ILLINOIS' MOST ANCIENT CITY
NEAR COLLINSVILLE, ILLINOIS
tribe of American Indians that formed part of the Illinois nation. In the late
1600s and early 1700s, the Cahokia tribe occupied the central portion of Illinois
territory along the Mississippi River in the American Bottom region of southwestern
Illinois. Members of the tribe occupied the first terrace of Monks Mound, a
large prehistoric earthen mound in the American Bottom, from 1725-1752 (River
L'Abbe Mission site). The Cahokia were later absorbed by the Peoria tribe. Today,
their descendents are represented by the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma.
the record of European explorers in Illinois begins with the arrival of Marquette
and Joliet in 1673, the chronicle of the Native American inhabitants dates back
much further. This far earlier story, still only partially disclosed, reaches
back into a dim and mysterious past. Scattered across the region are the relics
of a dead and vanished civilization. They have been called the Mound Builders,
thanks to the vast monuments of earth which tell of their previous existence....
an existence which is still shrouded in mystery.
the early explorers began to come into the Mississippi Valley, they began to
find strange mounds of earth which were man-made and in distinct shapes and
designs. The settlers began to look upon these mounds as evidence of a long-vanished
and forgotten culture and as they dug into the mounds, they found a wealth of
extraordinary artifacts. These remaining antiquities included pottery; beautifully
carved stone pipes; intricate stone carvings; and effigies of birds and serpents
made from copper and mica. The mounds also contained vast number of human bones
and it became obvious that most of them had been designed as burial mounds.
the mystery as to who the Mound Builders had been gripped the public imagination.
A number of intriguing theories sprang up, suggesting that the builders of the
mounds had been may have been Vikings; Phoenicians from the ancient city of
Tyre; Welsh explorers and even the lost tribes of Israel. In other words, anything
but Native Americans!
1839, a solution to the mystery was suggested by an eminent ethnologist named
Samuel G. Morton, who produced evidence that the skulls taken from the mounds
were identical in shape to the skulls of Indians who had recently died. The
Mound Builders, he stated, were the early ancestors of the present-day Indians.
Few people accepted this conclusion until around 1881, when the Smithsonian
Institution mounted a special investigation that was led by an Illinois naturalist
and archaeologist named Cyrus Thomas, who was himself a supporter of the "lost"
race theory. Thomas and his team unearthed and examined thousands of artifacts
over a seven-year period and he was eventually forced to change his mind. The
Mound Builders truly had been early Native Americans.
of the largest of the Mound Builder sites is located in southwestern Illinois.
Near Collinsville is the Cahokia site, which is sometimes called "Monkís
Mound" after Trappist monks who farmed the terraces in the early 1800ís.
It is a stepped pyramid which covers about 16 acres and one which was apparently
rebuilt several times in the distant past. At the summit of the mound, are the
buried remains of some sort of temple, further adding to the mystery of the
the Middle Ages, Cahokia was a larger city than London and yet today, is an
abandoned place about which we know almost nothing. Centuries ago, there were
more than 120 mounds at the Cahokia site, though the locations of only 106 have
been recorded. Many of them have been destroyed or altered because of modern
farming and construction, although 68 have been preserved inside of the state
historic area boundaries.
is generally believed that about 20,000 people once occupied Cahokia, living
inside of a wooden stockade which surrounded various pyramids. The site is named
after a tribe of Illiniwek Indians, the Cahokia, who lived in the area when
the French arrived in the late 1600ís. What the actual name of the city may
have been in ancient times is unknown. The site is believed to have existed
from 700 A.D. until its decline in 1300. By 1500, it is thought to have been
archaeologists believe the last survivors of the Mound Builders were the Natchez
Indians of the Lower Mississippi Valley. These Indians were known for being
devout worshippers of the sun, which may explain the uses of the mounds at Cahokia
and the so-called "Woodhenge" of the site. These 48 wooden posts make
up a 410-foot diameter circle and by lining up the central observation posts
with specific perimeter posts at sunrise, the exact date of all four equinoxes
can be determined.
