Among the Skeletons

Among the Skeletons – Digging Into An Ancient Mound Crowded with the Bones of the Mound Builders Pottery, Beads, Shells, and Many Interesting Trinkets Unearthed

Ironton Register, Thursday, March 17, 1892

Last Tuesday, S. C. Winkler entered the Register office with a basket, from which he drew out from under the papers, that covered the contents, a glistening skull. “That” said he “is a product of my farm- I dug it up a few days ago; and this,” pulling out a long strand of beads, and holding it up, I took out with the skull, and must have been around the neck of the person.”
Mr. Winkler went on to remark that five or six skeletons had been dug up from a little spot, a few feet square, but they broke to pieces as they were exhumed. The place which contained the skeletons had been covered by the old dwelling house of Joshua Kelly, father of Rev. J. M. Kelly, at Union landing. The house had been torn down and removed and Mr. Winkler was leveling down the ground where the house stood, preparatory to plowing, and thus struck the skeletons.
So remarkable a find was exciting to a newspaper man, so we immediately returned with Mr. Winkler, taking a seat by his side in his two-horse express and driving through the snow storm to the land of the mound builders.
Reaching Mr. Winkler’s house, we found dinner awaiting him, which was a happy circumstance for the Register man, too, for we fell to, and absorbed an enjoyable meal, and made ourselves strong to tackle the skeletons sleeping so sweetly in the mound over on the river bank; for thither we immediately repaired. The spot as we said had been covered by Joshua Kelly’s residence, which was built on an Indian mound in 1828. Rumor comes down that from that remote day, when digging the foundation for the chimney, they exhumed a skeleton of a ferocious warrior who must have been seven and a half feet high, and whose lower jaw, fitted to an ordinary man’s completely enveloped it.
But, since those days nothing further has been noticed, except that the land around was thick with pieces of pottery and peculiar trinkets of a lost race. Now, when Mr. Winkler attempts to remove the gentle elevation occupied by the building, his shovel and pick strike skeletons at nearly every thrust. Last week, in digging a hole six feet square, he struck five or six skeletons and took out two perfect skulls, with the teeth robed in the peculiar cadaverous smile.
When we arrived at the place the excavations were resumed. In a moment, the shovel was crunching through ribs and thigh bones and vertebrae at a fearful rate. We would strike a thigh bone and follow it up through the pelvis, and thence along the spine to the cranium, and thus endeavor to save the skeletons and the skulls, but they were already broken, or easily fell to pieces when removed. But we got fine specimens of the jaw bones, the humerus, the femur, divers vertebrae, and sections of the skulls. In a couple of hours we exhumed half a dozen cranis, but were unable to secure a perfect one. There are, probably, the bones of fifty persons in that little vestige of a mound that is not over thirty feet in diameter.
We did not have to dig down more than 2 ½ feet to find the remains. Some were within 8 or 10 inches of the surface. Two feet down, one strikes the solid original earth, a yellowish clay. Above that, the earth, constituting the mound, is all rich loam, removed to that place, at least a thousand years or more ago. Ashes and shells, the usual accompaniment of these interesting mounds are here in profusion. The beads making a strand five feet long were a very interesting discovery. Mr. Winkler kindly gave us a generous portion of this strand which we will prize as a keepsake coming down from a nation whose existence is yet wrapped in deep mystery.
One thing we noticed about these ancient inhabitants was the excellence of their teeth. The jaws were all full of sound teeth, and an enterprising dentist might, even in this day, make them do good service in the mouths of beauty and fashion.
We should not have wondered if the good family that founded their home over that little graveyard and raised their children there, would have had some little fears of ghosts and hobgoblins had they known that right beneath them were fifty skeletons. It was certainly a fine chance for spooks, for surely anyone’s fancy amid such a scene, could without much effort, summon up a whole train of disembodied spirits. Digging there in the middle of the day, in the reality of a snow storm, we could not help beholding in the dim vistas of oblivion, giants and [illegible] of a vanished race, every time we struck a cranium or flipped out huge femur.
There are the remains of the Mound builders, who lived here over a thousand years ago, long before the Choctaws and Chippewas ranged the forests and built their wigwams on the banks of the beautiful river. In their last resting places, we found pieces of pottery, mussel shells, ashes, and trinkets that mark unerringly the last abode of the Mound builders. We brought with us as a trophy of the day’s experience, a piece of pottery, a vertebra, a knee cap, and some beads.
Some of the bones were very large, showing that there were giants in those days. But among the remains were the thin cranial bones of the child, that almost fell to pieces at the touch. It would have been almost impossible to rescue a complete skeleton unless a person were to do the exhuming entirely with his fingers, and then he would find many of the bones quite imperfect. There seemed to have been no order of burial except that the bodies were laid with the heads in the direction of the river.
When the first of these bodies were exhumed, a few days ago, the rumors of a ghastly find of the bodies of recently murdered people got out, and some one wrote the Portsmouth Blade of discovery, and the editor thereof demanded that the authorities investigate the matter. But our neighbor should compose himself. If those are murdered remains, the murderers must have lived 10 or 15 hundred years ago, and it is now a little late to arrest them.

* See also: “An Old Timer Tells His Story”