Replacing the Romantic American Mythology Surrounding the Mound-Builders and the Romantic American Image of the Amerindians with the Facts

A research paper by James Hutchison


In this book I hope to accomplish two main goals. The first is to correct and clarify the record on ancient Amerindian civilization and replace the romantic image of the Amerindian with an accurate one.

The second goal is to help the reader understand the major role these cultures and the rediscovery of these cultures by Americans played in the shaping of the American pagent.

As American settlers moved west they encountered, in increasing numbers, the mounds of the eastern woodlands and Mississippi Valley. These mounds would become a source of mystery and a heated political issue during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and finally the centerpiece of American Archaeology in the latter half of the 20th century.

The justification, not only for writing this paper, but for a renewed effort on the subject of this paper, is supported by several arguments:

1. Most people of the world and even most contemporary Amerindians have been indoctrinated with a distorted and stylized history of the Amerindian peoples.

2. The history of studies done on the Mound Cultures is, to say the least, an interesting part of America's history. It is a vitally important part of American history as well, because it is not the events themselves that give an understanding of the past, it is the reason for the event's occurrence.

3. True comprehension of the past, lends itself to a better grasp on the present. It helps us understand who we are and how we came to be as a people and a nation.

4. The history of Amerindian Anthropology illuminates an important facet of American idealism that was and remains a main driving force in shaping the country and it's policies.

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Replacing America’s Romanticized Image of the American Indian and the Mound-Builders with the Facts

A research paper by James Hutchison

        Americans perception of the Amerindian is, to say the least, an inaccurate one. People have all sorts of notions from what an Amerindian looks like to the Amerindians innermost understanding of themselves. Many of these notions are so deeply rooted in the American past that the truth is repeatedly ignored in favor of these romantic ideals. As scholars have done before me, notably R. Silverburg ( The Mound Builders. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1986) and Roger G. Kennedy (Hidden Cities: The Discovery and Loss of Ancient North American Civilization. New York: The Free Press, 1994), I have explored the history of this romanticism and found it do have both an extensive root sytem and far-reaching affects. American romanticism and, as Kennedy coind it, amnesia, has left us with a false history and robbed the Amerindian of a rich past that in turn leaves the Amerindian with no true sense of self and belonging. The Amerindian has become a stranger in his or her own lands and is left only with the Western version of history. Therefor, at the risk of redundancy, I have included a cursory survey of romantic history in this paper and relegated a detailed account of Jefferson’s efforts, amoung others, to the appendex to provide the reader with some understanding of how these things came to be in the hopes of generating at least a small amount of skepticism when reading secondary sources on the American Indian.
        I have been dubbed a “heritic historian” by some, meaning I am not a traditional one. I must confess this is the case. I have never accepted “facts” unless they were demonstrated to be so. However, I believe this to be a strength and not a weakness as it has led me to my last point I hope to make in this paper.
        I have found little or no excuse for the fictions passed off as history as there is no small amount of original source material to support a very different and more accurate view. Therefor, the thrust of this paper is to attack, with heavy and indisputable support, some of the more popular ficticious notions Americans have about Amerindians and to demonstrate the value not just of original sources, but of the Amerindian’s own account as a valid historical source. I believe this to be more than just an exercise in academics as the problem is still with us and it’s flames are continually fanned by various publications, textbooks and media. It is time to set the record straight. . . .again.

