A Delta Weekend Part III


I’ll just go down here… and check out this other place on the way home.

Part III

“I thought you got lost back there.” I did, in a way. I remember a paragraph each in a school history book about two great American civilizations - Puebloan, or Anasazi, and “Mound Builders.” The third reason I was here was Winterville Mounds. The first Mississippian culture - one of many “mound builders” site I visited is the largest. Cahokia was the center of it all, with the largest mound and the most structures. Shattering the rosy vision of Native cultures as egalitarian, the largest mounds were reserved for leaders and spiritual leaders - Monk’s Mound covers 14 acres. Since that first visit, I have been to sites built by three civilizations covering seven states and 2,000 years of American history. The oldest I visited is Pinson Mounds, south of Jackson Tennessee, with the remains of a reflected pool and ceremonial mounds with layers of different types of soil. They predate the Mississippian sites by roughly a thousand years. Serpent, an effigy mound in Ohio, is a 1,400 foot long uncoiling snake built by the intermediate Adena culture. The “turns” of the snake correspond to lunar phases. Emerald Mound near Natchez and Parkin in Arkansas, both Mississippian culture, were still in use in the time of and visited by Spanish explorers. At Chucalissa in Memphis a single low platform remains. I saw two mounds in Wickliffe, Kentucky behind the closed gate of a state park. There was security and a fee charged when they were open so I stayed on the free side. By contrast, Towosahgy State Historic Site in Missouri is a beautiful open site with seven structures, including three-story platform (for the “big man”) and conical mounds. My reaction to all of them is the same. I am in awe of a civilization that is 100% American yet one we know so little about.

After church and strolling around old Greenville, I headed north on Mississippi Highway 1. Just outside of the modern city limits I spotted the first sign of that 1,000 year old culture. In the flat Delta, mounds stick out like mountains. When I pulled in to discover the museum closed, it was okay - I would visit outside first and inside later. The park is free and open sunrise to sunset. Winterville dates back to 1,000 AD and was primarily a ceremonial site. Definitely an important one, with 12 mounds remaining of 23 in evidence. At 55 feet, Temple Mound (A) is one of the top ten highest in the country, the largest between Emerald and Cahokia. It has been restored and rain/flood damage is evident and being addressed. Only a few of the highest-ranking lived here (oops, there goes that rosy equality view again) for about 300 years. That is one of Winterville’s unique features.

The other is the absence of a borrow pit. The guess is that they brought soil in from the banks of the Mississippi River, once less than a mile away, evidence of which has been lost to course changes and repeated floods. Humans carried that soil, one basket at a time, on their backs, over a theorized distance of about a mile, to build 23 structures of varying size, over a period of about 300 years. Just thinking about that as I enjoyed the solitude of a late Sunday morning contemplating a civilization with no written records on a warm, comfortable day and I was lost. So when security greeted me at the museum when it opened with that question, I most definitely answered “Yes, I did.”

Strange but true - I thought of a movie when I saw the picture in the museum of cows and horses taking refuge on the mounds during the The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, one which Winterville Mounds and Nitta Yuma -the high ground of Mississippi bear country - both survived intact.

 How did i get here? 

In my journeys over the last three years, both physical and personal/internal, I have discovered Memphis and a drive to create. This site will display my goals to informally promote and tell stories about Memphis and the surrounding areas - music, culture, history - through my observations, photography, and telling the stories of people I meet along the way.

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© 2016 by Wil Little Pitcher