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Early Native American Cultures (thru 1000 BCE)

Origins - The first people to come to the American continent crossed the
Bering Strait fifteen to forty-thousand years ago. They came from Asia to
Alaska. They may have used kayaks or walked across an ice cap. Some people
believe that the Pacific Ocean was much lower than it is now and these early
migrants may have walked over a land bridge that connected Asia to North
America. Over thousands of years these people moved across the American

Paleo-Indian People - The first people in West Virginia were the
Paleo-Indians or early hunters. They arrived sometime before 11,000 BCE.
Excavations in the Kanawha and Ohio valleys, on Blennerhassett Island, and at
Peck's Run in Upshur County have uncovered stone weapons of this period. The
early hunters lived in small family units. Small nomadic groups hunted large
game, such as mastodons, mammoths, and buffalo, with spears that had fluted
points. Large numbers of these arrowheads have been discovered along the Ohio
River between St. Marys and Parkersburg. Around 6000 BCE, most of the large
game became extinct, and the early hunters either died out or adapted to a
culture of hunting small game and gathering edible plants.

Archaic People - Between 7000 and 1000 BCE, several differing Archaic
cultures developed in the Northern Panhandle, the Eastern Panhandle, and the
Kanawha Valley. Excavations at Globe Hill in Hancock County, Buffalo in
Putnam County, and St. Albans in Kanawha County have revealed simple tools,
primitive pottery, and ceremonial burials. Unlike the nomadic Paleo-Indians,
the Archaic people tended to settle in one place for long periods of time. An
archaeological excavation in the late 1960s determined the St. Albans site to
be one of the first permanent settlements in present-day West Virginia. The
Archaic people chose this site in order to gather shellfish from the Kanawha
River. The use of gardens, pottery, and ceremonial burial mounds around 1000
BCE marked the beginning of the Early Woodland or Adena culture.

Early Native American Cultures (1000 BCE-1600 CE)

Adena - The Adena people differed from the Archaic because they organized
villages, developed more extensive gardens, wore jewelry, and played games.
The most lasting record of their culture are ceremonial burial mounds. Many
of these mounds still exist, the most notable being in Moundsville and South

Hopewell - The Hopewell culture apparently developed in the Illinois Valley
around 500 BCE. As the Hopewell people moved east, their culture had the most
significant impact of any of the early Americans. By the year 1 CE, members
of the Hopewell culture began migrating into the Kanawha Valley and erected
mounds in the South Charleston and St. Albans area, most notably the Murad
Mound. Other evidence of their presence has been found at Buck Garden Creek
in Nicholas County, the Watson Farm Mound in Hancock County, and the
Fairchance Mound near Moundsville. One remarkable arhaeological discovery was
at Mount Carbon in Fayette County. A variant of the culture called the
Armstrong people erected stone walls and earthworks around the top of the
mountain, possibly as a religious rite. Most of these discoveries were later
destroyed by strip mining.

Late Prehistoric period - During the late prehistoric period (1000 CE - 1600
CE), West Virginia was occupied by Native Americans of various tribes. They
lived in small villages and hunted, fished, and cultivated corn, beans, and
squash. In addition to many burial sites and petroglyphs, one of the largest
excavations of a Native American village is Buffalo Village at Buffalo,
Putnam County.

Native American Clashes with European Settlers
Emergence of Tribes

By 1600, organized tribes such as the Delaware and Shawnee had moved into
present-day West Virginia. In addition, the powerful Iroquois Confederacy
began exerting its influence on the region. The Confederacy was an alliance
of five Iroquois-speaking nations -- Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and
Seneca -- formed in present-day New York in the late 1500s. In 1722, the
Tuscaroras joined the Iroquois Confederacy, which became known as the Six
Nations. When Europeans first explored western Virginia in the late 1600s,
they discovered few Native Americans. Historian Otis Rice suggests this
absence was due to the Five Nations, "which sought domination of the Ohio
Valley as part of their effort to control the fur trade with the Dutch, and
later the British. . . ." (WV: A History, 9). The Confederacy controlled the
valley but other tribes were permitted to settle there. For example, a
Shawnee village existed at present-day Point Pleasant and a Delaware village
flourished at Bulltown in present-day Braxton County well into the 1700s.

