Wednesday, October 22 2014


menuClick Here
Rosemary G. Palmer
Monday, June 10 2013

Why Do Nauvoo's Historic Burial Mounds Matter?

By Rosemary G. Palmer Notify me when this author publishesComment on Article
Email Author
Author Archive
Send To a Friend
Print Article Bookmark and Share

On Memorial Day, which we recently observed, we honor those who died while serving in the U.S. military, and we often remember our own family members by visiting cemeteries and placing flowers on their graves. “The place where a man is buried is sacred to me,” the Prophet Joseph Smith said. Each cemetery forms a chapter in the history of our human past. What about burial sites from many years ago which have no visible markers and are hidden from view?

Centuries ago, the Hopewell culture flourished in central and eastern North America. Hopewell people lived and farmed along the Mississippi River, and many chose bluffs along the river to build earthen mounds to bury their dead. A group of these mounds is located along the Mississippi River north of Nauvoo. Some 40 years ago, many of the mounds were attacked by looters seeking artifacts. Later, the area became neglected, and brush, brambles, and dead trees concealed these burial spots.

DSCN3797Wilson in brush hiding a mound

Then, a few years ago Wilson and Jennice (Jenny) Curlee moved to Nauvoo and discovered the mounds. When they first walked into the area, “it was an overwhelming moment,” Jenny Curlee said. She felt they had stepped on sacred ground. “The first thing out of my mouth besides ‘Wow’ was “I wish I could take care of them.” During the next few years, the Curlees purchased property that contained some of the mounds. “One is struck by the serenity and spirituality this place evokes,” Jenny Curlee said. “It is like being in another time and place.”

Jenny and Wilson felt compelled to preserve this chapter of the Hopewellian past by keeping the area pristine and making it a retreat for visitors who appreciate nature, tranquility, and those who lived and had been forgotten. Since purchasing the land, the Curlees have spent hours clearing out brush and dead trees. The prospect of restoring the mounds seemed overwhelming--until they met Joseph Petersen, a young man from Nauvoo looking for an Eagle Scout service project.

DSCN3771Joseph and the Curlees make plans

Eagle Project Proposal

Carrie Petersen, Joseph’s mother, said that Joseph’s journey began last fall when the former owner of the land mentioned to Joseph’s father the possibility of an Eagle Scout project. Joseph’s father suggested this to Joseph who contacted the Curlees and they agreed. “Throughout the years these sacred grounds have been pillaged and vandalized,” Joseph wrote in his project proposal. “To honor the deceased,” Joseph chose to restore several mounds to their original appearance by refilling them with dirt. He noted that the beneficiaries of this project would be Native Americans of the Standing Bear Council as well as the local and surrounding communities when the area becomes a public archaeological park.

 peterson6678Mound to be restored © Tom Simpson Photo

Preparation for the Project

Before Joseph could submit his proposal to the Boy Scouts of America, the local Native American Council representatives needed to approve the project. A meeting was organized; and on October 26, 2012, the Curlees, several Native American Grandfathers and Grandmothers, Joseph’s family, and other guests met at the mounds site to join in a healing ceremony to restore harmony and balance to the land and mounds before Joseph began the restoration project.

 DSCN3781Preparing for healing ceremony

During the last fall and winter, Native American men tutored Joseph and gave him instructions to complete his project. “In following these instructions, Joseph learned more about an ancient culture and was brought into a fellowship of something he had only heard about,” Jenny Curlee said.

In addition, Joseph needed to receive permission from the State of Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and Dawn Cobb, Human Skeletal Remains Protection Act Coordinator of the same agency. According to Dawn Cobb, “this Act protects from disturbance all graves, grave markers, and grave artifacts that are over 100 years old and not located in a registered cemetery.” Prehistoric burial mounds are both a cemetery and a grave marker, and the mounds on the Curlee’s property met the criteria.     


The Day of the Project

At 10:00 a.m. on Easter weekend March 30, 2013, approximately 33 people met on the bluff near the mounds to assist Joseph Petersen with his Eagle project. Carrie Petersen “was in awe to see everyone who came and gave up their holiday Saturday morning to help.”

 peterson6655© Tom Simpson Photography

With a cloudy sky and forecast of rain, “many prayers went up for us to accomplish the project before it rained, and that was exactly what happened,” Jenny Curlee said. “Wilson and I were the last ones off the hill when it started to rain.”

Ceremonial Protocol

Observing Native American protocol, the participants gathered in a circle for an opening ceremony and instructions before entering the project site. Susan Stanton of the Turtle Island Council and Monica Thompson of the Hummingbird Council drummed and led the group in the Cherokee morning song, a lyrical prayer which greets the new day with gratitude to the Creator.

Larry Cooper of the Standing Bear Council told of his personal history around Nauvoo and the many years he visited this mound group and hundreds more in the Mississippi River vicinity.


  1. What an inspiring story and a great Eagle Scout Project.
  2. This is so wonderful. So proud of Joseph and for the work he has done to accomplish such a great task.
  3. What a neat project, Joe. What an experience that must have been to have taken part in preserving the history of Nauvoo. Good for you!
  4. Thoughtfully written and well-worth reading and pondering.
  5. What a wonderful project! Everyone deserves to rest in peace. This is another sign of turning the hearts of the children to the fathers.
  6. Wow what a touching story and a great project...
  7. I love these mounds too. Thanks so much for sharing this with us and for all the work done on the project
  8. Could this area be the Mound Branch of the LDS people Presided over by my 3rd gr. grandfather Thomas Clark and included several families including John Marriott amd Christopher Layton. It was2-5 miles NE of Nauvoo?

Add Comment