The Mound Builders of Western New York - An Unknown Tribe

April 30, 2016

The Mound Builders of Western New York - An Unknown Tribe

Excerpts from Aboriginal Occupation of the Lower Genesee Country by George Henry Harris - 1884

The discovery of several tall, 7 and 8 foot skeletons in multiple 
burial mounds around Western New York
Near the top of a high ridge of sand hills, in the town of Pittsford, south 
of the Irondequoit valley, and about one mile east of Allen's creek, stands a 
great heap of limestone boulders, evidently of drift origin. They are the only 
stone of that character in that vicinity, measure from two to three feet in 
diameter, and are heaped one upon the other in a space about twelve feet 
square. They occupied the same place and position sixty or seventy years 
ago, and old residents say the heap existed in the same form when the ground 
was cleared. Indians who passed that way in early days regarded the stones 
with superstitious awe, stating, when questioned, that a people who lived there 
before the Indians brought the stones to the hilltop. 
"On the shore of Lake Ontario, on a high bluff near Irondequoit bay, in 
1796," says Oliver Culver, "the bank caved off and untombed a great quantity 
of human bones, of a large size. The arm and leg bones, upon comparison, 
were much larger than those of our own race."' The bluff mentioned by Mr. 
Culver was the seaward side of an elevated spot that might properly be 
termed a natural mound. It was one of the outlying range of sand hills or 
knolls, then existent along the shore of the lake in that locality, and long 
years ago succumbed to the never-ceasing encroachment of the lake waters. 
Its location was immediately west of the angle formed by the present west 
line of Irondequoit bay and Lake Ontario; as late as 1830 human bones of an 
unusually large size were occasionally seen projecting from the face of the 
bluff, or lying on the beach where the undermined soil had fallen. The tribe 
of Seneca Indians living in Irondequoit in 1796 could give no information 
concerning these bones, stating their belief that they were the remains of a 
people who dwelt about the bay before the Indians came there. 
In 1880 a sand bank was opened in the side of the ridge, and that part 
covered by the mounds has since been entirely removed. During the course 
of excavation a laborer came upon human remains. Parts of eight skeletons 
were exhumed, each surrounded by fine black soil. These were concealed and 
all evidence of the find destroyed; but the discovery of a bone of unusual 
size, together with a curious pipe, was brought to the attention of Mr. Brewer. 
The laborer could remember few details of the position in which the remains 
were found, and the opportunity for careful investigation was lost. 

The Mound-builders were inveterate smokers, and great numbers of pipes 
have been found in their mounds. The skill of the makers seems to have been 
exhausted in their construction, and no specimens of Indian art can equal those 
of the lost race. Many pipes of a shape similar to those discovered in the 
mounds of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys have been found in various parts 
of the country. 
Figure 1 is a greatly reduced representation of an article of stone, evidently intended for a pipe, but unfinished, found near Mount Morris, in the Genesee valley, and sent to the New York state cabinet at Albany by Mr. Squier, who says: "It is composed of steatite or 'soap-stone,' and in shape corresponds generally with the pipes of stone found in the mounds of the Mississippi valley. One or two pipes of stone of very nearly the same shape have been found in the same vicinity, but in point of symmetry or finish they are in no way comparable to those of the mounds."' The pipe taken from the ridge mound in Rochester is of the distinctively characteristic, or primitive form^ peculiar to the Mound-builders, and is represented in figure 2.
It is, or was originally, five and one-half inches long, one and three-fourths wide, and one inch and seven-eighths from bottom of base to top of bowl. The lines are slightly irregular, but very perfect for a hand-made article. The material is steatite, very close grain and quite brittle.
In the color it is a deep, rich brown, with blending patches of lighter shade, 
and every particle of the surface is so beautifully polished that it might easily be 
mistaken for marble. It was the only article of any description found with the human 
remains, though other relics may have been unnoticed. Close questioning elicited the 
fact that nearly all the graves were near the south slope of the ridge, and from two to 
two and a half feet below the original surface, while the large bone, a humerus, 
was nearer the surface and perhaps more directly beneath the center of the west 
mound; from which it may be inferred, though not definitely proven, that the 
mound was built over that particular bod)' with which the pipe was buried, and 
the other bodies interred in the side of the mound at a subsequent period. 
The condition of the remains would seem to fivor this view, the humerus 
being the only remaining part of the body to which it belonged, while several 
portions of skeletons from the other graves were, though very much decayed. 
quite firm in comparison; one skull (figure 3 being preserved entire.)
Mr. Brewer presented this skull and pipe to Professor S A. Lattimore of the Uni- versity of Rochester, to whom we are indebted for their use. In March, 1882, a human skeleton of large proportions was unearthed near the former location of the east mound. The laborers, astonished at the great size of the bones, engaged in a discussion as to whether it was or was not the remains of a human being, and, with true Hibernian method, broke the skele- ton into fragments to prove the ease.
Read the Rest, including the discovery of a skeleton over eight 
feet in height at Samuel Truesdale's farm in Greece, in 1878