European Exploration & Settlement

As the Confederacy fought smaller tribes for control of western Virginia,
European colonists set their own designs on the Ohio Valley. In 1607, English
colonists landed at Jamestown, Virginia. Based on various explorations, the
British and French laid claim to the territory comprising present-day West
Virginia and Native Americans were forced west. Many of the tribes were
destroyed by constant warfare and catastrophic diseases. At the same time,
trade with the Europeans proved a strong attraction, enabling the Indians to
acquire valuable new products, such as guns, steel hatchets, cloth, and
kettles. The fur trade in particular made many tribes powerful and more
aggressive. The Indian nations successfully played one European power against
another. For instance, the British formed an alliance with the Iroquois
Confederacy to cut the French out of the lucrative fur trade. However, the
Six Nations also negotiated treaties and traded with the French.


As part of their negotiations, the British secured three treaties which
opened the western Virginia frontier to European settlement: Treaty of Albany
(1722) and Treaty of Lancaster (1744) with the Six Nations and Treaty of
Logstown (1752) with the Delaware and Shawnee. At Lancaster, Virginia
negotiators convinced the Six Nations to surrender their land to the "setting
sun," which the Confederacy interpreted as the crest of the Alleghenies and
the British interpreted as all of western Virginia. Following the Treaty of
Lancaster and the end of King George's War (1748) between England and France,
Virginia pioneers pushed west of the Alleghenies.

Native American Concept of Land

A major factor in the treaty disputes was Native Americans' concept of land.
Indians fought among themselves over hunting rights to the territory but the
Native American idea of "right" to the land was very different from the
legalistic and individual nature of European ownership. John Alexander
Williams describes this in his book, West Virginia: A History for Beginners:

The Indians had no concept of "private property," as applied to the land.
Only among the Delawares was it customary for families, during certain times
of the year, to be assigned specific hunting territories. Apparently this was
an unusual practice, not found among other Indians. Certainly, the idea of an
individual having exclusive use of a particular piece of land was completely
strange to Native Americans.
The Indians practiced communal land ownership. That is, the entire community
owned the land upon which it lived. . . .1

French & Indian War

In 1754, hostilities broke out between English and French troops in western
Pennsylvania. English troops under a young commander, George Washington, were
overwhelmed by the French at Fort Necessity, beginning a lengthy war for
control of the American colonies. While the English had made it clear they
intended to settle the frontier, the French were more interested in trade.
This influenced the Delaware and Shawnee to side with the French. Although
the Six Nations officially remained neutral, many in the Iroquois Confederacy
also allied with the French.

Early defeats in the French and Indian War led Virginia Governor Robert
Dinwiddie to construct forts in the South Branch Valley. From 1756 to 1758,
Native Americans wreaked havoc on the new forts, attacking Fort Evans in
present-day Berkeley County and forts Seybert and Upper Tract in present-day
Pendleton County, as well as sites throughout the Monongahela, New River, and
Greenbrier valleys. In November 1758, the British captured Fort Duquesne at
present-day Pittsburgh, the key to French control of the Ohio Valley. The
following year, French troops lost Quebec, crippling their military strength.
The loss of French military support temporarily calmed tensions between
Native Americans and settlers in western Virginia. The Treaty of Paris in
1763 ended the French and Indian War and gave England title to virtually all
territory east of the Mississippi River.

Proclamation of 1763 & Pontiac's War

With the French eliminated, Native Americans were left alone in their fight
against British colonial aggression. In the summer of 1763, Pontiac, an
Ottawa chief led raids on key British forts. Shawnee chief Keigh-tugh-qua, or
Cornstalk, led similar attacks on western Virginia settlements in present-day
Greenbrier County. By the end of July, Indians had captured all British forts
west of the Alleghenies except Detroit, Fort Pitt, and Fort Niagara. On
August 6, British forces under Colonel Henry Bouquet retaliated, destroying
Delaware and Shawnee forces at Bushy Run in western Pennsylvania, which ended
the hostilities.

