July 18, 2015

Ancient Anilco and the Great Mound - An Account from 1966

The following article was written by E. W. Plummer and appeared in the October 23, 1966 edition of the Monroe Morning World:


Mankind's march of progress and the attritions of time have eroded away the great and lesser Indian mounds and the ancient city of Anilco in Catahoula Parish.  In the following account the dramatic sweep of events from the 16th century to the present day is fitted into place along with speculations on what might have been.  Accounts state that the Great Mound was visited twice by the Spanish Explorer Hernando De Soto.

The delta held between Little and Black rivers at their junction in Catahoula Parish is, indeed, historic ground.  It was the site of a city of 6,000 people who lived there when it was visited by De Soto in 1542, a mere hamlet and trading post when Acalde de Don Juan Herbard operated a ferry at Black River (now Trinity), and is now the site of a thriving commercial and industrial town with a great future.

The ancient city visited by De Soto in the 16th century, and about whose origin and demise very little is known, was called "Anilco" by the Natchesan Indians who lived there.  Later it was named "Troyville" for the 1,000-acre Spanish land grant acquired there by Don Juan Herbard in 1786 which he called "Troy Plantation."

It was subsequently named "Jonesville" honoring Col. Charles Jones, a native son of Civil War fame who formerly owned the town site.  Some sources claim that Colonel Jones donated the site under condition that its name be changed from Troyville to Jonesville.


Anilco might well have been called "Mound City" since the highest Indian mound in the south, if not in North America and nine lesser mounds are located there.

A number of Indian mounds of considerable height and area are located on Little River above its confluence with the Black, and along the south perimeter of Catahoula Lake.  These were called "paddle mounds" by the white settlers who stopped to rest or camp on them when paddling their boats to the Rapides hills during high water periods.

The "Great Mound" at the time of De Soto's visit to the City of Anilco might be best described as having three "stories", two quadrangular truncated prisms and a truncated cone each super-imposed on the other in that order, totaling a height of 80 feet.

The second story prism was built on the upper base of the first prism and set back approximately 10 feet so as to leave a ledge of that width around the perimeter of its lower base.  The third "story" was a truncated cone which later took the form of a dome.  A walkway wide enough for "two horsemen to ride abreast" led up from a lower corner of the first prism to the parapet surrounding the second story prism, thence to the parapet surrounding the third story cone.

Although the preceding description of the "Great Mound" is generally accepted, there are other versions.  The earliest modern description of the Jonesville mounds is that given in the journal of the first Americans to explore the Ouachita River after it became part of the United States as a result of the Louisiana Purchase.  On Oct. 16, 1804, the naturalist, William Dunbar, and Dr. George Hunter explored this area and submitted this report:

"There is an amendment running from the Catahoula (Little River) to Black River, at present about 10 feet high and 10 feet broad."

"This surrounds four large mounds of earth at the distance of a bow-shot from each other; each of which may be 100 by 300 feet at the top and 20 feet high, besides a stupendous turret situated on the back part of the whole, or greatest distance from the water, whose base covers an acre of ground, rising in two steps or stories tapering to the ascent, the whole surmounted by a great cone with its top cut off.  The tower of earth on measurement proved to be about 80 feet perpendicular."


Winslow M. Walker, author of "The Troyville Mounds, Catahoula Parish, Louisiana," published in 1936 makes this observation with reference to the preceding quote:

"If this last statement about the height of the Great Mound is correct, then it is necessary to also revise the other measurements in proportion.  Thus to support a tower of earth 80 feet high on a base 180 feet wide it is possible that the easy ascent of the first story was up a slope of 42 degrees to a height of about 30 feet, the slope to the second terrace about the same to an additional height of 15 feet, and the summit cone 35 feet high with steep sides at an angle of 50 degrees, leaving an actual summit of eight feet in diameter."

It is a reasonable assumption that many of the lesser Troyville mounds, as well as the 10 foot one on the west and south sides of the city, were built to serve as places of refuge during overflow periods, for there were no levees at that time.  Some of them served as sites for granaries where their maize (corn) could be safely stored.  A somewhat higher mound in the center of the city is thought to have been the site of the chief's residence, for it furnished him a vantage point where he could watch over the city, and also gave him a favorable position in event of attack.

A half-breed Creek Indian, who claimed that Anilco was a Creek city until that tribe was driven away by pestilences and the white man's rifles, said that under Creek rule it was called the "fire tower" and was a temple of worship.

The stupendous eminence was handmade.  Archaeologists believe that the thousands of cubic yards of dirt required to build the Great Mound were carried there from a distance in skins, and that each load, less than a cubic foot, was thoroughly trampled by its carrier.

But erosion, thoughtlessness, and expediencies of the white man's civilization have reduced the once awesome Mound and the lesser ones surrounding it almost to a mere memory.

During the period of the Civil War the Great Mound underwent alterations that greatly changed its appearance by having the central one virtually cut down to provide space for a rifle pit at the top.  The displaced dirt spread down the slope principally on the north and south sides to such an extent that made it 90 feet longer from north to south than from east to west, and so mutilated that it was difficult to determine just what its original shape had been.


The rapid disintegration of the Jonesville mounds began in the early 1900s when, they together with the embankment on the west and south side, were more or less leveled for home sites and other buildings.

The demolition of the Great Mound was begun in the summer of 1931 and continued without cessation for a period of more than a month.  Day and night shifts were employed, and it required steam shovels, mules and scrapers and gangs of laborers with picks and shovels, so hard and closely packed was the clay which the aboriginal builders had placed there.

During the cutting down of the mound nothing of interest was found except a variety of colored clays, red, brown, blue, grey and olive green.  Reports among the bystanders that human skeletons were discovered were not verified.

Dirt from the once Great Mound was spread over several blocks, which now compose the "mound lots," which sell at a premium because of their higher elevation.  Thus one of the wonders of Louisiana gave way to what modern man calls "Progress."

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