Great Mound Replica Timeline
February 2006 - October 2009
In 1931 the Great Mound of Troyville was destroyed by the State of Louisiana so its dirt could be used to construct the western bridge approach for the first bridge to cross Black River. A new bridge has been constructed, 4,788 cubic yards of the Great Mound’s original dirt has being uncovered and the Town of Jonesville will use this soil to build a replica of the Great Mound.
This project has been ongoing for over three years and below is a time line of the replica’s progress:
Mayor Evans asked several people to serve on a committee for the purpose of developing and promoting Troyville and the Native American heritage of our area. With a new bridge being build they discussed that there may be a possibility of building a replica and using the original dirt from the Great Mound that once stood in Jonesville.
Committee member Bill Atkins spoke with the Chief of the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians to inform them of the town’s interest in building a replica of the Great Mound, and to request their support. The Chief stated that they were appreciative that the town contacted the tribe before the project began, saying that in similar circumstances the tribe is usually contacted after the fact. The Chief expressed support and said she felt sure the council would support the project and that she would bring it to their attention.
Even though use of the bridge approach dirt had not been secured, surveys were performed to determine possible locations for the replica. It was decided to place the replica along Hwy. 84, and close to where the new bridge touches the ground. The ideal location was determined to be the southwest corner of the Block High School football practice field. This location would place the replica adjacent to the ancient mounds museum.
An email follow up was received from Aubrey “Butch” Lee with Earth-Search about the town using the Great Mound bridge approach dirt for the replica. Earth-Search is the company that is contracted to conduct archaeological investigations for the new Black River Bridge. Butch said he spoke with Charles Poole with James Construction Group and Mr. Poole needs more information (location of site reconstruction & etc). Butch suggested a letter be sent to Mr. Poole explaining what the town would like to accomplish.
A letter was mailed to Charles Poole, with James Construction Group, explaining the town’s desire to build a replica of the Great Mound and asking if they would consider donating the mound’s original dirt and transporting it to the replica’s location. No response was received.
"What would the economic fate of Catahoula been if they had not destroyed the ‘Great Mound’ of Troyville”, writes William Least Heat-Moon author of Road to Quoz An American Mosey. Least Heat-Moon, as he likes to be called, devotes 20 pages of his book to the Great Mound and Catahoula Parish.
Ricky Moon, State District Engineer, emailed other highway personal about the replica project saying, “This sounds like a great idea to me and is maybe an opportunity for us to "restore" some history that was destroyed many years ago.”
Justin B. Reeves, State Field Engineer, emailed saying he spoke with the contractor, and they planned to use the bridge approach material as road fill on the project if the dirt meets specifications. However, Justin said that if the dirt didn’t meet specifications the contractor indicated that they would donate it to the town and haul it to the replica’s location as long as the distance to the replica site is shorter than the distance to his disposal pit.
State Area Engineer, Chris Roussell, emailed Ricky Moon, State District Engineer to advise him that he has been unable to get a firm answer from the bridge contractor as to whether or not they are willing to participate in donating and moving the Great Mound dirt.
Russell Purvis, town attorney, and Bill Atkins met with representatives of James Construction Group to discuss the possible donation of the Great Mound dirt. While not totally committal they indicated the company would like to work with the town to accomplish the replica project.
August 5, 2008
Jonesville Mayor Hiram Evans, state regional archaeologist Dr. Joe Saunders, Dave Carlton with Jonesville’s Economic Development Board and Bill Atkins met with the Catahoula Parish School Board to request use of the south west portion of the Block High School football practice field for constructing the Great Mound replica. It was also explained that the exact amount of land needed has not been determined and no official approval has been given for use of the original dirt. However, the board was very receptive to the presentation, but withheld official approval until the amount of land needed was determined.
Mayor Hiram Evans, Joe Saunders and Bill Atkins met with the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians to update the council on the plans for the replica of the Great Mound. Tribal elders and council members Jerry Jackson and B. Shirley Smith, along with council member Kristy Murphy listened with interest to the information presented.
Jackson asked who the original builders of the mound were. Dr. Saunders explained that they could not determine who the original builders were. Mrs. Smith remarked that the builders were still family, even if it was from many years ago.
Jackson also asked who would handle the screening of the Great Mound dirt and any artifacts recovered. Dr. Saunders said the State would handle the screening. Jackson mentioned a concern that skeletal remains be handled with dignity and honor. Dr. Saunders agreed noting that there are laws in place to govern the handling of unmarked graves. Atkins also assured the council that nothing was to be done that would be disrespectful to the Native Americans in any way, and that the Jena Choctaw’s participation would be appreciated to insure that everything found was handled properly.
