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Mound-Builders of the Saginaw Valley
  • Ancient people that preceded native Indian population.
  • 1881: Mound-Builders by W.C. McCormick. (Added Oct., 2008)

    History of Saginaw County, Michigan
    by Michael A. Leeson, Damon Clarke - 1881

    ARCHAELOGY: Mound-Builders

    In the wandering of the Mound-Builders the Peninsula was not overlooked. Here are many evidences of their coming and their stay. In dealing with their occupation of Saginaw Valley it will be necessary to extract the following from a lengthy paper, prepared on the subject, by W. R. McCormick:

    “My father emigrated with me to the Saginaw Valley in 1832. My associations were mostly with the Indians, whose language I became very familiar with. For several years I was engaged in the fur trade, during which time my business was to go up the several tributaries of the Saginaw to buy furs of the Indians, and on nearly all such occasions I found indications that the Saginaw and its tributaries had been densely populated at some remote period by another race of people prior to the Indians.

    “On the bluff just below the city of Flint there were, 48 years ago, when I first saw them, eight large mounds, which I saw opened. They were from 20 to 40 feet in diameter and about five feet high. When opened they were full of human bones, all of which were in a better state of preservation then in any mounds I have examined. We found one shin-bone with a flint arrow embedded in it and broken off, showing that it was part of the leg of an Indian killed in battle. We found no implements but pieces of flint. The bones indicated a large race of people than the present Indians.

    “We now proceed down the Flint river until we come to the high bluff one mile above the village of Flushing, on the Bailey farm, and examine the mounds at that point which I shall designate as the Bailey mounds. I first saw these mounds opened in 1833 or 1834. At that time this farm was one dense forest. I think there were about 20 mounds, great and small, some 40 feet or more in diameter and six feet high, with pine trees growing on the top of them as large as those in any part of the forest. We found upon opening the largest one that it was of human bones. The skeleton did not appear to be arranged in any order, but had been thrown promiscuously together before they were covered, leaving hardly a doubt but they had been slain in some battle. The bones were too much decomposed to find any marks of violence upon them. Subsequent events in after years have confirmed my belief that this once populous race of the Saginaw Valley had been exterminated by another race of people.

    “From the Bailey mounds we will resume our explorations down the river. At several points, always in the elbow of the river, and also always on the bluff where you could get a view up and down the river, there would be two or three mounds, but of not so large dimensions as those above until you reach a point about 12 miles below. There, contrary to the custom of the Mound-Builders, you find on the east side of the river and on the flat nearly 100 graves, which tradition say are those of Indians, all of whom died in one day and night with some sickness which the Great Spirit in his anger had sent amongst them. This must have been some epidemic, for we know that when the Indians have had the small pox or any other contagious diseases amongst them they have all flocked together. In their tradition of this incident they say it was their own nation, over 100 years before that time, which was then in 1835, and not the Mound-Builders.

    “Some 10 miles father down the river, having seen only a few small mounds, we come to the old Indian fields – now the Ross farm, but formerly the residence in an early day, of the old pioneer, . This land was given to him by the Indians – their white brother, as they used to call him – and was on the Indian reservation. Here there were four large mounds together in the elbow of the river on the bluff, like the Flint and Bailey mounds heretofore described, and several more on the flat below. The bones of these mounds were very much decomposed, especially those on the flat which I helped to plow down myself; so that when they were exposed they crumbled to pieces. This was no doubt owing to the difference of soil, the ground being much lower and subject every spring to overflow of the river. But I have no doubt all the mounds a great variety of stone implements, which were carried off by curiosity seekers.

    “Proceeding down the river to the mouth of the Tittabawassee, at a place formerly called Green Point, a favorite camping grounds of the Indians in olden time and where they had their own corn fields, quite a distance back from the river on the prairie, contrary to all previous experience, we discovered two very large mounds. I think when I first saw them in 1836 they were 60 feet long and 30 wide by four or five feet high. They are on very low ground and subject every spring to be inundated by the river, and for convenience I shall call them the Green Point mounds. I also saw after it had been opened, and the whole interior appeared to be of a whitish substance, evidently of decompose Indian bones, the decomposition being more rapid than for the same length of time elsewhere, owing to the lowness of the land and the overflow of the river. What the relic hunters found in these mounds I never ascertained.

