Ancient Michigan Tablets
Ref. Ancient American Vol. 5, No.31
In 1961, James Bird and Paul Roundy had been assigned by the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter Day Saints to South Bend, Indiana. While there, they met with Father Charles E. Sheedy,
at the University of Notre Dame. The two missionaries told him the story of Joseph Smith and the
inscribed gold plates from which they believed he transcribed the Book of Mormon.
"I have some of Joseph Smith’s type of writing here at Notre Dame," Father Sheedy
interrupted. He showed the two surprised men to the attic of the nearby o’Shaughnessy Building.
There they discovered three open boxes from which the Catholic priest removed several slate and
copper tablets covered with hieroglyphics, pictographs and inscriptions. Father Sheedy hoped
someone might be able to authenticate or disprove the collection. Perhaps the Mormons with their
"golden plate" theory would come to the rescue.
Bird and Roundy dashed off a letter to researcher Milton R. Hunter of the First Council
of the Seventy in Salt Lake City, Utah, but waited in vain for a reply. Hunter had misplaced the
letter. When he finally found it several years later, he contacted Father Sheedy, requesting an
Sometime before, the priest had turned down a chance to expand his number of alleged
artifacts, when Ellis Soper, of North Carolina, offered to donate similar items.3 Notre Dame was
running out of storage room, so Father Sheedy was anxious to meet anyone who might take the
questionable objects off his hands. He had even cooperated with Henrietta Mertz, a Chicago
attorney and author, allowing her to examine his attic collection for six years, because she
promised to write a book proving its authenticity.
Ref. Ancient American Vol. 5, No.31
But her efforts were stymied by publishers convinced the inscribed tablets were part of
some 19th Century hoax.4 It was Father Sheedy personal opinion that they were perhaps of
ancient Greek or Egyptian origin Such bizarre objects were not credibly examined by the
convoluted theories Mertz advocated of transatlantic 5th Century Christian cultists. Such wild
ideas might compromise the priest’s academic standing and even embarrass the Notre Dame
authorities. Washing his hands of the whole affair, he presented the astounded Hunter with his
Since then, the strange tablets continue to fascinate antiquarians puzzled by the mysteries of
pre-Columbian America. These investigators have always been aware of stone ruins and
enigmatic artifacts discovered during the 18th and 19th centuries. As North America’s forests were
cleared, plows turned over the virgin soil, and pioneers stumbled upon vacant mines and shafts–
all testimony to some civilization that rose and fell long before modern Europeans arrived.
As historian John Baldwin wrote, "An ancient and unknown people left remains of settled
life, and of a certain degree of civilization, in the valleys of the Mississippi and its tributaries. We
have no authentic name for them either as a nation or a race; therefore, they are called ‘Mound
Builders,’ this name having been suggested by an important class of their works" 6
He was seconded by Carter and Cheeseman: "The Mound Builders were thought of as
white, cultured, and not the ancestors of the Indians… Whoever these ancient people were, they
left behind some very puzzling remains. The number of earthworks, when considered with their
size and the area of the country they cover, becomes evidence of a great achievement." 7
The prehistoric mounds were so numerous their actual count is unknown. In Ohio alone
there were more than 10,000 such sites. Tens of thousands more once existed throughout
Michigan, Illinois and Indiana, Wisconsin and Missouri.
18th and early 19th Century antiquarians were virtually unanimous in their conviction
that the remains of an ancient civilization of white people long ago spread across America from
the gulf coast to Canada, from New England to the Pacific coast. These "Mound Builders," as
they were called, were believed to have been a highly developed race far superior to the Indians
known to the first pilgrims.
No other explanation for the profusion of evidence on behalf of some advanced, vanished
culture seemed feasible. Indeed, the Indians themselves spoke of populations of white men
predating their own arrival in parts of America6 Yet, today very few archaeologists believe that
the Mound Builders belonged to a lost, white race. What brought about this re-interpretation?
Ref. Ancient American Vol. 5, No.31
According to Baldwin, "It is rather interesting to consider the circumstances that led to
the abandonment of this theory as a myth. The fact is that by 1890 the tide of opinion had shifted,and men of science denied that there had ever been a highly cultured white race in America’s past.
This very radical turn-about came as a result of the scientific leadership of one man, Mr. John
In 1879, when Congress created the Smithsonian Institution’s Bureau of Ethologv, Major
Powell, a Civil War hero, received additional power and prestige as the Bureau’s first Director.