Fearing more tension between Native Americans and settlers, England's King
George III issued the Proclamation of 1763, prohibiting settlement west of
the Allegheny Mountains. However, many land speculators such as George
Washington violated the proclamation by claiming vast acreage in western
Virginia. The next five years were relatively peaceful on the frontier. In
1768, the Six Nations and Cherokee signed the Treaty of Hard Labour and the
Treaty of Fort Stanwix, relinquishing their claims on the territory between
the Ohio River and the Alleghenies to the British. With the frontier again
open, settlers flooded into western Virginia and the speculators made small
fortunes in rent on the lands they had acquired.

Battle of Point Pleasant

The Shawnee had never given up their claims to western Virginia and
interpreted the rapid settlement as acts of aggression. Hostilities reached a
climax in 1773 when land speculator Michael Cresap led a group of volunteers
from Fort Fincastle (later renamed Fort Henry) at present-day Wheeling and
raided Shawnee towns in what became known as Cresap's War. One of the worst
atrocities of the conflict was the murder of several family members of Mingo
chief Tah-gah-jute, who had been baptized under the English name Logan.
Logan, who had previously lived peacefully with the settlers, killed at least
13 western Virginians that summer in revenge.

Virginia Governor John Murray, Earl of Dunmore, plotted to crush the Shawnee
and end hostilities. Dunmore drew up a plan to trap the Shawnee between two
armies. The governor personally led the northern army while land speculator
Andrew Lewis led a smaller force from the south. But Shawnee leader Cornstalk
struck the southern regiment before it united with Dunmore's troops. On
October 10, 1774, Cornstalk's force of approximately 1,200 men attacked Lewis
at the confluence of the Kanawha and Ohio rivers at present-day Point
Pleasant. After the battle, which resulted in significant losses on both
sides, the Shawnee retreated to protect their settlements in the Scioto
Valley in present-day Ohio. As a condition of the subsequent Treaty of Camp
Charlotte, the Delaware, Shawnee, and Mingo relinquished all claims to land
south of the Ohio River. The Battle of Point Pleasant eliminated Native
Americans as a force on the frontier for the first three years of the
American Revolutionary War, which began in April 1775, clearing the way for
peaceful settlement of the region.

Revolutionary War & the Aftermath

At the same time as Dunmore's War, tensions mounted between American
colonists and the British. When the Revolutionary War began, many American
soldiers who had previously served in the British army fought for the
Continental Army. Native Americans remained generally neutral for the first
two years of the war. In August 1775, the Shawnee, Delaware, Mingo, Seneca,
Wyandot, Potawatomi, and Ottawa had agreed to the Treaty of Pittsburgh,
recognizing the Ohio River as the Indian boundary and pledging neutrality. By
the end of 1776, the treaty had fallen apart and Native Americans began
randomly attacking settlements. In June 1777, British negotiator Henry
Hamilton met with tribal leaders at Detroit and gained the support of the
Chippewa and Ottawa as well as some Mingo and Wyandot. This agreement
nullified the Treaty of Pittsburgh and effectively brought most Native
Americans into the war on the side of the British.

On the night of August 31, Wyandot and Mingo forces attacked Fort Henry at
present-day Wheeling. During the three-day siege, the Indians destroyed most
of the homes around the fort and killed a number of soldiers in the fort.
With the support of the British, Native Americans had enormous initial
success against colonists in the Ohio Valley.

One of the worst atrocities of the war on the frontier occurred at Fort
Randolph at present-day Point Pleasant. In November 1777, Cornstalk and two
companions visited the fort to inform Captain Matthew Arbuckle that the
Shawnee had decided to support the British. Arbuckle was suspicious and held
Cornstalk prisoner. After two hunters were killed near the fort, colonial
militiamen assassinated Cornstalk and his son Elinipsico.