Mayor Evans told the council it was the towns desire to save and preserve any artifacts that were found. He went on to talk about the economic aspect of having a replica of the Great Mound as a tourist attraction for the area.
A meeting was held to receive an update about the old bridge destruction and any update about the disposition of the Great Mound dirt. Representatives of the state, James Construction Group and local citizens were in attendance. At this meeting we were told by the construction company that the old dirt was “rare” and that it would not be donated. The contractor said if the town wanted the dirt they would have to find replacement dirt that meets their specifications.
A letter was mailed to Louisiana Governor Jindel explaining Jonesville has a once in a lifetime opportunity to greatly enhance our ability to improve our economy through tourism, and the State of Louisiana has a once in a lifetime opportunity to make up for a past mistake. The governor was told this shared opportunity depends upon saving the dirt from an ancient Indian mound that was located in Jonesville. No response has been received.
Rick Ranson, Vice President of the Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, which represents eight parishes, became aware of the replica project and emailed state officials asking for help with creating the Great Mound replica.
Chris Roussell, State Area Engineer, called to ask how much of the Great Mound dirt we needed for the replica. He was told that while we would like as much of the dirt as possible, we would build the replica to accommodate whatever amount of the original dirt was obtainable. Mr. Roussell said the state was going to meet with the bridge contractor to see if they could be compensated in some way so the dirt could be acquired.
Chris Roussell said DOTD met with James Construction Group and they said Jonesville could have the Great Mound dirt from the old bridge approach. Chris asked how much of the dirt we wanted and he was told we wanted all that was available.
A public meeting was held at the town hall to answer questions about the bridge explosion and the remnants of the Great Mound dirt. Along with the public, representatives of the Louisiana Department of Transportation, James Construction Group and Earth-Search were in attendance.
Archaeologist Aubrey “Butch” Lee with Earth-Search, the company that will examine the Great Mound dirt as it is removed from the old bridge approach, explained how he would study the ancient dirt. Butch told the crowd of approximately 35 that the ramp is mostly clay making it is nearly impossible to screen, which is the most desired method of archaeology review. Therefore, his plans are to have a backhoe scoop off about six inches of the ramp soil at a time and deposit it next to the ramp where he will review it. When Butch completes his review of the dirt it will be loaded onto trucks and hauled to the replica location where a bulldozer will begin to shape it into the first layer of the Great Mound.
Seventy-seven years after its construction the Black River Bridge was demolished with three days of explosions that drew tremendous public attention. On Friday the western approach to the bridge was the first of three steel frames to go, and it was followed by the eastern structure the next day. The last standing steel frame of the Black River Bridge, the center span that turned to allow vessels to pass, came down a few days later with the largest of the explosions. Videos of all three explosions are available on this website and also on CatahoulaLife.com. The concrete pilings will be demolished with dynamite in about a month.
Members of the historical board met to discuss how much land should be requested from the school board, and to consider building options for the replica. Bill Atkins said he has received several estimates on the amount of dirt that would be available from the bridge ramp. The largest estimate was 7,000 cubic yards and the smallest was 4,000 cubic yards. One of the estimates was from the state that shot cross-section measurements of the bridge approach and determined there was approximately 4,500 cubic yards of original dirt available.
The board decided that whatever amount of dirt is ultimately available they felt the replica should be as large as possible to portray the enormity of the original mound. To accomplish this the board decided to use all of the available dirt to construct the first level of the mound. Later, after the first level is established, the second and third level will be added.
Based upon the state cross section measurements of 4,500 cubic yards engineers say we could build a 50 percent scale of the Great Mound’s first step, which would be 90’ X 90’ at the base rising at 42 degrees to a height of 15 feet.
The board discussed placement a brick walk around the base of the replica as well as interpretive signage and decided to ask the school board for 150’ X 150’ on the south west corner of the football practice.
August 4, 2009
Dr. Joe Saunders and Bill Atkins meet with the Catahoula Parish School Board to request 150’ X 150’ on the south end of the Block High football practice field to be used to construct the replica of the Great Mound.
After supportive comments the school board voted to authorize use of the south end of the football practice field. They also appointed board member Bo House to meet with Atkins at the proposed replica location, and for House to recommend the footage that would best serve our purpose. The following morning Mr. House and Atkins walked the area with Mr. House taking some measurements.
Mr. House told Atkins he was going to recommend the school board lease the Town of Jonesville 290 feet (east/west), which is all of the school board property that fronts on Hwy. 84, and 120 feet deep (north/south). Mr. House said he feels the additional area could be use for parking &/or additional displays, and that this area would not be needed for football or other athletic events.
