Cahokia Mounds
by Jack Corbett

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If you live within twenty miles of Cahokia Mounds which is just five miles from Saint Louis, chances are you have never been here, yet people from all over the world travel far to study what had been in 1250 AD the center of civilization for the American continent believed by many scholars to have had 20,000 residents making it more populous than either London or Paris. At its center is what is now called Monkís Mound, the largest prehistoric monument of the  Americas North of Mexico, now as it was then 100 feet tall and 15 acres around its base. But those are mere numbers practically devoid of meaning, for they cannot convey even a hint of what itís like to climb up to the top of Monkís Mound, especially at night, to take in both the silence and the magnitude of what this lofty vantage point meant either then or today. The view, all three hundred and sixty degrees of it is breathtaking, but itís the feeling you get deep inside thatís almost haunting as comprehension dawns on what all this meant to those who lived here so many centuries ago.

At the top of Monkís Mound lived the Great Sun who was the supreme ruler over his 20,000 subjects  at Cahokia holding over them the complete power of life and death. But this 20,000 doesnít even count all the satellite communities that tied into this great metropolis that had once been the center of the Mississippian Civilization. Over a hundred mounds  existed near the Great Mound. Some were used upon which the residences of the rich and powerful were built. Others were burial mounds while still others were used for ceremonial purposes. Underneath mound number 72, which now is barely six feet tall, archaeologists found a number of bodies of both young women and men presumed to have been warriors who had their hands cut off.  No one knows why they and most likely many others had been killed but one theory was that they had all been sacrificed to commemorate the death of someone rich and famous, perhaps the Great Sun himself.

I remember as a young boy riding my horse up a mound that was perhaps twenty feet tall out in the middle of a field, not once but many times. Dad had always called it an Indian Mound. No doubt it was just one of many mounds around which an entire community had based itself that owed its allegiance to the Great Sun over in Cahokia. This one was thirty-five miles away. But throughout what is now the Central U.S., particularly along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers mounds have been found all of which are now loosely defined as being part of this Mississippian Indian civilization centered in Cahokia. Throughout this entire region a large amount of trade took place, much of it flowing up and down the rivers. But if one thinks of all this as a benign civilization of peace loving prehistoric farmers just keep in mind all those human sacrifices.

Think also of the power of the state that established the center of government control in Cahokia itself that could compel its citizens to build all those mounds out of dirt, all by hand, basket by basket. Most of the mounds here have been destroyed by farmers plowing their fields, but just try to calculate how many baskets of earth it would have taken to build Monks Mound itself, all fifteen acres of it around its base, never mind the fact that itís a hundred feet high. It took over two hundred years to do it with the entire project being completed in stages. And when it was finished the Great Sun had his great house built at the top where he could live close to the sun while gazing at the city state that had been built beneath him. It took discipline to accomplish all of that and to build the stockade around the Great Mound itself let alone all the lesser mounds around it. And in order to enforce that kind of discipline for so long it would have taken an army of well trained men that would have been large and powerful enough so as to make an attack on Cahokia itself to be unthinkable by any rival, be it a tribe, group of tribes far from Cahokia or an uprising from within.

I am going to keep this article short since Iím far from being an expert on Cahokia or the Mississippian civilization. For those who want to go on and do further research I urge you to go there by all means and to visit the Cahokia Mounds web site   I can also recommend an excellent novel, ďPeople of the RiverĒ by W. Michael Gear and Kathleen OíNeal Gear which I believe gives a sense of what it might have been like to live at that time under the iron fist rule of the Great Sun and his overlords and the fear that must have existed in the hearts of all those who dared to disobey.

This was one of my favorite places in the Saint Louis area and itís one I will always go back to. I used to run up and down the concrete steps leading up to the top of the Great Mound, usually four times for four hundred vertical feet of step jogging and then Iíd do a two mile run through the park where Iíd often see up to eighty deer at a time. It was a place where Iíd go to do a lot of thinking both about how things were then and how they are today. And it was a place Iíd often go to view the fourth of July fireworks near the St. Louis arch six miles away as well as the fireworks being set off throughout the entire area. There was never any traffic on the way back to my apartment which was just four miles from the Great Mound for I lived so close by that I would come here several times a week. Iíd often take a date, who was usually one of the areaís night club entertainers to the top of the Great Mound early in the morning after many of the night clubs had closed which completed the tie in between Jack Corbett photographer and writer of the adult entertainment world and one whose interest in History never quits.

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