        During the 19th century, as settlers began to establish farms and towns in the Mississippi Valley areas, they discovered groups of low dome-shaped mounds found to contain burials laden with exotic, marketable artifacts. However, when the geometric earthworks of the Ohio valley were discovered, it was obvious that an advanced civilization had once thrived in the area. Evidently the “New Americans” were unaware or unmindful of the records left by the first European explorers that explained the mysterious mound cultures. What became a “mystery race” to the new Americans had built the mounds and the fortifications then, for unknown reasons to these settlers, had just as mysteriously disappeared, probably (they believed) at the hand of the Amerindian. Farmers plowed the mounds or leveled them with scrapers for their rich soil while others dug into them in search of artifacts. The items they found were of exquisite workmanship, greatly appealing to their aesthetic appetites, and thus of monetary value as an exotic art form. The pieces were recovered with little or no regard to their archaeological importance and sold, along with tales of some long-lost white race, as the remains of some great Atlantian civilization (Thomas 20 - 24). However, this was not the first era of such ideas. The idea of a mystery race in the Americas had began in the 16th century when England cited the Madoc legend of the 12th century in an effort to lay legal claim to the Americas and was only resurfacing. This pattern would repeat itself many times and become known by some scholars as American Amnesia. The material that was and is produced by those that wrote about and studied the mounds would become an important factor in the evolution of the American Saga.
        It is difficult to excuse the blatant disregard of historical records that gave eye-witness accounts of the Mound Cultures such as Garcilaso de la Vega's History de la Florida, to favor romantic ideas and speculation of some mysterious lost race, but it is that very act played an important role not only in the founding of American archaeology, but in proving who had built the mounds.
        There were many people studying Amerindians in the 18th and 19th centuries, but the confines of this paper limit the inclusion of all. Thus, only the more definitive and/or influential scientists and historians of the times will be mentioned. The historical account of American Anthropology should start with the De Soto expedition that landed on May 31, 1538 with some 950 men in what today is Florida. Their purpose was one of conquest and treasure-seeking ( Vega 59 ). The exploits and events of this expedition were compiled and recorded by Garcilaso de la Vega, who collected journals from some of the survivors and an account left by an author who is known to posterity simply as a Knight of Elvas ( Vega xx-xxiii ). These accounts describe in detail the still-thriving communities of Amerindian Mound Cultures as well as their system of government and the extent of their empires. Unfortunately, these records went virtually unnoticed or ignored by the scientific community until Cyrus Thomas cited them in his report to the Bureau of Ethnology in 1894 (Thomas 18, & 603-610 ).
        In 1986 Silverberg published The Mound Builders wherein he gives a brief survey on the history of American archaeology. Roger Kennedy, in 1994, looked again at the history of American archaeology, but in a much more detailed scope than attempted by Silverberg. Kennedy also included new research on Thomas Jefferson, dealt with the madoc legend, Mormanism and many other facets lightly touched on or bypassed all together by Silverberg. He demonstrated and explained a phenomonon that he dubbed American amnesia, where the Mound Builders were concerned, in good detail and explained American romanticism in the context of popular and academic views towards American Indians. I will relegate a brief review of Kennedy’s work to appendex A and endeavor to carry the torch, if only for a little distance, from where Kennedy left it.
        It is important to understand where the romanticized theories and idealism of racial superiority came from to better understand the motives that ultimately launched American anthropology. In today's world Anthropology is simply a science that studies the human race. Unusual finds are not normally placed in suspicion strictly on the basis of racism, although they may suffer such a fate if they stray to far from the accepted norm. This was not the case in the 19th century however. Most Anthropologist's of this period were full of preconceived theories and ideas that had their roots sunk deeply in the American past. To understand the reason for the birth of these theories and ideas, it is necessary to look at the Spanish and English as they vied for a legal claim to the Americas. Where and when this idealism took root is as important to the history of American Archaeology as the actual field work itself.
        From colonial times through most of the 19th century people and scientists thought of the Amerindian as an inferior species of human, if he was considered human at all. Not only was the Amerindian civilization foreign to them, but so was every aspect of their way of living. The Amerindian was not only considered an ignorant savage, but in the Puritan mind, was a godless pagan, or worse yet, a doer of the works of Satan. This last offense, being alleged doers of Satan's work, was in direct conflict with English law, and was punishable by death. The fact that the Amerindians the Plymouth colonists had encountered (probably the Pequots) were responsible for saving their lives more than once seems to have been forgotten by the leaders and clergy in the colony very quickly. Soon after the first colonies were established, they began a campaign to exterminate the Amerindian and claim the land in the name of God but kept it as their own ( Mason ending addition 1-3b).
