Town Creek Indian Mound is a National Historic Landmark near Mount Gilead, Montgomery County, North Carolina, in the United States. The site preserves a ceremonial mound built by the Pee Dee, a group of Mississippian mound building people that thrived in the Pee Dee region of North and South Carolina during the Pre Columbian era of American History (about 1100 AD - 1400 AD). The Pee Dee were part of a larger complex society of Native Americans, known as the Mississippian culture, that built mounds for their spiritual and political leaders. They also participated in a widespread network of trading that stretched from Georgia through South Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and as well as the mountain and Piedmont regions of North Carolina. Town Creek Indian Mound is the only historic site in North Carolina that is dedicated to American Indian heritage, and is considered to be one of the recognized Mississippian chiefdoms. The site is composed of a single large platform mound with a surrounding village and palisade.
The Pee Dee cultural group built their mound on a low bluff
at the confluence
of Town Creek and the Little River in what is now south central North Carolina. The Town Creek site was a major center of Pee Dee habitation, trade, and religion. Discussions regarding trade among the local clans were held at Town Creek. Many of the highest ranking members of the tribe lived, died, and were buried at Town Creek. The site in Montgomery County was the location of important religious ceremonies and tribal feasts. The clans in the surrounding area would gather at Town Creek for periodic gatherings known as "busks"
. During a busk the temple, homes, and grounds of the village were cleaned and repaired as needed. Debts
were resolved. Ritual purification ceremonies took place at Town Creek Indian Mound. The ceremonies included fasting
, the ingestion of cathartic medicine
, and ritual scratching of the skin with the teeth of the garfish
. The busk gathering concluded with a celebration known as a "poskito" in which the neighboring tribes feasted on new corn. The clans would return to their villages with embers
from the sacred fire to stoke their hearths. It is believed that the sharing of the fire symbolized oneness
among the Pee Dee.
began at Town Creek in 1927 on an amateur basis before professional archaeologists took over in 1937. The excavations continued regularly until 1987. In the years prior to 1927, local residents had known the site to be a place to collect Indian arrowheads
and other relics of the past. The locals had little knowledge of archaeological practices, and some permanent damage to the site surely occurred. The amateur group used a scraper pulled by a mule
to further uncover pieces of the past, including bones and shards of pottery
The land was owned by L. D. Frutchey. Mr. Frutchey allowed exploratory work to begin in 1937 as part of the work of the Works Progress Administration
of the Great Depression
. Frutchey then donated the mound and about an acre of surrounding land to the state of North Carolina. This land was known as Frutchey State Park for several years. The name was changed to Town Creek in the 1940s and was administered by the State Park Division of North Carolina. Town Creek was the first state historic site to undergo development.
The Pee Dee left no written record, meaning that archaeology was vital in uncovering their history. Dr. Joffre Coe of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill was the lead archaeologist at Town Creek beginning in 1937. Dr. Coe and his team uncovered various artifacts and burial vaults, and also found the remains of the palisade that once surrounded Town Creek Indian Mound. Further excavations revealed that the mound, which had not been destroyed over the years despite widespread farming in the area, was the site of three separate structures. The earliest structure was an earth lodge that collapsed with age. The second structure was built atop the fallen lodge; it was a temple. After the temple burned, the Pee Dee built yet another structure on the same spot. This building had an eastward facing ramp that provided access to the surrounding plaza.
The plaza served as the location for the ceremonial "busks" and other public meetings. The archaeologists discovered the remains of several support buildings in the vicinity of the plaza, including a burial and mortuary house. It is believed that the burial house was significant for a specific clan. The mound, burial, mortuary houses and many family homes were surrounded by a protective stockade. The remains of two gates and guard towers have been discovered on the north and south ends of the palisade, with archaeologic evidence pointing the construction and destruction of at least five protective walls.
A total of 563 burials
that are thought to be of Pee Dee tribe members have been found at Town Creek Indian Mound. Many of the burial sites appear to have been fairly simple and common, with the bodies casually placed in the graves. Some were found buried with their bodies fully extended, while others may have been re-buried in a bundle of bones. The remains of young children and infants have been found tightly wrapped in deerskins in burial urns.
Dr. Joffre Coe
Dr. Coe served as the lead archaeologist for Town Creek Indian Mound for over 50 years. His long lasting and extensive work at Town Creek has led to a tremendous amount of understanding about the past of Town Creek. Traditionally, historic excavations had taken place over a much shorter period of time with the artifacts being removed to a distant research facility. This did not happen at Town Creek. Dr. Coe established his center of operations at Town Creek for over 50 years, allowing him to establish one consistent plan of research. The constant and consistent research that took place at Town Creek enabled Dr. Coe and his team gain a high level of understanding of the mound and the Pee Dee that lived at Town Creek.
There are several facilities open to the public at Town Creek Indian Mound. The reconstructed ceremonial center includes the mound with a temple atop, a minor temple and the mortuary. The visitor center houses interpretive exhibits, a gift shop, and audiovisual
programs. Town Creek Indian Mound has several trails and outdoor monuments. The visitor center, minor temple, and mortuary are handicapped accessible. Fourteen picnic tables are located on the grounds.
Group tours are given with advance scheduling. Groups are led through some hands-on activities. Various special events held throughout the year focus on the lifestyle of the Pee Dee
. Self guided tours of the rebuilt structures and mound occur during normal operational hours. Admission to Town Creek Indian Mound is free.