Hopewell Culture
Administrative History
NPS Logo

A Brief History of the Hopewell Culture (continued)

Squier and Davis at Mound City Group

American settlers first reached the area in 1796 when Nathaniel Massie of Virginia arrived four miles south of the Mound City Group to lay out the town of Chillicothe. Virginia laid claim to the entire region as part of its trans-Appalachian military district reserved for Revolutionary War veterans. Two years later, a 1300-acre section containing the mounds was surveyed for William Davies, but title soon transferred to Massie. As early as 1808, a Chillicothe newspaper reported on the peculiar collection of mounds in the vicinity, and news of their existence spread further in 1809 when a New York medical journal reported on them. Most local people were more concerned about surviving the rigors of frontier life than the mounds. During the War of 1812, Americans built Camp Bull, a drill field and prisoner-of-war camp for British soldiers captured on or near Lake Erie. It stood north of Chillicothe on the Scioto River's west bank about two miles from the mounds. As the local community which served as Ohio's first capital continued to expand, Nathaniel Massie subdivided his holdings and following his death, Massie's heirs sold-off his tracts. In 1832, George Shriver purchased the area including the Mound City Group, and the Shriver family held title to the land until 1917. [7]

Exploration of the mounds came in 1846 when Ephraim George Squier and Edwin Hamilton Davis conducted an extensive investigation. Both men were amateur archeologists who explored similar Ohio antiquities from 1845 to 1847. Squier, a New Yorker, was a self-educated journalist who arrived in Chillicothe in 1845 to serve as editor of the Scioto Gazette. Following his association with Davis, Squier went on to explore antiquities in Central and South America, becoming a respected authority. Davis, a native-born Ohio physician, had a life-long interest in the earthworks and mounds of his native state. Practicing medicine in Chillicothe, he joined with Squier to document and excavate antiquarian sites throughout southern Ohio. In all, they opened more than two hundred mounds and examined approximately half that many earthen enclosures. [8]

Davis, who sought financial assistance from Eastern friends, felt an urgency to accomplish the important scientific work promptly. Acknowledging the advancing depredations of American farmers, Davis wrote, "Whatever is done to arrest from destruction the works of a former age and peculiar people must be done quickly as hundreds are yearly ploughed into the earth by our money loving tillers of the soil." [9]

Edwin Hamilton Davis
Figure 3: Edwin Hamilton Davis. (Collection of the Ross County Historical Society)
Ephraim George Squier
Figure 4: Ephraim George Squier. (NPS)

Squier and Davis's work at the mysterious collection of mounds three miles north of Chillicothe resulted in their naming the site "Mound City." From Mound Eight alone came a cache of two hundred stone-carved animal and human effigy pipes. It evoked a sense of wonder from the world's scientific community and the significant find soon became called the "American menagerie." Many marveled at the skill and anatomical level of detail exhibited by the prehistoric artisans. Squier and Davis acknowledged Mound City's variety and number of artifacts as the most significant in the Scioto Valley. In the section devoted to "sacred mounds," sixteen of eighteen pages concentrated on Mound City where they reported cremated burials along with pipes, mica symbols, various copper objects, obsidian knives, and freshwater pearls. [10]

Professional resentment clouded Squier and Davis' relationship. Davis, believing himself alone to be the true trained scientist, resented the top-billing Squier received and his own designation as an "explorer." Because of Squier's artistic graphic abilities and journalistic expertise, American intellectuals credited Squier in the fall of 1847 with conducting the primary research and preparing the forthcoming jointly-authored book. Angered by an early review of the manuscript in which kudos were heaped on his "junior partner" E. G. Squier, Davis conveyed his bitterness to a friend. Davis noted that Squier, who knew nothing about ancient earthworks prior to moving to Chillicothe, spent considerable time away from the project during their partnership, editing the weekly newspaper, reporting on the Ohio Legislature's lower house for one winter, and serving as its clerk during the previous session. "No where has he had the time to do everything," exclaimed Davis.

No, this Herculean labour has required years as you well know. When he came to Ohio, he found me engaged in these researches, with much experience, and a large store of facts already accumulated, and one of the best collections of antiques from the mounds in the Western Country. At this stage of the researches, Mr. S[quier], having some tasks for these subjects, proposes to join in as the junior partner, to continue the investigation. As I was very happy to find any one who would sympathize with me in my unique pursuits, I accepted his offer. He came into the firm bringing a ready pen, a skillful pencil, with some knowledge of surveying.

