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The Problem of the Ohio Mounds   By: (1825-1910)

Book cover

First Page:

Robert Rowe, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.


By Cyrus Thomas.




Historical evidence


Similarity of the arts and customs of the mound builders to those of Indians


Tribal divisions

Similarity in burial customs

Removal of the flesh before burial

Burial beneath or in dwellings

Burial in a sitting or squatting posture

The use of fire in burial ceremonies

Similarity of the stone implements and ornaments of various tribes

Mound and Indian pottery


Stone graves and what they teach


The Cherokees as mound builders


The Cherokees and the Tallegwi


No other ancient works of the United States have become so widely known or have excited so much interest as those of Ohio. This is due in part to their remarkable character but in a much greater degree to the "Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley," by Messrs. Squier and Davis, in which these monuments are described and figured.

The constantly recurring question, "Who constructed these works?" has brought before the public a number of widely different theories, though the one which has been most generally accepted is that they originated with a people long since extinct or driven from the country, who had attained a culture status much in advance of that reached by the aborigines inhabiting the country at the time of its discovery by Europeans.

The opinion advanced in this paper, in support of which evidence will be presented, is that the ancient works of the State are due to Indians of several different tribes, and that some at least of the typical works, were built by the ancestors of the modern Cherokees. The discussion will be limited chiefly to the latter proposition, as the limits of the paper will not permit a full presentation of all the data which might be brought forward in support of the theory, and the line of argument will be substantially as follows:

FIRST. A brief statement of the reasons for believing that the Indians were the authors of all the ancient monuments of the Mississippi Valley and Gulf States; consequently the Ohio mounds must have been built by Indians.

SECOND. Evidence that the Cherokees were mound builders after reaching their historic seats in East Tennessee and western North Carolina. This and the preceding positions are strengthened by the introduction of evidence showing that the Shawnees were the authors of a certain type of stone graves, and of mounds and other works connected therewith.

THIRD. A tracing of the Cherokees, by the mound testimony and by tradition, back to Ohio.

FOURTH. Reasons for believing that the Cherokees were the Tallegwi of tradition and the authors of some of the typical works of Ohio.



Space will not permit any review here of the various theories in regard to the builders, or of the objections made to the theory that they were Indians, or of the historical evidence adducible in support of this theory. Simple declaration on these points must suffice.

The historical evidence is clear and undisputed that when the region in which the mounds appear was discovered by Europeans it was inhabited by Indians only. Of their previous history nothing is known except what is furnished by vague and uncertain traditions or inferred from the study of their languages and customs. On the other hand there is no historical or other evidence that any other race or people than the Indians ever occupied this region, or any part of it, previous to its discovery by Europeans at the close of the fifteenth century.

We enter the discussion, therefore, with at least a presumption in favor of the conclusion that these works were built by the Indians a presumption which has not received the consideration it deserves; indeed, it is so strong that it can be overcome only by showing that those mounds, or the specimens of art found in them, which were unquestionably the work of the builders, indicate an advancement in skill and knowledge entirely beyond that reached by the Indians previous to contact with Europeans... Continue reading book >>

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