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Caddo Archeology Journal

Abstract

Dr. Montroville Wilson Dickeson, born in Philadelphia in 1810, was a medical doctor, taxidermist and avid collector of fossils. Between 1837 and 1844 he pursued another interest—excavating Indian burial mounds in the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys. He claimed to have “opened up” more than a thousand mounds and collected more than 40,000 objects. He also made drawings of the mounds and later provided these to an artist by the name of John J. Egan, who, about 1850, converted the drawings into a series of large paintings on huge canvases. Dickeson toured the country in 1852 allowing the public to view the canvasses and his artifact collections for a fee of 25 cents (Figure 1). The panorama, titled “Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley”, was nine feet high, 400 feet long, and consisted of 27 scenes. The canvasses later were curated at the University Museum, University of Pennsylvania until 1953 when purchased by the St. Louis Art Museum where they remain today (Rathbone 1950; Rodgers 2009).

Dickeson’s lecture notes refer to Scene 21 as follows: “The following picture shows a group of connected mounds in Caddo Parish, in Northwestern Louisiana, with some of the aboriginal inhabitants of the region . . .” The scene depicts a cluster of nine mounds, some of which are connected by low earthen walls (Figure 2). In the background are mountains, and a group of Indians with elaborate headdresses are shown in front of tents. Similar mountains and the same Indian scene appear in other segments of the Mississippi Panorama and are understandable in light of the Romantic artistic style of the times, as well as the fact that the panorama was part of a show intended to evoke wonder and awe in its audience. Today we know of only one place in Caddo Parish where there is a cluster of at least nine mounds. Located on the western side of the Red River, north of the present city of Shreveport, is the Mounds Plantation Site (16CD12), the single largest Caddo ceremonial center in northwestern Louisiana (Figure 3). It seems fitting that the earliest reference that we have to a prehistoric site in northwest Louisiana likely pertains to Mounds Plantation, a place of primary importance to its ancient Caddo inhabitants, as well as to modern archaeological research.

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