    “We now proceed up the Tittabawassee river some four miles, to the farm on which the late James Fraser first settled when he came to the Saginaw Valley, where there is one very large mound, which I shall call Fraser's mound. This is also situated on the bluff in the elbow of the river. This mound comprises nearly half an acre of ground. No one ever imagined this to be a mound until some years since, when the river had worn away the bank and the ice in the spring had torn away the side so that the bones fell into the river.

    “From this point we shall proceed up the Cass river to the farm of A. Lull, now the village of Bridgeport, which is about six miles from East Saginaw. Mr. Lull informs me that there were several mounds there. And I have been informed by the old Indian traders that when they first came to the Saginaw Valley, at the bend of the Cass where the village of Bridgeport now stands, there was also a regular earth-work fortification, comprising several acres. I have never examined these mounds, but have got my information from M. A. Lull, who is an old pioneer, a member of this society, and from other old settlers. The present Indians say this fortification was built by another race of people before the Indians came here, and they were more like white people, as they made kettles and other dishes of clay. I have in my possession several specimens of pottery, which I have taken out of mounds.

    “On the Saginaw river, toward its mouth, when we come to what is now the corner of Twenty-fourth and Water streets in Bay City, where the Center House now stands, we find the old McCormick homestead. Here were two large mounds in the garden, which my father plowed and scraped down. They contained a number of skeletons, stone axes, knives, and quite an amount of broken pottery. Some thirty rods below, on Water street, between Twenty-second and Twenty-third streets, is an elevation, the highest on the river, on which is located the Bay City brewery, Barney hotel, the residence of W. R. McCormick and other residences, comprising nearly two acres. I wish to describe this elevation as I saw it, in a state of nature, over forty-five years ago. For many years it was considered to be a natural elevation of the land, but subsequent excavations have proved it to have been constructed by some remote race of people.

    “When I first became acquainted with the location it was covered by a dense growth of time, with the exception of the mound and about an acre and a half in the rear of it, where the earth was taken from to build the mound. It was then a duck pond, with water three feet deep, ground up with alder bushes. In grading Twenty-second street through the north end of the mound, some years since, we found at depths of 11 feet three skeletons of very large stature with large earthen pots at the head of each. In excavating for the cellar of the Bay City brewery, we found at the dept of four feet the remains of Indians in a good state of preservation, with high cheek bones and receding forehead, while, below these again, at the depth of four or five feet, the remains of a more ancient race, of an entirely different formation of skull, and with those burned stone implements and pottery were found. I have been unable to preserve any of these skulls, as they crumbled to dust when exposed to air. I found one skeleton in a sitting position, facing west, with a very narrow head, and long, as if it had been compressed. I laid it aside in hopes to preserve it, but in a few hours it had crumbled to pieces. This mound is full of the remains of ancient pottery and small stones that have been through action of fire. A friend of mine found an awl made of copper which was quite soft with the exception of about an inch from the point which was so hard that a file would scarcely make an impression on it. This seems to me to show that the Mounds-Builders had the art of hardening copper. We also find that they had the art of working in metals, as we will show. This comprises the mounds on the east side of the Saginaw River.

    “We will now pass over to the west side near the mill of More, Smith and Co. There was here, 45 years ago, a mound just above the mill about 100 feet across in a circular form and about three feet high. Originally it must have been much higher. I have never examined this mound, but have understood from old settlers that there was a great many stone implements found in it. The plow has nearly leveled it, so that is is scarcely noticed any more.

