existence of two distinctly marked bird-shaped mounds, of firm construction and excellent proportions, within the territory occupied by the Southern tribes, is deeply interesting, and will attract the attention of the student of American archaeology.