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Bastrop Daily Enterprise - Bastrop, LA
  • A look at ancient Morehouse

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  • Morehouse Parish was a very different place in the centuries before Europeans first explored Louisiana.
    Ancient peoples lived and worked to survive, and built mounds that stand today as silent reminders of vanished cultures.
    October has been designated Archaeology Month, so we take this opportunity to look briefly at the mound builders and to put into context some of the archaeological sites in our area.
    Scholars divide the American Indian age in Louisiana into three basic periods.
    The Paleo-Indians were nomadic hunters who hunted prehistoric animals some 12,000 years ago. As the Ice Age drew to a close, they began hunting small game and collecting plant foods, ushering in the Meso-Indian Period about 5000 B.C.
    Meso-Indians, also called Archaic, lived in small nomadic groups and moved with the seasons. Although nomadic, the Meso-Indians remained in certain places long enough to build some of the earliest known mounds.
    During the Neo-Indian Period, the population grew and groups began to settle in places for years at a time. This period spanned from about 2000 B.C. until A.D. 1600 and is subdivided into the Poverty Point, Tchefuncte, Marksville, Troyville-Coles Creek, Caddo and Plaquemine-Mississippian cultures.
    Louisiana drew ancient hunters and gatherers with its rich bayous, streams and forests.
    Scott Swanson writes in “The Economic and Social History of Morehouse Parish, Louisiana, to 1900” (Letter Service Bureau: 1978) that mound-building may have been introduced to northeast Louisiana by the Poverty Point Confederation that lived along Bayou Macon.
    The Poverty Point Culture thrived from about 2000 B.C. to 700 B.C. and is named for its largest regional center near Epps, La. Here the ancients built by hand massive semicircle ridges and mounds covering more than a square mile.
    Many examples of Poverty Point Culture artifacts can be seen at the Snyder Museum in Bastrop. These include stone plummets used as weights on nets, clay cooking balls used like charcoal briquettes for roasting food, and micro tools, tiny stone tools used for drilling and engraving.
    Morehouse Parish may have been home to as many as 16 mound sites, although only three sites are still in existence.
    Two of these mounds are part of the Ancient Mounds Heritage Area and Trails Initiative. This program was established in 1997 through the state Division of Archaeology, Office of Cultural Development, to place markers at mounds viewable from roadsides.
    Caney Bayou Mound on Knox Ferry Road is believed to date back 4,000 years or more, to about 3000 B.C. during the Archaic Period. In other words, it’s older than the Egyptian pyramids.
    Time has taken a toll on Caney Bayou Mound. Today it stands a little over five feet tall. The mound contains Arkansas alluvium, indicating it was built when the Arkansas River still flowed through the channel in which Bayou Bartholomew flows today.
    Page 2 of 3 - Venable Mound on the Old Bonita Road is the last surviving mound from a three-mound complex once known as McTheney Mounds.
    Occupation of the site is believed to have started between A.D. 400-700, the Troyville Period, while construction of the mounds is believed to have started between A.D. 700 and 1200.
    Venable Mound stands over 22 feet tall, with a platform summit and the steepest slope of any mound on the Trail.
    During the Troyville-Coles Creek Period, the people built larger mounds to support temples and civic buildings rather than to serve as burial places. The popular style was a pyramidal mound with a flat top and stepped ramps leading up the side.
    The location of Venable Mound was probably strategic, as there is evidence the ancient people transported goods up and down Bayou Bartholomew.
    The Venable Mound site has been under cultivation since about the 1850s. Benjamin Brodnax with the Smithsonian Institution studied the site in the 1870s, when there were three mounds. Archaeologist C.B. Moore visited in 1908 and noted just two mounds.
    A third mound site, Jordan Mounds in Oak Ridge, is on private property and is not part of the Trail.
    C.C. Davenport writes in “Looking Backward: Memoirs of Early Settlement of Morehouse Parish (Mer Rouge Democrat: 1911) that the “Mound tract” in Prairie Jefferson was purchased by Dr. Thomas P. Harrison and A.T. Hawkins Duvall in the early 1840s and a “typical log cabin home” was built on the smallest mound.
    East of the Morehouse Parish line, on La. 585 in Kilbourne, La. stands Galloway Place Mound, also known as the Hodgkins Place Mound. It stands about 10 feet tall and has been dated to between 400 B.C. and A.D. 20, the Tchefuncte and Marksville periods.
    All of the sites on the Ancient Mounds Heritage Area and Trail are on private property, and visitors may not trespass onto any of the mounds. They may only view the mounds and historical markers from the roadside.
    Swanson writes Morehouse Parish was in a “transitional zone” for several American Indian linguistic groups when the French and Spanish began to explore the region.
    The Tunica claimed land in northeast Louisiana from the Mississippi to the Ouachita River, and lived in small villages throughout future Morehouse Parish.
    According to “Indians of Louisiana: Past and Present” (Somerset Publishing Inc.: 1999), the Tunica came from northwestern Mississippi and the neighboring part of Arkansas to settle near the mouth of the Yazoo River by 1682, with small groups also living in northeastern Louisiana.
    Sometime between 1784 and 1803, they moved up the Red River to Marksville Prairie.
    The Koroa lived in a large village just south of future Morehouse Parish, while the Natchez lived to the southeast and the Caddo and Quapaw hunters inhabited the western area.
    Page 3 of 3 - Davenport writes that a group of Choctaws occupied the prairie land where Abraham Morehouse established his home near Mer Rouge.
    He writes, “The Choctaws were friendly and did not object to the coming of whites in their hunting grounds.”
    The Choctaw lived briefly in Morehouse Parish as a result of American expansion into their homelands in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, according to Swanson.
    Davenport writes the American Indians to be found in Morehouse Parish, in the days of early settlement, left the region as the cotton industry picked up steam:
    “As the country went into cultivation the hunting grounds of the Indians were spoiled, and about the year 1830, they removed from the country.”
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