Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Mounds Builders
Nature Bulletin No. 389-A   October 3, 1970
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

On a river bank, here in Cook County, there is a low narrow mound about 40 feet long. It is wavy and tapers to a point at one end, like a snake. The jaws of the head are open, as if about to swallow a little round mound which may represent an egg or, if built to celebrate an eclipse, be a symbol for the sun or the moon. This is an effigy mound, or crude image, similar to the larger ones found in Wisconsin and the borders of neighboring states. Scientists say they were built by a northern race of Indians who disappeared about 200 years before Columbus discovered America. This is the only one of many mounds, formerly found along the rivers and creeks of Cook County, which has not been destroyed. So, don't ask us where it is.

On the east bank of the DesPlaines River, west of Park Ridge, there used to be four mounds. Three were elliptical in shape -- about 40 or 50 feet long and less than 30 feet wide -- raised about 3-l/2 feet above the surrounding ground. The fourth was an effigy mound, with a body 40 feet long and four legs, supposed to represent a bear. About 400 feet north of what is now North Ave. and east of Thatcher Ave., there was a group of five oval-shaped mounds, none more than 25 feet in diameter, each surrounded by a trench. The skeletons and artifacts excavated from these mounds were destroyed in the great fire of 1871 but they were declared to be those of a southern race of prehistoric Indians.

In the office of the Forest Home Cemetery*, in Forest Park, are preserved the relics found in seven mounds, and the cache pits near them, formerly located on the east side of the DesPlaines River north of Roosevelt Road. At least two of these mounds were built after the French fur traders came here, because, in addition to copper nuggets and artifacts of stone -- axes, war clubs, spearheads, arrowheads and pipes -- there were small brass kettles, iron tomahawks, steel knives and silver ornaments that Indians did not have until the white man came. Some of the silver articles were stamped: "Montreal".

Along the bluffs of the Illinois River are hundreds of burial mounds, The largest, the Dickson Mound in Fulton County, was originally crescent-shaped and measured 550 feet along the curve. At Cahokia, near East St. Louis, are the remains of what must have been a city: nearly a hundred mounds dominated by the largest one in America -- a flat-topped pyramid covering 16 acres and rising a hundred feet above the flat bottomland -- apparently built only for a temple.

In the valleys of the Ohio River and its tributaries are thousands of mounds in various shapes and sizes. Most common are the conical mounds, some small, some very large. Others were evidently fortifications, like Fort Ancient on the Little Miami River, which has miles of moats and walls enclosing a hundred acres in two rudely triangular areas connected by a winding passageway. Within it are several burial mounds. Most famous of all effigy mounds is the Great Serpent Mound, now an Ohio state park, which measures 1330 feet from head to tail and has an egg-shaped mound in front of its yawning mouth.

The mound builders were not a mysterious race that came from nowhere and suddenly vanished. They were Indians who became highly civilized, skilled in agriculture and the arts of making pottery and ornaments, and traveled far to trade for copper, shells, obsidian and other materials from all over North America. The northern and southern races undoubtedly met and traded at Chicago. They degenerated and were conquered by more savage tribes but they were the ancestors of the redmen whom the Europeans found here.
December 2001 addendum
*Apparently, the Village of Forest Park Public Library houses these items currently.

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