    “The mound which was located near the west end of the Detroit & Bay City railroad bridge, for reference I will call the Birney mound, as it is located on the land of that great philanthropist, the late Hon. James G. Birney. This mound was no so large in circumference, but much higher than the one just noticed. In this were also found human bones, in a much better state of preservation than any of the rest. I procured from this mound a skull with a hole in it just above the temple bone, produced by a sharp instrument, which undoubtedly caused death. This skull I presented to J. Morgan Jennison, of Philadelphia. It was of an entirely different formation from the Indian skull of the present day, as it did not have their high cheek bones nor their receding forehead, but a very intellectually developed head, showing that it was of a different race of people> from the Indian. Some years since some boys were digging in the side of the mound, as they had often done before, to get angle-worms for fishing, when they came across a small silver canoe, about five inches long. A gentleman who was fishing with them, offered them 50 cents for it, which they accepted. After cleaning it up, he found it to be of exquisite workmanship, with the projecting end tipped with gold. A rough copper kettle of peculiar shape and make, having been wrought into shape by hammering, without any seam, was also, taken from one of these mounds, and is now in the State capitol amongst Mr. Jennison's collections of antiquities.

    “The next mound was about half a mile up the river, and formerly stood in the center of Linn street, West Bay City, but has been graded down many years since. I was not there at the time, but was informed by others that it contained human bones and stone implements. Charles E. Jennison, a pioneer of Bay City, informs me that he dug up two skeletons many years ago, in the side of this mound. He found with the skeletons two copper kettles, which he has still in his possession. I am inclined to think these were not the remains of the original Mound-Builders, but a race of a subsequent period.

    “We now proceed a half-mile or more up the river, to the rise of ground in the rear of Frank Fitzhugh's grist-mill. This elevation, 45 years ago, when I first saw it, was the most picturesque spot on the Saginaw river. Here was also a beautiful spring of cold water, and was a favorite camping ground of the Indians. It was also, according to the Indian tradition, the original site of the Sauk village, and where the great battle was fought when the Chippewas exterminated that nation. This I will call the Fitzhugh mound, as it is on the lands of Frank Fitzhugh. This elevation, comprising two or three acres, was always thought to be natural; but I am satisfied from recent excavations, and a low place to the southwest, that the earth has been taken from this point to raise the mound higher than the surrounding land, and that it is, therefore, mostly artificial. Then again, the land adjoining on the north is a yellow sand, while on the south the land fell off abruptly, and is composed of the same kind of soil as the mound, black sand and loam, from where the earth was taken. I am now speaking of this mound as it appeared 45 years ago. Since then the railroad company have excavated a part of it for ballasting up their road, and many other excavations and alterations have taken place, so that it has not the same appearance it had when I first saw it. Some years since Mr. Fitzhugh, or the village authorities of Wenona, now West Bay City, excavated a street through this mound, which brought to light many relics and proved beyond a doubt that this eminence was a mound built in remote ages. A great many skeletons were exhumed, together with a great many ornaments of silver, broken pottery, stone implements, etc., and, like the McCormick mound on the opposite side of the river, was full of broken stone which had been through the action of fire.

    “There are also four fortifications on the Rifle river, in township 22 north. They contain from three to six acres each, containing several mounds of large size. They are also situated on the bluffs. The walls can yet be traced, and are from 3 to 4 feet high and from 8 to 10 feet wide, with large trees growing upon them. A friend of mine opened one of these mounds and took from it a skeleton of large size than an ordinary person. He says he also saw several large mounds on the Au Sable river.

    “I have thus give the society an idea of how these mounds appeared before the hand of man had destroyed and leveled them down. Many of them can yet be seen, but the plow has helped to level many of them, with the exception of the Fraser, Fitzhugh and McCormick mounds. And to prove that the last three are artificial and not natural is the fact that in the rear of all these are low places, showing where the earth had been taken and finally, the most convincing proof of all is that you can dig down until you come to the original surface and will find various kind of stone implements, broken pottery and great quantities of stone broken by the action of fire. And in no part of the valley will you find those relics except in those mounds. The main objection to my theory is, How could so large an elevation and of such extend be built by so primitive a people as the Fitzhugh, Fraser and McCormick mounds? But more extensive works have been found in Butler county, Ohio. I account for so much small broken stone being in these mounds by the manner in which they cooked their food. As their pottery was not made to stand fire, the stones were heated and then put into vessels to cook their food, which occasioned their breaking to pieces when they came in contact with the water.”

