The Story of Pulcher Mounds

The modern landscape of the greater St. Louis region envelops the ancient mound centers in a way that, while development has had an impact on them, much still remains.  The ancient American Indian city of Cahokia represents a preserved portion of that subtly hidden past.  Much like today’s communities that are connected, the older Indian towns, villages, and farmsteads comprised a network of connectedness via ancient trails and natural waterways.  The larger ancient towns of St. Louis, East St. Louis, Pulcher, Mitchell, and Emerald were residential and religious nodes that comprised the core communities (Figure 1).  Each town has their own history and configuration as a community.  They make--‐up not only nodes where people lived, interacted, worshiped, and died, but the mounds so much a visible part of today’s landscape commemorate their inhabitant’s efforts as earthen monuments.

 

One mound group, named by archaeologists for one of the landowners as the Pulcher site in the mid-twentieth century, is comprised of eight mounds. After the American Revolutionary, two separate maps of the Mississippi Valley between New Madrid and St. Charles produced by the French cartographers Nicholas de Feniels (1989:5) and Georges Henri Victor Collot (Tucker 1942) illustrate the group and the nearby Sugar Loaf mound located on the bluffs to the northeast. The map also depicts the Kaskaskia Cahokia Trail (KCT), a portion that remains as the Oklahoma Hill Road today. The Revolutionary War colonel and older brother of Lewis Clark, George Rogers Clark, also makes mention of the mounds while he was stationed at the old French village of Cahokia in the 1780s. The local antiquarian and dentist John Patrick of Belleville, worked with the St. Clair county surveyor Gustav Hilgard in mapping the Cahokia, East St. Louis, and Pulcher groups. Although the Pulcher site had been known by European and American settlers since the 18th century, only a limited amount of excavations have been completed (Kelly 1993).

 

Currently Pulcher represents one of the most intact ancient Mississippian sites in the St. Louis region created by American Indians that occupied this area in the 11th and 12th centuries AD. Pulcher is located some 20 miles southwest of the Mississippian city of Cahokia and stands as one of the earliest towns’ contemporary with Cahokia’s beginnings. It is appears to have been abandoned as a ritual town by the middle of the 12th century if not sooner. With the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in the mid--‐1960s, the Pulcher site, along with Cahokia Mounds were nominated to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).  The boundaries for the Pulcher Site while including all the mounds were to a large extent arbitrary and included the Union Pacific Railroad tracks on the east; Davis Street Ferry Road on the north; Fish Lake on the west; and Bixby Road on the south (Figure 2).  Because of the local interest of having the site made into a park and the larger effort of HeartLands Conservancy to preserve the other large towns in the region located outside of Cahokia Mounds, it is important that a more accurate determination be made of the site’s occupational limits.

 

Dr. John Kelly, Archaeologist

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