Pages 273 - 278

Archaeology and Topography

Next page | Butler County Ohio | Cyclopeadia index page | Previous page
Picture of the Fortified Hill, mentioned below


A strange race of people, known to the archaeologist as "the Mound-builders," who once inhabited the central portion of the United States, has left the evidences of its habitation throughout every part of Butler County. With the exception of Ross County, no other place within the State of Ohio contains so many remains of antiquity.

In order to further the study of this lost race, the scientists have divided the earth-works into two general classes, namely, inclosures and mounds; and these again embrace a variety of works diverse in form and designed for different purposes. The first is characterized by circumvallations, embankments, or walls, and include fortifications or places of defense, sacred inclosures, and numerous miscellaneous works, mostly symmetrical in structure. They vary in size, ranging from one to four hundred acres. The walls are composed of surface material, clay, or stone, and vary in height from one to thirty feet.

Under the second head we have the true mound-buildings, which constitute a wonderful system, embracing what has been specifically designated temple, sacrificial, sepulchral, symbolical, and mounds of observation, varying in height from three to ninety feet. The temple mounds are regular in form, of large dimensions, are chiefly truncated, having graded avenues or spiral pathways leading to their summits. Those called sacrificial invariably occur either within, or else in the immediate vicinity of, inclosures, and are regularly constructed in uniform layers of earth, sand, and gravel, disposed alternately in strata conformable to the shape of the mound, thus covering an altar composed of burnt clay or stone, upon which are the remains of the sacrifices. The sepulchral mound is a simple cone heaped over the remains of some chief personage. The symbolical mounds are gigantic bass-reliefs formed on the surface of the gorund, and representing both animate and inanimate objects. The mounds of observation are so called on account of their location on high hills, which give a commanding view either of the river valleys, or else the surrounding country.

Taking the system of earth-works for which this people is noted, no spot could be better adapted for their various wants than that embraced within the limits of Butler County. If, as it has been supposed, these people were tillers of the soil, then we have here the broad valley of the Miami, notably that portion which stretches out and embraces the rich arable lands adjoining the creeks known as Seven-Mile and Nine-Mile, which would furnish them a soil scarcely surpassed in its fertility. Should danger encounter them in the shape of a formidable enemy, the bold headlands, here and there jutting out into the valleys, present great natural advantages for defense; and upon the many hills signal stations could be erected in order to warn the quiet cultivators of the soil when a predatory band was at hand.

The evidence is accumulative that this county must have long been one of the permanent seats of the Mound-builders. This is especially shown in the great number of earth-works and the abundance of implements which have been found. It may be safely stated that nearly every foot of ground has yielded up some relic belonging to a past race of people. that all these belong to the mound-building epoch, no one would affirm; but, taken in connection with works known to belong to that age, or time, it may be claimed that a large proportion of the relics should be assigned to that distinctive race. The same kind and variety of implements found in various parts of the State and in the immediate vicinity of earth structures also occur here. Archaeological cabinets have been, and are still being, rapidly formed, almost wholly composed of relics picked up within the county. Nearly all the large collections have been sold, many of them passing out of the State.

The mounds number not less than two hundred and fifty, varying in height from two feet to forty-three. Only two kinds of varieties of mounds are definitely known to be in this county; namely, mounds of observation and sepulture. Some have been obliterated by the plow, others remain undisturbed, and a few have the forest-trees still growing upon them. The mounds of observation range upon the west bank of the Miami, and the most conspicuous hills are crowned with these works. The hills on the eastern side are not dotted with them, for the reason that the sides are more sloping; besides, they do not command as fine a view of the valley as those on the western side.

The largest of all the mounds within the county is that in Madison Township, located on the land of Joseph Henry, section 19. It is forty-three feet high, and contains nearly twenty-five thousand feet of clay. From its position and height it must have been the principal watchtower for the people of the surrounding country, and the one which received the signals from the great Mound near Miamisburg. Ross Township presents an interesting group situated on section 21. Here we have a group of four mounds, the largest about twenty-six feet high. Removed from them a distance of a few rods are two more. The largest might have been used as a signal station; but the smaller mounds would apparently discredit this supposition.

