On the Storied Ohio: An Historical Pilgrimage of a Thousand Miles in a Skiff, from Redstone
to Cairo, by Reuben Gold Thwaites (Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co., 1903), pp. 64-66.
Near Fishing Creek, Friday, May 11th .
There had been rain during the night, with fierce wind gusts, but during breakfast the atmosphere quieted, and we had a genial, semi-cloudy morning.
Off at 8 o'clock, Pilgrim's crew were soon exploring Moundsville. There are five thousand people in this old, faded, countrified town. They show you with pride the State Penitentiary of West Virginia, a solemn-looking pile of dark gray stone, with the feeble battlements and towers common to American prison architecture. But the chief feature of the place is the great Indian mound - the "Big Grave" of early chroniclers. This earthwork is one of the largest now remaining in the United States, being sixty- eight feet high and a hundred in diameter at the base, and has for over a century attracted the attention of travelers and archaeologists.
We found it at the end of a straggling street, on the edge of the town, a quarter of a mile back from the river. Around the mound has been left a narrow plat of ground, utilized as a cornfield; and the stout picket fence which encloses it bears peremptory notice that admission is forbidden. However, as the proprietor was not easily accessible, we exercised the privilege of historical pilgrims, and letting ourselves in through the gate, picked our way through rows of corn, and ascended the great cone. It is covered with a heavy growth of white oaks, some of them three feet in diameter, among which the path picturesquely ascends. The summit is fifty-five feet in diameter, and the center somewhat depressed, like a basin. From the middle of this basin a shaft some twenty-five feet in diameter has been sunk by explorers, for a distance of perhaps fifty feet; at one time, a level tunnel connected the bottom of this shaft with the side of the cone, but it has been mostly obliterated. A score of years ago, tunnel and shaft were utilized as the leading attractions of a beer garden - to such base uses may a great historical landmark descend!
Dickens, who apparently wrote the greater part of his American Notes while suffering from dyspepsia, has a note of appreciation for the Big Grave: "...the host of Indians who lie buried in a great mound yonder - so old that mighty oaks and other forest trees have struck their roots into its earth; and so high that it is a hill, even among the hills that Nature planted around it. The very river, as though it shared one's feelings of compassion for the extinct tribes who lived so pleasantly here, in their blessed ignorance of white existence, hundreds of years ago, steals out of its way to ripple near this mound; and there are few places where the Ohio sparkles more brightly than in the Big Grave Creek."