Native American Burial Mounds

Native American burial grounds once paralleled much of the waterfront between present-day Pine Grove Park and Lakeside Beach in Port Huron.

William Lee Jenks, who published a history of St. Clair County in 1912, included Henry Gilman's map showing the locations of 25 mounds in Port Huron. Jenks said all of them had disappeared by 1880, plundered by "pot hunters" and plowed under for development.

Although known as mounds, they more closely resembled terraces. One located along the now-diverted McNeil's Creek (near the Palmer Park Recreation Center) was more than 500 feet long and 100 to 150 feet wide, but only 12 feet high.

The mounds were ancient - at least a thousand years old - before the French built Fort St. Joseph near this site in 1686. They appear to have been vestiges of the Couture Complex, part of the Hopewell Tradition that flourished from about 200 B.C. to 500 A.D. in the Middle Woodland period of Native American history.

Henry Gilman, an administrator with the U.S. Lighthouse Service and an amateur archaeologist, went to the village of Gratiot in 1872 to investigate what he called "tumuli," from the Latin word for barrows. He summarized his research in a booklet published by the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard.

Along with skeletal remains of the dead, Gilman uncovered pottery shards, clay smoking pipes, flint chips and tools such as stone hammers and net sinkers. His findings included a necklace made of copper beads and moose teeth, and a copper knife wedged beneath the rotting stump of a massive oak with 584 tree rings.

Gilman also found lots and lots of fish and animal bones, suggesting the Indians lived in a land of bounty that left plenty of free time for mound building.

Wilbert Hinsdale, known as “the father of Michigan archaeology,” explored 22 mounds in neighboring Sanilac County in the mid-1920s. "How long the Indians had been in America before the arrival of Columbus, and how they got here, is one of the great puzzles that confronts us," he wrote. "It is really astounding how little we know."

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