has been suggested that perhaps the Mound Builders abandoned the area because
of overcrowding or contamination of the local water supply, while others have
theorized that it may have been a breakdown of the civilization itself. The
sun-worshipping Natchez Indians were already in severe decline by the time the
first Colonial explorers reached the Mississippi. Soon afterward, they were
completely wiped out by the French during a series of Indian wars along the
to legend, a bearded and robed god visited the Mound Builders and inspired them
to love one another, live in harmony with the land and built the great earthen
works. But later, they degenerated back to human sacrifice and warfare. The
Natchez were described by the French as being the "most civilized of the
native tribes" but it was later reported that in 1725, the death of a chieftain
touched off a sacrificial orgy when several aides and two of the manís wives
agreed to be strangled so they could escort him into the next world.
the degeneration of the Mound Builderís society have brought the civilization
to ruin? Perhaps, although many people still consider the Cahokia site to be
a sacred place. In August 1987, the Monkís Mound was the meeting place of more
than 1000 people who took part in a worldwide "harmonic convergence"
which was designed to bring peace to the planet. Many Native Americans and metaphysical
groups believe Cahokia is a source of powerful psychic energy even today.
L'Abbe Mission Site
Courthouse, built about 1740, is a unique remnant of the French in Illinois.
Constructed as a dwelling about 1730, the building became a courthouse in 1793,
and for twenty years it served as a center of political activity in the Old
Northwest Territory. The structure was dismantled in 1901, re-erected twice,
and reconstructed on its original site in 1939.
Cahokia Courthouse is an excellent example of early French log construction
known as poteaux-sur-solle (post-on-sill foundation). The upright hewn logs
are seated on a horizontal sill log; the spaces between logs are filled with
stone and mortar chinking. The courthouse rests on its original foundation of
stone nearly two feet thick. Walnut beams extend the cantilever roof over the
porch. Inside are four rooms that originally functioned as a courtroom, a schoolroom,
and offices for attorneys and clerks.
Cahokia area was settled in 1698 by priests of the Seminary of Foreign Missions
at Quebec who built a log church outpost dedicated to the Holy Family. As missionaries
they Christianized local Indian tribes until Jesuit priests disputed their right
to convert these tribes. The King of France recognized the Seminary missionaries
as the church's sole local representatives, prompting the Jesuits to move south
to Kaskaskia where they established a mission among the Kaskaskia tribe.
(translated "wild geese") derives its name from the Cahokia Indian
tribe, who were members of the Illini Confederation. With their close relatives,
the Tamaroas, the tribes inhabited a wooded strip of land near the Mississippi
River. They gathered there in the summer for their councils, and in the winter
they ranged the prairies on hunts. An early missionary at Cahokia recorded the
size of the Indian village as ninety "cabins," probably lodges that
housed extended families.
1735 census of the Cahokia mission lists twelve adult Canadian males, but Cahokia
soon became the most populous of the French colonial Mississippi Valley towns.
Located just below the confluence of the Illinois, Missouri, and Mississippi
rivers, by the 1740s Cahokia was a strategic center for the trade in Indian
goods and furs. A French government representative assigned to Cahokia set trade
prices and ensured that the western tribes received gifts, encouraging their
trade with the French rather than the British.
were a half-dozen French settlements along the Mississippi. Cahokia was the
center for Indian trade, Kaskaskia was known for its shipping trade, and Fort
de Chartres was the military and governmental headquarters. The fifty-mile distance
between Cahokia and Kaskaskia was fertile river bottomland. Agriculture was
an important livelihood for the habitants (settlers), whose principle
crop was wheat. These pockets of French-Canadian settlement, with their foreign
customs and government, were surrounded in all directions by miles of Indian
country. In Cahokia, as in the other frontier villages, there were two distinct
communities - one French and one Indian - but overall, relations were harmonious.
