Missaukee Indian Mounds

Indian Mound

A view of one of the mounds built by the Hopewell Indians

We may not have cliff dwellings here in Michigan, but evidence of our Native American heritage can still be found deep in the heart of Michigan.

One of those places is Aetna Township in mid-Michigan’s Missaukee County, where several circular enclosures built by the Hopewell Indians can be found.

They date from around 600 – 700 years ago and their use is thought to have been ceremonial. The enclosures are not all that remarkable in appearance. They are about four feet higher than the surrounding country in most spots and several hundred feet in circumference. The enclosures really get to be remarkable when you realize  that building them required a lot of dirt to be moved-and all by hand.

The enclosures (and there are several of them at each site) are slowly eroding and trees have taken root on and around them. Their disintegration in some areas is being accelerated by dirt bikes and four-wheelers whose riders probably do not realize they are destroying Michigan’s pre-history.

I first became aware of these mounds in a small book called Mystic Michigan by Mark Jager, part of a series of inexpensive paperbacks featuring legends and fun facts about the state. I learned even more about them in a book my mother-in-law gave me one year called Weird Michigan that cataloged even more items in the realm of the strange but supposedly true. Once I knew of the mounds, I needed to see them.

Finding them wasn’t easy.

Maps, such as the one in the Michigan Atlas & Gazetteer , show  approximate locations. Books do the same. I finally decided the only way to find them was to take a hike. Or several. So last summer, that is exactly what I did.

And although several of the searches ended in dead ends in farm fields or private property, I did locate two mounds.

One is on University of Michigan property and (as I came to find out) easily accessible from Jennings and Gray Roads. The other though is deep in state land off of a two-track that goes east of of Kelly Road.

So to make things easier for the next person, here are the coordinates to both.

Mound 1
44  degrees 18′ 220” N
084 degrees 59′ 660″ W

Mound 2
44 degrees 17′ 980″ N
084 degrees 59′ 890″ W

I also went looking for some mounds located in Ogemaw county near the Rifle River this summer. No luck there, at least not yet. If anyone knows where those mounds are located, please let me know. I know how I plan to spend part of next summer.

That’s all for now, folks.

Categories: History, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 25 Comments

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25 thoughts on “Missaukee Indian Mounds

  1. Do you have more photos? I live in Missaukee county and have never seen these mounds. I’m trying to find more info on them. Thanks!

    • I took a few photos but they don’t show much. I used about the only one that actually looked like it was a mound.

      I first learned about the mounds in a book called Mystic Michigan. (Be careful, there are different volumes and each has different stories. so you need to find the correct volume.) I then went to the Michigan Historical Library in Lansing and found a book called Missaukee Mounds and learned more from that. However, none of the books I found told where the mounds are–so I went looking based on the information I had assembled. I found a couple of the mounds on my own (at least I think they are Indian mounds. The one on state land is easier to discern since it is a circle that stands about 3 feet of so above the surrounding land so I figured it MUST be an Indian mound. The one easiest to get to is on U of M property but it’s not so easy to find.) I recommend going out in the early spring before the vegetation grows and the bugs get bad if you go looking. The mounds are all in deep woods with trees growing in, on and around them.

      Apparently there are other mounds in the county but I haven’t been able to find those and they are on private land anyway. Good hunting and let me know if you have any success. I plan to go back sometime in the future.

      • (L.D.) Douglas R. Bonham

        Hello. I live at 2943 E. Workman Road in Falmouth, and have always been enthused with the mounds in Aetna township. I am 25 years old and have walked the woods up there since I was about 7. My dad was the first one to tell me about them, but we weren’t sure where.
        After several years of wondering in the woods, I finally found the mounds.
        The place carries a certain energy and seems to enlighten me at times with a seemingly heightened state of awareness, having to do with nature and the appreciation of life. I often go there to ease the mind and enjoy the wildlife. I have also noticed a large difference in the amount and types of fungus that grow in certain places. Mushroom exploration is a never-ending learning expedition, so to speak. To finally know what tribe (the Hopewell tribe) did this gives me so much more understanding about the use of these grounds. Thanks to this site, I finally know how to find out more. Thank you, sincerely,
        Douglas Robert Bonham
        (L.D.)

      • Mr. Bonham:

        I never did respond to your comment and that was rude of me. I agree that there is something special about the spots. I have information on a couple of other mounds that are in the vicinity but I wasn’t able to find. I will email what I have on them (when I find it again). Perhaps you can track down their location and then share the information with me and others.

  2. 96powerstroke

    I live just down the road and around the corner from the mounds in aetna county. We own farm land 1/4 mile from the mounds. I remember always being told about the mounds as a kid and one day on a trail ride with my dirt bike I realized that I was riding around one. I never really believe the stories but now I am intrigued, I never would of thought that indians lived 2 miles from me.

