This site is currently under construction
A poetic friend once referred to the people who lived here long ago as “the People of the Tall Grass and Thunder.” That name resonated with me and seemed an appropriate name for this website. Though much of the story of these people has been lost, this website is dedicated to preserving – and better understanding – what remains of their legacy. (Read a history of Native Americans in this area.)
For over a century our family has owned four farms clustered in central Boone County. Since the sod was first broken in the 1870s, this land has yielded evidence of these “People of the Tall Grass and Thunder”. As a child I loved looking for arrowheads and pottery fragments, and soon became fascinated with the people responsible for these items. They were stone age people, yet they had lived here not all that long ago. Even as a child I realized that while they must have been very different from us, they must have been just like us, too.
In time I realized that these people had also left a number of earthen mounds, three of which are remarkably geometrical while another closely resembles a bison’s heart. I believe these mounds offer evidence of an unrecognized chapter in this area’s history, and that a study of them reveals that while the “People of the Tall Grass and Thunder” were materially a stone-age culture, they were remarkably advanced in their ability to plan and construct these earthen mounds, possessing a sophisticated understanding of both geometry and astronomy.
Read a short Archaeological Report about our land
Since beginning this website in August of 2019 I’ve been joined Blake Trombley, a fellow Boone County Historical Society board member who shares my curiosity about this area’s past. Blake has been a big help in researching Native Americans, improving photo quality and especially in finding and using aerial maps. Together we’ve been able to determine the latitude, longitude and elevation of mounds. Blake is also researching Ground Penetrating Radar and infrared satellite imagery to help us learn more about these and neighboring sites.
Many thanks to Blake for his assistance and also to my son William for his help with website construction, drone photography and adding graphics to images. A big Thank You also to Lisa Reynoldson and everyone else at the Boone County Natural Resource Conservation Service and Mike Bullerman from the Prairie Plains Resource Institute in Aurora for their help in getting lidar images.
Before proceeding I should note that though I’ve done my best to be accurate, I am not a professional archaeologist, anthropologist, surveyor or historian. And because I continue to research this material, all information is subject to change as new finds are made.
Two of our farms (The North Place and the Hills) appear to hold extensive ancient burials while the other two (The Wright Place and The Gillespie Place) contain evidence of village sites. These two farms, located about a mile apart in the bottomlands along the Beaver Creek, also contain mounds I believe were built by Native Americans. The two farms containing mounds were both settled by members of our family in 1871, the year this area was opened to homesteading. (Read the history of our farms since white settlement.)
Though the Gillespie Place left the family for a time and I don’t know a detailed history of every acre we own, I did grow up hearing stories about our farms (I farmed them with my father and grandfather for many years) and never once heard anything that would indicate anyone in our family built – or even took much notice of – the mounds. Portions of our land have never been broken, and the unbroken portions of the Wright and Gillespie places are where the majority of the earthen mounds are located. I am aware of a few other mounds in the Boone County area, and I suspect more once existed before being destroyed by cultivation as at least one mound on our property was.
The Wright and Gillespie places are located in the bottoms along the Beaver Creek between the communities of Albion and Boone. The Hills are located on the upslope from the creek immediately north of the Wright Place. The North Place is on the tableland immediately north of the Hills.
The now dry O’Neill Valley Creek joins the Beaver in the pasture of the Wright Place. This pasture is where most of the mounds are located and the majority of artifacts have been found. The O’Neill was a flowing stream in the early years of settlement, indicating that the water table has dropped in recent decades.
The higher water table fed several shallow lakes in the area, including a fairly large gravel-bottomed lake just to the south and west of the Wright Place which must have long been a major feature in the local landscape during Native times. This lake was drained long ago but portions of it remain, fed by springs, and artifacts have been found all around this area. Presumably this lake provided resources for the people living here in Native times, and probably influenced settlement patterns.
Though a few stone artifacts and some charcoal has been found at the North Place, most artifacts on our property have been found in the pasture and the fields bordering it on and near the Wright Place.
