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Remains of ancient civilization discovered at Crockery Creek

Kevin Collier • Jul 22, 2015 at 11:00 AM

The discovery and subsequent excavation headed by a Boston professor made national newspaper headlines and was documented in the 1876 Atlas of Ottawa County.

John Spoon, born 1829 in Seneca County, N.Y., arrived with his brother, Daniel, in Crockery Township in 1856 and established the town of Spoonville. A carpenter by trade, the centerpiece of the town was Spoon’s sawmill, that he built that same year.

Spoon also owned the largest farm in Ottawa County at one time. It was on this 848-acre property that Spoon discovered the Indian burial mounds where skeletons, copper and stone tool implements, and ornamental earthen vases were unearthed.

“On the premises of Mr. Spoon were three mounds of a very noticeable character, which recently examined were found to contain — besides a large number of skeletons — a variety of stone and copper implements and earthenware vases, some of them elaborately ornamental,” the Atlas of Ottawa County documented. “Around these Indian mounds, Indian bones and relics are often found so near the surface as to be thrown out by the plow.”

In early 1876, noted scientist Professor William D. Gunning of Boston, aided by a party of assistants, arrived at Spoonville to advance the research.

“(Gunning and crew) recently opened two mounds at Spoonville, from which were taken five skulls, large quantities of human bones, copper, hatchets and needles, also fine specimens of pottery,” the Vermont Phoenix newspaper reported on March 31, 1876. “They think that the race to which these relics belong inhabited that section of Michigan not less than 2,000 years ago.”

The Jackson (Ohio) Standard newspaper also reported on May 18, 1876, that Gunning and his entourage unearthed “remains of prehistoric inhabitants of the region.” It was written that experts came to a “unanimous verdict” that the remains “were at least 2,000 years old.”

One strange aspect was that skulls were discovered in a position that indicated the bodies were sitting when buried.

One jar of pottery unearthed was nearly intact, as was a little copper hatchet and some copper needles, according to historical scrapbooks compiled by Eleanor McNett, and stored at Loutit Library.

After Gunner's departure, it was reported the area was desecrated by relic hunters, looting the Indian burial mounds of curious implements of various description left behind.

Spoonville wasn't the only location where Native Americans plotted a final resting place.

“Mounds were found at the foot of Franklin Street in Grand Haven, at Battle Point,” McNett said.

An Indian cemetery existed in Grand Haven along the Grand River, from the foot of Washington Street down to Clinton Street. Initially, the area was preserved by William Ferry, because of his respect for Native Americans; but as shipping and railroad interests developed on the location, this cemetery was basically forgotten.

It wasn’t until 1909, during the construction of a sewer line main across Harbor Avenue at Washington Street, that its existence resurfaced. The graves of three Native Americans were found, complete with artifacts such as knives, hatchets and pottery.

“These individuals were disinterred and eventually buried in Lake Forest Cemetery at Potters Field,” historian Robert Beaton said. “It was also a custom for Native Americans to bury their deceased atop sand dunes — and thus, numerous graves have also been found on local dunes.”

An article published in the Grand Haven Tribune in 1905 reported on one such discovery in the dunes, when a human skeleton was found near Dewey Hill. That area was said to have once been an Indian graveyard. Other Indian bones and remains were found in Robinson Township the same year.

John Spoon, who discovered the infamous Indian burial mounds on his farmland in 1875, died April 26, 1892. He is buried in Nunica Cemetery. His namesake town, Spoonville, vanished with him.

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