  3. John Mattithyah

    Thank you for this report, Marty. I have been investigating the History of the Missaukee Mounds since 2000, and like you first learned of their existence through Mark Jager’s Book Mystic Michigan. I interviewed Madelyn Sundell of the Historical society before she died and really learned a lot. Then, in 2009 Ellen Wiltzer asked if I would speak at the Missaukee County Historical Society fundraiser, but work took me out of state. When I returned, I found out through a phone call that she too had died. Since then I have discovered that the circular enclosures being preserved at the Mounds State Park in Anderson Indiana are identical to the ones you and others found in Aetna Township. I have no doubt there was an ancient trade route between the two. By following Polaris, ancient travelers could have located their northern counterparts. Much more to share, anyone interested can reach me at questorcommunique@hotmail.com Questor

  4. If you want to see some truly spectacular Mounds, put “cahokia mounds” in your image search engine. Not to diminish the importance of Mounds in Michigan, but these are in a different league altogether.

    • Without a doubt Cahokia Mounds are spectacular, as are Serpent Mounds in Ohio. I wish we had mounds that were as wonderous as those. However, many of the mounds in Michigan were plowed under or the soil taken for other purposes and those in Missaukee are about all we have left. And since the mounds are not identified or protected, four-wheelers use some of them for climbing (although in their defence they have no idea what they are or their importance). In time, those we have will disappear as well. At the same time, if we were to identify them as Indian Mounds their isolation would attract pot diggers who would destroy them in their own way. Thanks for your comments.

      • Phil Bellfy

        I’m with you on the possible destruction. The state stepped in to protect some petroglyphs in Sanilac County. Maybe the same thing could be done for the Mound sites that you’ve identified. I full agree that we should do whatever we can to protect that vitally important heritage.

  5. thomas sawyer

    Did anyone find arrowheads or tools?

    • thomas sawyer

      I live in houghton lake and if you go to markey twp and make a hard left turn about a quarter mile south you wil see mounds at the mouth of the cut river.

      • Thanks for the info. I didn’t know there were any up in that area. I will need to get up there and take a look. Marty

    • No. It’s either private property (one site belongs to U of M) or state land and the last thing the few areas of Michigan that have evidence of native peoples need are for folks to start digging holes. (I would think that’s one reason the state doesn’t try to identify sites it can’t easily protect. Besides, archeological research was done there in the 1920s, I believe. They found a few items but not a treasure trove of artifacts. Out west, there are sites where you can walk and find potsherds all over. Not the case here in Michigan where the weather and decomposition of leaves results in items being buried. I would think any artifacts from our Mound Builders are now a foot deep or more, and it would be hard to even figure out where to dig EVEN if one were so inclined. At the same time, I confess it would be pretty neat to find something from that era!

      • Phil Bellfy

        I would advise that no one go digging around the mound sites. Even if they’re not “posted,” it is against the law to go “pot-hunting” on public land without a permit. Take a look at this site

      • I was just to the mounds on state land and they are amazing! It is being overgrown and it looks as though a bear has taken up residence there, if you go, don’t go alone! Lol

      • Overgrown is good as it means 4-wheelers aren’t using them and perhaps the bear is helping protect them. Thanks for your comment.

      • There some deer bones, two rotting pieces of fur/hide and opposite the entry point was a tree with missing bark and claw marks that clearly say “this is mine, go away!”

      • John Mattithyah

        Glad to hear they are still visible. I would like to ask the Archaeological Conservancy for their assistance on preserving the aboriginal earthworks located in Aetna Township of Missaukee County. Let’s keep in touch! John M.

  6. I h I have half a dozen pic’s,don’t know how to post them.

    • Steve:

      You won’t be able to post photos on my blog. You need to post them on a site like Flickr or Picasa and then send me the link so people can view them or else email the photos to museum@clarecountyhistory.org. I can then post them on the Clare County Historical Society page and link to them that way. (I oversee the website for CCHS.) Whatever works best for you. Marty

    • John Mattithyah

      Keep me on a string, Steve, I have seen them too, and have an interest in preserving them. John Mattithyah

  7. K. Stiles Howland

    I was just at the Aetna mounds today, 10/25/16. It’s a very strange feeling I get when I go in there. Not bad, just strange. That makes it even more interesting. I have seen the mounds marked on Michigan county map books for years and I finally took the time to go see them this year. Too bad about the orv tracks and the erosion caused by it. I also wish the state could protect them. Stiles

    • My feeling is that if they identify them, then people will dig into them looking for treasure or bones. Not specifically identifying them may be the lesser of two evils. There has been a change in the law that will open all trails to vehicles that are not marked as closed beginning next fall. I’m hoping (and I will push) for the DNR to close the trails near the mounds in an attempt to try to better protect them. Marty

    • John Mattithyah

      My sentiments exactly, gentlemen. Identifying the mounds without preserving them and fencing them in with posted warnings would be an act in futility. Last year I hiked back in there and discovered that someone from Canada’s First Nation Tribe had nailed warnings on a couple trees stating that this was “Sacred Ground” and “Under Surveillance”. Personally, I have no problem with this, as I do believe the ancient Adena or Hopewell did build these mounds and use them for sacred purposes. But I find it hard to believe First Nation will ever be able to prove jurisdiction over the Missaukee Mounds.

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