In 1995 an especially deep plowing of a field east of the pasture revealed clusters of artifacts, suggesting a number of earth lodges once stood there. Comparisons of these artifacts with those from a site revealed by highway work farther north in Boone County suggests these two sites may date to the same time period, approximately 900 years ago.
In the summer of 2000 Nebraska NRCS Cultural Resource Expert, archaeologist Jerome Lucas, visited the Wright Place. When discussing the area in and near the southwest corner of the pasture where the most artifacts have been found, I asked Mr. Lucas if the site could be a series of small occupations over a long period of years. He replied that the fact that artifacts are found at a considerable distance from the adjacent Beaver Creek indicates that this was a single, large settlement (which he noted were unusual at that time period). He said that people there were “as lazy as we are today” and would not have built any farther from the water source – the creek – than necessary. He said the social structure of the village would have been reflected in the placement of the earth lodges – the higher one’s social status, the nearer one lived to the creek.
There were at one time partial remains of three earthlodges, recognizable as shallow depressions in the ground:
The largest (1) is cut off on its east side by the fence separating the pasture from the field and was damaged by an errant bulldozer operator in 2007. Years ago I dug into this lodge in a couple of spots and found a small corn cob, rusted metal objects and stone flakings. The presence of both stone and metal suggests this lodge dates to a later time period when some metal trade goods had reached this area but not in sufficient quantity to replace stone tools.
The other two lodges (2 & 3) were located on a high bank above the Beaver, not far from the first. These were quite close together and considerably smaller. I once dug into the center of one of these two lodges (2), both of which have now been lost due to the constant erosion of the bank. At a depth of about a foot I encountered a layer of soil that was harder and also had a distinctly “greasy” feel to it; I surmised this to have been the lodge floor. I found a few flakings and potsherds similar to those found in the field, suggesting that this lodge may have dated to the same period as the village. I also found three tiny kernels of yellow corn; they were about the size of kernels on a present-day “nubbin”. They unfortunately disintegrated when touched.
Artifacts are also occasionally found in the west part of the pasture, near the southeast corner of a small field, and dowsing indicates at least one rectangular lodge once stood there. How this area was related to the larger site to the east is not known, though the artifacts appear similar in both areas.
On the Gillespie Place there are several shallow depression located along a high bank above an old curve in the Beaver (over the years the creek has shifted away from this bank). Since there is a mound not far from these depressions, and since it is located where small villages typically were built (near water but high enough not to flood), I suspect there was once a small group of lodges here. I hope to explore this site soon, but it is very difficult to access so I currently know little about it. (See a comparison between lidar image and satellite photo and learn more about lidar.)
There are other areas where artifacts are concentrated – indicating there are additional villages sites in the area. In the lidar photo below artifact sites are marked by yellow dots while the Gillespie site – suggested by possible lodge depressions – is marked in red. The lidar indicates all sites are on higher ground but near where the Beaver Creek either runs today or did at some time in the past –
Given the concentration of possible village sites in this area there should presumably be a number of burials. Native American burials in this area appear to have been either individual bodies or secondary interments of an individual’s bones, or in larger “ossuaries” where the bones of several individuals – presumably after having been exposed on platforms and defleshed by birds – were interred together.
Two individual burials have been confirmed near the Wright Place and a third is suspected. One burial (1), thought to be of a Native American, was found in 1907 on the southwest side of Lone Tree Lake when a portion of a high bank collapsed (my grandmother Etta, who was 7 at the time, remembered this vividly). This burial would have had to have been fairly recent because a rusty “case knife” (presumably a pocket knife similar to those made by the Case Knife Company) was found with the bones. Many years later another burial (2) was revealed by erosion a ridge south of this lake where the top of a skull, four teeth and a small black stone with a blue dot in it were found. The teeth were examined by a local dentist who felt they were very old. Some years before this a third (3) suspected burial was revealed by erosion on the bank of the O’Neill Valley Creek. These were found by the neighbor’s young son – he believes they were human but the family told him to never tell anyone and they were never examined.
