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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

The Mounds Of Observation In Southwest Ohio

Dallas Bogan on 28 July 2004
Dallas Bogan, Warren County, Ohio and Beyond (Bowie Maryland: Heritage Press, 1979) page
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

The mound builders have left monuments of their works in the form of huge heaps of dirt that were basically shrines to their dead ones. With no record of their culture, other than what archaeologists, amateur and professional alike have excavated, a puzzle was left for the curious to solve.
In our article this week we shall highlight the "Mounds of Observation." The writer will attempt to guide you through a short session of the "signal mounds" in Southwestern Ohio and beyond, and their reasoning. These extremely high mounds were possibly built for the purpose of signaling, or informing neighboring tribes of certain events. An event of war could be passed on to neighboring tribes, or a Chief of a nation could be announcing the birth of a child. Various ceremonies could be relayed, revealing a season of plenty for a tribe, or one of disparity. These signals could also announce the surrender to an enemy, or perhaps a victory. This method of communication was in the form of a huge fire that was built on top of these mounds. Placing a wet blanket or mat, made of cornhusks, over the fire and throwing a small amount of water onto the flame made puffs of smoke.
Our trail through these mounds shall begin at Miami Fort at the mouth of the Great Miami, located in Hamilton County. (This should not be confused with Fort Miami at the foot of the rapids of the Maumee.) The Great Miami flows southwest and empties into the Ohio at a sharp angle. An elevated peak of some two hundred feet or more lies significantly in this land angle, separating the two rivers. Within this angle lies Miami Fort. This is our first observation mound, as we shall call it. From this elevation a line of signals could be conveyed which would cover the southwestern portion of the state.
Three mounds, one at Miami Fort, one at Colerain, and one at Hamilton, combined with mounds up the river to Dayton and Piqua, were all designed as signaling objectives with each other. These mounds were considered a connected line of defenses along the Great Miami River.
Fort Ancient on the Little Miami stands as a fortress in the rear of the center of this line of mounds. A mound at Norwood commands a view eastwardly to a mound in the valley of the Little Miami, then traveling northward through the valley of the Millcreek and the depression in the land, and on to the mound at Hamilton.
A chain of signal mounds, about twenty in number, along the Scioto from the northern boundary of Franklin County to the Ohio River, could transmit by signal fire, an alarm from the small mound at Worthington, Ohio, through the entire length of the valley to the earthworks at Portsmouth.
Some archaeologists say these particular mounds were not specifically used as signal mounds. Many of them contain human remains, most assuredly that of the mound builders. Whether they were built as observation mounds or burial sites, one has to accept his own theory, as no evidence of this period's culture exists except the physical findings.
J.P. McLean writes of the mound builders in 1891.
"On the hills they erected mounds for posts of observation, and when a war party came down upon them, the fires were kindled, and the people thereby warned sought their shelters of refuge."
These signal mounds were not only related to the rivers of Ohio, but they could also have been spread over any number of Ohio counties. From any point in these counties a signal fire could be relayed from one mound to another in almost any direction. From the Piqua area to the mouth of the Mississippi, these mounds of observation could transmit signals with the utmost speed.
From the mound at Hamilton let us now travel to the "Great Mound" in Butler County. Along Wayne-Madison Road is a landmark that has been known to county residents for years. The Adenas built it, like the previous mounds named. They occupied the Ohio Valley dating approximately from 800 B.C. to 700 A.D. The Great Mound was first measured in the 1800's with its height given as 43 feet and 511 feet circumference at the base. Through erosion and farming near its base, it has now been reduced to about 34 feet in height with its base at 178 in circumference.
Our next observation mound is located about a mile southeast of Miamisburg in Montgomery County. It is likewise called "The Miamisburg Mound." This mound is the second largest in the United States. It was originally about 85 feet in height and its base measured about 300 feet in diameter. There have been some diggings into the mound but few human bones were uncovered. It too was figured to be a signal mound.
Located just off Deardoff Road in Franklin lies the "Kinder Mound." It is closely related to the Miamisburg Mound, lying just a few miles south. It is reportedly the last of the chain of signal mounds from Lake Erie to the Ohio on the east side of the Great Miami. From this mound signals could be seen from Carlisle Fort near Carlisle, and from the hills of Oregonia where messages were conveyed on to Fort Ancient. The owners have prohibited digging into this mound, because they thought it to be a place of worship.
In March 1990, a theory was tested which was to prove whether or not signals could be sent to nearby mounds. It was organized by The Archaeological Conservancy and experimented on three Adena Mounds, namely, The Miamisburg Mound, The Great Mound in Butler County, and The Kinder Mound in Warren County. The test was originally to be at night, to see if road flares could be detected. E.G. & G. Mound Laboratory is situated next to the Miamisburg Mound, and it was thought that the lighting effect of the laboratory would prove negative in that situation. Consequently, the test was changed to daylight. The usage of large mirrors, measuring 36 by 42 inches, was suggested and adopted.
Much concern was raised as to whether the mirrors would work because of the trees on the mounds, which could block the sun's reflection. Field glasses and compasses were equipment used for the experiment, along with radio operators using their communication network. The mirrors were positioned so as to catch the sun at just the right angle.
Cheers went up as bright flashes were seen from one mound to another. Radio communicators sent word from mound to mound as the success of the experiment began to unfold. The signals had worked magnificently and all were very pleased with the experiment.

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This page created 28 July 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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