Monday, September 11, 2017

Wisconsin Native Americans Ate Their Enemies?


Dear Friends,

I'm sure it's obvious that I love history. More specifically I love American History. I love reading about cowboys, cattle drives, and settlers coming West. I love researching outlaws and lawmen, gold strikes, silver strikes, cattle towns, boom towns, wagon trains, and learning more about ships making the journey around the horn. I love reading about the Civil War, slavery, and I love researching Indentured Servants since my grandfather was just that. I love researching Native American tribes, especially about the way they lived pre-European contact .

I love visiting historic sites. I love visiting Civil War battlefields, ghost towns, old towns, and hardly there towns. I love whaling ships, clipper ships, and old steamboats. I love old graveyards, old gravestones out in some pasture in the middle of nowhere or in some forgotten cemetery, inscriptions about loved ones long forgotten, and I love the places that only locals know about.

I loved seeing the wagon ruts of the Oregon Trail that are still visible near a rest stop in Idaho.I loved walking on the boardwalks of Virginia City, Nevada, and touching the Red Dog Saloon doors in Juneau, Alaska. I love knowing that I'm visiting the same places where others lived and worked back when America was young and not so full of stifling rules.

Yes indeed, I love stopping at places where I've only read about, and places that I didn't know existed. I love confirming stories about the history of the Old West, but also about other eras in our history. And yes, I love being shocked by what I didn't know. Or more honestly, being surprised at what I should have been taught in school but wasn't. I love learning how truly full of shit Hollywood truly is, and wonder why can't they get it right since the real story is right there in front of them?

Yes, I'm the guy that loves reading road markers. I'm that guy who sees a sign that says to this or that point of interest and takes it. In fact, I was going through some of my old notes from my travels and found something that may interest you.

It has to do with a historic site that I found just outside of Madison, Wisconsin, if I remember right. That place is the Aztalan State Park. It is about 172 acres and is the site of an ancient Native American Indian village. An ancient village that existed before Europeans ever stepped foot on the North American continent.   

Back in 1836, an American settler came across a number of earthen mounds on the west bank of the Crawfish River. The mounds are part of what was the actual village. The village is said to have had anywhere from 500 to a thousand or more Native Americans of the Mississippian culture there. The village is believe to have flourished from around the year 900 AD to about 1300 when they just disappeared. 

Yes, their disappearance is just one of a number of mysteries related to that site. As for the people who vanished before any contact with Europeans, no one knows why they vanished suddenly. While one mystery has to do with the question as to why it's original inhabitants suddenly disappeared, another has to do with the stockade walls that they built to keep out other tribes? Was it breached somehow by enemy Native American tribes? Was it finally breached and were they slaughtered?
Of course if that were the case, then why hasn't the bones of the original inhabitants been found there?

Another mystery is why build the mounds? We do know that the people who lived there built those earthen mounds, which resemble the work of the Aztecs -- hence the name given to that area. Over time, since no one was interested in maintaining the mounds or the remnants of the stockade walls that surrounded the area, sadly it was plowed over for farming. In the process of being plowed over, a number of the mounds were actually leveled. Today, two of the three large ceremonial mounds are still intact. 

It is said that the first really formal archaeological excavation of Aztalan was in 1919. That excavation established the actual perimeter of the stockade and that it had watch towers. It was then that they also found evidence their homes, along with pottery pieces, tools, and even weapons. 

Aztalan 1850 Map
Researchers also found fire pits and what is believed to be piles of refuse. In those areas researchers found butchered and burned human bones, including the heads of men, women, and children. They ascertained that people who inhabited that area had actually eaten people.

But actually, it is said that soon after its discovery in 1836, it was already determined back then that the mounds were used for religious ceremonies which included human sacrifice. And that leads us to the final mystery of why they ate their enemies?

Those human sacrifices are said to have been part of the cannibalism of that tribe. But since food is said to have been abundant there, why resort to cannibalism? Why eat your enemies? 

Historian David Scheimann wrote, "Of all the North American Indian tribes, the seventeenth-century Iroquois are the most renowned for their cruelty towards other human beings. Scholars know that they ruthlessly tortured war prisoners and that they were cannibals; in the Algonquin tongue the word Mohawk actually means 'flesh-eater.' There is even a story that the Indians in neighboring Iroquois territory would flee their homes upon sight of just a small band of Mohawks. Ironically, the Iroquois were not alone in these practices. There is ample evidence that most, if not all, of the Indians of northeastern America engaged in cannibalism and torture -- there is documentation of the Huron, Neutral, and Algonquin tribes each exhibiting the same behavior."

Robert Birmingham, a professor of anthropology at University of Wisconsin in Waukesha, wrote a book entitled "Aztalan: Mysteries of an Ancient Indian Town", published in 2006.

He is quoted as saying, "Aztalan was the northern outpost of a great civilization comparable to other great early civilizations in the world. We call them the Mississippians; they rose after AD 1000 and had, at its center, the first city in what is now the United States – that’s Cahokia, in present-day Illinois. It was a very large city and had a society that was very complex. It was similar to Mayan cities in Mexico. They built large earthen mounds as platforms for important buildings. The major mound at Cahokia, where the ruler probably lived, is 100 feet high and greater in volume than the Great Pyramid of Egypt, though built of earth."

Birmingham said those there were a farming society. The Aztalan village is said to have lasted anywhere from 100 to 150 years. It is said that around the year 1200, the Mississippian civilization eventually collapsed in the Midwest for unknown reasons.

War with other tribes is thought to be a factor in their disappearance. Birmingham says, "The Mississippian culture was aggressive and expanding. Aztalan is one of most heavily fortified sites in the archaeological record of Eastern North America."

Since we know human remains were found at the site in 1919, what are Birmingham's thoughts about their cannibalism and if it was all about "ritual cannibalism"? Well Birmingham says those remains "Have been analyzed and don’t fit the pattern of cannibalism, at least for food." 

So I have to wonder what's it all about if not for food? Why eat your enemies if there was available sources of food and the inhabitants were not starving? Why was that a Native American trait of so many tribes?

Birmingham explained that eating others, particularly your enemies, is an ancient consequence of warfare that is certainly not restricted to Native American Indians. He said, "The taking of trophy heads, cutting up the bones of your enemies and eating them ritually -- taking the power of your enemies -- is well-documented in many cultures. In Wisconsin, the Ho-Chunks themselves recite a story in which they greeted some Illinois people who were potential enemies by killing them, putting them in a pot, then boiling and eating them. It was not for food, but to show great disdain."

He thinks that the Mississippians at Aztalan co-existed fine with some Woodland tribes, but others may have been seen as trespassing. 

While that's the reason for the walls and for the wars, I can't help but wonder if the idea of eating one's enemy to show disdain is too easy an answer and there's more to it. My skepticism comes from the fact that while I see torturing an enemy as an act of vengeance, I've read where eating of one's enemy was actually a religious ritual of many Native American tribes. 

So all in all, the tribes who practiced ritual cannibalism did not so for food. Instead it was more about their belief in the supernatural powers held within the souls of their enemies. A power that they wanted to harness by eating their enemies. Imagine that.    

Tom Correa


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