As a dowser I have found what I believe to be many individual burials and ossuaries in the vicinity of our farms (including where the neighbor reported seeing bones as a child). Although none of these sites is confirmed to contain human remains, I have dowsed known burial sites and was once joined by archaeologists from the Nebraska State Historical Society to examine The Hills. After recording the GPS coordinates of many suspected ossuaries on the hill slopes and individual burials on the hill tops, the archaeologists said that my findings “were consistent with known burial sites,” remarking in a separate report that “We saw potential burial features over a vast area that caused Mr. Hosford’s dowsing rods to move. It should perhaps be noted that while the dowsing rod technique is not universally accepted some professional archeologists have used it with success. Evidence of extensive native settlement is without a doubt present on this property; surely unmarked burials are present too.”
In the fall of 2019 my son William and I began mapping the perimeters of some of these sites – I dowsed for graves while William recorded our locations with a mapping app on his phone (see below). Until this I had thought burial grounds were confined to hill and ridge tops, but dowsing indicates they extended down from these areas into the flatland below. It also appears that in many areas burials were either largely individual or largely ossuaries, with only a few of the other type present among them. Burials of either type stop near drainage areas, soon after cresting ridges moving away from the valley, and in areas where landscape features block a clear line of site to known villages. This suggests that interring loved ones within site was important, and also suggests the possibility that new village sites may be discovered from the position of burials and where they could and couldn’t be seen. (The fact that suspected burials extend slightly beyond ridge and hill tops suggests that burial platforms may also have been located in these areas since bodies on platforms would have been visible above the top of these hills and ridges.)
As can be seen on the map above, dowsing indicates there are extensive burial grounds on and near our farms, many of which appear to be ossuaries. Because of the extent of these burial grounds, and because ossuaries contain multiple people (though generally fairly small in size – 2 paces by 2 or 3 paces – some ossuaries appear to be as large as 8 paces by 8 paces), it appears this section of the Beaver Valley has seen extensive human occupation.
In addition to these sights, dowsing has identified additional sites east and southwest of the Wright Place and east of the Gillespie Place:
Dowsing also indicates there are numerous burials in and near the various mounds on our property.
Native American Visits
Our farm was visited regularly by Native Americans for many years after my family took up residence there. Members of the Omaha tribe camped on the eastern bank of the (now) dry O’Neill Valley Creek every year for many years. They fished in the creeks and lake, presumably hunting and trapping as well, and harvested wild honey from a hollow tree, the location of which was shown to me as a child. They would regularly come to the house (a few hundred yards to the east) and ask for items such as eggs, milk, and butter. My genteel great grandmother was terrified, but always gave them what they asked for.
They are also remembered as coming here to perform ceremonies.
The Albion Weekly News archives from the 1880s through 1904 describe how every winter anywhere from a few individuals to groups of about 20, complete with women and children, would arrive near St. Edward to the south of our land in early December (Summary of News Items). These groups would then work their way upstream on the Beaver, reaching the Albion area around Christmas and then the Loretto area further north in mid-January. Other groups appear to have traveled on to the Cedar Valley. At least some of these visiting Omaha, who secured special permission to leave their reservation near Macy (nearly 90 miles away as the crow flies), crossed the Shell Creek, the traditional border of the Omaha’s territory, just southeast of Newman Grove.
These Natives did a lot of trapping and sold furs in Albion. They are also remembered for their archery skills and for performing a War Dance for the local “palefaces.”
I once shared this information with Native American expert Nancy Gillis. Nancy is of Cherokee/Choctaw heritage and spent 16 years on the faculty of Wayne State College, Northeast Community College, Nebraska Indian Community College, and Little Priest Tribal College teaching Native American History and Cultures, U.S. History, World History, Anthropology and Sociology. Although she had never heard about these annual visits, Nancy felt that the Omaha would have been aware of the mounds on our property and most likely came here in part to visit them.