The two groups traded goods, worshipped together, and intermarried.
the Illinois Country flourished, France's colonial empire floundered. In a series
of colonial wars, the French lost their North American empire to England, surrendering
final control in 1763 with the Treaty of Paris. Though the French regime in
the Illinois Country ended, reminders of the French occupation are still visible
in the architecture of such places as Cahokia Courthouse. French culture and
heritage is also evident in southern Illinois place names, traditions, and celebrations.
the loss of the French and Indian War in 1763, Canada and the Illinois Country
were ceded to Great Britain. Many of the French settlers at Cahokia, Kaskaskia,
and Prairie du Rocher fled in fear of the British occupation. Preferring to
live on French soil, they crossed the Mississippi to Ste. Genevieve. In 1764,
relocated Cahokians helped found the city of St. Louis.
a part of the United States on July 5, 1778. Nearby Kaskaskia had surrendered
the previous day to George Rogers Clark and his "Long Knives." At
Cahokia, thirty mounted Virginia Rangers and a like number of French militiamen,
under Captain Joseph Bowman, took Cahokia without resistance. Cahokia militia
captain Francois Trottier and his subordinates swore allegiance to the United
States, and the small stone fort was renamed Fort Bowman. It was the westernmost
American fort in the Revolutionary War. In August, Clark held a council at Cahokia
with representatives of the western Indian tribes. Five weeks later, Clark had
negotiated treaties of neutrality with most of the Indian tribes.
was named the county seat of St. Clair County following passage of the Northwest
Ordinance of 1787, which directed that a "courthouse, county jail, pillory,
whipping post, and stocks" be built in every county. Instead of erecting
a new building, the judges of the common pleas court of St. Clair County in
1793 purchased the Saucier home to serve as the courthouse.
twenty-four years the Cahokia Courthouse served as a U.S. territorial courthouse
and an important center of political activity in the Old Northwest. During that
time, the Illinois Country passed through two reorganizations, becoming part
of the Indiana Territory in 1800 and the Illinois Territory in 1809. When St.
Clair County was enlarged in 1801, Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison
made Cahokia Courthouse the judicial and administrative center of a vast area
extending to Canada's border.
By 1814, however, the county's jurisdiction had decreased to its present size and Belleville was the center of population. Constantly threatened by floods at Cahokia, the county seat was moved to Belleville in 1814. The former courthouse became in turn a town hall, storehouse, saloon, and again a home.
By 1900 Cahokia Courthouse had deteriorated so badly due to floods and neglect that it was used only to store farm machinery. East St. Louis businessman Alexander Cella purchased the dilapidated building at auction in 1901, dismantled it, and reerected it in 1904 at the St. Louis World's Fair. But the building reconstructed at the Fair hardly resembled the original. The courthouse was reduced to about half its original size and the stone and mortar chinking was eliminated. Leftover timbers were reportedly made into wooden cigars and sold as souvenirs at the Fair.
the St. Louis Fair ended, the building was again auctioned. Purchased on behalf
of the Chicago Historical Society and the Chicago Centennial Commission, in
1905 the timbers were shipped to Chicago's Jackson Park; the courthouse was
reconstructed, smaller yet, on Wooded Island.
demanded the return of the former courthouse in the 1920s and enlisted the aid
of the state in acquiring the structure. The building was not deeded to the
state, however, until September 1936. Archaeological investigations of the original
site begun in 1938, uncovered original foundations, fireplace footings, and
fragments of porch columns. Many domestic objects and fragments of ironwork
of the courthouse followed a study of photographs and sketches of the building
and of French construction methods of the locality and period. In 1939 the old
courthouse was at last dismantled and shipped to Cahokia with great care. All
of the logs returned from Chicago were incorporated in the reconstruction. The
courthouse was dedicated May 20, 1940 as a reminder of the "splendid heritage"
of the citizens of Illinois.
made of bone or antler --
needles, awls, shaft wrench, projectile points,
hoes, turtle-shell bowl
for a moment that you are paddling up the Mississippi River near present-day
St. Louis -- about 600 years ago. In the distance you notice a huge, flat-topped
earthen mound. Stairs on its front face lead up to an impressive lodge with
a sharply peaked roof.
