Retyped by Diane Payne and Danene Vincent
The first inhabitants of Middle Tennessee belonged to a race of people called the Mound Builders, because of the mounds or monuments they erected and left behind. No one knows from whence they came, how long they remained, or whither they went. They were quite numerous. This is evident from the fact that around many of the lasting springs, and in various localities along the water courses, early immigrants found acres of graves containing their remains. These burial places gave evidence of having been made long before the advent of the whites, possibly several hundred years previous to the beginning of the 17th century. Though seemingly sound, when exhumed, the bones therein crumbled to powder when exposed to the air, thus attesting their great age.
One of these ancient graveyards covered a part of what is now Sulphur Spring Bottom in Nashville. Another was located in North Edgefield. A third was clustered about the mouth of Stone's river, above the city, and a fourth, the largest of all, was situated upon the farm of Mr. O. F. NOEL, South, adjoining Glendale Park.
Others were found throughout Sumner County, especially at and around Castalian Springs, formerly Bledsoe's Lick. These places of interment were also numerous along the Harpeth River in Williamson, Cheatham and Dickson Counties. Mounds and stone graves are also to be found in Humphreys and Hardin Counties.
In is related of the "Long Hunters," the first organized band of adventurers coming to this region, that to them no trace of human habitation was visible, the primeval state of things then reigning in unrivaled glory. But in dry caves on the side of creeks tributary to the Cumberland, down the course of which they traveled, they found many places were stones were set together, thus covering large quantities of human bones; these were found far in the caves with which this region yet abounds. The conical shape mounds left throughout Middle Tennessee by these early builders afford evidence of industry, and also a measure of skill. At Castalian Springs there may yet be seen the remnant of one of these mounds, which was formerly surrounded by a low wall or embankment enclosing a small acreage of land. This was open first by General James WINCHESTER about a hundred years ago, and within were found a quantity of human bones, some broken pottery, a box of red powder, burnt corn cobs, and several cedar posts. The latter had doubtless constituted part of the framework of a chamber formerly existing, but then in decay. At the time of the discovery of Bledsoe's Lick there stood on the top of this mound an oak tree three feet in diameter, thus indicating that it was then at least a century old.
In the same neighborhood have been found from time to time other relics of this pre-historic race. Near the door of a storehouse at Castalian Springs there lay for many years the carved sandstone image of a human form. This was about two feet in length, the arms of which, though partially broken off, seemed to have been raised in supplication. The shape of its head and the expression of its rude features were foreign, being entirely unlike those of the Indians. It was probably an idol once used in some form of heathen worship. It was not taken from the mound above described, as has been alleged, but was ploughed up from a neighboring field.
Another elevation of similar character in Sumner County is located on the farm of Mr. Alexander KIZER, and stands near the public road leading from Shackle Island to Hendersonville. This mound measures thirty-five feet across the top. From the south side it is fifty feet in height, having been approached formerly from the north to the summit, by a slanting roadway thrown up from the surrounding soil. At a radius of about a hundred yards it is surrounded by the remains of a number of smaller mounds. An excavation conducted by Eastern scientists some years ago disclosed the fact that the latter were used as receptacles for the dead, in truth the entire space between these and the central mound was covered with graves such as those already described. Popular tradition says that ages ago these ruins constituted the seat of government of a community or tribe of an extinct race; that the ruler or principal chief dwelt on the large elevation, while the lesser ones were used as stations by the officers of his council. A more probable theory is that the entire arrangement was for use in the ceremonial minutiae incident to the burial of their dead.
Near Nashville, at a point half way between the west bank, of the river and the north side of old French Lick Creek, stands an elevation known as the Charleville mound, so called in honor of a French trader who many years before the coming of the settlers had a station on its summit. This, too, was opened in 1821, and found to contain broken pottery, and a piece of oval-shaped metal on one side of which was an indented outline of the head of a woman.
In Williamson County a short distance north of Franklin, are three mounds of about equal size standing in a row from north to south. The remains of others like unto these are to be seen also in Warren, Lincoln and Hickman Counties. Near Manchester in Coffee County under the shadow of the great dividing range of the Cumberland Mountains stands an old moss covered stone fort which is yet in a partial state of preservation. Building in the long ago it is without even a tradition to disclose from whose bourn no traveler has yet returned. The Indians met by the pioneers on the arrival of the latter in Middle Tennessee could give no information as to the origin of these antiquities, all of which they held in great veneration, but were content to say that they had been here always.
At the discovery of this region, its soil, which was covered by thick cane-brakes and forest trees of mammoth size, seemed never to have been broken by cultivation.
We are, therefore, left in ignorance as to the means by which the Mound Builders supplied themselves with food and clothing.
They had undoubtedly attained a degree of civilization, but despite all that has been written upon the subject, a large part of which is mere fiction, there is little to indicate that they were highly civilized, or to a great extent acquainted with the arts of more recent progress. Modern scientists have cast aside many of the mysterious theories with which the existence of the Mound Builders was long enshrouded, and now believe that they were simply the ancestors of the American Indiana, the latter through the lapse of many centuries having degenerated into the low state of civilization in which they were found by the early discoverers.