Jonathan Fairbanks and Clyde Edwin Tuck

Past and Present of Greene County, Missouri • ca. 1914

Early and Recent History and Genealogical Records
of Many of the Representative Citizens

Chapter 1
Early Inhabitants of Greene County
by Edward M. Shepard

Part 1
Greene County Inhabitants Before European Settlement

In every inhabited part of the world we find abundant evidence of occupation by more than one race of people. In many cases, there has been a series of occupants, each passing through a cycle of settlement, growth and maturity, followed by a gradual decay, a migration or an absorption into the body of some more powerful race.

Everywhere in Greene county, as well as throughout the State of Missouri, we find evidences of prehistoric dwellers. The earliest instances of such, in the section now known as Greene county exist, probably, in some of the caves of this region. That a race of people called Cave Dwellers once inhabited parts of the Ozarks is undisputed by archaeologists, and that they antedated another race known as Mound Builders, is also very generally believed.

Caves abound in Greene county, and in at least one of them is seen obscure evidence of human occupancy. Some years ago the writer's attention was called to the fact that in the southeast of section 35, township 30, range 22, a cave had been discovered in which many strange bones were found. Excavations were made which uncovered numerous other bones that bear evidence of belonging to the Quaternary Period, and some traces of charcoal were observed. The bones were not gnawed, as would have been the case in a wild animal's den, and most of the thigh bones were broken, as for the obtaining of marrow, of which the aborigines were very fond. Some of these remains may now be seen in the Museum of Drury College. [25]

In Butternut Canyon, on the Winoka Lodge property, southeast of the town of Galloway, a shallow cave exists which was walled up with loose stones, as a place of burial would have been, though, on investigation, it disclosed no human remains. As the Osages, who were known to that region by the whites, buried their dead only on bluffs and sightly places, covering their bodies with flat stones, the inference that this cave was used by a race antedating them is a natural one. In the cave cast of the town of Ozark, just over the Greene county line, remains of ashes and charcoal intercalated with cave deposits, and indicating prehistoric occupancy, have been found. While it has not been possible to pass, with absolute certainty, on the character of the remains found in the above locations or in caves reported on from time to time in various parts of the county, the evidence favoring the presence of a race of Cave Dwellers here is strengthened by the fact that adjoining counties present undisputed proof of their prehistoric existence, one instance of which will serve for illustration of the point in question. Conant1 describes very fully the exploration of such a cave in Pulaski county, to the east of Greene. In this cave, beautifully situated in a bluff overlooking the Gasconade valley, considerable excavation was made in the floor deposits, which were found to be composed of earth and ashes, in which was much broken pottery, with fragments of human bone and flint, chips. The excavation was carried on to a depth of six feet, when the rough reddish clay of the natural formation was reached. The depth of the successive layers of debris indicated a long occupancy. In the farther recesses of the cave, several human skeletons were found, in such a position as to indicate that they had been buried there. In the shallower parts of the cave, many mussel shells were mingled with the bones of birds and mammals—probable remains of funeral feasts held in honor of the dead.


The race of Cave Dwellers was apparently followed by that of the Mound Builders, who left traces of their occupancy in the numerous mounds widely scattered throughout the whole state. The writer has supplemented his own list of these elevations by that given by Mr. Louis Houck,2 who enumerates three hundred and fifty-four as located in Greene county.

These mounds are sometimes so low as to be hardly noticeable, and they are rarely elevated more than from two to four feet above the surrounding country. They are often twenty and thirty feet in diameter, usually arranged in irregular groups numbering from half a dozen to fifty or sixty, and standing from one hundred to one hundred and fifty feet apart. They are rarely more than a quarter of a mile away from water, being mostly located in irregular groups, or rows, in the narrow valleys sloping toward springs or water courses. They are seldom found in the broader and lower valleys, either because of the fear of overflow, or for the reason that more dense forests covered the river bottoms in primitive times than now prevail. The originally slight elevation of some of these mounds has caused them to be often unrecognized, and the agriculturist, by plowing and harrowing, has demolished many of them or greatly reduced their size. They are frequently marked, in a field of grain, as little islands of more luxuriant growth. [26]

