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Authors: W. Michael Gear,Kathleen O'Neal Gear

People of the Weeping Eye (North America's Forgotten Past)

BOOK: People of the Weeping Eye (North America's Forgotten Past)
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e would like to acknowledge John Blitz, Matt Gage, and Katherine Michelson of the University of Alabama for their kind assistance during our visits at the Moundville archaeological site. Mary T. Newman was kind enough to share her in-depth knowledge of Southeastern ceramic manufacture. Our special appreciation is extended to Dan and Vicki Townsend for their love of shell carving, and for keeping the tradition alive.
Bob Pickering, Ph.D., longtime Midwestern archaeologist and current curator of collections at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, kindly read the manuscript and provided salient and perceptive comments. We are most grateful for all of your input, Bob.
Once again, Traci, B.J., and the rest of the staff at the Hot Springs County Library performed their magic by obtaining rare and out-of-print archaeological source material, including Frank G. Speck’s
Ethnology of the Yuchi Indians
. Their help was instrumental in the writing of this novel.
Gerald and JoAnn Gerber, of the Storyteller Bookstore in Thermopolis, Wyoming, also worked diligently to obtain out-of-print source material, including the Bureau of American Ethnology’s Volume 42 on the Creek Indians, and the BAE’s 44th annual report on the Chickasaw. Should you ever be in Thermopolis, drop in for a cup of their wonderful coffee, fine hospitality, and good cheer.
As always, the Thermopolis Holiday Inn of the Waters provided us with a place to decompress, warm Guinness, fine buffalo burgers, and a soul-filling view of the Bighorn River. We offer a special thanks to Jim, Tuck, Mary, Chris, Jake, Dawn, Jimmie, Kenny, Dusty, Karla, Pete, and the rest of the staff.
People of the Weeping Eye
has been a labor of years. Depicting the rich variability of Mississippian archaeology in all of its complexity was a daunting challenge. As the epic of Trader, Old White, and Morning Dew played out, the manuscript grew ever larger. As a result the publisher made the decision to break the story into two books:
People of the Weeping Eye
People of the Thunder.
eople of the Weeping Eye
and its sequel,
People of the Thunder
, are largely based on Alabama’s Moundville archaeological site. Today it is an open park dominated by grassy mounds and tree-shaded ravines above the Black Warrior River. The site has a small museum and interpretive center, the University of Alabama archaeological laboratory, picnic facilities, a conference center, and campground. A visitor coming from busy Tuscaloosa or Birmingham is struck by the expanse of grass, open space, and charming vista. He sees quiet countryside, but for the passing of an occasional train. Moundville deceives.
Archaeologists tend to be a politically correct lot, and they don’t like to use the word
—but that’s what early Mississippian culture is beginning to look like. From the huge urban center at Cahokia, just across from St. Louis on the Illinois shore, expeditions were sent up and down the rivers, including the Tennessee. We see the spread of Mississippian culture, their square earthen mounds, pottery, trench-wall houses, and artistic styles. Cahokia’s influence spread north into Minnesota, westward up the Missouri, as far as Oklahoma in the southwest, and to Florida in the southeast. Descendants of its hegemony would speak Siouan, Muskogean, Iroquoian, and Caddoan languages.
Readers of our novel
People of the River
are familiar with Cahokia. After its decline around A.D. 1150, a political vacuum formed. Settlements vied for influence
and control, warring with their neighbors. Muskogean peoples migrated eastward across the Mississippi to fill the Southeast. In the end, several centers—including Moundville, Ocmulgee, Spiro, and the Lower Mississippi Valley sites like Emerald Mound—flourished until the 1400s, then faded. Of them all, Moundville was the most spectacular.
In archaeological terms, the huge earthworks of Moundville went up in an incredibly short period of time, as did a twenty-foot-tall perimeter wall with platform-topped bastions for archers. Such fortifications indicate that all was not peaceful in the Mississippian Southeast. Over the next 150 years, the walls would be replaced several times and finally abandoned as Moundville’s military and political leaders pacified the Alabama, Black Warrior, and Tombigbee River basins. The city’s population moved out into the fertile bottomlands, building towns around smaller mound centers up and down the Black Warrior Valley.
In writing
People of the Weeping Eye
we have drawn heavily on Chickasaw, Alabama, Choctaw, and Yuchi ethnography. The Chickasaw—the most likely descendants of Moundville—are Muskogean speakers. Both Koasati and Alabama are the probable descendants of the West Jefferson culture. Alabama language, though structurally different, contains a great many Chickasaw words—expected if they had been in physical contact, but separated by strict social divisions. Despite extended contact the Alabama remained a separate and distinct culture until their absorption into the Creek Confederacy.
Between A.D. 1200 and 1380, Moundville was the largest urban center in North America. What today is quiet countryside was the capital for thousands of people who inhabited central Alabama and western Mississippi.
Think not of Moundville as quiet and dead, but alive with multitudes dressed in their best, faces painted in
bright colors. Hear thousands of voices, shrieking children, barking dogs, and the distant sound of drums and flutes. Smell the musky wood smoke, the scent of cooking corn, fish, and venison.
Only then will Moundville live.
BOOK: People of the Weeping Eye (North America's Forgotten Past)
12.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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