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In the long gone reaches of time perhaps only to be measured by geological periods, races of men have been here, grown, flourished, declined and passed away, many not even leaving a track behind; others transmitting fossil traces, dim and crumbling, and still later ones, the successors of the earlier ones, who had no traditions of their predecessors, have left something of the measure of their existence in the deftly cut flints, broken pottery, adobe walls, or great earth-works standing in the whilom silent wilderness as mute and enduring monuments to their existence; man, races, civilizations, systems of religion passing on and on to that eternal silence – stormfully from the inane to the inane, the great world’s epic that is being forever written and that is never writ.
Arkansas is an inviting field for the investigation of the archaeologist, as well as the geologist. Races of unknown men in an unknown time have swarmed over the fair face of the State. Their restless activities drove them to nature’s natural storehouses and the fairest climes on the continent. Where life is easiest maintained in its best form do men instinctively congregate, and thus communities and nations are formed. The conditions of climate and soil, rainfall and minerals are the controlling factors in the busy movements of men. These conditions given, man follows the great streams, on whose bosom the rudest Indians float their canoes and pirogues.
Along the eastern part of the State are the most distinct traces of prehistoric peoples, whose hieroglyphics, in the form of earthworks, are the most legible to the archeologist. Here, earthworks in greatest extent and numbers are found, indicating that this section once swarmed with these races of men.
In Lonoke County, sixteen miles southeast of Little Rock, and on the Little Rock & Altheimer branch of the St. Louis, Arkansas & Texas Railroad, is a station called Toltec. It is located on the farm of Mr. Gilbert Knapp, and is near Mounds Lake. This lake is either the line of what was a horseshoe bend in Arkansas River long ago, or is the trace of a dead river. The lake is in the form of a horseshoe, and covers a space of about three miles. The horseshoe points east of north, and the heels to the southwest. Here is a great field of large and interesting mounds and earth-works. A little east of the north bend of the lake are two great mounds – one square and the other cone shaped. The cone shaped is the larger and taller, and is supposed to have been 100 feet high, while the other was about seventy-five feet in elevation. About them to the north and east are many small mounds, with no apparent fixed method in their location. These have all been denuded of their timber and are in cultivation, except the larger one above mentioned. Upon this is a growth of heavy timber, elms, hickory, and oaks with as high as 500 rings, and standing on an alluvial soil from eight to fifteen feet deep. These large mounds are enclosed with an earth wall starting out from the bank of the lake, and circling at a considerable distance and returning to the lake, and keeping nearly an equal distance from the larger mound. The sloping base of each mound reaches the base and overlaps or mingles with the base of its neighbor. Around this big wall was once an outside ditch. The humus on the smaller mounds shows, in cultivation, a stronger and deeper alluvial soil than the surrounding land.
There are evidences in these mounds that while they were built by one nation, for objects now problematical, they have been used by other succeeding peoples for other and different purposes, much after the manner that are now found farmers with well-kept gardens on the tops of the mounds, or stately residences, or on others growing cotton and corn. In them human and animal bones are seen, and there are indications that, while they were built for purposes of worship or war, when the builders passed away more than one race of their successors to the country used them as convenient burial grounds. They were skillful stone workers and potters, and their mason’ s tools are frequently met with. Nearly every implement of the stone age is found in and about the mounds.
Mt. Knapp, who has given the subject considerable intelligent study, is so convinced that these works were made by the Toltec race that he has named the new station in honor of that people. On the line of this earth-wall mentioned are two deep pools that never are known to become dry.
East of Toltec thirty or more miles, in Lonoke Prairie, are mounds that apparently belong to the chain or system which runs parallel with the river, through the State. The small mounds or barrows, as Jefferson termed the modern Indian burial places, are numerous, and distributed all over Arkansas.
What is pronounced a fortified town is found in well marked remains on St. Francis River. It was discovered by Mr. Savage, of Louisville. He reports “parts of walls, built of adobe brick and cemented.” On these remains he detected trees growing numbering 300 rings. He reports the brick made of clay and chopped or twisted straw, and with regular figures. A piece of first-class engineering is said to be traced here in a sap-mine, which had passed under the walls of the fortification.
The bones and pottery and tools and arms of the prehistoric peoples of Arkansas are much more abundant than are found in any other spot in the United States.
Mrs. Hobbs, living four miles southeast of Little Rock, has a very complete collection of the antiquities of the State. It is pronounced by antiquarians as one of the most valuable in the country. The Smithsonian Institute has offered her every inducement to part with her collection, but she has refused. It is hoped the State will someday possess this treasure, and suitably and permanently provide for its preservation.