    That the valley of the Saginaw was inhabited at the time when Egypt, the East Indies and the Chinese Empire wallowed in luxury cannot be questioned. That it was settled when the Delaware filled its valley to overflowing; while yet the lands south of it were covered with the waters of a great lake, may be taken for granted. Its settlement my have occurred prior to the age of the Neanderthal man; but that is was accomplished in later days by the Mound-Builders, or their kinsmen, the Cave-Dwellers, must be conceded. The deposits, the depth at which relics have been found, the repetition of soils, impressions in rocks and location of boulders and fire-stones – all indicate its occupation by that race of beings which has left only mute memorials of their stay to guide inquiry.

    1881: Mound-Builders around the world. (Added Oct., 2008)

    The Popular Science Monthly, Vol. XIX, by E. L. and W. J. Youmans - 1881

    Page 614.

    The term mound-builder is distinctively applied to the race that constructed the remarkable earthworks of the valley of the Ohio, and of the interior of the United States in general, but it is true that in nearly all parts of the world the practice of mound-building has prevailed, sometimes among nations that come within historical epochs. Mounds are found among the Celts and the Scythians, in the Sandwich Islands and in New Zealand, in Japan and India, and throughout the central parts of the Eastern Continent, as well as in both Americas, from the country of the Esquimaux to Chili and Fuegia. The earliest of human records refer distinctly to this method of honoring the dead. The heroic age of Greece, as sung by Homer, abounded with ceremonies and curious details relating to the tumulus erected over the bones of the slain hero. The burial of Patroclus, as related in the twenty-third book of the “Iliad,” is an illustration of the practice of mound-building by the ancient Greeks:

    “The sacred relics to the tent they bore,
    The urn a veil of line covered o'er.
    That done they bid the sepulchre aspire,
    And cast the deep foundations round the pyre;
    High in the midst they heap the selling bed
    Of rising earth, memorial of the dead.”

    1885: Mound-Builders across U.S. (Added Oct. 2008)

    Pre-historic America
    Jean-Francois-Albert du Pouget Nadaillac,
    William Healey Dall,
    Nancy R. E. Meugens Bell

    Page 109-112.

    The most numerous mounds are those which rise from grave; at all ages and places man shows respect to the mortal remains of him who was a man like himself. Affection for parents or friends, the universal notion of a future life, vague and materialistic though it evidently was in that state of culture, perhaps also the desire of propitiating the the dead, or the fear of the vengeance of him whose corpse had been profaned; all these motives combine to produce the respect for the dead which we meet with among most barbarous as well as civilized people.

    Fig. 30. -- Group of sepulchral mounds.

    Sepulchral mounds (fig. 30), everywhere showing many points of resemblance, are met with throughout the United States. Frequent supplementary burials add to the originally great difficulties of studying them. At different epochs they have been used by successive tribes of Indians, and even by the whites, for the burial of their dead. It is, however, often possible to distinguish the intrusive internments, which are near the surface, whilst the bodies placed on a level with the ground certainly belonged to the race of the builders of the mounds. There are few traditions relating to these mounds among the Indians, who generally deny that they were the works of their ancestors, which often may be true, so great are the migrations and changes which have taken place during the last few centuries. Breckenridge, however, in speaking of the excavations of the Big Mound (fig. 31), which a short time since was a prominent object within the city limits of St. Louis, says that the Indians hastened to take from it the bones of one of their chiefs.

    Mounds are connected with very different rites, and among them we meet with every form of burial in use in Europe; the bodies were sometimes extended horizontally, sometimes doubled up. We noted at Sandy Woods settlement the different positions of the bodies; in Union county,

    Fig. 31. -- Big Mound at St. Louis (Missouri).

