Saturday, April 7, 2012


Shown above is the so-called "Conus" of Marietta, Ohio, one of the hundreds if not thousands of substantial mounds and other earthworks built by the inhabitants of eastern North Americans before the arrival of European settlers. Many of these sites were long ago ploughed under, but this one survives, in part because of its sheltered location in a cemetery, and in part because, according to archaeologist George R. Milner, the town's citizens made a point of preserving it.
Over a century and a half ago, Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis singled out the citizens of Marietta for special praise for preserving their mounds, while lamenting the loss of what would have been "striking ornaments" in other cities. In fact, the early settlers of Marietta were so proud of their mounds that they dignified them with Latin names.
Squier and Davis were the pioneering archaeologists whose 1848 report for the Smithsonian Institution, Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, provided the first scientific survey of the earthworks. Like many of their contemporaries, they assumed them to be the work of some vanished people, since the region's Indians were deemed too "primitive" to be capable of such accomplishments. George R. Milner's The Moundbuilders: Ancient Peoples of North America (W. W. Norton, 2004) is a good recent overview.

Despite the inscription on the postcard above, the Standing Stone Monument in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania is not "an Indian relic" but a memorial to a relic. A history of the monument can be found in the Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico (1910).
A famous Indian landmark on the right bank of a creek of the same name, on the Kittanning trail, at the site of the present Huntingdon, Huntingdon Co., Pa. The "standing stone" is described by John Harris (1754) as being 14 ft high and 6 in. square, and covered with Indian pictographs. It was highly venerated by the Indians, and is supposed to have been erected by one of the tribes of the Iroquois. After the treaty of 1754 the stone was carried away by the Indians. A similar one was erected on the same spot, which soon became covered with the names and initials of the Indian traders who passed by...

Rev. Dr William Smith, provost of the University of Pennsylvania, laid out a town on the site of Standing Stone in 1767, to which he gave the name of Huntingdon, in honor of Selina, Countess of Huntingdon (England), who had made a gift to the university. The old name, however, clung to the place for years afterward. Nearly all the traders and military officers of the 18th century use the old name.
The Handbook doesn't mention that the second stone was eventually destroyed (a piece is said to have been relocated to the Huntingdon County Courthouse). The third-generation monument shown in the postcard was erected in 1896 as part of a centennial commemoration of the incorporation of the Borough of Huntingdon. The fate of the original stone, with its mysterious "pictographs," is unknown. The recipient of the Standing Stone postcard, incidentally, was one Forney Gilliam of Ardmore, Indian Territories (now Oklahoma). Gilliam seems to have operated a small store in Ardmore; his solicitation for magazine subscriptions can be found in the Daily Ardmoreite for November 19, 1906. Either as part of his business or as a hobby (quite likely both), he appears to have been a quite active exchanger of postcards. (He also published at least one, a crudely printed black-and-white view of the Ardmore's Main Street.)

Finally, above is "the Devil's Den," a rock ledge in Newton Upper Falls, Massachusetts, which one source indicates was believed to have been used by Indians as a place to store dried fish. There must be countless numbers of sites in the US with an equally hazy folk memory of use by the original inhabitants of the land. There are a number of other Rotographs of Newton Upper Falls, so perhaps they will be the subject of a future post.

The inscription, by the way, reads "Serg't I wish you would try and Send me Perry's Address he is a former member of your Co and a very good friend of mine. Sergt Regan." It was mailed to a Serg't E. R. Gross in Attleboro, Mass.

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