In the spring of 1778, the British, Wyandot, and Mingo launched an offensive
on frontier forts. On May 16, Indians first attacked Fort Randolph then
proceeded east to the Greenbrier Valley settlements. They attacked Fort
Donnally, west of Lewisburg, for hours before reinforcements drove the
Indians back.

In 1778, George Rogers Clark temporarily broke the British-Indian alliance
with victories in the Illinois territory at Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and
Vincennes. Colonials rejected an attempt by Wyandots and some Shawnee to
negotiate a peace in 1779. Although the main British army surrendered at
Yorktown, Virginia, on October 19, 1781, occasional clashes occurred on the
frontier. The bloodiest Revolutionary War battle in western Virginia began on
September 10, 1782. Wyandot, Delaware, and British forces attacked Fort
Henry. The most dramatic story associated with this siege of Fort Henry is
the daring run of Elizabeth Zane, who allegedly carried gunpowder to the fort
amidst heavy gunfire. The settlers held the fort and, after three days, the
Indians and their British allies gave up. Soon thereafter, the British
ordered a halt to all attacks on the frontier.

After the Revolutionary War officially ended in 1783, settlers again poured
into western Virginia. Most Native Americans moved their villages westward
into Indiana, although they occasionally raided forts in western Virginia.
Frontier settlers, such as Lewis Wetzel, Samuel Brady, and Simon Girty,
formed independent military units to combat these attacks, often perpetrating
brutal assaults on Native Americans. Hostile actions between Indians and
settlers continued in western Virginia until 1794, when General Anthony Wayne
defeated Native Americans at Fallen Timbers in present-day northwestern Ohio.
The subsequent Treaty of Greenville effectively removed all remaining Indian
claims to western Virginia.

1. John Alexander Williams, West Virginia: A History for Beginners
(Charleston, WV: Appalachian Editions, 1993), 64.

Mounds & Mound Builders

The Adena people were the first Native Americans to build ceremonial mounds.
In other parts of the world, ceremonial burials had occurred much earlier.
The Egyptian pyramids date to 2700 BCE; in England, stone chambers called
barrows were used as early as 2000 BCE; between 1700 and 1400 BCE, keirgans
were used in central Siberia; and the burial mounds of the Choo Dynasty in
northern China date to 1000 BCE.

We know little about how or why the mounds were built. Historian Otis Rice
suggests these early Americans "built mounds over the remains of chiefs,
shamans, priests, and other honored dead." For their "common folk," the
Adenas cremated the dead bodies, placing the remains in small log tombs on
the surface of the ground. Virtually all of these graves have been destroyed
by nature and later settlement. Therefore, the more substantial mounds are
our only physical records of Adena burials.

Grave Creek Mound

The Grave Creek Mound in Moundsville (Marshall County) is the largest conical
type burial mound in the United States, approched in size by only the
Miamisburg, Ohio mound.  The mound, 62 feet high and 240 feet in diameter,
contains approximately 57,000 tons of dirt and originally stood nearly 70
feet high. The digging of so much earth left a sizeable moat or ditch
surrounding the mound, no longer in existence. By testing the soil,
archaeologists estimate the mound was built between 250 and 150 BCE by the
Adena culture, which occupied the area from about 1000 BCE to 200 CE. The
mound and two forts were the essential features of an Adena village in the
shape of a triangle. "The mound construction probably began with the death of
a very important person. There is no way to know who this person was -- great
warrior, chieftain or religious leader. We know that 25-30 years later
another important personage died and his remains were placed in an 8 by 12
foot vault on the top of the mound when it was approximately 35 feet high.
The natives then covered this with dirt until the mound reached its maximum

