Alternate Perceptions Magazine, November 2019
Seeking The Elusive Perkins Mound Site in Bolivar County, Mississippi: Thanks to Adam Baker
by: Dr. Greg Little
Back around 2004 or so I was diligently working on the first edition of “The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Native American Indian Mounds & Earthworks.”
I became intrigued by a Mississippi complex survey known as the Perkins site that was included in Squier & Davis’s 1848 book on mounds, which was the initial publication by the Smithsonian Institution. The site was also described in the Smithsonian’s Annual Report for 1879 as well as in Calvin Brown’s (1926) “Archeology of Mississippi.” In both the 1879 and 1926 books it was noted that there was something wrong with the survey’s orientation. I found that interesting, but knew that several of the surveys in Squier & Davis’s books had their orientations muddled. Some of them are published upside down and others are flipped horizontally. However, I was primarily intrigued by the circular earthwork at the Perkins site and the simplicity of the large truncated mounds and smaller mounds within the earthwork. I also knew it was a “mystery site” that had never been relocated.
The 1848 description of the complex stated it was located “near Williams’ Bayou in the Choctaw Bend” about a mile and a half from the Mississippi River. That placed the complex in Bolivar County, Mississippi on the Perkins’ Plantation, which was once one of the largest slave plantations in the South. The outer earthwork formed a nearly perfect circle made by an earthen embankment four feet in height. The enclosure was 2,300 feet in circumference and 750 feet in diameter. A single small opening in the earthwork faced the East. Inside the earthwork were four mounds. Two were smaller conical mounds about 5 feet in height with a diameter of 30 feet. The two truncated pyramid mounds were much larger with the largest one having a base 150-feet square with a height of 20 feet. There were some smaller conical mounds some distance away—closer to the river. An 1887 Mississippi River Commission map also included the mounds. After that, the site vanished. At least it hasn’t ever been officially found.
Since my Illustrated Mound Encyclopedia was first released (2009) and then revised (2016) I have remained intrigued by this site. Many times I had the impulse to look for this enigmatic formation. In October of this year British author Andrew Collins came for a brief 3-day stay in Memphis, and I decided that we could make a preliminary trip to look at the location.
Facebook, Ancient Mississippi Group, & Adam Baker
There is an excellent group on Facebook called “Ancient Mississippi,” and on September 27 I posted the illustration of the Perkins Site on the group’s page and on my page (https://www.facebook.com/gregoryl.little.7) and asked if anyone knew anything about it. It generated over 80 replies. A lot of information came from the members of Ancient Mississippi. One of the group’s members, Adam Baker, was especially helpful. Baker’s information and other comments helped build a large file of relevant information.
The landowner at the time of the site’s first survey, William P. Perkins, died in 1850. Both Perkins and his wife, who died in 1860, were buried on the top of the largest mound at the site. When Perkins obtained the land it was known as Mound Plantation and the small town of Mound Landing was formed there at a small Mississippi River landing where cotton could be loaded and supplies unloaded from riverboats. A levee was constructed there in 1867 to protect the plantation and other areas from flooding. Wikipedia calls Mound Landing a “ghost town” but remnants of old buildings are not really visible. (I have found lots of errors and erroneous information on Wikipedia.)
In 1940 two Mississippi state archaeologists (Phillips & Davis) attempted to find the Perkins mounds to no avail. A few years ago another archaeologist introduced me to “windshield archaeology” which was how he said they tended to look for sites. You just drive around and look out the front window for sites. It is not clear how thoroughly Phillips & Davis searched, and they sought out a local fisherman who led them to a flooded area known as Mound Crevace. In 1927 a horrific flood devastated the area and took the lives of several hundred people, but it also took a vast area of the plantation into the river when the levee was breached. The boatman told them that in 1939 the mounds went into the river during another flood creating a huge swamp in the area of where “mounds” once existed. The archaeologists concluded that “Mound Crevace” obtained its name from that alleged event. However, from the location of the mounds (1.5 miles from the river) cited in all the relevant publications it is clear that the area called Mound Crevace was not and could not have been the Perkins mound site since it essentially adjacent to the river. A Peabody Museum document obtained by Adam Baker that cited the 1940 attempt to find the site had a handwritten notation at the bottom indicating that the site was located inside the levee to the east of Mound Crevace and that it still existed. It appeared to us that Mound Crevace was likely the area of the smaller conical mounds on the original map shown close to the river.
In the Facebook Ancient Mississippi group and on my Facebook page, Adam Baker also supplied a couple maps and measurements of the area and related that a hunting club (27 Break) owned the land.
Google Earth to Mound Landing
On October 8, 2019 Andrew Collins and I began searching Google Earth Pro and its history photos back to 1996 for possible clues. It became clear that the Mound Crevace could not have been the location of the Perkins Site. We eventually found what appeared to be a single conical mound (30 feet in diameter) located in a swamp about a quarter-mile from the river. We could tell that mound would probably not be visible from the levee because dense woods were between the levee and the swamp. We realized that trying to find the site would be difficult because woods obscured the area around that swamp and that the levees were restricted. However, the next day, Andrew, my wife, and I drove to the site. When we arrived at the levee at Mound Landing, a lone dead cow in the middle of the gravel road greeted us. There were no other cattle visible. This was at the exact location of Mound Landing.
We then proceeded about mile south on the levee to the approximate location of the mound we had seen in a swamp, but it was, as we suspected, not visible due to the trees. It was close to what is known as Mound Crevace, the location where some mounds went into the river some years earlier. Mound Crevace is a huge swamp today, located on the river side of the levee.
The area where we believe the mounds may rest is wooded, fenced, and has “no trespassing” signs everywhere. We were able to drive into a few nearby areas, but we knew before we went to the site that all we could do on this trip was get a feel for the location and formulate a future plan. In addition, we were not prepared to work our way through a swamp located on land with no trespassing signs. In the future we hope to gain permission from the hunting club to locate the mounds and the final resting place of the Perkins.