Besides Zana, Texas, Did Sam Rayburn Reservoir also Cover up Native American Burial Grounds and Mounds?

Sam Rayburn Lake (Reservoir) covered up historic Zana, Texas. One of our readers from the Coushatta Native American tribe wrote to tell us about a sign on Sam Rayburn pointing to a Native American burial ground or mound site, but wrote that the sign does not mention what tribe. Sam Rayburn Reservoir lies in Angelina, Jasper, Nacogdoches, Sabine, and San Augustine, Counties, on the Angelina River in Texas. 

The Texas Archaeology Index in volume 2020, published by the North Texas Archeological Society, reported, “At the present time (July 15, 2020), there are 617 known and likely cemetery and burial sites with available information to some degree in East Texas and along the Sabine River in the Toledo Bend Reservoir area of Northwest Louisiana, and 120 identified mound sites, many also with offmound cemeteries and burial features.” 

In the five counties bordering Sam Rayburn Lake, Angelina County has six burial ground/mound sites, Jasper has one, Nacogdoches has 25, Sabine has ten, and San Augustine has 16, for a total of 58 known burial ground and mound sites. These sites span several historical periods of Caddoan culture, Woodland; c. 2500-1150 years B.P., undifferentiated Caddo; c. 1150-300 years B.P., Early Caddo; c. 1150-750 years B.P., Middle Caddo; c. 750-550 years B.P., Late Caddo; c. 550-270 years B.P., and Historic Caddo; postdating 270 years B.P.

B.P. means “Before the Present” and is an archeological term with “present” used as A.D. 1950 as a reference, meaning that 2000 B.P. is the equivalent of 50 B.C. The Alabama and Coushatta tribes began to arrive in East Texas and Louisiana in the 1780s. Their migration west was spurred on by the absence of fur-bearing animals for trade because they had killed too many because the European’s appetite for fur fashion and settlers moving in from the Atlantic states in the 1760s. 

This account explains why there are so many mounds from the Caddoan eras and burial sites of later migrants of Eastern U.S. tribes around Sam Rayburn Lake. The largest confederation of the Caddo in Texas were the Hasinai Caddos, with one of their most influential settlements located in the Caddo Mounds area west of Alto, Texas, an hour northwest of Sam Rayburn Lake’s northern border. Today’s Nacogdoches, Texas, remained a Hasinai Caddo Indian settlement until 1716. 

When the Spanish explorers came to East Texas, they encountered the Hasinai settlements. The Hasinai were a peaceful, friendly tribe with the Spaniards. The Angelina River, which feeds Sam Rayburn Lake, is named after a young Hasinai Indian girl. Spanish Franciscan priests found a useful ally in this girl and called her Angelina, or “Little Angel”. The stream where Angelina’s village was situated is today’s Angelina River. 

Between 1840 and 1859, the Caddos were moved to Brazos River, then to the Brazos Reservation near present-day Graham, Texas, and then finally to Indian Territory. Many individuals of the Eastern U.S. tribes began moving west long before President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, but the ones that stayed behind paid dearly. After the U.S. began moving Indians to Indian Territory, tribal migration to Texas slowed down, while Texas continued moving its tribes to Indian Territory during those same years. 

We know of one Indian mound under Sam Rayburn Lake, the Jonas Short Mound aka Jonas Short Site. It was located on the north bank of the Angelina River in southeastern San Augustine County from the Middle Woodland era between A.D. 100 and 500. It measured seven and a half feet high and ninety-five feet in diameter, with a flat, circular surface. Archeologist E. B. Jelks partially excavated the Jonas mound in 1956 for archeological studies before the construction of the Sam Rayburn Dam. 

Jelks discovered that the Caddo built the mound over the cremated remains of at least two individuals placed into a shallow pit. The Jonas Short Mound revealed artifacts similar to burials and artifacts of the Marksville culture of Louisiana and of the Adena-Hopewell cultures in the lower Ohio River area. 

Jelk’s dig also uncovered two copper bracelets associated with the cremation, and caches containing  a copper reel-shaped gorget, two boatstones made of hornblende syenite, perforated elk-tooth beads, a perforated pendant of polished quartz, and large, stemmed, heavily polished, chipped-stone, bifacial tools. 

Boatstones, grooved and polished stones similar in shape to weights used on atlatls, a hunting weapon used before the bow and arrow were invented, looked like little canoes. The gorgets found in East Texas were made of marine shell and are pendants worn around the neck and hung from a string. The boatstones and gorget in the Jonas Short Mound resembled Adena-Hopewell-Marksville artifacts.

In an archeological dig between 1965 and 1967 at the Coral Snake Mound in Sabine Parish, Louisiana, forty miles northeast from the Jonas Short Mound, B. B. McClurkan and H. R. Jensen discovered Adena-Hopewell-Marksville artifacts similar to the Jonas artifacts. Archeologists believe that Coral Snake and Jonas mounds are connected. 

The Adena culture thrived in today’s Indiana in the Early Woodland Period, from 1,000 to 200 B.C. Within 500 years, the Adena people group had emerged as the Hopewell Tradition. Archeologists chose the names that we know these cultures as today. The Hopewell peoples created large trade networks and shifted from hunter-gatherers to farmers. This trade network and food security connected the Hopewell to other cultures near and far away and after that transformation, Native American chiefdoms and tribes emerged. 

According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, “No evidence exists of the Hopewell in Indiana after A.D. 500, but some scholars think that some time before European contact, the Hopewell could have become what we know now as the Miami or Shawnee.” The odds are that there are more mounds and burial sites under Sam Rayburn Reservoir. 

The sign mentioning burial grounds, according to the reader who wrote to us, is either near or in the Cypress Point subdivision, and you can see the sign that mentions the burial grounds when you get to that area in a boat. The Fort Worth District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was not aware of this sign. I was not able to locate the Cypress Point subdivision. Please email me at the address below if you have additional information. 

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Fishing Report from TPWD (Jul. 17)

GOOD. Water stained; 83 degrees; 4.27 feet above pool. The bite for all species seems to improve when the water is being generated. This stirs the water, breaking up the thermocline. Bass are slow in shallow water with many smaller fish being caught on frogs, and spinnerbaits. Deeper bass bite is fair with Carolina rigs. Crappie are slow in the morning, but improve midday. Catfish are all over the lake in 20 feet of water and in 12 feet of water in the creek channels. White bass are on points in the south end of the lake near the dam. Report by Captain Lynn Atkinson, Reel Um N Guide Service. As the lake continues to drop fish are going to be moving to traditional summer locations pending the thermocline depth. Bass are good early morning on shallow main lake points with medium or deep diving crankbaits, and topwaters. Main lake ledges with Carolina rig shaky head and spoons. Brush piles shallower than the thermocline with Texas rigs, jigs or Carolina rigs. The thermocline is actively fluctuating and will continue to do so while lake level changes. Navigate with caution watching for floating debris, trees, and stumps. Report by Hank Harrison, Double H Precision Fishing.

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