Native Cemeteries and Forms of Burial East of the Mississippi

By David I. Bushnell Jr. | Go to book overview

of their early posts or settlements, and probably many burials which have erroneously been attributed to the Indians could be traced to these sources. It has already been shown that at the establishment of the American Fur Co., standing at Fond du Lac in 1826, were two small cemeteries, one for the whites and the other for the Indians. This may have been the custom at many posts, but now, were these graves examined, it would probably be quite difficult to distinguish between the two.

An ancient French cemetery evidently stood not far from the banks of the Illinois, probably within the limits of the present city of Peoria. It was mentioned just 70 years ago in a description of the valley of the Illinois, and when referring to the native occupants of the rich and fertile region:

"This little paradise was until recently possessed by the Peoria Indias, a small tribe, which has since receded; and tradition says there was once a considerable settlement of the French on the spot. I was informed there is an extensive old burial place, not of Indian origin, somewhere on or near the terrace, and noticed that not a few of the names and physiognomies in this quarter were evidently French." ( Paulding, (1), p. 17.)

If discovered at the present time these remains would be in a condition which would make it difficult to distinguish them from those of Indians unless associated objects of European origin would serve to identify them. And down the valley of the Illinois has been discovered a native Indian cemetery dating from about the same period as the old French cemetery at Peoria. It was evidently one of much interest. " Upon the banks of the river at Naples are the burying- grounds of the modern Indian, in which have been found many stone implements intermingled with civilized manufactures, such as beads, knives, crosses of silver, and other articles indicating traffic with the French during, probably, the latter part of the 17th and the first half of the 18th centuries. . . . The pottery exhumed from this ancient cemetery shows that it was the common burial- place of the rice that built at least a part of the mounds." ( Henderson , (1), p. 719.)

However, Indians were sometimes buried in the small French Catholic cemeteries, and it may be recalled that when Pontiac was murdered, in the year 1769, near the village of the Cahokia, on the eastern bank of the Mississippi, his body was claimed by the French, carried across the river in a canoe, and placed in the cemetery belong- ing to the church. This stood on the summit of the ridge, then probably surrounded by the virgin forest; now the site, is covered by buildings, on the southeast corner of Fifth and Walnut Street-,, in the city of St. Louis. But all traces of this ancient burying ground have long since disappeared.

-43-

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Native Cemeteries and Forms of Burial East of the Mississippi
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 1
  • Preface 5
  • Contents 7
  • Illustrations 9
  • Algonquian Groups 11
  • Stone-Lined Graves 44
  • Burials in Caves 58
  • Iroquoian Groups 65
  • Muskhogean Groups 70
  • Siouan Groups 93
  • Conclusion 122
  • Bibliography 149
  • Index 157
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