Native Cemeteries and Forms of Burial East of the Mississippi

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

Cumberland river, is another burying ground, where the graves are equally numerous. At Cockerel's Spring, two or two and one-half miles from the first mentioned, is another; and about six miles from Nashville, on the Charlotte road, we have another; at Hayesborough, another; so that in a circle of about ten miles diameter, we have six extensive burying grounds. . . . As to the form of the graves, they are rude fabrics, composed of rough flat stones (mostly a kind of slaty limestone or slaty sandstone, both abundant in our State). Such flat stone was laid on the ground in an excavation made for the purpose; upon it were put (edgewise) two similar stones of about the same length as the former, and two small ones were put at both extremities so as to form an oblong cavity lined with stones, of the size of a man; the place for the head and feet had the same dimensions. When a coffin was to be constructed next to it, one of the side stones serves for both, and consequently they lay in straight rows, in one layer only, I never found one above the other." ( Troost, (1) pp. 858-W9.)

This very graphic description of a stone grave would apply equally well to those discovered in widely separated parts of the country. But it was not always possible to secure pieces of stone of sufficient size to allow a single one to serve as the side of a grave, in which event it was necessary to place several on each side. Again, the graves were made of a size to correspond with that of the body which was to be placed within it, and therefore they varied in length and breadth. Others which were prepared to hold a bundle of bones after the flesh had been removed, or had disappeared, were quite short--the latter were the "pygmy graves" of the early writers.

About 9 miles from Nashville is a hill "on which the residence of Colonel Overton stands. . . . was in former times occupied by an aboriginal settlement. The circular depressions of the wigwams are still visible." ( Jones Joseph, (1), p. 39.) Many stone graves were discovered here, "the earth having been excavated to the depth of about eighteen inches, and the dimensions of the excavation corresponding to the size of the skeleton. The sides of each were lined with carefully selected stones, forming a perfect parallelogram, with a single stone for the head and foot. The skeleton or body of the dead person was then deposited at full length. In the square short grave the skull was placed in the centre and surrounded by the long born" Jones made another very interesting observation and discovered that "some of the small graves contained nothing more than bones of small animals and birds. The animals appeared to be a species of dog, also rabbits; raccoons, and opossums. The bones of birds appeared to belong to the wild turkey, eagle, owl, hawk, and wild duck. Occasionally bones of these animals and birds were

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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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