The first person of European descent to discover the mound was early settler
Joseph Tomlinson, who literally stumbled off the top while hunting in 1770.
In 1838, a descendant, Jesse Tomlinson and Thomas Briggs gutted the mound,
destroying much of the archaeological evidence provided by the scientific
study of other mounds. Tunneling from the side and top, the two men
discovered a burial chamber in the center containing two skeletons and large
amount of jewelry and another room with one skeleton and jewelry. Tomlinson
opened the center chamber as a museum, charging 25 cents admission. Five
years later, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft mapped the area. In 1909, the state
acquired possession of the mound, placing it under the care of West Virginia
Penitentiary warden M. S. White. In 1975, Dr. E. Thomas Hemmings of the West
Virginia Geological and Economic Survey conducted the first scientific
excavation of the area, locating among other items the previous existence of
a moat. During the last two hundred years, the top of the mound has been home
to a saloon, dance platform, and artillery pieces during the Civil War.
Today, the state operates the Grave Creek Mound State Park and Delf Norona
Museum and Culture Center, featuring numerous Native American artifacts from
the mound and region.2

Criel Mound

The Criel Mound in South Charleston is the largest of approximately fifty
conical type mounds of the Adena culture in an area west of Charleston
extending to Institute.  The precise age of the Criel Mound is unknown, but
archaeologists believe it dates to the time of the Grave Creek Mound in
Moundsville, probably built between 250 and 150 BCE. It was the burial ground
for an Indian village located on the site of the city of South Charleston
some 2,000 years ago. It is unknown when the village disappeared, although
some have suggested it remained until as late as 1650 CE In West Virginia,
the 35-foot high and 175-foot diameter Criel Mound is exceeded in size only
by the Grave Creek Mound.3

The Criel Mound was first excavated by Professor P. W. Norris of the
Smithsonian Institute in 1883 and 1884. Tunneling from the top down, the
archaeologists discovered the following:

At the depth of 3 feet, in the center of the shaft, some human bones were
discovered, doubtless parts of a skeleton said to have been dug up before or
at the time of the construction of the judges' stand. At the depth of 4 feet,
in a bed of hard earth composed of mixed clay and ashes, were two skeletons,
both lying extended on their backs, heads south, and feet near the center of
the shaft. Near the heads lay two celts, two stone hoes, one lance head, and
two disks.4
As they dug to a depth of 31 feet, numerous other skeletons were found,
including a burial vault containing the remains of eleven Native Americans
thought to have been killed in battle. There was also evidence that some may
have been buried alive. As was the custom, various jewelry and weapons were
placed in the buried vaults. Today, all the artifacts and skeleton remains
are maintained at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.5


1. History of Marshall County West Virginia 1984 (Marshall County Historical
Society, 1984), 6. 2. History of Marshall County West Virginia 1984, 6-7;
Phil Conley and William Thomas Doherty, West Virginia History (Charleston:
Education Foundation, Inc., 1974), 52-53. 3. Stephen B. Preston, "An
Introduction to the Mound Builders and the Criel Mound, `D' Street, South
Charleston," in J. Alfred Poe and Albert Giles, "The History of South
Charleston, West Virginia, Volume I," (hereafter Preston, "Mound Builders"),
16, 18.

4. "Ancient Works Near Charleston," U. S. Bureau of Ethnology, Twelfth Annual
Report, 1890-91 (Washington, D.C.), as quoted in Preston, "Mound Builders,"

5. Phil Conley and William Thomas Doherty, West Virginia History (Charleston:
Education Foundation, Inc., 1974), 52-53; Otis K. Rice, West Virginia: A
History (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1985), 5-6.