Town of 15,000
you near this landmark, you see that it dominates a city surrounded by a wooden
palisade. Inside are numerous earthen mounds, thatch-roofed houses with pole
walls, farm plots, a market, a spacious central plaza and about 15,000 people.
This place, which we now call Cahokia, Ill., once covered more than five square miles of Mississippi bottomland. Carrying one basketful of earth at a time, the Cahokia Indians built the 100-foot-high mound that you saw from the river. The chief lived on top and the people thought him semi-divine. Cahokia left no written record, but some Indians engraved images on whelk shells that celebrated their gods and the deeds of brave men.
The Cahokia were one of many Indian tribes that built large settlements and ceremonial centers in the Midwestern and southern United States beginning more than 3,000 years before the birth of Christ. From 400 BC to about 400 AD, in present-day central Ohio, the Adena and Hopewell people constructed monumental earthen enclosures for their social, political, or religious ritual practices. There were major settlements in today's Louisiana, Oklahoma, Alabama and Georgia.
Indian civilizations disappeared before Europeans arrived, but 16th-century
explorers encountered and described several of them intact, publishing illustrated
books. Europeans brought epidemics that devastated many tribes. Settlers later
drove out the remaining Indians and built farms, roads and homes on ancient
sites. There was less destruction in the U.S. Southwest and in Central America,
where the Indian tradition is deeply rooted and more visibly a part of the landscape.
a curator at the Art Institute of Chicago, worked with historians, anthropologists,
archaeologists and tribal representatives to organize an exhibition of 300 Indian
objects, which he is presenting as works of art. Called "Hero, Hawk and
Open Hand: Ancient Indian Art of the Midwest and South ".
According to Townsend, most Americans believe incorrectly that the Midwestern and southeastern Indian tribes "few and far between. " These native people, says the "myth, " were "wild savages " who did not create "early forms of civilization. " "Hero, Hawk and Open Hand " explodes this myth by showing that Native Americans built large settlements like Cahokia, established trade routes that brought them objects and materials from all over the North American continent, developed a complex religion, and supported a class of "full-time professional artisans, " who created objects of such distinction that they belong in an art museum.
What We See
Hawk and Open Hand " presents things that have survived several centuries
beneath the ground -- grave goods and useful objects made from stone, metal
and clay. We see curious carved stone effigy pipes in animal form that Indians
presumably passed from hand to hand during ceremonies, whelk shells with drawings
carved into their surface, pottery and ceramic sculptures, and stone, shell,
and metal jewelry.
Indian craftsmen, who were not encouraged to innovate, made these anonymous works and it would be easy to call them artifacts. But the objects, which come to us from a distant culture and time, embody the universal human desire to make art. Just like today's artists, the craftspeople had an itch in their hands to make things, to make them beautiful, to create visual symbols and to decorate.
We see eight chunkey stones, which Mississippi River tribes used in an outdoor game. A chunkey player rolled his stone along the ground (it looks like a giant hockey puck with a depression in its center) while rival players threw sticks or shot arrows to mark where the stone would stop. Two of the eight chunkey stones in the show seem almost industrial, but the others are carved from carefully selected pieces of conglomerate, greenstone, and quartz with their smooth exteriors finished to reveal rich colors, patterns, and lines within.
Indian artists made projectile points of deadly elegance -- razor-sharp arrowheads chipped perfectly from pieces of chert and spear points with neat rows of teeth that pierced the flesh and did not let go. We see a cache of arrowheads that archaeologists discovered in a Cahokia grave. Gorgeous but too delicate for use, they exemplify Indian art for art's sake.
The most striking objects are fragile Hopewell cutouts made from sheets of mica. An open, life-sized human hand with its unnaturally long fingers spread and a graceful curve around the heel of the palm conveys by its form a sense of communication between the human and the spirit world. This piece -- and mica carvings of a snake, bird claw and human profile -- probably decorated some sacred place because they would fall apart if they were carried on the human body.
