Jonesville bridge demolition opens the door for Troyville Indian research
by Stanley Nelson - posted Thursday, July 2nd, 2009 @ 8:14 am
Once the old Black River Bridge at Jonesville is demolished in an explosion later this month, archaeologists will have another opportunity to learn more about the Native Americans who built the 82-foot high Great Mound an estimated 1,400 years ago.
That's because part of that mound built by the Troyville Indians was used as an approach fill for the old bridge in the 1930s. After the demolition, tentatively slated for July 16th, archaeologists will sift through the dirt to see if any artifacts can be found which may shed even more light on this mysterious Indian culture.
Afterward, the dirt will be used to build a replica of the Great Mound.
In the meantime, the Archaeological Conservancy recently announced it has purchased property which was part of the Troyville mound group from C.R. Craddock. The property, located on Pond Street, was owned by the family of Craddock's wife for many years.
The Conservancy said that the old house located on the property was recently torn down and that it "will landscape and fence the site. Mound 4 will now serve as a research preserve that suggests the glory of the ancient Troyville."
Northeast Regional Archaeologist Joe Saunders of the University of Louisiana Monroe said the Troyville "earthworks were among the largest in North America. Very little is known about the Troyville culture. We presume that many of the more durable artifacts were incorporated in the mound fill used for the approach to the Black River bridge. Excavations, hopefully, will recover many examples of how they decorated their pottery and made their projectile points. This will help archaeologists study the continuity of Troyville culture with the earlier Marksville culture."
Saunders said one thing is clear: "We can't afford to again miss the opportunity to recover artifacts from the Troyville Great Mound.
Bill Atkins, who is spearheading the effort to build a replica of the Great Mound, said 38 people attended a meeting with the James Construction Group LLC and the Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development last week to discuss the demolition of the old bridge which was built in the early 1930s under the administration of Gov. Huey Long.
Also on hand were Saunders and archaeologist Aubry "Butch" Lee of Earth Search. Lee will examine the approach fill for artifacts.
"The Great Mound replica will be located on Hwy. 84 on Catahoula Parish School Board property, and the School Board is going to incorporate our Native American heritage into next year's school curriculum," Atkins said.
Raffle tickets are being sold for $5 each. The winner will "press the button" firing the explosion to demolish the old bridge. Jonesville Alderman Jackie Rouse said the drawing is slated for July 10th and that "only a limited number" of tickets remain.
"Troyville was a thriving Native American site," said Atkins. "One of the mounds is referred to as the Great Mound because it was the second tallest in North America and the tallest in Louisiana before it was torn down for the bridge approach.."
He said the Great Mound was "a three-tiered structure resembling the pyramids of Egypt. The archaeological importance of Troyville is made abundantly clear when a national organization, the Archaeological Conservancy, steps forward and purchases one of the Troyville mounds."
Archaeologists say the Troyville Indians stood about 5.6 inches on average as adults, and relied on fish, deer, small mammals, birds, reptiles, wild seeds, fruits and nuts for survival.
William Dunbar of Natchez, a planter and scientist, along with Dr. George Hunter of Philadelphia, provided the first detailed written description of the mounds, including The Great Mound, during their exploration of the Ouachita River in 1804-05. In the years to follow others visited and wrote about this site.
By 1852, the Great Mound had been reduced in height to 60 feet and was leveled even more during the Civil War to construct Confederate rifle pits. Jonesville was founded in 1871 and utilized some of the mounds as the town grew, and the mounds were temporary homes to flood refuges for generations.
In 1931, the contractor who was building the bridge across the Black needed dirt to construct the approach on the Jonesville side of the river and The Great Mound became the source.
At that time 78 years ago, Winslow Walker of the Smithsonian was excavating mound sites along the Red River at Natchitoches when he heard about the leveling of the Great Mound. Walker raced to Jonesville to excavate what was left.
Saunders of ULM said Walker was especially interested in the site because of "its exotic features, such as the cane dome, which was layered like a onion. There was a layer of split cane, covered with dirt. Then cane and more dirt. The builders were conscious of selecting different colors of dirt, too, such as blue clays and red clays."
Saunders also noted that there was "a palisade wall at the base of the mound," and "log steps up the corner of the mound."
Walker published a 103-page booklet on his work, noting that "the demolition work began during the early part of the summer in 1931 and continued for about a month. Day and night shifts were employed, requiring steam shovels, horses and scrapers, along with large gangs of laborers. The hard and closely packed clay which the aboriginal builders had used in their construction was removed."
For weeks, the people of Jonesville choked in a cloud of dust. The late Elnor Swayze said that mothers feared the dust caused tuberculosis. Many kept their children indoors for fear of catching the debilitating disease.
This Native American site in Jonesville was named Troyville after Troy Plantation, which, according to Walker, "formed part of a Spanish grant of 1,000 acres made to one John (Caddy) Hebrard in 1786, which included the site of a group of large mounds surrounded by an earthen embankment running from Little River around to Black River on the south."