The works of inclosure are sixteen in number, located on section 36, Oxford; section 3, Milford; sections 14, 30, Wayne; section 4, St. Clair; section 22, Reily; sections 34, 13, 12, Ross; sections 8, 15, 10, 16, Fairfield; sections 14, 8, 9, Union Townships. These works have been more or less undisturbed by the white man while two have been entirely obliterated. Fortunately these two received a careful survey while yet covered with forest-trees, so that their dimensions are still known. An interesting inclosure, belonging to the class called sacred, occurred partly in section 9, Union, and section 15, Fairfield Townships. It was carefully surveyed May 7, 1842, by John W. Erwin and James McBride. This group of works was composed of four circles and an oval. The main work was situated just east of and touching the township line. It was an exact circle, two hundred and thirty-one feet in diameter. When first discovered the embankment was fully three feet above the natural surface of the ground. As the accompanying ditch within the embankment was two feet deep, consequently the perpendicular height of the wall was five feet from the bottom of the excavation. East of this inclosure, and removed a distance of one hundred and ninety-eight feet, was another, eighty-six feet in diameter. In a direction S. 15 degrees W. from the last-named work, a distance of one hundred and ninety-eight feet was another work of the same dimensions; namely, eighty-six feet in diameter, and exactly the same distance from the main work as the former. North-west of the center or main work, a distance of sixty-six feet, was another circle, thirty-three feet in diameter. The township line passed directly through it, dividing it into halves. Adjoining and touching this was another inclosure of an oval form, one hundred and fifty feet by one hundred and eighty in diameter. All of the smaller works were also accompanied with the interior ditch, eighteen inches in depth, with the surrounding embankment two feet above the natural surface of the ground. The material composing the embankment was a bright yellow clay, different from that appearing on the surface of the surrounding ground. It is more than probable that communications once existed throughout from one work to the other, possibly composed of timber. As only the main work was accompanied by a gateway, it might also be inferred that the works were never completed according to the original design.

One of the most interesting and the most noted of all the earth-works of Butler County is that known as "Fortified Hill," located on section 12, Ross Township, on the farms of Clarke Lane and David Descompas, three miles south of the town of Hamilton. The work occurs on the summit of the most elevated hill in that vicinity. The hill is a short distance from the river, surrounded on all sides, save a narrow space at the north, by deep ravines, and rising to a height of two hundred and fifty feet above the stream. It juts out into the valley, thus constituting a spur, which, with its steep sides, makes it an inviting place for a stronghold to a primitive people. From the line of fortification the hill is sloping, but becomes gradually steeper as the bottom of the ravines is reached. The embankment, composed of a stiff clay mingled with stone, and having a height of five feet by thirty-five feet base, skirting along the brow of the hill, and generally conforming to its outline, incloses an area of a little over sixteen acres, the interior of which gradually rises to the height of twenty-six feet above the base of the wall. The wall has no accompanying ditch, the material composing it having probably been taken up from the surface, or else from the "dugholes" which occur at various points within the wall. The line of wall has four gateways - as may be seen from the accompanying engraving - each twenty feet wide, one at the northern division, and the others at the south, but respectively facing the four points of the compass. These gateways are all faced or protected on the interior by dugholes or excavations, some of which are sixty feet over, and now filled up with mud to a depth of ten or eleven feet. Three of the gateways are completely covered with inner lines of embankment, the most intricate one being the one at the north, and marked N in the engravings. This part of the fort has long been under cultivation, while the southern portion is still covered with forest-trees. Notwithstanding the fact that the plow has been doing its work, all the lines at the north are distinctly visible. The wall beyond the north gateway, yet covering it, is now leveled, although not a weed or blade of grass will grow upon it, thus apparently shaming man for this unnecessary act of vandalism.