August 20, 2009
Aubra “Butch” Lee with Earth-Search sent an email saying work on the west ramp will begin Monday, the August 24th.
He said they will removed Mound 5 (Great Mound) soil in thin layers so they can see what's in the soil and then they would put the soil to the side so they can then go through the mound dirt again to make sure they did not miss anything.
August 24, 2009
Archaeologist Butch Lee and crew were on site, mapping, taking photographs and elevations of the remains of the Great Mound bridge ramp as it sits now.
August 25, 2009
James Construction began scrapping grass off the ramp in preparation for archaeological review.
With Chief Lonnie Martin of the Chitimacha Tribe observing, archaeologist were focused on the soil as James Construction’s backhoe began to remove the soil in thin layers.
The bulldozer scooped away layers about 3-4 inches thick as the archaeologist closely watched for what was revealed. Before long scattered remnants of the cane matting described by Winslow Walker in 1931 started appearing. Walker noted that there was cane matting 2 to 3 feet thick at different levels throughout the Great Mound. The archaeologist began marking, photographing, mapping and collecting the larger samples.
August 26, 2009
Today was a continuation of yesterday; soil is removed in thin layers and deposited adjacent to the ramp while the archaeologist make their observations and collections of salvageable cane matting.
Joe Saunders, northeast regional archaeologist, and Reca Jones traveled to Jonesville to observe the archaeological recovery. Saunders said he is hoping one of the stakes described by Winslow Walker would be found. Walker said the Native Americans drove stakes through the cane mats into the Great Mound at several places throughout the mound.
August 27, 2009
Another day was spent removing thin layers of the old mound’s dirt. Throughout the day various spots of cane were uncovered. However, one discovery was possibly what Joe Saunders was hoping for, one of the stakes that was used along with the cane matting. Butch said the find was a piece of wood about 55 centimeters long, about 10 centimeters wide and narrowing down to about 3 centimeters at the tip.
August 28, 2009
Another day was spent removing thin layers of the old mound’s dirt, making observations and collections. Unfortunately rain caused an early shutdown of this weeks work.
August 31 - September 11, 2009
During this time archaeologist continued to observe the removal of thin layers of the old bridge ramp. Remains of the cane matting, described by Winslow Walker in 1931, continued to be uncovered at various places. And several archaeologists came to the site to observe Butch Lee’s removal of the dirt.
On September 9th the Catahoula Parish Police Jury provided a motor grader to scrape the grass off the replica’s location, and within a couple of hours operator Gordon McCarver had the grass removed from the site and ready for the next step
September 11th started with overcast skies. Around noon light rain began to fall and it steadily increased in intensity until there was a heavy downpour by 1:30.
September 14 - 18 2009
Removal of the Great Mound dirt was due to end September 18, but due to rain most of last week work will continue for two more weeks. Archaeology work resumed on Monday and more cane matting and wooden stakes continued to be uncovered.
On September 16 a large amount of cane matting was found. This clump of cane was about the size of a dining room tabletop.
September 21 - 25, 2009
Rain and water-saturated soil hindered the archaeological crew this week, work was on and off during the week.
September 28 – October 2, 2009
After several days of rainy weather we received enough dry weather for Gary Wood to disk the location of the Great Mound replica. Donating his time and machinery Gary ran his disk over the replica’s location, which will help bond the ground to the Great Mound dirt when it’s hauled to the location.
It appears Butch Lee is nearing the bottom of the old bridge ramp material. He has uncovered what appears to be the top of a “center-line” that was established by the highway department in 1932. This “center-line” is a two-by-four piece of lumber encased in concrete that is about 2 x 2 feet. Butch feels this was used as a guide by the state because it lines up exactly in the middle of what was the center of the old bridge approach.
Another interesting discovery that exhibits modern machinery from 1932 are tire tracks embedded in some of the ramp dirt. The tracks are diamond shape and appear to be about 7 inches wide. It’s obvious that it’s an impression of a rubber tire tread. This most certainly came from one of the trucks that hauled dirt from the Great Mound to the bridge ramp.
While it is diminishing, Butch also found more split cane matting. One edge of a tightly compacted clump of this cane found this week clearly shows that is had been cut with modern machinery, probably by one of the steam shovels used in 1931-32 as the Great Mound was destroyed.
October 5 – 9, 2009
This week wrapped up the archaeological review of the dirt at the bridge ramp.
The next movement of the original Great Mound dirt will be to the replica’s location, about 100 yards from where the Great Mound stood.
For further updates please review articles and stories.