    Kentucky, the bodies were placed one upon another without apparent method. Cremation, too, was practised. In Missouri the body was sometimes covered over with a layer of clay, after which a huge funeral pile was lighted. Mention has also been made of remains found in Ohio, covered with a layer of clay made so hard by baking that it was only with the greatest trouble that it could be cut into. Gillman tells of have found in Florida the ashes of the dead preserved with pious care in human skulls. In Kansas stone were heaped over the body, forming a cairn. In other places skeletons have been found wrapped up in a few fragments of coarse tissue, or in bandages of bark. Squier describes a sepulchre excavated under his direction in which the earth had been levelled and a layer of bark placed beneath the corpse. Round about lay some implements and a few ornaments, including two bear's teeth which were pierce; above the skeleton was a second layer of bark, carefully arranged, and, piled upon these, earth, forming a mound.

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    1907: Prehistoric Bones (Added Oct., 2008)

    Historical Collections, by Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society – 1907 (Page 703)

    Prehistoric Bones Here.

    Pentwater is at last to become famous as the repository ground of prehistoric remains.

    While roaming over the hills immediately north of Pentwater village a gentleman who arrived from Chicago on the Frontenac excursion Saturday discovered what is suppose to be an Indian mound containing many bones of prehistoric animals. The find was made on Monday shortly before the Frontenac left for Chicago, and owing to the limited time only a few specimens were gathered. He however secured the bones of a head, in good state of preservation, supposed to be that of a Michigan buffalo, also some leg bones of much large animals which he took to Chicago with him.

    Geologists know that Michigan was the home of the buffalo, and the mastodon is supposed to have roamed over this region. Specimens are exceedingly rare, however, and these bones will probably prove a valuable contribution to science.

    It is most singular that no local person has ever discovered these remains. It has remained for a Chicago man to reveal the remarkable antiquities buried in our soil.

    The discoverer is high enthusiastic over the matter and will soon return to investigate further.

  • Related Note & Pages

    Bay County Indian Sites
    (Click to enlarge)

    {Native Settlers}
    Seven pages, includes links to internet resources.

    Excavated Indian Relics
    People Referenced
    Birney, James G.
    Fitzhugh, Frank
    Fraser, James
    Jennison, Charles E.
    Jennison, J. Morgan
    Lull, M.A.
    McCormick, James
    McCormick, William R.
    Places Referenced
    Au Sable rifer, MI
    Barney hotel
    Bay City, MI
    Bay City brewery
    Bailey mound
    Big mound
    Birney mounds
    Bridgeport, MI
    Burial mound
    Butler Co., OH
    Cass River, MI
    Cave dwellers
    Center House
    Chicago, IL
    Chinese Empire
    Chippewa Indians
    Detroit & Bay City RR
    East Saginaw, MI
    Fitzhugh grist mill
    Fitzhugh mound
    Flint, MI
    Flint river
    Flushing, MI
    Fraser mound
    Green Point
    Indian reservation
    McCormick mound
    More, Smith & Co. mill
    Neanderthal man
    New Zealand
    Pentwater village, MI
    Rifle river, MI
    Saginaw River, MI
    Saginaw Valley, MI
    Sandwich Islands
    Sandy woods settlement
    Sauk village
    St. Louis, MO
    Titabawassee river
    Union Co., KY
    West Bay City, MI
    Wenona village, MI
    Related Images

    Related Internet Resources
    {View] The Mound-Builders in Michigan, by Henry Gillman of Detroit (Pioneer Society of Michigan - 1881)
    [View] Website: Ancient Mounuments in Arkansas.
    [View] Book: The North Americans of Antiquity, Thier Origin, Migrations and Type of Civilization, by John T. Short (1880)
    [View] Book: The Mound Builders, Archaeology of Butler County, OH, by John Patterson MacLean. (1904)
    WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.