Within the main lines, and covering the gateway, are four other walls, thus not only protecting the gateway, but also rendering this point in the fortification almost impregnable against the assault of an enemy. The gateways E and S belong to that method of fortification known as Tlascan. The former opens upon a parapet, and the other was partly protected by a stone mound. Within the gateway, at W, was formerly a stone mound eight feet in height, which was removed by the farmers in that vicinity for building purposes. Thirty rods north of gateway N is a mound seven feet high, composed of mingled earth and stone. In 1836 this mound was ten feet in height. Since then it has been several times partially excavated, and a quantiy of stone taken out, all of which showed the action of fire. The mound was probably used as a signal station; and indications prove it had been frequently used. A mound also occurs at the south, in close proximity to the wall. It has never been disturbed, is finely rounded, and hidden by the underbrush.

The outlines, as well as the position, declare the distinctive character of this work. That it was constructed as a place of defense needs no elaborate argument; for every detail of its structure fully shows it. The method of fortifying shows wonderful military skill; for every avenue is thoroughly protected, and the principal approach is guarded by four walls, with the addition of two supplementary walls. Should the exterior crescent wall be successfully assaulted, and even the gateway carried by an enemy, still the fortress is yet protected by a system of defense which would more or less confuse an enemy, thus giving advantage to the defenders. Add to this the fact that the walls are so arranged that but very few could pass between the lines abreast, which in a hand-to-hand encounter would be of disadvantage to the assaulting party. If these walls were additionally strengthened by means of palisades, then the formidable character of the work would readily appear. To be appreciated, the fort should be seen. From the summit of the hill near the southern part of the inclosure the chieftain could take his stand and behold every movement of the enemy without. Thus he could guard and direct his forces according to the movement of the foe. He could also cast his eye, and, by means of certain signals, communicate with the people belonging to six other inclosures, all in full view.

Traces of the Indian are numerous, but there is no positive knowledge of his villages, although two encampments in Ross Township are known. Indian graves are frequently met with in excavating for gravel.

An Archaeological Society was formed in Hamilton in 1879, but is not now in active existence. Its cabinet is in the rooms of the Lane Library.


Within its extreme limits Butler County embraces a territory twenty-five miles east and west, by nineteen miles north and south, its average limits being not far from twenty-four and one-half miles by eighteen. The secretary of state's report for 1878 gives the acreage of the county at 291,990, which is 5,500 acres more than the average of the other eighty seven counties of the State. This land lies in the valley formed by the divergence of the Great and Little Miami Rivers. It presents many interesting topographical features. There was at some time in the unrecorded past a terrific struggle of natural forces in this valley. During the period of glacial action, the ice mountains wound their slow course, and cut a path on their way to the sea.

The evidences of this are abundant, and are to be seen in the outcroppings on the banks of the numerous streams which find their outlet in the Great Miami River.

The average breadth of this valley is twelve miles. The eastern divide skirts the borders of Warren and Hamilton Counties; the western divide runs nearly parallel with the eastern, beginning with the high lands of Montgomery County, and attaining its greatest elevation towards the north. The boundaries of this valley are sharply defined, and can be easily traced by the unassisted eye. This fact will recur to any one, who, from the crest along which the Dayton Short Line Railroad passes, has cast a glance westwardly, or who, from the height between Millville and Darrtown, has looked eastward to the ridge which separates the Ohio and Little Miami Rivers from the Great Miami Valley. A view from either of these vantage points is one of surpassing loveliness. In Spring the verdure is refreshing in its tints, the slopes have enough of forest to relieve the monotony of a dead landscape, while the fields of starting grain, to use a rounded period of Edward Everett, "appear as if nature had spread a carpet fit to be pressed by the footsteps of her descending God." If one seeks natural beauties he has not far to go, and yet it is probably true that most people have given scarcely a thought to the riches of beauty so lavishly spread around them. If one will take his stand on a Summer evening on the hills southeast of Hamilton, looking over the valley toward Port Union, and survey its fields of ripening grain, he will see a picture such as no artist could transfer to canvas. On the road between Hamilton and Middletown, on the east side of the Miami River, there are several points of observation from which the prospect is equally beautiful. Among these may be mentioned the views near the residences of Philip Hughes and Peter Shafor, looking westward, or from Kennedy's farm, about two miles from Hamilton, on the west side of the river. The traveler by the Junction Railroad to Oxford, if observant, will just before arriving at McGonigle's Station, catch a swift glimpse of the peaceful vale in which Millville rests like a gem in a setting of rare excellence.