MYSTERY WOMAN OF AZTALAN
Woman of Aztalan; Princess or Priestess?
archaeological sites in the nation can equal the mysterious allure of the thousand-year
old ruins near Lake Mills called Aztalan. Studded with conical and huge, flat-topped
pyramidal mounds built by a Native American community around the twelfth century
AD, it once held a bustling village of 500, surrounded by a massive, fortified
wall of logs and wattle. Apparently an important trade and ceremonial center,
Aztalan was a northern outpost of a much larger city in Illinois near East St.
Louis called Cahokia, which also featured pyramidal mounds.
once supported about 35,000 citizens and was easily reachable via the Mississippi
River systemägiving our name of Mississippians to the people of these unusual
places. But Aztalan, first discovered by settlers in 1836, received its name
because of the largely discredited idea that it was somehow connected to the
Aztecs. The village flourished for about three hundred years, then disappeared
suddenly around 1200 AD for unknown reasons. At the end, the entire place was
burned to the ground.
they did leave one resident behind, safely deposited in a burial mound, who
poses perhaps the biggest mystery of all. Unearthed in 1919 by Dr. S.A. Barrett
from her grave situated on what would have been a high point overlooking the
Crawfish River, she was dubbed "the Princess" for her splendid costume.
Her body, found lying on its back, was lavishly draped in seashell beads. She
was wrapped in three separate "belts" of beads, from shells found
in local river mussels and in the Gulf of Mexico. Counting a few that either
were separated from the belts later or were thrown into the grave separately,
a total of 1,996 beads were buried with her. Each of the belts was about four
feet long and six inches wide, and was constructed with the shells graded from
largest to smallest from one end to the other.
of the skeleton show that she was five feet six or seven inches, tall for that
time, but that she had a spinal deformity. She was estimated to be about twenty-five
at the time of her death.
the mound was originally forty-seven feet in diameter and probably stood about
six feet above the earth surrounding it, most of its soil was hauled away over
the years. Judging from the original size of the mound and the richness of the
burial garb, this young woman was evidently a member of the ruling class. Studies
of other Mississippian type cultures that remained around southeastern United
States at the time settlers came show that women could occupy high places of
of ornament engraved on
Cosmic Landscape Architecture
Mirror of the Cosmos
Sally A. Kitt Chappell
Seen from high above, the Cahokia landscape had mythic dimensions. Stretching for six square miles, more than one hundred mounds rose from the earth with monumental presence. At the center lay four vast plazas, honoring the cardinal directions, to the north, east, south, and west. At their crossing the great Monks Mound towered more than a hundred feet in the air. At other points woodhenges (large circular areas marked off by enormous red cedar posts) enclosed large circular plazas or ceremonial areas.
whole city aligned with the cosmos! The idea reverberates with expressive power.
The stars in the heavens shine radiantly; they are constant in both position
and movement; they appear with reassuring regularity generation after generation.
The North Star orients a hunter in the forest so he can find his way home. The
moon lights his way in the darkness. The Pleiades promise a frost-free growing
season. Our orbit around the sun brings four seasons, from spring to winter,
echoing the life cycle of a person from youth to old age, with the promise of
continuity in new generations.
there other symbolic messages hidden in the placement of the mounds and plazas
in this eleventh-century city? How was its plan designed? What kind of social
and political organization was necessary to erect public works of this magnitude?
How was the labor force organized and motivated? What kind of surveying and
engineering methods ensured stability and endurance?
today, traces of the four main plazas demonstrate their orientation: Monks Mound
is aligned with the cardinal directions; the North Plaza is bounded by four
mounds on each of the cardinal sides; the principal mounds in the center are
aligned with Monks Mound and with each other. Seven mounds are lined up north-south
in line with the west edge of Monks Mound. Another eight align with the east
edge. Nine mounds are on an east-west line across the site and line up with
if designed by a landscape architect, each mound has sufficient space around
it to set it off from the others, and the modular spacing between the major
mounds serves to unify them. At the equinoxes two poles of the reconstructed
Woodhenge align with the rising sun in the east. Solstice posts in the Woodhenge
align at the beginning of summer and winter at sunrise and sunset. Several of
the principal mounds are also on these alignments.
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