Long ago and far away there was a fabulous mound site at what is now Jonesville, Louisiana. It contained nine mounds and a perimeter embankment with the great mound standing at 82 feet high. Eighty-two feet. All situated at the confluence of the Ouachita, Tensas and Little Rivers.
The great mound of Troyville was the tallest mound in Louisiana and one of the largest in North America. This was an extremely elaborate mound site and must have been magnificent in its heyday which would have been around AD 750. Eight of the mounds were rectangular with a flat top. The Great Mound had 2 platform layers topped with a conical shaped mound. Troyville would have been one of the most impressive “towns” in North America when active.
The destruction of this sacred site began during the Civil War when the summit cone of the great mound was cut away to be used as a rifle pit. But that was only the beginning. As the town of Jonesville was settled, dirt was removed from the mounds to be used in the foundations of the new structures. They even used dynamite to hasten the process. But then in the 1930’s its fate was sealed. A new bridge was going to be built over the Black River and they needed fill dirt. And since they had that big mound that needed to go somewhere, they elected to use it. 1930’s recycling. Turning a major historically significant structure into, well, dirt.
Smithsonian archaeologist Winslow Walker excavated what was left in 1931 and 1932. He found woven cane matting, palmetto fronds and wooden planks within the mound which showed how complex the engineering of it had been. During his excavation, he also discovered a mass burial grave. Before he could study it, looters came in and trashed the site while looking for gold. Our treatment of Troyville is such a sad tale.
There is a small but wonderful exhibit of Walker’s findings as well as a few of his photographs (!) at the Museum of Natural History at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. If you live near here, go see it.
So what’s left of the great city of Troyville today? Not much. There is a historical marker describing the site of the once Great Mound.
And this is what is there now – St. Gerard’s Catholic Church.
Interestingly enough, the city of Jonesville now realizes what a mistake it was to destroy such an important historical and sacred site. A replica of the Great Mound is being built …
They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum. Joni Mitchell, AD 1970.
For more information on this site, used copies of Winslow Walker’s account of the Troyville Mounds are available online. I’ve got a copy on order. You can also visit the museum at ULM or the site itself in Catahoula Parish.
Or, as the sign says, visit www.greatmound.com.
Thanks to Dr. Joe Saunders for first introducing me to this site.