 Spiro Mounds, one of Oklahoma's most important prehistoric American Indian sites, is located in LeFlore County on the southern bank of the Arkansas River about fifteen miles from Fort Smith, Arkansas. The Spiro Mounds site grew from a small farming village to one of the most important centers in what later became the United States. Between 850 and 1450 A.D. twelve mounds, ceremonial areas, and a support city were eventually created for the Caddoan-speaking leadership who participated in the Mississippian Culture (also known as the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, the Southern Death Cult, and the Buzzard Cult).
The Mississippian Culture was a loosely organized trading, religious, and political system that included the leadership from many language groups and several million people. This confederation had trade connections stretching from the Rocky Mountains to the Virginia coast and from the Gulf Coast of Florida to the Great Lakes. Each group was more or less independent although tied to the four regional mound centers. These regional mound centers included Cahokia, where East Saint Louis is now, Moundville in Alabama, Etowah in Georgia, and Spiro in eastern Oklahoma.
The twelve mounds of the Spiro Mounds complex, all of human origin, were constructed in layers from basket loads of dirt. Three types of mounds were built at the Spiro Mounds site: one burial mound, two temple mounds, and nine house mounds. While most of the mounds were for buildings to be placed upon or to cover old houses, the single burial mound attracted the most attention.
The Spiro Mounds site is world renowned because of the incredible amount of art and artifacts dug from the Craig Mound, the site's only burial mound. From the 1870s Choctaw and Chickasaw freedmen farmed the land within the complex, but the mounds remained undisturbed until 1917. At that time, Joseph Thoburn, who had taken photographs of the site in 1914, tested Ward Mound One, a buried house mound. The landowners discouraged further work until 1933 when commercial diggers calling themselves the Pocola Mining Company acquired the lease for the Craig Mound. From 1933 until 1935 Pocola employees dug haphazardly into the burial mound. During two years, the commercial diggers destroyed about one-third of the mound and sold thousands of artifacts, made of stone, copper, shell, basketry, and fabric, to collectors throughout the world. Dubbed the "King Tut of the Arkansas Valley" by the Kansas City Star in 1935, the site yielded artifacts in greater numbers, in better preservation, and showing more elaborate, artistic, sophisticated decoration than any other Mississippian site. Continuing destruction convinced the Oklahoma Legislature to pass a licensing requirement for the protection of the site, and in November 1935 the Pocola Mining Company was finally shut down.
In 1936 the University of Oklahoma (OU) began scientific excavation of what remained of the burial mound. From June 1936 until October 1941 University of Oklahoma archaeologists oversaw Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers in systematically investigating the Spiro Mounds site. From the Craig Mound more than six hundred complete or partial burials were recovered along with thousands of artifacts. The OU and WPA crews also worked on the other eight mounds recognized at the time. All of these structural mounds were researched, although they still have some portions intact. In 1941 the University of Oklahoma ended excavations because of World War II and the demise of the WPA.
The land continued to be privately owned and farmed until the mid-1960s when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers purchased most of the mound center to create a national archaeological park, which did not materialize. On May 9, 1978, the Spiro Mounds Archaeological State Park, with the help of the Oklahoma Archeological Survey, opened an Interpretive Center as the first, and still only, Oklahoma prehistoric American Indian archaeological site open to the public. The facility is under the direction of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department. In 1979 the Oklahoma Archeological Survey conducted additional research at Spiro Mounds Archaeological State Park, and three additional mounds were located. One of these, a house mound, was tested in 1979 and 1980, and the other two will remain undisturbed. Spiro Mounds Group was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969 (NR 69000153). In 1991 site administration transferred to the Oklahoma Historical Society. An expanded Interpretive Center at Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center and an interpretive trail system allow visitors to learn about this unique and powerful part of Oklahoma's past.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: James A. Brown, The Spiro Ceremonial Center, in Memoirs of the Museum of Anthropology 29 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1996). Henry W. Hamilton, Jean Tyree Hamilton, and Eleanor F. Chapman, "Spiro Mound Copper," in Memoir 11 (Columbia: The Missouri Archaeological Society, 1974). Charles M. Hudson, The Southeastern Indians (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1976). Dennis A. Peterson, J. Daniel Rogers, Don G. Wyckoff, and Karen Dohm, eds., An Archeological Survey of the Spiro Vicinity, LeFlore County, Oklahoma, Archeological Resource Survey Report 37 (Norman: Oklahoma Archeological Survey, 1993). Philip Phillips and James A. Brown, Pre-Columbian Shell Engravings from the Craig Mound at Spiro, Oklahoma, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard University, Peabody Museum Press, 1978). J. Daniel Rogers, Don G. Wyckoff, and Dennis A. Peterson, eds., "Contributions to Spiro Archaeology: Mound Excavations and Regional Perspectives," in Studies in Oklahoma's Past 16 (Norman: Oklahoma Archeological Survey, 1989).

Dennis A. Peterson