Mound Varieties at Takawgamis

What are the mound varieties at Takawgamis? The thirty or forty mounds discovered up to this time in this region of the Takawgamis have, so far as examined, a uniform structure. Where stone could be obtained there is found below the surface of the ground a triple layer of flat limestone blocks, placed in an imbricated manner over the remains interred. In one mound, at the point where the Rainy Lake enters the Rainy River, there is a mound situated on the property of Mr. Pither, Indian agent, in which there was found on excavation, a structure of logs some 10 feet square, and from six to eight feet high. In all the others yet opened the structure has been simply of earth of various kinds heaped together. It is possible that the mound containing the log erection may have been for sacrifice, for the logs are found to have been charred. One purpose of all the mounds of the Takawgamis was evidently sepulture; and in them all, charcoal lumps, calcined bones and other evidences of fire are found. It would seem from their position that all the mounds of this region were for the purpose of observation as well as sepulture. The two purposes in no way antagonize. For the better understanding of the whole I have selected the largest mound of the Takawgamis yet discovered, and will describe it more minutely.

The Grand Mound

It is situated on the Rainy River, about 20 miles from the head of Rainy River. It stands on a point of land where the Missachappa or Bowstring River and the Rainy River join. There is a dense forest covering the river bank where the mound is found. The owner of the land has made a small clearing, which now shows the mound to some extent to one standing on the deck of a steamer passing on the river. The distance back from the water’s edge is about 50 yards. The mound strikes you with great surprise as your eye first catches it. Its crest is covered with lofty trees, which overtop the surrounding forest. These thriving trees, elm, soft maple, basswood and poplar, 60 or 70 feet high now thrust their root tendrils deep into the aforetime softened mould. A foot or more of a mass of decayed leaves and other vegetable matter encases the mound. The brushy surface of the mound has been cleared by the owner, and the thicket formerly upon it removed. The circumference of one fine poplar was found to be 4 feet 10 inches; of another tree, 5 feet 6 inches, but the largest had lately fallen. Around the stump the last measured seven feet. The mound is eliptical at the base. The longest diameter, that is from east to west, the same direction as the course of the river, is 117 feet. The corresponding shorter diameter from north to south is 90 feet. The circumference of the mound is consequently 325 feet. The highest point of the mound is 45 feet above the surrounding level of the earth. As to height the mound does not compare unfavorably with the celebrated mound at Miamisburg, Ohio, known as one of the class of “observation mounds,” which is 68 feet high and 852 feet around the base. In addition to its purpose of sepulture, everything goes to show that the “Grand Mound” of Rainy River was for observation as well.

The Excavation

Two former attempts had been made to open this mound. One of these had been made in the top, and the large skull before you was then obtained. A more extensive effort was that made in 1883, by Mr. E. McColl, Indian agent, Mr. Crowe, H. B. Co. officer of Fort Frances, and a party of men. Their plan was to run a tunnel from north to south through the base of the mound. They had penetrated some ten or fifteen feet, found some articles of interest, and had then given up the undertaking. Having employed a number of men, settlers in the neighborhood, I determined to continue the tunnel for a certain distance through the mound, all the way if indications were favorable, and then to pierce the mound from the top. The men in two parties went industriously to work on the opposite sides, working toward each other, making a tunnel about eight feet in diameter. The earth though originally soft soil had become so hard that it was necessary to use a pick axe to loosen it for the spade. A number of skeletons were found on the south side, but all I should say within ten feet from the original surface of the mound. As we penetrated the interior fewer remains were continually found. The earth gave many indications of having been burnt. At one point the pick-axe sank ten inches into the hard wall. This was about fifteen feet from the outside. The excavator then dug out with his hand from a horizontal pocket in the earth eight or ten inches wide and eighteen or twenty inches deep, a quantity of soft brown dust, and a piece of bone some four inches long, a part of a human forearm bone. This pocket was plainly the original resting place of a skeleton, probably in a sitting posture. As deeper penetration was made brown earthy spots without a trace of bone remaining were come upon. The excavation on the south side was continued for thirty feet into the mound, but at this stage it was evident that bones, pottery, etc., had been so long interred that they were reduced to dust. No hope seemed to remain now of finding objects of interest in this direction, and so with about forty feet yet wanting to complete, the tunnel, the search was transferred to the top of the mound.

The Upper Cut

Beginning on the crest of the mound, the mould was removed over a considerable space, and though some trouble was found from the presence of the roots of the growing trees, yet three or four feet from the surface human bones and skeletons began to occur. In some cases a complete skeleton was found, in other cases what seemed to be a circle of skulls, buried alongside charred bones, fragments of pottery and other articles. Several different excavations were made on the mound surface, and it was found that every part from the base to the crest contained bones and skeletons, to the depth of from six to ten feet as already said; bones and articles of interest were found thus far; deeper than this nothing. I shall now describe the articles found in this mound, and refer in some cases to what has been found in the other mounds of the Takawgamis.


A Lost Race Described by Dr. Bryce, President of the Historical Society of Manitoba, Season 1884-85

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