Submitted by Tom Gresham ([email protected])
While browsing through microfilmed issues of the Oglethorpe County newspaper, the Oglethorpe Echo, looking for a death notice, my eye was caught by a startling sub-headline “Acres of Human Bones Unearthed.” Other sub-headlines (there are six in all) included “An Aboriginal Graveyard” and “Interesting Indian Mounds—Relics of a Past Race”.
The Oglethorpe Echo began publication in 1874 and the next year, on July 9, 1875, the editor and publisher T. Larry Gantt published the article that caught my eye, which describes his overnight fishing trip with friends on the nearby Oconee River. Fortunately, little of the article discusses fishing, and most describes his ten-mile buggy ride to and from the river and the archeological sites they found along the river, including the Scull Shoals mounds.
Mark Williams and his UGA field schools mapped, shovel tested and test excavated the Scull Shoals mound site in the mid-1980s. In his 1984 report he notes that the earliest known reference to the site is an 1877 article in an Augusta newspaper. Thus, the Oglethorpe Echo article is two years earlier and includes some intriguing new observations. Perhaps most notably, it describes the top of the large mound as having a 30-ft diameter basin and observes that the site remains undisturbed. While it is tantalizing to think that this basin was the remnant of mound-top structure, Mark believes that it was most likely an old looters pit, and that the mound was not “undisturbed” in 1875. The 1875 article notes that artifacts, ashes and human bone are all around the mounds.
Somewhere upriver from the mounds is the site with “acres of bones” exposed by a freshet. This site is near a small stream, which could be one of several on either side of the river. This portion of the Oconee River has a great deal of bottomland that could have supported intensive habitation.
The article also discusses the then popular “mound builder race” theory, which held that an extinct race of people built the Mississippian mounds in the eastern US, and this race was obliterated by the Indians encountered by the English in the eighteenth century. To his credit Gantt does not buy into this theory.
Most interesting to me was Gantt’s description of his buggy ride to the river, down the road I live on. Two of the magnificent houses he describes still stand. But the most arresting passage in the article is his description of utter desolation for nearly five miles, the result of officials burning down every house in an area that was affected earlier with a Small Pox plague.
Who knows what other interesting articles exist in the myriad of small town and large city newspapers of the past 150 or so years. Such newspapers are very difficult and time consuming to abstract thoroughly. It is impossible to include everything that might be of some interest to someone, and so in the rare cases when newspapers are abstracted, such as the first 30 years of the Oglethorpe Echo, many items must be left out. However, happily, this very interesting article, although quite long, was included in the first volume of the Oglethorpe Echo extracts compiled by Fred. McRee, Jr. Historians and others are constantly browsing though these rich archives of primary information, and every so often they will stumble upon an eye-catching article or advertisement and share it with others.
A Jaunt Through a Fine Section of Country
Jottings by the Way
Ye Editor’s Success as Fisherman
An Aboriginal Graveyard
Acres of Human Bones Unearthed
Interesting Indian Mounds—Relics of a Past Race
On the 25th ult, in company with the inimitable Red, ye Editor started for a two-days’ fishing excursion to the farm of Mr. Aycock on the Oconee.
Snugly ensconced in a buggy, propelled by a “cracking” steed (so called from the fact of it requiring a good deal of cracking to induce him to break a walk), we were soon gliding over what is justly termed the
of the county. On each hand we beheld handsome houses, well-tilled fields and fine crops. Our route, we believe, was along the regular road to Athens from this place.
The finest cotton we saw on the route was on the farm of Mr. F. Dillard. It appeared about waist high and was in a most flourishing condition. Mr. D., we believe, is one of the best cotton raisers in our county. He has a beautiful place, and everything about him bears the look of contentment and plenty.
Mr. Mordecai Edwards owns, we think, the best finished and handsomest country residence in our county. One to see the admirable style in which his buildings and grounds are kept could scarcely accredit the fact that he, like the rest of us poor unfortunates, has to utilize free labor.
Mr. O. H. Arnold owns a well-fixed, well-arranged home. Everything on this place seems to partake of the vim and energy of the thrifty proprietor. We learn that he owns some the most valuable and fertile lands in our county.
The next place we approach is the home of those clever bachelor boys, the Martin brothers. One has but to glance at their clean, well-kept premises to see that they are not under bachelor rule, but have received that attention from fair hands that so quickly transforms a howling wilderness into a fair garden, and brings order out of chaos. Their sister, Mrs. J., resides with them.
Shortly after leaving behind this handsome residence we enter that section of our county which was ravaged last winter by that terrible scourge, the small pox. Here, on every hand, a
SCENE OF DESOLATION
meets our eye. All that is now left of small but comfortable homes is the solitary chimneys, which seems to stand as lone sentinels to guard the spot where such terrible visitation of Providence took place. As all our readers know, the houses were burnt as a measure of precaution by the Small Pox Committee. Even the fields and crops appear to partake of the general desolation. The former, as a general thing, are forsaken and bare, while the latter have a small and stunted appearance. In fact, this entire section is almost deserted, for in a ride of five miles through it we did not see a living thing – all life and activity having vanished with the plagues.
Our readers can readily imagine that it was no small feeling of relief that we left behind this scene of desolation and alighted to the
CHEERFUL FARM HOUSE
of Mr. Aycock, where we were welcomed in that cordial and hearty manner that only the old-style Southern farmer knows how to extend. After a few moments rest, our friend Dick announced himself ready to conduct us to the Oconee, where everything was in readiness for our intended onslaught on the “small fry” of that stream. A short ride brought us to the “river side” and it was not long ere we were vainly endeavoring to induce the finny tribe to partake of the “delicious morsel” so temptingly offered them at the point of the hook. But our success was not such as to class us rivals to the fishermen named in Holy writ, for after two hours steady work, two small cats were our only reward.
