Mack Williams: Return to the Indian Mound
The other day, I was able to return to the site of my end-of-year class trip when I was in Mrs. Misenheimer’s sixth-grade class at Granite Quarry School in 1963. The subject of my 1963 class trip, and the subject of my 2011 return was the Town Creek Indian Mound, near the town of Mount Gilead, in Montgomery County.
My friend, Rita Lea, who is of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, stopped by and picked me up, driving us southward from Danville, Va. Just a few miles from Mt. Gilead, we were warned by signage of road closure and a detour ahead. After being wound around on our detour, and back on N.C. 731, we were fearful that the detour had taken us away from the mound until we saw a couple of signs ahead in that particular shade of brown used for museums, parks and state historical sites. Upon seeing that color, and even before the words written therein were close enough to become legible, we both excitedly shouted: ěBrown signs!,î then laughed about evidently being on the same wavelength.
Upon arriving at the mound, we viewed a short film on the excavation there, looked at some historical displays and collections of excavated artifacts, then walked to the restored, stockaded site. The site itself is kept mowed, but that day, we walked down a mowed path leading to it that was surrounded on both sides by a whole field of the yard-tall horsetail fennel plant with its beautiful shade of green.
Upon entering the stockade-enclosed site, we first visited the restored burial hut, equipped with Pee Dee Indian mannequins and a taped audio program in which each bereaved member of a Pee Dee family expresses their sorrow at the death of a young child of their clan, enlightening the visitor on their particular burial customs.
When I was there in 1963, this burial hut contained excavated graves, with skeletons visible ěin situ.î One of the employees there on this recent visit told us that after the year 1974, human remains were no longer allowed to be put on public view. She said that those remains are now in Raleigh being studied.
I do hope that when the study is complete, those Native-American remains can be returned to the soil where they had rested for so long under the original burial hut, later reconstructed not far from the confluence of the waters of Town Creek and the Little River. When that day arrives, they can be covered with soil and be out of sight, because no matter how fascinated I was with them as a 12-year-old boy on that Granite Quarry School trip, and though at that time they were still in the original positions in which they had been placed in death, it still seemed quite rude, even then, to be able to watch them as they slept.
Rita and I ascended the Temple Mound to its restored, sacred temple. It was just exactly as I remembered it 48 years ago. The reconstructed temple was made of tree-trunks, limbs, thatch and daubed mud. There was an open central space in the roof for the smoke from the fire to exit and for the sunlight to enter. It reminded me of the atrium of the Roman houses of antiquity; evidently the practicality of some designs spans both time and cultures.
On the inner walls were painted the half-human forms of a ěman-deerî and ěman-wolf,î just as I recalled them from 1963. These figures were Native-American icons, but when I saw them again, I realized that they were also the icons of memory of a 12-year-old boy, who not so long ago turned 60 years of age.
On a table within the restored sacred temple were placed a small wooden bowl-cup, a whelk shell which could also be used as a cup, and a glass jar containing a liquid which was deep black in color and opaque. We took this liquid to be some of the ěblack drink,î most likely brewed from the fruit of the same native bush used by the Pee Dee Indians for such brewing. No fun came from this brewed drink, only the purging of the stomach, as a part of the sacred rites of the Pee Dee. The Latin name for the bush from which this drink is derived is: ěIlex vomitoriaî( honestly, it is). Not feeling the particular need for a purge, both Rita and I were content to merely ponder the ěblack drinkî in the jar.
While still in the restored temple atop the mound, we heard a sound reminiscent of something buzzing inside a bottle. Looking over at another interior section of the temple wall, we saw a row of joined dirt dauber nests. The seemingly attached tubes of the nests, progressing from lesser to greater length, gave the overall appearance of a set of panpipes, but I would not have wanted to have attempted the playing of these.
On our way out of the temple, we became aware that several of these insects were buzzing around our legs, so with our own individual bursts of adrenaline, we burst out of the temple’s entrance. The entrance was low, and Ritaís adrenaline was accompanied by the good sense to duck, but I exited with adrenaline alone, without good sense, bashing my head against one of the limb-beams with great force.
I fully expected to see black and pass out but didnít. Rita said that she expected me to pass out and immediately took hold of my arm, in case I did. She told me that when she heard that loud ěwhack,î the whole restored temple of the Pee Dee Indians seemed to shake.
Rita said :îWhen is your birthday?î My first thought was that she was asking me this in case any later-quoted, posthumous corroboration on my part were needed in the placing of the correct date upon my stone, but instead, she was checking my continued mental grasp of things.
She had me sit down and inquired as to some current events, to which I answered correctly, relieving some but not all of her worry.
In the short introductory film about the Pee Dee, it was mentioned that archaeologists had determined that the first sacred temple erected on the mound had collapsed hundreds of years ago. On July 7, the restored sacred temple at the Town Creek Indian Mound shook, but thankfully, did not collapse.
In the natural history museum where I work, we make frequent checks of our exhibits, because some members of the public will, unfortunately, do damage to them. I am sure that the staff at the Town Creek Indian Mound also have the assigned duty of monitoring such ěhandlingî by the public.
Iím not sure if I did any damage to that wooden limb of the reconstructed temple with my head, but if I did, the following scenario may come to pass upon the next scheduled staff inspection of the restorations at the Town Creek Indian Mound.
One staff member may say to another, îYou really have to keep a watchful eye on the public, as some of them are prone to vandalism. Take this beam, for instance; it is strong and sturdy, but now has a crack running through it, most likely the result of being struck with great force! His colleague may nod in agreement, adding, ěTo have inflicted this sort of damage, the perpetrator must surely have wielded an object of the most peculiar density!î