Mormon History

Fascination With Ancient Indians - 1822

  Republican Advocate October 18, 1822

To the editors of the Louisiana Republican.                       


Gentlemen: --
  In the course of my observation & travels through several parts of the United States, I have kept minutes of the most remarkable events which have occurred under my own observation, extracts from which I design, occasionally, to submit to you, and if you think them worthy of insertion in your useful paper, you are at liberty to use them accordingly.

All accounts extant, relative to the size of the ancient settlers of our country, agree that this race of beings must have been larger than the present; but none that I have seen give any evidence of this fact. From my own observation, I have evidence at least of one person of gigantic stature.

In the year 1810, I opened, with several other persons who accompanied me for the purpose, one of the flat mounds common in the western country. It was built of regular layers of flat stones, and covered lightly with earth. This was 4 miles west of the town of Worthington, in Ohio, and within a few rods of the banks of the river Scioto. -- In this mound we found the skeletons of a number of bodies, some of a very large size, they were deposited directly due east and west, the heads to the west; precisely as is the practice in Christian burials.

After several hours fatigue in opening & examining this mound, we retired to a house of a Mr. Miller, about 200 yards from the spot, who informed us that he had taken a skeleton from the mound adjoining the one we had examined, which was supposed to be, when living, a man of at least 7 feet 4 inches. He stated that such was the opinion of all who had seen the bones in his possession -- that the bone of the leg, which had lost a little at each end, was then longer than the bone of the tallest man in the settlement, measuring from the heel to the cap of the knee.

Mr. Miller stated that he had also in his possession, the jaw bone of this skeleton, which he said, would cover loosely the face of any of his neighbors; and that, when he found the skeleton, he picked from one of the joints of the neck bone, (which was also much larger than any he had seen before,) a stone arrow point; from which circumstances, it was thought his death had been occasioned. I made many inquiries of Mr. Miller, who seemed to be a very intelligent man. He informed me that he had been living at his residence on the Scioto, for many years; -- that when he first settled there, he was told by all the old Indians that these mounds existed at a period beyond the recollection of the oldest of them, and that the tribe of Indians before them could give no account of the mounds, other than that they were burying places before they inhabited the country.

From these circumstances, together with some others, which have come under my observation, I have been of opinion, that the bones frequently found in these mounds, must have been the skeletons of a race of beings inhabiting the country, of whom the Indians had no knowledge. The most remarkable circumstance stated by Mr. Miller was, that when ploughing his field, he traced plainly the remains of an ancient building in the form of a house, as there was a manifest difference in the appearance of the earth; and pointing at the same time to the hearth stone in his fire-place, he observed "the hearth-stone which you see there, I took myself from the place where I suppose the fire-place was in the ancient building of which I speak." The Indians, he added, gave him the same account of the appearance of this old building as they had of the mounds; that it existed before their time. During the war, and while on my way to Detroit, I intended calling on Mr. Miller, for more particular information, but upon my arrival at Worthington, I learned that he was dead.

Every information tending to prove the existence of a vast ancient population of any part of our country, ought to be preserved -- but few persons can or will afford to spend time and money to the attainment of such an object. I have occasionally noted what had passed under my observation since the year 1807 in the western country; and, as I find leisure, will transmit them to you to be filed away through the medium of your paper, till better proof can be obtained of the existence of a vast ancient population of our country.

It would, in my opinion, be a very laudable act in the general government to encourage or authorize some competent person to collect the most important facts in relation to this subject. And the present state of profound peace and tranquillity of our country is, perhaps as favorable as any other in the history of our national affairs for such an undertaking.   A TRAVELLER.

Note 1: This article was also reprinted in the Oct. 30, 1822 issue of the Palmyra Herald and Canal Advertiser, along with an article on Mordecai M. Noah's scheme for a gathering of Israel in America.

Note 2: Early settlers moving into the western country once frequently encountered burial mounds and graves containing the bones of such ancient giants, but evidence of these exceptionally tall and robust Indians is rarely uncovered today. The prevalence of these reports during the 1820s and 1830s lead some Americans to speculate that their land had once been inhabited by a civilized (perhaps white) race of "mighty men of yore." Mormon writers have often pointed out the evidence of these large skeletons as supporting the story of the Jaredites or Nephites in the preColumbian Americas. LDS author Phyllis C. Olive, on pages 30-34 of her 2001 book, The Lost Tribes of the Book of Mormon, sets forth her evidence that the Book of Mormon people were not only the "Mound-Builders," but that they were also a "large and mighty nation living in the near vicinity of the Hill Cumorah and throughout the entire mound building region -- the giant, Mound Builders so long sought for; a people who bear remarkable similarities to those described in the Book of Mormon." See also the same writer's 1998 book, The Lost Lands of the Book of Mormon, where she expresses the same ideas. The thought does not seem to have occurred to these Mormon writers, that pre-1830 reports of American antiquities could have influenced the writing of the Book of Mormon itself.