Alternate Perceptions Magazine, January 2021
The Tunnel Inside Memphis’ Chickasaw Mound Revealed
by: Dr. Greg Little
In 1541 Hernando DeSoto reached the Mississippi River during his disastrous quest to plunder gold and other riches from the tribes inhabiting Southeastern United States. The quest wasn’t a disaster because DeSoto died and the remains of his force fled to Mexico with nothing of value whatsoever. It was a disaster for the Native Americans because DeSoto’s venture spread disease everywhere leading to a 90-95% decline in the native population.
When he reached the river, DeSoto entered a fortified mound complex and encountered an angry chief on the top of a large truncated mound located on a high bluff adjacent to the river. DeSoto had taken the chief’s daughter prisoner, a tactic he routinely employed as he entered towns to plunder them. The exact location of this site is disputed, but many believe that it was in Memphis, at what is today Chickasaw Heritage Park. It was formerly called DeSoto Mounds Park and today has two large mounds remaining at the site, which originally contained 9 mounds. I have earlier discussed the many forts and mound sites in Memphis. (http://mysterious-america.com/trek110.html) In my 1990 book, “People of the Web,” the story of a Native American protest at the site in 1989 was told.
Over the centuries a French fort was constructed there and in 1861 the Confederates built Fort Randolph at the site. It primarily consisted of earthworks and cannon emplacements. The large truncated temple mound had a tunnel dug into it leading to a powder storage room. From there, the tunnel went down the bluff to the river’s edge. Nearby, several “escape” tunnels leading some 5 miles from the East also reached the river. (These were not part of the extensive sewer system that was constructed in Memphis pre-Civil War, which have been cited as mysteries in various publications.) The top of the mound was hollowed out about 9 feet down, and cannons were placed along the outer edges. The top of the mound is some 100 feet above the river giving a commanding view of a huge bend in the river. Mark Twain commented that this specific spot was the best view of Mississippi River to be found anywhere.
One of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s brothers commanded the fort for the Confederates. On June 6, 1862, Memphis and Fort Randolph fell to the Union during a naval battle that lasted only 90 minutes. General Sherman then came to Memphis and erected an observation tower at what had been Fort Randolph. Over time, the hollowed mound was used as a dance floor, gathering place, and park, but the tunnel was concreted closed and the tunnel entrances at the river were collapsed. By all accounts, the tunnel inside the mound was said to be near collapse and access was denied to everyone. It has been a source of speculation by many writers as well as linked to the “mysterious large tunnels found all over downtown Memphis.
The concrete-closed entrance to the mound is shown in the photo below.
Some 8 years ago, while visiting the mound I was surprised to see that a small hole, about 3 inches in diameter was present in the concrete wall. An iPhone camera was put in the dark hole and the photo seen below was taken.
What is obvious is that the tunnel is an arched, brick lined construction, well built and very well preserved. To my knowledge, this is the only published photo of the tunnel in the mound.