        This attitude towards the Amerindians was a product of a strong "Old Testament" movement in the early colonies as shown in the writings of John Mason and the accompanying forwards. Popular opinion held that the lost Israelites had been destroyed by invading barbarians from the north. The descendants of whom were considered to be the contemporary Amerindians of the time. They clearly thought of themselves as the acting hand of God and in a similar capacity as that of the Biblical Joshua and his army. This popular opinion was not lost on John Mason and Miles Standish and they used it to their advantage by actively seeking out the fortified towns of the Amerindians in their area specifically to destroy them and rid the land of the "infidels." They often burned entire villages containing their inhabitants, and claiming the land and spoils such as corn, for themselves and the crown of England (Mason ending addition 1-3b). This attitude towards the Amerindian that they were some inferior race was firmly embedded in the minds of Americans, as well as the rest of the world, well into the 20th century.
        This "Old Testament Furor" that resulted in such destruction and atrocities was not new to the lands of the Americas however. It had its roots in the Modoc Legend and was carried to the Americas by Columbus and then the Conquistadors, being applied as common practice during the conquest of Mexico.
        In the 1530's, after the siege of Mexico, many of the Amerindian's art, artifacts, and books were destroyed by order of Fray Juan de Zumarraga, the first Archbishop of Mexico. He actively collected these works and had them destroyed as the works of pagans and Satan. Bernal Diaz had looked over the books as he wandered the halls of Moctezuma and reported their contents as being genealogies, trial records, land records, and an accounting of the kingdom's entire treasure and trading enterprises (Hagen 185).
        At this point the Roman Church was in a bind. If the Biblical account of the Noacian Flood were true, then the Amerindians were only accountable as one of the lost tribes of Israel. Zumarraga was going to make sure that the testaments offered by the Amerindians to the Old and New Testaments of the Bible were no competition to support grounds for their sovereignty. The fires of the Spanish Inquisition were still hot and this fact was not lost on Zumarraga (Williams 32-33).
        Diego Duran, a Dominican friar and probably of Jewish descent, proposed the theory that the Amerindians could only be Jews. He maintained that they had escaped tribulation and found their way to the Americas. This concept was later adopted by Gregorio Garcia, another Dominican Friar who published it as "Origin of the Indians of the New World" but changed the possibilities of the Amerindians origins to have been in Athens, Carthage, Asia, or even Atlantis. This work was published in 1607, the same year as the founding of the Jamestown Colony (Williams 32-33).
        Jews or Gentiles, it made no difference, the Amerindians were a fallen people that had to go. During this "Old Testament" furor, there remained those who believed the Amerindians were being wrongly persecuted. Bartolome' das Casas brought the case to the Harpsburg court, and Anne Hutchison, the Moravians, the Quakers, and Roger Williams were their champions in the English colonies (Kennedy 226).
        During the 17th century Jose de Acosta, a Jesuit, purposed the now - modern theory that the Amerindians had simply migrated from Eastern Asia. He had traveled through Mexico and Peru in 1565, but his ideas did not fit the mood of the times and were ignored (Acosta 63).
        Rabbi Manasseh ben Israel had been contacted by Antonio de Montezinos who told him of finding the lost tribes of Reuben and Joseph in the Equador jungle. Montezinos requested twelve scribes to accompany him back to Equador to account his discovery. Manasseh could not provide the twelve scribes, but he did have a printing press and wasted no time in publishing the story. This story made its way to an English Clergyman in Amsterdam who gave the account to Thomas Thorowgood. Thorowgood, while in England, produced Jews in America, that retold the story. Jim Eliot, a Reverend in Massachusetts, read the book and was inspired to convert the Algonquians.
        Eliot produced a Bible in the Algonquian tongue and claimed the Amerindians worthy of salvation but was denounced by Cotton Mather who disregarded the story published by Manasseh and viewed the Amerindians as a subspecies.
        In the meantime Manasseh had produced another book titled The Hope of Israel. In this work he adopted the view of Acosta, but added that Jewish Indians had come to America with the Asian emigrants. The book was published in Latin and Spanish and had influence on those English that favored conversion rather than extermination as preferred by the Spanish .
        There were now three main camps on the American shores with the Amerindians caught in the middle. First there were the Spanish, who were ready to convert then exterminate the Amerindians that they did not keep as slaves. The possibility that they might be Jews made little difference as they had no love for that race either, and once converted could safely be killed as they would go to heaven. Then there were the French who conducted their fur trade in relative peace, and the French Jesuits who were determined to convert the Amerindian to Christianity at all cost. Finally, there were the English who were divided in to two main groups of thought. Some viewed the Amerindians as a subspecies of human to be swept from the land in the name of God, while others readily adopted the "Lost Tribe" idea, ready to redeem the Amerindian as long lost children (Kennedy 224-228).
        The fact that the English and Spanish were vying for legal claim to the Americas is of no little importance in the development of the " Lost tribe " idea (Hagen 13). It is evident that the sympathetic English, who had harbored Jews during the Spanish Inquisition, were looking to add weight to their legal claim to the Americas on the premises that the Amerindians were, in fact, Jews. However, the English had still another, more preferred card to play in their legal battle against the Spanish.