Learning that we were near an old
INDIAN BURIAL GROUND,
we expressed a desire to spend the rest of the afternoon examining the same, to which proposition the party readily consented. We landed at a point on the river near where a small stream enters, and after leaving the banks some fifty yards, we reached a spot where a freshet, some years since, had unearthed a cemetery, which until then was unknown to any one. The river, in overflowing, washed several large openings in a field, each of which were found filled with
and Indian relics. To this day a space of some ten acres is thickly scattered with pieces of their pottery, arrow heads, numerous strangely shaped stones cut by them, and a quantity of human bones, with which many spots are whitened. They are generally broken into small fragments, but you occasionally find entire sculls and other prominent parts of the human frame. And what is more remarkable, we are told that one often finds the
SKELETON OF A GIANT
the bones being much larger than those of an ordinary man. Mr. Aycock now has in his possession a peculiarly shaped rock that he found in one of the graves when they were first washed open. It is of oval shape not quite so large as a breakfast plate, has an indenture on each side like a saucer, is as white as marble, smooth as glass, as regular as if cut by a sculptor, and of pure flint. Two of these rocks were found in a grave, one being red and the other white flint. How the Indians, without any tools managed to cut this hardest of stone, and for what purpose they were intended we cannot surmise.
A BRISK RAIN
brought to an end our further sport and wanderings for that day, and so we wended our way homeward, where a delightful dinner of fish and other etceteras soon caused us to forget our poor luck and “soaking”.
Saturday morning we awoke at the break of day and on going out found our party preparing for a sein on Big Creek. On this we will not dwell. Suffice it to say that after three hour’s wade through mud, water and snakes up to our waist, we returned home with a string of fine fish, some four feet long.
After a short rest we again excurted some five miles down the river to a pair of
After a pleasant ride in pleasant company, interspersed with an occasional halt in some shady nook to “try our luck,” where we reached the county line, where Scull Shoals creek separates us from Greene. Just below this point we launched our canoe and went ashore, as the objects our visit—the mounds—were but a few yards distant. Their towering forms, like huge green balls, were the first object that arrested our sight. They are two in number—a larger and a smaller—and are in a flat formed by a bend in the river, near the banks of the stream. Having no instrument of measurement, we cannot say what was the height or dimensions of either. Of one thing we can feel assured—it was no slight undertaking for our party to clamber to the summit of the larger, which could only be accomplished by the aid of the thick bushes on its sides. Of this mound there is only one place at which you can ascend, the other sides being almost perpendicular. Arrived at the summit, we found it covered with a rank growth of tall weeds and bushes. Some years since an enterprising darkey conceived the idea of planting him a water-melon patch on its top, and cleared if off accordingly. We noticed a basin of some thirty feet across in the center, which we suppose was used as a fortification.
Descending, one sees on every hand remnants of Indian pottery, the shells from the muscles they cooked, and even the ashes and charred coals from their fires. All appear just as the owner left it nearly a hundred years ago. This valley is seldom visited, and hence all remains undisturbed. And what is stranger still, human bones cover the earth equally as thick as their pots and arrow heads. In a freshly washed gully we found the
of a youth, every bone being in its proper place, while by its side lay several arrow heads, all that were left of the bow and quiver that were laid to rest with the young warrior.
they made their burial ground beneath their place of abode we cannot conjecture. That they also lived on this spot as well as buried their dead, the pottery, ashes and shells alluded to above clearly affirm.
The smaller mound is not a matter of as much interest as the larger. It stands some 500 yards distant and not being very steep, is easily ascended.
For what purpose these mounds were formed none can tell. Some historians go so far as to contend that they were not built by the Indians, but by some race that occupied this land prior to them. And this seems plausible, from the fact that the tribes our fathers found here could not tell by whom they were built. But we believe them to be the work of the Indian, from the fact that their interiors, when opened, are found to contain the arrow heads and potteries used only by the red man. It certainly required much time and labor to rear these mighty piles of earth. We can see, near by, the holes from whence the earth was taken to make them, now huge ponds of water.
Having feasted our curiosity to its utmost extent on the works of poor Lo, we began to feel an innate warning that the inner man was unsatisfied—it being about 3 o’clock, and we not as yet having had our dinner. After a couple of hours hard rowing we again found ourselves on terra firma, near home, where we knew awaited us one those delicious meals that Mrs. A. knows so well how to prepare. Well, after eating enough for some half dozen men of our caliber, we retired to rest.
The next day being “Sabbath, day of peaceful rest,” we hitched up and started homeward. It was with more than regret that we left behind the scene of so much real pleasure, and such kind, obliging friends. But part we did, and were soon en route for home.
We stopped at Big Creek Church, where we heard a most excellent sermon from Uncle Davey, after which we dined with the Martin boys, where we partook of a dinner that made us cease to wonder why they lead a life of celibacy, and always were such a look of contentment.
As “Old Sol was sinking behind the western hills,” we arrived at Crawford, having spent two of as pleasant days as we care to see.
By T. Larry Gantt
Publisher of the Oglethorpe Echo
July 9, 1875, page 3
Where to find it
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Posted online on Friday, February 24th, 2012