THE USES FOR WHICH THEIR PRINCIPAL EARTHWORKS WERE DESIGNED, WITH A CONJECTURAL RESTORATION OF ONE OF THEIR PUEBLOS.
A brief reference to the character and extent of these works is necessary as a means of understanding their uses. The authors of the volume "The Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley" remark, in their preface, that "the ancient inclosures and groups of works personally examined and surveyed are upwards of one hundred…. About two hundred mounds of all forms and sizes, and occupying every variety of position, have also been excavated." [Footnote: Smithsonian Cont. to Knowledge, Preface, XXXIV.] Out of ninety-five earthworks, exclusive of mounds, figured and described in this valuable memoir, and which probably mark the sites of Indian villages, forty-seven are of the same type and may unhesitatingly be assigned to the Mound-Builders; fourteen are groups of emblematical earthworks, mostly in Wisconsin, and may also be assigned to them; but the remaining thirty-four are very inferior as well as different in character. They are not above the works of the Indians in the Lower Status of barbarism, and, therefore, do not probably belong to the Village Indians who constructed the works in the Scioto Valley. If to those first named are added the emblematical earth-works figured and described by Lapham, [Footnote: Smithsonian Cont. to Knowledge, Vol. V.] and a few other works not known to Squier and Davis, and since described by other persons, there are something more than one hundred works, large and small, indicating the sites of Indian villages, of which perhaps three quarters were occupied at the same time. The conical mounds raised over Indian graves, which are numerous, are not included. [Footnote: When a calamity befalls an Indian settlement it is usually abandoned.]
"A large, perhaps the larger portion of these works," observe the same authors, "are regular in outline, the square and circle predominating…. The regular works are almost invariably erected on level river terraces…. The square and the circle often occur in combination, frequently connecting with each other…. Most of the circular works are small, varying from two hundred and fifty to three hundred feet in diameter, while others are a mile or more in circuit." [Footnote: Smithsonian Cont. to Knowledge, I, pp. 6 and 8.]
These embankments are, for the most part, slight, varying from two feet to six, eight, ten, and twelve feet in height, with a broad base, caused by the washing down of the banks in the course of centuries. These facts are shown by numerous cross-sections furnished with the ground-plans by the authors. But the circular embankments are usually about half as high as the rectangular.
Some idea of the size of Indian villages, and of their nearness to each other, is necessary to form an impression of their plan of life and mode of settlement. The illustrations should be drawn from the Village Indians, to which class the Mound-Builders undoubtedly belonged. Not knowing the use of wells, they established their settlements on the margins of rivers and small streams, which afforded alluvial land for cultivation, and often within a few miles of each other. In the valley of the Rio Chaco, in New Mexico, there were several pueblos within an extent of twelve miles, each consisting of a single joint-tenement house, constructed usually upon three sides of a court; and westward of the Chaco Valley were, and still are, the seven Moki pueblos, within an extent of twenty-five miles. At the present time, in the valley of the Rio Grande, a single pueblo house, accommodating five hundred persons makes an Indian village. Two or three such houses as at Taos and Santo Domingo form a large pueblo and a group of several such houses as at Zunyi a pueblo of the largest size which once contained perhaps five thousand persons, now reduced to fifteen hundred. There are no reasons for supposing that any pueblo in Yucatan or Central America contained as high a number as ten thousand inhabitants at the period of the Spanish conquest, although these countries were extremely favorable for an increase of Indian population. Their villages were numerous and small. Castanyada, who accompanied the expedition of Coronado to New Mexico in 1540-1542, estimated the population of the seventy villages visited by detachments and situated between the Colorado River Zunyi and the Arkansas at twenty thousand men which would give a total population in this wide area of a hundred thousand Indians.
There were seven villages each of Cibola, Tusayan, Quivira, and Hemes, and twelve of Tiguex; it would give an average of about fourteen hundred and fifty persons to each village. In all probability these are fair samples as to the number of inhabitants of the villages of the Mound Builders with exceptional cases as the village on the site of Marietta in Ohio where there may have been five thousand if an impression may be formed from the extent of the earth works occupied in the manner hereafter suggested. Where several villages were found near each other on the same stream as in New Mexico, the people usually spoke the same dialect, which tends to show that those in each group were colonists from one original village. The earth works of the Mound Builders must be regarded as the sites of their villages. The question then recurs for what purpose did they raise these embankments at an expenditure of so much labor? The must have lived somewhere in upon or around them. No answer has been given to this question and no serious attempt has been made to explain their uses. They have been called defensive enclosures but it is not supposable that they lived in houses within the embankments for this would turn the places into slaughter pens in case of in attack. Some of them have been called sacred enclosures but this goes for nothing apart from some knowledge of their uses. They were constructed for a practical intelligent purpose and that purpose must be sought in the needs and mode of life of the Mound-Builders as Village Indians; and it should be expressed in the works themselves. If a sensible use for these embankments can be found, its acceptance will relieve us from the delusive inferences which are certain to be drawn from them so long as they are allowed to remain in the category of the mysteries.
It is proposed to submit a conjectural explanation of the objects and uses of the principal embankments, and to advocate its acceptance on the ground of inherent probability. It will be founded on the assumption that the Mound-Builders were horticultural Village Indians who had immigrated from beyond the Mississippi; that as such they had been accustomed, to live in houses of adobe bricks, like those found in New Mexico; that they had become habituated to living upon their roof terraces as elevated platforms, and in large households; and that their houses were in the nature of fortresses, in consequence of the insecurity in which they lived. Further than this, that before they emigrated to the valley of the Ohio they were accustomed to snow, and to a moderate degree of winter cold; wore skin garments, and possibly woven mantles of cotton, as the Cibolans of New Mexico did at the time of Coronado's expedition.