Two years ago, I wrote a column about famed archaeologist Clarence Bloomfield Moore’s expeditions up the Tombigbee and Black Warrior rivers between 1900 and 1906. That article was inspired by the 75 anniversary of Tuscaloosa’s Moundville Archaeological Park. My basic sources were two original publications by Moore on Moundville that I had.
I knew that in 1900 Moore had ventured up the Tombigbee River to Columbus on his 84.5-foot stern-wheel steamboat, the Gopher. However, I did not have a copy of his report on that expedition. I recently obtained an original copy of that 1901 report, “Certain Aboriginal Remains of the Tombigbee River,” and can better give its history.
Clarence B. Moore was a wealthy, self-taught archaeologist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who aboard the Gopher conducted archaeological investigations along America’s southern coasts and rivers from the 1880s into the early 1900s. The reports of his expeditions were published in the “Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.” In 1899, Moore, on the Gopher, had investigated the antiquities of the Alabama and Mobile rivers. The investigations along those rivers were described as having “rather interesting results.” That success led Moore to believed that “an investigation of the Tombigbee River…would be desirable.”
Moore’s Tombigbee expedition began in the summer of 1900. In his report, he explained how it started: “To facilitate and greatly to expedite our work, J.S. Raybon, Captain of the flat-bottomed steamer (the Gopher) from which our mound work is done, started with a companion from Columbus, Miss., on the Little Tombigbee River and pursued a downward course to the junction of that river with the Black Warrior and on down the Tombigbee to its union with the Alabama, in all a distance of about 334 miles.”
Moore continued: “In this work which was most conscientiously done, Captain Raybon spent nearly four months, and located, we believe, nearly every camp-site and mound of the entire territory covered by him.
“Elaborate charts, in sections” of the river were furnished to Moore by the Corps of Engineers. During the previous investigations along the Alabama River, a burial custom had been discovered “of uncremated remains in urns, these urns being capped by other vessels inverted.” Moore hoped that the sites located by Capt. Raybon would also contain such burials.
The full expedition commenced in the winter of 1901 and the Indian sites Raybon found were investigated. According to Moore: “After six weeks work, vigorously pushed by our large party, including our trained diggers aided by ample local assistance, where necessary, so little in a positive way had been gained by us that our search was given up at Biekley’s Landing, 29 miles below Demopolis, Ala., and 175 miles from Columbus, Miss., our starting point.” The expedition did not continue down the river as “Reports from this territory were less encouraging than had been those from that investigated by us.”
Many sites and mounds were located between Columbus and Demopolis by Moore’s expedition, though he was disappointed with both the number and quality of artifacts found. His report stated the expedition “… yielded to our search but few artifacts and but little new in the way of data.” He reported finding the following Indian sites in Lowndes County: Mound at Butler’s Gin, Mounds at Chowder Spring, Mound at Halbert Lake, camp-sites at Moore’s Bluff, camp-site at Blue Rock Landing, mound at Wild Cat Bend, camp-site at Union Bluff and camp-site at Jim Creek. Moore excavated several skeletons but reported finding only one whole vessel, a “small rude clay pot with a loop-shaped handle at each side of the rim.” In Pickens County, Alabama, 19 sites were reported with Goose Pond, Blubber Creek, Summerville, and Windham Landing being described.
In 1905, Moore returned to the Black Warrior River and excavated the fascinating site of Moundville near Tuscaloosa. The artifacts Moore found at Moundville during investigations from 1905 to 1906 represent some of the most beautiful and amazing Indian pottery found anywhere. The Moundville Archaeological Park is well worth a visit and is an easy drive from Columbus, being about nine miles south of Tuscaloosa. The park is operated by the Alabama Museum of Natural History of the University of Alabama and its website is www.moundville.ua.edu.
Random digging into Indian sites as Moore did would not occur today because of laws, both federal and state, which protect such sites. In Mississippi, the same laws that apply to present day cemeteries apply to all human burial sites, be they 10 years old or 1,000 years old. It is simply illegal to dig into any human burial site in order to remove items buried with that person. If we do not respect the graves of those here before us, how can we expect those who come after us to respect the graves of our families? Today, when archaeologist excavate sites, they do so in a respectful manner and follow strict guidelines.
Rufus Ward is a local historian. Email your questions about local history to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at email@example.com.