Town Creek Indian Mound
“Mom! Guess what! There’s this mound, and we can go there, and we can see it, and it’s what we’re studying, and can we go?”
My oldest son is not normally prone to paying rapt attention in school, so when he begged to go somewhere his teacher had suggested, which fed into what he was learning, I took notice. And I’m terribly glad I did, because although Town Creek Indian Mound is a mere two hours away from Winston-Salem (an hour and a half from Greensboro), it dates to roughly 600 years ago, which makes it the oldest thing — by far — I’ve ever seen in this country.
A quick history, for those of us not in fourth-grade: In the 11th century A.D., a new culture developed in the Pee Dee River Valley. It gave rise to the practice of large, earthen mounds being built. Town Creek Indian Mound, constructed on a bluff overlooking Town Creek near where it meets Little River, was a place of great political and spiritual importance, where feasts were held and ceremonies conducted. People also lived within its timber walls. And died — much of the exhibited material concerns burial rituals and practices of the Pee Dee.
Now one of the North Carolina Historic Sites, the mound is one of the most popular in the state. Visitors check in first at the Visitor Center, where they can watch a short film (recommended) with an overview of the mound, its decline and rediscovery, and the Pee Dee people. Here, there’s also a display of various items recovered from the site during the 50-year archeological excavation, as well as contextual information.
And, of course, there’s a gift shop, stocked with bows and dreamcatchers, books and jewelry, clothing and decorative items for purchase on the way out.
You will pass through the Visitor Center and come out in front of a meadow with tall wildflowers and such growing. There’s a path cut-through, and one follows that about 100 yards to the North Gate in the wall. The wall itself is comprised of tall sticks sunk into the ground close together, but the North Gate is a marvel of ingenuity. I won’t ruin it for you, but I will say don’t just rush through it.
Inside the wall are three buildings with thatched roofs. To the left is the Minor Temple, which was cordoned off by yellow tape when we visited. To the right is the Burial Hut and beyond that is the mound itself upon which sits the Meetinghouse/Temple.
The Burial Hut contains a staging of a Pee Dee family preparing to bury a child who has died, with an audio narrative explaining who each person in the scene is and what his or her role in the burial is. My 10-year-old did not find this scary or grotesque, but for cautious parents, you may preview images of this on the Web site: under Town Creek & Indian Culture, select “The Mortuary.”
The Meetinghouse/Temple is slightly larger, with low benches centered on a fire pit. There are drawings on the walls of what one presumes to be sacred or meaningful animals, though no explanation is given. But the beauty of the mound becomes clear when one exits and stands on the mound itself. From this vantage point, visitors will see the entire enclave, hear the water tumbling nearby, and can look beyond the walls in any direction. It’s easy to imagine how empowering this felt to the Pee Dee people.
Head back down the mound and head for the South Gate. From here, you can get on a Nature Walk that goes within eyesight of the Little River, and then cuts through the woods. While the path is clear and level, you need only look into the dense pines to get a sense of what the vista must have looked like back in the time of the mound.
The Nature Walk is maybe a half mile and leads back to the South Gate. If you come in season, you’ll spot some of the largest dragonflies you’re likely to have ever seen. This was a major bonus for my 10-year-old (and frankly for me, too).
Make sure to take in the Weapons Demonstration — ask for it in the Visitors Center. The atlatl is impressive-sounding in textbooks, but in real life it is astounding. My son’s jaw dropped, and his eyes lit up.
Thankfully, the gift shop doesn’t stock atlatls, at least that we saw. It does however stock simple bows and arrows with cap erasers instead of points, so we selected one of those as our souvenir, then got back in the car to head home.
It’s often difficult to wow my son as he gets older, but Town Creek Indian Mound did it. He enjoyed sharing with me what he was learning in school, and Town Creek brought those lessons to life. We’ll definitely head back sometime.
If You Go
Town Creek Indian Mound
509 Town Creek Mound Road
Mount Gilead, N.C. 27306
Tuesday-Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sunday 1-5 p.m.
Closed Monday and major state holidays.
Donations are accepted and appreciated.
Handicapped bathrooms available. Visitor Center, including auditorium, is completely accessible. Path to Indian Mound is fairly level but unpaved. Entry through North Gate may be difficult, as may entry to buildings within.
Picnic tables available. No food service. Wear sunscreen and mosquito repellent.
Lucy Cash is a Winston-Salem-based freelance writer, mother of two and blogger. Visit her blog, Life in Forsyth. http://lifeinforsyth.blogspot.com.