He was disposed to think that the Mound Builders were the ancestors of the native Indians, and
presented his theory as dogma in the Bureau’s first annual report, published in 1880. He wrote,
"That the vestiges of art discovered do not excel in any respect the arts of the Indian tribes known
to history. There is, therefore, no reason for us to search for an extra-limited origin through lost
tribes for the arts discovered in the mounds of North America."10
So prestigious was the Smithsonian and its authoritative director that within a few years the
scientific community had unilaterally adopted Powell’s opinion, ignoring the vast amount of
physical evidence previously accumulated. Scholars without significant new findings began to
discredit and re-interpret the civilization of the Mound Builders in favor of Powell’s theory. As
one writer put it, "Evidence contrary to Powell’s stated opinion was explained as fraudulent, as
buried in the mounds intrusively, or simply re-interpreted to favor the new theory. From this time
forward any thing that referred to the original glorious Mound Builder theory was considered
mythical. It was a very hostile academic environment for anyone who ventured to propose that
there had ever been a highly civilized group of people in the New World."
Despite Powell’s intractable stance against any form of cultural diffusion, stories like
those told of James 0. Scotford continue to plague conventional scholars And it explains why so
many anomalous artifacts appeared around the turn of the last century, as the followmg case
James 0. Scotford was tired. He had already set three quarters of a mile of fence and still
had a few more hours before sunset. He drew taut the line in an effort to clear the mound between
him and the last post. He then grabbed at his auger and began to dig another hole at the center of
an old Indian mound. He would have to hurry, as his companion had almost caught up in placing
Scotford gave a groan, as the auger hit something hard. He pushed harder, but it didn’t
budge, then shouted to his companion to bring a spade. He hadn’t expected a rock, since there
were no stones in the area. He would have to dig around it. To his great surprise, the shovel
uncovered a large earthen casket. The auger had broken its cover, but the larger portion was in
Michigan Tablet Showing Creation of World (Ref. Ancient American Vol. 5, No. 31)
Scotford was wild with excitement, as he rode toward Edmore, Michigan with the casket
nestled in the bed of his wagon. The townspeople crowded around, as they listened to the story of
During the weeks and months that followed, the citizens of Edmore, and those of
surrounding communities, opened up more than 500 mounds, all blanketed with dense vegetation.
Large cedar trees and oaks covered a few of the mounds. The searchers uncovered hundreds of
different relics, including other ancient earthen caskets, tablets of clay, slate, sandstone, and
copper. They were all beautifully carved with ancient biblical and historical scenes, writings, and
It was recorded, "So many citizens from the towns of Wyman and Edmore were
eyewitnesses and involved in the excavating and recovery of the relics and the evidence, so clear
that doubts were never entertained for a moment as to the authenticity of the work. In one case, a
casket was found under the roots of a tree which by its concentric circles was shown to be about
300 years old; and one of the roots of the tree had grown through the comer of the casket and was
coiled up inside the box, but so decayed that it was broken with atouch."12
Although farmers for years had been finding copper and slate artifacts while clearing and
plowing new ground, the activities in Montcalm County exploded into excavations throughout
Perhaps no man helped to open more mounds in Michigan than Father James Savage, a
priest of the Roman Catholic Church of the Most Holy Trinity, in Detroit, Michigan. He
described the mounds as follows:
"On these mounds you may find large and aged trees; oaks, pine, and other varieties. The
decayed roots of pine and other trees that grew, thrived and died on these mounds. They contain
another peculiarity. There is a strata of charcoal and ash in each mound. This strata often show
the basin-shaped contour of the interior of the mound when its possessor was laid away to rest.
There does not appear, as a rule, sufficient charcoal and ashes for cremation, only enough for
purification. In some mounds, however, there is heavy strata.13
"These prehistoric mounds of Michigan contain caskets, lamps, bowls, pipes, tablets, etc.
of clay: battle-axes, knives, spears, daggers, and arrow-points, domestic utensils, saws, chisels,
spades, etc., and a variety of ornamental wearing apparel–all of chilled copper; stone tablets,
medallions, metals, skinning knives, various implements, and of strange design, the object of
which we can not imagine. One remarkable feature of these mounds–they contain no flint implements
of any find, nor have I seen any stone or copper beads; other ornamental wearing apparel is
An associate of Savage stated, "Many curious things were unearthed, such a caskets,
tablets, amulets of slate stone, cups, vases, altars, lamps of burnt clay, copper coins hammered
out, and rudely engraved with hieroglyphics. The caskets are of sun-dried clay, and are covered
with picture writing and hieroglyphics. The caskets seem to be intended as receptacles for the
tablets of record. They have close-fitting covers, which are cemented on with Assyrian like
cement, and various figures were molded on the top– the ancient Sphinx, beasts, serpents, human
faces with head dresses or crowns."15
For the next twenty years, Detroit was the center of interest for people seeking ancient
relics. To give some order to such popular archaeology, Father Savage joined Daniel E. Soper, a
former U.S. Secretary of State, and respected businessman, to form a discovery team.