At this point, Squier devoted much attention to the excavations. Davis continued his defense, stating:

We then continue to open mounds, survey works, purchase authorities, with much vigour for two years (and almost entirely at the expense of the senior partner). At the expiration of this time, the junior partner takes up his abode in the library and cabinet of the senior, where they both toil almost day and night for many months producing the work in question. Now who is entitled to the most credit. I am of a temperament to bear most things, but this is beyond all forbearance. [11]

By the time their book saw publication, Davis, embittered and feeling betrayed, parted company with partner Squier. Their efforts came to public scrutiny in the first volume of the Smithsonian Institution's series Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge under the title Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley: Comprising the Results of Extensive Original Surveys and Explorations. This 1848 book is credited as a milestone in the early technical history of professional archeology. Journalist Squier did indeed prepare the narrative, survey drawings, and publication layout. While Davis funded their work and provided his past experience and library to the effort, the physician also undertook the meticulous task of restoring and piecing together fragmented artifacts numbering in the thousands.

Their exploration and excavations were extensive in the Ross County-Scioto River Valley region. One of Squier's maps of a twelve-mile Scioto River segment, depicted the following "ancient monuments:" Dunlap Works, Cedar Bank, Hopeton Works, Mound City Group, Shriver Works, Junction Works, Chillicothe East, High Bank, and Liberty or Harness Group.

Figure 5: 1846 Squier and Davis drawing of Mound City and vicinity. (Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley)
(click on image for larger size)
Figure 6: Squier's 1847 "Map of Twelve Miles of the Scioto Valley with its Ancient Monuments." (Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley)
(click on image for larger size)

Squier and Davis's association became irreparably damaged not simply by arguing over their individual contributions to Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, but they disputed ownership of the excavated antiquities as well. Davis, scorning Squier's claims, took the bulk of artifacts and left Chillicothe n 1850 for New York where he also pursued archeology along with his medical profession.

Within a year, Davis began to search for a buyer for all his artifacts, and sought in vain for an American philanthropist or institution to keep the collection intact and at home. In preparation for the sale, Davis commissioned artist James Plunkett to paint ninety-two watercolors, including some of artifacts from the Ohio explorations, and published them along with his narrative descriptions in a prospectus entitled Sketches of Monuments and Antiques Found in the Mounds, Tombs, and Ancient Cities of America. The cover reveals a Plunkett watercolor of Mound City. In 1858, he found a temporary repository for his collection at the New York Historical Society.

In 1863, William Blackmore, a British patron of anthropology, informed Davis that if he failed to sell the collection in America where it rightfully belonged, Blackmore would buy it. In February 1864, Davis wrote Blackmore:

This is to notify you that circumstances compell me to avail myself of the privilege contained in our agreement to withdraw my collection on paying the amount advance with interest to date. It is hereby necessary for me to say that I most profoundly regret its going abroad and [?] being [?] to this country. Yet it affords me some sonsolation to know that foreigners and strangers do appreciate a collection containing specimens showing the highest degree of art yet developed in the stone age of this or any other continent. [12]

book cover
Figure 7: Frontispiece for "Sketches of Monuments and Antiquities" by Edwin H. Davis, 1858, depicting Mound City Group. (NPS)

Lamenting the fact that no American buyers were interested, Davis accepted Blackmore's payment of ten thousand dollars and represented himself as its sole owner. The collection in England became known as the "Davis Collection." Nevertheless, thanks to Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, it was already popularly known in the United States as the Squier and Davis Collection.

Blackmore took the collection to Salisbury, England, where

he established the Blackmore Museum dedicated to ancient European and American man in September 1867. The loss of the collection was soon lamented in the U.S. intellectual community. However, Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry convinced Davis to make plaster-cast duplicates of specific artifacts prior to the sale. Davis and two artists made molds and produced three complete sets of artifacts: one for the Smithsonian in 1868 for study purposes, the second to the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology at Harvard University in 1871, and the third to the American Museum of Natural History in 1874. The last transaction also accompanied purchase of thirteen Mound City pipes owned by Squier. Finally, the Smithsonian purchased Davis's intricate molds in 1884. Never reconciling since their close Ohio association in the mid-1840s, both Squier and Davis died in the spring of 1888. [13]

Although their relationship ended in bitterness, both men contributed substantially to the development of professional archeology. Their work together at Mound City perhaps ranks highest on their list of lifetime achievements. As the highlight of Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, it represented the first systematic, scientific analysis of prehistoric sites using guidelines and techniques still in use more than a century later. The intricate artifact drawings, mound cross-sections, and site plans were innovative and set the standard for future work. Also useful was their classification system based on function such as burial places, effigies, fortifications, building platforms, and so forth. [14] Following destruction of much of Mound City by the early twentieth century, this important record served as the basis of a succession of professional archeological investigations and reconstructions at the site. Without the 1848 Smithsonian publication documenting and speculating on the meaning and significance of such sites, the degradation would likely have resulted in total obliteration of Mound City and related areas.


Last Updated: 04-Dec-2000