The Wright Place Mounds
Lidar is a new imaging technique that uses an air borne laser to “see” through vegetation, revealing ground features that would otherwise be obscured. Because many of the mounds on our property are hidden by trees and/or don’t stand out enough to be visible in regular aerial and satellite photographs, lidar has been very helpful in documenting the shape and location of our mounds. Below is a lidar image of the building site and a portion of the pasture on the Wright Place (north is at the top):
Below is the same image with the identified mounds/mound areas circled and numbered:
Here are brief descriptions and links to more information about the numbered mounds:
Mound 1: The Wright Mound. This large mound sits in the bottom next to the O’Neill Valley Creek, rising between 3 and 4 feet above the current valley bottom. The March 2019 flood inundated this valley, turning this mound into an island. The flood waters left a watermark around this mound, creating a convenient watermark showing the complicated outline of this mound:
As can be seen in the above drone photo, there are two low-relief ovals on the south end of this mound (Mounds 2). Similar to the Rectangle (see below) located a few hundred feet straight east, these mounds are surrounded by a “trough” where the ground is very compacted, suggesting they may have been walked and/or danced on many times in the past. These ovals have definite underlying geometry and the east aligns to a point on the eastern horizon where the bright star Rigel (Orion’s shoulder) rises. The oval shape and alignment with Rigel are both features of many of the so-called “Dakota Mounds” located in southeastern Minnesota and the Dakotas to the north.
The waterline bears a remarkable resemblance to the outline of a buffalo’s heart with the ovals atop it corresponding to the atria, or upper chambers of a heart.
Mound 3: The Rectangle. This mound is rectangular and oriented north/south. Like the oval mounds described above, it is surrounded by a beaten trough on three sides. On the north, however, this trough expands into a semicircle. There is a cut very near the southwest corner of this mound leading to the O’Neill Valley bottom; it may have been used for going to and coming from the Wright Mound. There are a number of shallow depressions both to the north and to the east of this mound (post molds?), several of which appear to align with the center and the north and west edges of this mound. Another depression farther to the east may indicate where the sun appears over the elevated eastern horizon on the Spring and Fall equinoxes.
Very near the Rectangle is Mound Area 4: the Adjacent Mounds. The area near the Rectangle shows numerous signs of disturbance. The lidar image above shows several very low-relief mounds, two of which are large enough to have marked in the drone photo below:
Both the lidar image and variations in vegetation patterns suggest there is more to be discovered in this area.
Mound 5: The Long Mound. This is a very long and narrow mound just west of the yard/field fence. It runs straight north/south and may have once extended to where the road is now.
Mound 6: The Yard Mound. This small circular mound is located in the farmyard and has a slight ridge to the south of it.
Mound 7: The “Tumulus.” This is another large mound that rises gently from the east, south and west sides to about 5′ above the surrounding area. It drops steeply to the north, however.
Mound 8: The Orchard Mound. My grandmother vividly remembered this mound – it stood in a 500-tree apple orchard and she and her sisters were forbidden from playing on it for fear that the Indians buried in it had died from some terrible disease and the germs might still be in the soil. This mound was destroyed when the orchard was removed (sometime before 1938 when the first aerial photograph was taken). This location was found by dowsing so it remains speculative.
The Gillespie Place
There is one mound located in a thickly-wooded wetland near an old channel of the Beaver Creek. Even with lidar it’s difficult to get a good idea of the shape and orientation of this mound, but it is roughly triangular and rises approximately 4′ above the valley floor, with a gentle slope on the north and a steep slope on the south. Like all mounds, it is difficult to determine its baseline – it was completely submerged in the 2019 flood, so even if we could have gotten to it in a timely manner, there would have been no waterline to mark. It measures approximately 76′ east to west and 66′ north to south.
In addition to this mound there are two unusual pits (circles 2 & 3). Both are approximately 3′ deep and 6′ in diameter. Pit #2 is located among the possible earthlodge depressions while Pit #3 is at the very edge of a high bank above the Beaver. I do not know if either of these pits is of Native origin, but they do resemble each other and I am not aware of any others like them. I’m recording their locations here in case they should be important. Pit #3 will cave into the Beaver soon…
Though difficult to distinguish their properties, I’m standing in Pit #2 and William is standing in Pit #3.