From the heights around Oxford the forest and the cleared upland rise and swell or fall away in graceful undulations that fill the eye and the heart with a sense of graceful beauty and perpetual delight. If the old saying be true, that "an undevout astronomer is mad," then it will be equallly true to assert that he who has lived among such beauties and has been unobservant, is unworthy the gifts so freely spread before him. If the reader will consult the map of Butler County printed in this volume, he will see that the Miami River begins its course in the extreme northeastern border, and thence cuts diagonally through, leaving the county at its southwestern border. As the crow flies this distance is thirty miles, but in the meanderings of the river it is probably forty-five to fifty miles. A glance at the general lay of the land within this valley shows it to be in harmony with the general pitch of the surface south of the great divide which separates the waters that flow into the lakes, and thence to the north Atlantic Ocean, from those waters which seek the warmer clime of the south, and thence flow northward through that greatest of all rivers, the Gulf Stream, to again meet after a long separation. The observer will also note that the courses of all streams flowing into the Great Miami is from north-west to south-east on the westward side of the river. This direction is likewise in conformity with the slope of the country, on the east side of the river we find an anomalous hydrographic condition. While on the westward side Cotton Run, Seven-Mile, Four-Mile, Indian Creek, and other tributaries of the Maimi flow in a natural course, the largest tributary on the eastward side within Butler County, in defiance of all natural law, appears to run up hill. Gregory's Creek has its sources in the lands of Union Township, and thence flows northwestwardly and empties into the Miami near Lesourdsville. So also Pleasant Run, which has its source beyond the borders of Hamilton County, makes what is apparently an uphill detour, and finds its way into the Miami at a point nearly abreast at Symmes Corner. One who never followed the course of these two streams, save on the map, would be at a loss to account for this strange contravention of physical laws, but a following of the streams themselves affords an explanation of the seeming contradiction. Gregory's Creek and Pleasant Run both pass through gorges and ruts scooped out for them by glaciers that must have separated from the main ice mountain as it moved down the valley. These smaller glaciers being less powerful than the parent glacier were compelled to yield obedience to the character of the land over which they passed, while the larger glacier, by its great weight, was able to carve its way in the general direction which is shown on the westward side of the river. On the eastward side the adventurers cast adrift were compelled by their weakness to pick out the softest and easiest road in their journey to the Ohio Valley.

The reasonableness of this theory could be abundantly demonstrated did space permit, but it is merely alluded to here for the purpose of drawing the attention to a physical curiosity which has few parallels.

Within the memory of people living, there have been great changes in both the climatology and the physical features of the county. In the course of the river there have been changes within the recollection of people who belong to the present generation. The Miami and Erie Canal was begun in 1825, and so late as 1845 Hamilton shippers to Cincinnati by canal relate that it was no uncommon thing for the horses to flounder from the towpath breast deep into a lake which covered most of the ground which lies east of the old Chase farm, now owned by Amor Smith, near Jones's Station. Drainage, both natural and artificial, has reclaimed all this waste land and made it as valuable a tract as there is in the county. With regard to the river, the number of its tributaries, and the immense rain-fall at its sources, make it a stream remarkable for the suddenness of its floods, its volume of water, and the uncertainty of its changes in course. The cut off above Hamilton is within the memory of people now living, and the flood of 1866, which swept away the old Hamilton bridge, and of which a description is elsewhere given, is still in vivid recollection. That flood carried several thousand acres of valuable land from its owners, and in some instances worked almost financial ruin. This was notably the case at the bend of the river, where the farm of M. P. Alston is situated. It is doubtful, however, from the testimony of old residents, whether the floods of the present generation equal in volume or in destructiveness those which were common at the beginning of the century.

It is certain that they are not so regular in their return, and can not be so surely counted upon.

Hamilton between the years 1810 and 1825 did a large trade with New Orleans and with the Indian Territory. That trade was carried on by flat-boats, some of which were built on the banks of Four-Mile Creek, near Oxford, and were there loaded with provisions suitable for the Southern markets, and the flood never failed to come and bear them along their way.