Savage reported, "We have opened more than 500 of these mounds in the four counties in
which we have worked– a territory exceeding over 260 miles. We have diligently inquired
regarding the locality of other finds and have so far located sixteen counties in Michigan in which
these specimens have been found. We are confident that we are only in the border land of the
great prehistoric people." 16
Between 1858 and 1920, many thousands of mounds were excavated, but the vast
majority were empty. According to Russell, "It must not be imagined that every mound opened
has been a storehouse of objects of interest. On the contrary, the proportion of productive to nonproductive
mounds has not been greater than one to ten."17
Nonetheless, many thousands of artifacts were indeed found, and, as time passed and
descriptions of the relics appeared in many newspapers, people throughout the state reported
finding similar relics.
In Soper’s own words, "I have personal knowledge of more than 3,000 articles that have
been found and if they are fakes and were buried to be found, whoever buried them has been a
very busy person, because they have been found throughout the state by hundreds of different
Another 13 Month Calendar referring to phases of Moon and other events (Ref.The Mystic Symbol by Henriette Mertz p.32)
"The objects recovered from the mounds are, variously, of copper, sandstone, limestone,
burned clay and slate. The copper appears to be true mass-lake copper. Of the slates, the grayish
black variety predominates, this being of the quality which outcrops near Baraga, in northern
Michigan. The sandstone is of fine texture now quarried at Amhurst, Ohio. Red and green slate
limestone appear, these being of an argillaceous character and having a good polish."’18
The research undertaken by Soper and Savage led them to believe that long before the ancestors
of modern Native Indians arrived in North America, a race of white people with superior
intelligence and culture left their mark in the vast, prehistoric graveyard that covered the state of
Michigan. Both men felt they had the evidence to prove their conclusions. But their ideas brought
them ferocious criticism.
The so-called "men of letters" in America’s scientific community condemned Soper and
Savage as conspirators of an archaeological hoax. For every published report even mildly in favor
of the two hapless investigators, some university-trained scholar would issue a charge of fraud.
So unrelenting was the official campaign of academic hysteria, that everyone however
remotely associated with the Michigan artifacts distanced themselves from the bitter controversy.
Any discussion of the artifacts’ possible genuineness was no longer considered. Eventually, over
the decades, the Michigan Tablets fell into almost complete oblivion.
Today, however, they are being re-examined In the new light of unprejudiced
investigation. Many collections private and public are being photographed and cataloged for the
first time. Thanks in large measure to Ancient American magazine, their story and images are
preserved for present and future researchers into the lost history of North America.
Compiled by Glen W. Chapman- September 2000
( From Various Sources )
(From The Michigan Tablets an Archaeological Scandal, by J, Golden Barton and Wayne May,
Ancient American Vol. 5, No. 31, pg. 16-21 )
(TO BE CONTINUED )
1. Letter from James Bird and Paul Roundy to Milton R. Hunter, April 26, 1960; copy in possession of the author.
2. Letter from Milton R. Hunter to Fr. Charles Sheedy, February 20, 1962; copy in possession of the authors.
3. Ellis Soper inherited his father’s collection, plus a copy of the letter offering his collection to Notre Dame, December 2, 1959; in
4. Correspondence between Henrietta Mertz and Fr. Sheedy, May 24, 1954, through March 23, 1962; copies in p05session of the
5. Letter from Fr. Sheedy to Milton R.Hunter, March 29, 1962. Letter of August13, 1963 to Hunter from Devere T.
Plunkett, stating that Notre Dame agreed to transfer ownership of the collection to Mr. Hunter. Copies in possession of
the author. Upon the death of Mr. Hunter,the L.D.S. Church took possession of the collection.
6. John Baldwin, Ancient America, pp. 14-16.
7. Leonard D. Carter & Paul R. Cheese man, "Historical Background of theSoper-Savage Collection of Inscriptions
and Drawings," Ms. BYU, 1977, p.2.
8. Baldwin, p.58.
9. Ibid., p.8.
10. John Wesley Powell, Bureau of Ethnology, lirst Annual Report, Washington.D.C., 1880, p.74, cited in Carter-
Cheesernan Report, Note #6.
11. Carter-Cheeseman, p.9.
12. M.E. Cornell, Prehistoric Relics of the Mound Builders, pp.5, 7-8.
13. John A. Russell, Prehistoric Discoverles in Wayne County, Michiean, Detroit, 1911, p.10.
14. Savage, Op. Cit., p.11.
15. Cornell, Op. Cit, p.5.
16. Savage. Op. Cit., p.10.
17. Russell, p.7.
18. Russell, Op. Cit., p.9.
19. James E. Talmage. Deseret Evenin9News, "Flow of Twaddle begs Question,"
Ancient Michigan 13 Month Calendar and Pictures of Son of the Right Hand
and Left Hand (Ref. The Mystic Symbol by Henriette Mertz p.32)