        Sir Thomas Herbert had produced an account of his travels in which he told of Welsh - speaking peoples in the Americas. Herbert could not decide if the Welsh had landed in Canada, Florida, or Mexico, but appears to have settled on Mexico, citing Montezumas speech telling of White seafarers. Herbert was in close company with the throne of England, and his influential story was readily received. This was all based on the Madoc legend that told of ancient Welsh colonies in the Americas (Fritze 117-118). If Amerindians were proven to be Welsh, then the Spanish would be forced to recognize the English legal claim to the Americas. Thus, Madoc was cited as conclusive proof of these claims in the Elizabethian court.
        Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries these factions carried out their missions at the expense of the Amerindian. Then in the latter half of the 18th century reports that Mandans, of "light skin color" and speaking Welsh, existed in the American West.
        The stories of the Mandans were well known to Jefferson, who himself was a Celt, and may have tempted him to accept the "Lost Tribe" theory as mentioned in appendix A. The stories were also known to Joseph Smith (Kennedy 228-227). Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Latter-Day Saints, produced "The Book of Mormon" in 1827, that had allegedly been written on gold plates found in an Amerindian mound. These alleged plates related a tale of the Americas being settled by one of the Lost Tribes of Israel and by an earlier emigrant group that had found their way to America after the Biblical "Tower of Babel" event. Smith had both angles covered as to the origins of the Amerindians. This quickly drew a following that later came to be known as Mormons (Smith, introduction to Book of Mormon).
        By the 1820's, the general view was taking shape that the Mound-builders were truly a breed apart. The idea that they were migrants from Asia was again taking root (Silverburg 51). Then in the 1830's the idea was once again "forgotten" as Josiah Priest's Antiquities and Discoveries in the West became a best-seller. In this book the Polynesians, Greeks, Romans, and Chinese were added to the ever growing list (Kennedy 231). There are many more pieces of this puzzle to be assembled, but that too is beyond the confines of this paper. It becomes safe and necessary to summarize at this point.
        This cultural "tennis match" that had began in 1510 and fueled by scientist, historians, and religions, has continued into the 20th century shaping the American stage as it was played. The mystery of who had built the mounds and monuments had become an important issue to the United States Government in the as the 19th century drew to a close. If the Amerindian was accepted as the builder of the civilization these mounds indicated then their sovereignty would have to be recognized. Neither the American public nor the American government were willing to recognize the sovereignty of the Amerindian. Most anthropologists of the 19th century held the idea that the Cahochez were some missing advanced race that had been destroyed entirely, or displaced to Central America by barbarians from the north. This romanticized idea held the "barbarians" to be the contemporary Amerindians known at the time. They were convinced that the mounds could not have been built by the obviously savage Indians they knew and speculated on the builders as being lost tribes from Israel, Vikings, or some mysterious white race that had been wiped out by the invasion of the Red Man. These notions became quite popular in spite of historical records known at the time that clearly reported the Cahochez to be an historic culture and undoubtedly the ancestors of some of the contemporary Amerindians. The concept that the Cahochez were some lost race of super humans, and probably white, was further backed by alleged scientific research performed by men like Samuel Morton (Ean Brown and Bruce Smith, Odyssey).
        In his book, The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen Gould says, "I have been struck by the frequency of such aesthetic claims as a basis of racial preference." He was referring to a statement made by Thomas Jefferson wherein he said, "I advance it, therefore, as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstance, are inferior to the whites in the endowment of both body and of mind." This attitude was applied to the Native American as well. Note the phrase, "as suspicion only." This same attitude was applied to Samuel Morton's data basis when working on his research that was later published as Crania Americana and resulted in serious errors. Stephen Gould goes on to say, "Oliver Wendell Holmes rejoiced in the elimination of Indians on aesthetic grounds: "...and so the red-crayon sketch is rubbed out, and the canvas is ready for a picture of manhood more like God's own image.” (Gosset, 1965. pp243)
        These two men along with many others of their education and influence freely adopted this mentality toward Native Americans and Africans alike. This way of looking at other races was to be the precedent of the time and in many ways has continued up to our own day (Gould 30 - 35).
        In the 1820's Samuel George Morton, a patrician of Philadelphia and the holder of two medical degrees, including one from Edinburgh, began collecting human skulls. His degrees had given him the necessary "influence" needed to have brought worldwide attention to polygeny in America and gave his data collecting exercises much credibility. His purpose for collecting data on human skulls was to prove his hypothesis that the ranking of races could be established by the physical characteristics of the human brain. Morton made a special effort toward the Native Americans as evidenced by a note from his friend and supporter, George Comb:
One of the most singular features in the history of this continent is that the aboriginal races, with few exceptions, have perished or constantly receded before the Anglo-Saxon race, and have in no instance either mingled with them as equals, or adopted their manners and civilization. These phenomena must have a cause; and can inquiry be at once more interesting and philosophical than that which endeavors to ascertain whether that cause be connected with the difference in the brain between the Native American race, and their conquering invaders. (Comb and Coates, in review of Morton's Crania Americana, 1839, p.275)

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