Mound Park in Portsmouth, Ohio
The Mound Builders have long been a subject of speculation and imagination. They made so many physical footprints in the American landscape, but with the absence of written records, we know so little about the source, life, and destiny of these ancient people. Ohio was a preferred home to Mound Builders, and their magnificent works survive to this day.
Those who live in Southern Ohio have a direct historical connection to these people of the Woodland period. Historians now believe Ohio, with it fertile land capable of supporting a wide variety of plants and animal species was also home to a significant human population known as “Natural Americans” that survived on these abundant resources – inhabitants of this area thriving here even before the Mound Builders. Very, very little is known about these people.
What happened to the Mound Builders? There's no evidence that they departed or morphed into another group, but that they were here when another group began filtering in from the south. The facts that the Mound Builders had a vibrant, strong culture and a large population are hard to imagine today. Even more difficult to imagine is that as of yet, we don't really don't understand that much about our ancient ancestral Ohioans.
This is a quotation from The Masterpieces of the Ohio Mound Builders by E.O. Randall published in 1908:
“Ohio was a reginon for which the Mound Builders displayed most remarkable partiality. The bands of 'La Belle Riviere,' as the eary French called the majestic Ohio, the Scioto, the Muskingum, and lesser streams were the scenes of his most numerous, most extensive and most 'continuous performances.'
“It has been asserted, without dispute, that the localities in Ohio, which testify to the Mound Builders' presence, outnumber the rest of the country. Ohio was the great 'State' in prehistoric times, for over twelve thousand places in the present state-limits have been found and noted, where the Mound Builder left his testimonial. These enclosures on the hill tops, the plain or river bottoms, walled-in areas, each embracing from one to three hundred acres in space, enclosures presenting a variety in design, size and method of construction, unequaled elsewhere, exceed fifteen hundred in number, while thousands of single mounds of varying circumference and height were scattered over the central and southwestern part of the state.
“One thing is clearly demonstrated by this tremendous 'showing,' viz., that these people either continued in more or less sparse numbers through a long space of time or they prevailed in vast numbers during a more or less brief, contemporaneous period, for it has been estimated that the 'earthly production' of their labor, now standing in Ohio, if placed side by side in a continuous line, would extend over three hundred miles or farther than from Lake Erie to the Ohio and that they contain at least thirty million cubic yards of earth or stone, and that it would require one thousand men, each man working three hundred days in the year and carrying one wagon load of material the required distance, a century to complete these artificial formations; or it would take three hundred thousand men one year to accomplish the same result.
“Supposing the laborers were exclusively men and allowing the conventional average family to each, there would have been a population far exceeding a million people. Whether theses different structures were built synchronously or near the same period, we have no means of knowing. The structures were almost without exception completed before being abandoned; they left no unfinished work, from which it might be inferred that they did not depart prematurely nor in haste.
“Their works after their abandonment were not disturbed, except that the single mounds were occasionally utilized by the Indians for intrusive burials. The conqueror of the Mound Builder, if he had one, had respect for the spoils of conquest and left the victorious monuments inviolate and intact; pity is the same cannot be said for his pale-faced successor.”
The Mound Builders flourished in Ohio as they erected what were to become incredible memorials to their kind. How strange that so little is known about these people although it is evident they dwelt here for countless generations in great numbers (5,000-2,000 years). Even their tribal names are unknown, replaced by the white man's terms like Adena and Hopewell.
Randall stated the Mound Builders eventually joined “the ennumerable caravan that moves to that mysterious realm which is the destiny of races as of men; then came at least one other savage successor, the child of the forest, the Indian; bitter and bloody was the struggle of his stay, but his happy hunting grounds were to be the dwelling place of the pale face.”
After seeing the mound circles and huge walled city of Fort Ancient, Ohio, Osman C. Hooper, professor and newspaper editor, composed this untitled verse about the organized society of Mound Builders who erected the works:
Before Ohio knew a name, a thousand years ago,
A great Cazique (tribal chief) stood on the heights and watched Miami's flow;
Tall, straight, majestic as a god, he looked the valley o'er
And heard the hurrying breeze repeat the water's sullen roar.
About him Nature lay full-garbed in leaf and blade and flower,
While he, the Boss, stood clothed upon with little else but power.
Aloof his people stood and gazed – a trembling lot and meek –
And wondered what was holding fast the thought of the Cazique;
Alert to execute his will, they waited his command
And, eager, pressed about him, at the beck'ning of his hand.
“What wouldst thou, master ?” they inquired. “Our hands and feet are thine,
Command, and thou shalt have it ere the sun again shall shine.”
“What do I want? Look, slaves, and see the beauteous valley there,
The bending sky, the teeming soil and all the hues they wear;
Be hold the stream that leaps and laughs and roars and then is still;
Look on this bit of heaven dropped within this bowl of hill.
Can ye behold nor guess the wish that in my mind has birth?”
He paused, and loud the thousands cried, “Our lord would have the earth.”
“E'en so!” the great Cazique replied. “You boast of what thing you
Can do before the morrow's sun drinks up the morning dew;
But I am lenient, O slaves, and give you just a year
To get the earth and bring it in is wondrous beauty here.”
He ceased to speak and waved his hand to bid his people go;
And straight, ten thousand dusky forms, like arrows from a bow,
Sped to the work, each with a bowl and shell for digging fit,
And scratched the earth and took the soil and all that grew in it.
Then, bowl by bowl, they bore the earth to where the monarch 'stood
And piled it on the height where'er his eye considered good;
They dug and carried, night and day, from brown-leafed fall to fall,
And thus they built upon the height a wondrous earthen wall
Upon their work the monarch looked, then glanced the valley o'er
And marveled that the earth was there much as it was before,
“Alas!” he cried, “they toil but fail; my wish can never be;
But, if I cannot have the earth, then open, Earth, for me!”
And thus he died, this early Boss of all that mighty clan;
His aim was high like every aim of the Ohio man;
He failed, but still did good and so quite justified the birth
Of that desire within his breast to have and own the earth.