Notable examples of these mounds are found in Hickory, Dallas, Polk, Webster, Christian and Taney counties, as well as in Greene. It is estimated that there are ten thousand of them in Greene county alone. Some of them may be seen on Drury College campus, east of the president's house. They are also abundant east of Springfield, on the Division street road; in the city of Springfield, on the St. John's church property; northeast corner of Benton and Division streets; the northeast corner of Jefferson and Division streets; on Wabash, between Nichols and Webster streets; on Harrison street in the neighborhood of the Glenwood road; near Blaine and Spencer streets; around the old fort; along the Nichols road; and in the northwestern part of the county, about Cave Spring, Walnut Grove and Willard.

Houck3 locates the following:
North part of sec. 3, twp. 99, r. 20, seven mounds.
Middle part of sec. 51 twp. 29, r. 20, nineteen mounds.
Southeast of northeast of sec. 22, twp. 29, r. 22, site of Kickapoo village.
Southwest of sec. 29, twp. 29, r. 21, eleven mounds.
West part of secs. 6 and 7, twp. 28, r. -21, forty-three mounds and arrowheads found.
East part secs. 1 and 12, twp. 28, r. 22, forty-eight mounds and arrowheads found.
Northwest of sec. 6, twp. 29, r. 22, twelve mounds and arrowheads.
Southwest part sec. 18, twp. 29, r. 22, fifteen mounds and arrowheads.
Central parts of secs. 13 and 14, twp. 29, r. 23, fifty-five mounds.
Secs. 23, 24, 25. 26, 35 and 36, twp. 28, r. 23, battlefield of Wilson's Creek.
East part of sec. 34, twp. 31, r. 20, twenty-two mounds.
All of sec. 35, twp. 31, r. 20, fifty-three mounds.
Southwest of sec. 2, twp. 28, r. 23, four mounds.
Northeast part sec. 1, twp. 29, r. 21, eight mounds.
Northwest part sec. 5, twp. 29, r. 21, eight mounds.
Southwest part sec. 33, twp. 30, r. 21, seventeen mounds.
South part sec. 35, twp. 30, r. 20, ten mounds.
North part sec. 20, twp. 30, r. 20, thirteen mounds.
Southeast part sec. 31, twp. 29, r. 20, nine mounds.
Northwest half sec. 29, twp. 29, r. 23, fifteen mounds.

As to the purpose of these elevations, it is most probable that they were not funeral mounds, since, so far as the writer is aware, no human remains or ashes have been found to indicate that they were used for burial purposes, and it is the general belief that they were constructed by an unknown race of Indians for domiciliary purposes-probably as elevations on which to build their tepees, or wigwams, to render them drier and more healthful. An attempt has been made to account for them by natural causes on the theory that they might be the result of the upheaval of trees by tornadoes, the dirt and soil lifted by the roots finally dropping as the organic matter decayed and left the earth to form these elevations in irregular groups. Such mounds, however, can usually, though not always, be determined by their different shape, being slightly oval in outline, and often with a slight depression on one side. [27]

Another class of mounds, very difficult to be distinguished from those of artificial origin, are those formed by the differential weathering of material, around bosses or masses of hard, silicious lime or cherty layers, where the wearing away of the softer strata of rocks leaves the harder layers, covered with dirt and rising above the surrounding country in shapes that suggest the agency of human beings in their formation. Such examples are found in Polk county, just over the edge of Greene, east of Asher creek, about two miles south of where that stream empties into the Sac.

