Tama Indians Visit Newark Earthworks in 1931


A group of “Tama Indians” (mostly Fox and Sac from Iowa) visited the Great Circle at the Newark Earthworks in 1931. They were there as part of the King Brothers Wild West Rodeo. A reporter from the Newark Advocate asked them what they thought about the monumental ancient earthworks.

[insert Chief Buffalo newspaper image] Here is what their chief, John Buffalo, had to say:

“Chief ‘Buffalo’ and his Indians are greatly enthused and excited over the mounds. They did not expect to find anything of the kind in Newark.

‘The mounds are many thousands of moons old,’ said ‘Buffalo’ today. ‘Nobody can tell how old. It took plenty work to raise them. Indians had no shovels, picks or wheel barrows when mounds were made. Had to use tools made from bones of big animals. Took lots of time to build mounds.’ …

Chief Buffalo intends having photographs made of the mounds with his Indians grouped on them to send back to his folks on the western reservation.”

American Indians camped at the Newark Fairgrounds. It is possible that these are the Tama Indians mentioned in the Newark Advocate article, but the date for the photograph is not known and other American Indians visited the site with other Wild West shows. Licking County Historical Society archives.

Chief Buffalo’s observations are interesting for a couple of reasons.

First of all, it’s refreshing to find someone during this period taking an interest in what American Indians might have had to say about the earthen monuments constructed by their ancestors.

Second, in spite of his unfamiliarity with these earthworks, Chief Buffalo had a pretty good understanding of their antiquity, the effort involved in building them, and the sorts of tools used in their construction.

Finally, even if the Tama had no traditions relating to these particular earthworks and even if their relationship to the ancient builders was less direct than some of the tribes more closely linked historically with Ohio, it’s clear the Tama took justifiable pride in the achievements of the American Indian builders of the amazing Newark Earthworks.

Photograph of fairground buildings located outside of the earthwork at Moundbuilders State Park, formerly known as Licking County Fairgrounds, circa 1930s. Ohio Memory image # 3076_90_13_08.

I wish we had copies of the photographs, if indeed they were ever taken, of the Tama Indians with the earthworks.

Source: Indians, With Rodeo, Facinated [sic] by Mystery of Newark’s Ancient Mounds. Newark Advocate, 13 October 1931 pg. 7, col. 2.

Posted January 26, 2015
Topics: American Indian HistoryArchaeology

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