There is not such certainty in the returns of these froshets now, and it would be impossible to establish a trade on the chance of such conditions as made those ventures at that time perfectly sound from a business point of view. It would appear as if rain-falls and snow-falls were greater in those earlier days than now. Whether this change is due to the denudation of the valley by cutting off the timer, it would, perhaps, not be profitable to take time in inquiry. It is probable, however, that as the land became clearer and broken up in settlement that the rain and snow falls are now absorbed, where formerly they ran to the river, and that thus, instead of the annual average of rain being less than it once was, we are misled by its effect, being less apparent in great floods. It is the opinion of at least two engineers, who have had great experience in the measurement of water volumes, that the flood of 1866 was probably not exceeded in quantity of water by any that preceded it within the written history of the valley.

With regard to the soil Butler County compares favorably with the average of the State. It shows but a small proportion of what is called poor or waste land. In this class but 9,410 acres are returned to the secretary of state, leaving 282,580 acres as either wood or pasture land, or as susceptible of tillage. This is the report as given by the Ohio Agricultural Board in 1879. There is wide diversity in the fruitfulness of different portions of the county. It embraces as rich land as there is in the State, and some exceedingly poor. It has been found by experiment, however, that the lands which are considered poor possess hidden elements of strength, and some as good farms as there are in the county were originally purchased at cheap figures, in view of their poverty of production. Intelligent tillage has shown that this seeming poverty was easy to remedy, that there was inherent virtue in the soil, which needed only waking to activity by simple artificial means. The average composition of the upland soil is a sandy loam. In the highest uplands this changes to a clay. In the bottom where the Miami River has made its deposits the character of the soil changes to a deep black - what are termed the bottom lands of the Miami Valley.

It may be questioned, however, whether the term bottom land is rightly applied, since the fertility of the uplands for certain crops fully equals that of the low land. Bottom lands are peculiarly adapted to corn, the upland to wheat and barley. No county in the State is traversed by more small streams. The bridges under county supervision number more than one thousand, and the loss on bridges by flood three years ago was more than $40,000. This is mentioned in connection with what has already been said about the Miami River and its tributaries, to impress upon the reader the significance of a natural system of irrigation and drainage. The uplands abound in springs, and in seasons of drought give out the hoard of water they store during seasons of plentitude. In seasons of extreme rain-fall the inclination of the land toward the river readily conveys away the hurtful surplus. It has been found necessary in but few portions of the county to resort to artificial draining - nature has so well provided for the wants of the husbandman. There is no doubt that if artificial means were used the productiveness of the county could be largely increased, for wherever drainage experiments have been tried the results have been exceedingly satisfactory. A good illustration of this natural drainage can be seen along the bank of the canal, just north of Hamilton, or on the rocky road between Madison City to Miltonville. Where the rock crops up from the cuttings it will be found that there is a sufficient depth of soil from deposits of verdure to insure richness and stability, while the underlying rock prevents too great evaporation in drought, and at the same time acts as an underground roof to turn excessive water into the Miami River. We have tried in this way to briefly explain the most striking feature that pertains to the general outlet of the county.

A wrong impression is abroad with respect to the fertility of the Miami Valley. We have endeavored to show that the uplands are good for wheat and for barley, where the low lands are good for corn. The exceeding richness of production is, therefore, not due to natural fertility of soil so much as it is due to a plan which in nature appears to have been provided for the continual renewal of the land. In the bottoms this renewal of land comes from the annual overflows of the river. In the uplands it comes from the absorption by the soil of nitrogenous elements from the atmosphere. From these two sources, widely apart as they are, spring the sources of Butler County's wealth.

It would be hard between the Lakes and the Gulf, or between Portland, Maine, and the Rocky Mountains, to find the same number of acres better adapted to general purposes of cultivation. It would appear as if all the elements, both in soil and in climate, had combined in the Miami Valley to make the labor of the farmer successful. On every side come fructifying rills, the snows of Winter cover the sleeping grain, the warm breath of Spring breathes nowhere more gently, and above are no more benignant Summer skies.

* By J.P. MacLean