Another type is found in cases where a harder stratum of rock protects softer layers beneath, forming buttes which are a striking feature in the scenery of some of the more western states. In the northeast of section 27, township 31, range 22,a quarter of a mile east of Presley Hill, in Greene county, is quite a noted elevation commonly called the "Great Indian Mound," and referred to as such in the earlier history and traditions of the county. A vivid imagination has discovered remains of a race track around the mound, and many attempts at excavation have been made in the vain hope of finding buried treasure, bones or pottery. This feature of the landscaper is, however, but a striking example of a small butte, a case in which a harder stratum of worm-eaten sandstone (Hannibal sandstone) has protected the softer shales below, and erosion, having cut away everything around it, has left this precipitous butte, about 40 feet high, 100 feet long, and 50 feet wide on the top, which is capped by the hard, protective sandstone. This natural feature the geologist calls "a mound of circumdenudation."

There is little doubt that the mounds scattered about Greene county that cannot be accounted for by any of the foregoing theories must owe their origin to human agencies. From the few instances in which excavations have been made, they seem to be built up of soil, free from stones of any size, with no evidence of stratification, and, where cross-sections have been made, showing a line indicating the general level of the surrounding country upon which the mound was built.

The reader must not confuse these elevations with the noted mounds of southeast Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio, which are frequently of great size and height, and often moulded in the form of some living creature. Those were burial and ceremonial mounds, which contained pottery, and frequently human remains-evidences of a type of prehistoric man unknown in this part of the state.

While it is difficult to satisfactorily classify the mounds under discussion, there is no doubt on the part of archaeologists that many of them are the result of human handiwork, but there is a difference of opinion in regard to their antiquity, some arguing that they were built by the Osages, and others that they antedate that tribe.

As the early white explorers had ample opportunity of knowing how the Indians whom they found in this region built their homes and buried their dead (customs which will be described later), the writer is strongly inclined to the belief that the mounds in question represent a race that existed previous to the occupation of the Osages, and different also from the race which built the great mounds of the Mississippi valley, though possibly contemporaneous with them.4 [28-29]

1"The Commonwealth of Missouri," C. R. Barnes, p. 49.
2 "History of Missouri," Louis Houck, Vol. I, p. 81.
3 "History of Missouri," Louis Houck, Vol. I, p. 81.
4 Dr. J. W. Blankenship, of Berkeley, California, a former resident of this county, who has made a somewhat extensive study of this subject, says, in a personal letter: "They (the mounds) are unquestionably the remains of human habitation-the villages of the Mound Builders, and appear to have been ''adobe' huts of mud wall structures of the same general type as those of the Mandan Indians, described by Lewis and Clark. Sectioning such mounds, usually a line of mould about the level of the ground is indicative of the floor of the building and often remains of charcoal mark the fireplace in the hut, which appears to have been built round, not square, and the general absence of any bones or other human remains show they are not burial mounds. The material of construction was sun-dried mud bricks, the same as the adobe houses of the Southwest are yet built of, and the source from which they came is still shown in the great number of artificial 'ponds' still found in Greene county and the district adjacent-not the ponds formed by the stoppage of limestone sinks, which are also frequent. There is some indication of irrigation, which means agriculture, but the long time that has since elapsed makes this difficult to, determine with certainty, though some ponds-there is one about a mile due north of Willard, and another about two miles-that lie on relatively high land, so they could have been used as irrigating reservoirs, and I have seen another about half-way between Willard and Springfield, on the main road, from which well-defined ditches appeared to run. The older inhabitants of Greene county will remember that the prairies were usually dotted with small clumps of timber, often at considerable distance from the forest, though most of these have now been cut down, on account of their occupying some of the best lands for agriculture. It seems to me probable-and the abundance of the ancient mounds within the clumps of timber (or groves), as they were usually called, appears to indicate, that the groves originated from the acorns brought in for food by this primitive people. I know of no other animal that would carry acorns thus miles from the forest and drop them to form the nucleus of these groves, the van of the approaching forest.

"The general absence of any flint or domestic utensils from these wounds in Greene county would indicate a people unwarlike and relatively low in the general civilization of the period of the Mound Builders, a sort of outlying community on the west bordering a much higher civilization along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, from which the character of the mounds seems to separate them."

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