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Martha Cantrell and Butch Walker atop the largest of the Oakville Indian Mounds on Thursday. The land directly behind them was purchased with a $30,000 donation from the Daniel Foundation.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Martha Cantrell and Butch Walker atop the largest of the Oakville Indian Mounds on Thursday. The land directly behind them was purchased with a $30,000 donation from the Daniel Foundation.

Lawrence BOE protecting Oakville Indian Mounds

By Kristen Bishop· 340-2443

OAKVILLE — Development has already destroyed more than half of the historic Indian burial and ceremonial mounds in Lawrence County, said local Indian Education Coordinator Butch Walker.

More than 30 mounds once existed. Only two of the remaining 15 are on protected land at Oakville Indian Mounds, and Walker and a nonprofit organization charged with educating residents about Indian heritage are ensuring it stays protected.

The Oakville Ceremonial Woodland Mound and the Oakville Copena Burial Mound sit on 83 acres owned by the Lawrence County Board of Education. The board approved a purchase order for an additional 33 acres using federal and private grants last year.

Before the 2006 land deal, the ceremonial mound was less than 50 feet from privately owned farmland.

“We had to protect that land from future development,” said Martha Cantrell, chairman of Friends of Oakville Indian Mounds Inc. “If someone had built a residential neighborhood there, those mounds could easily have been destroyed.”

The adjacent land was appraised at $100,000 but sold for $150,000. The Board of Education received a Federal Highway Administration Enhancement grant for 80 percent of the appraised value, leaving the Board of Education with a $70,000 obligation.

That’s where Friends of Oak-ville Indian Mounds Inc. comes in. The organization, whose members all have ancestral ties to Native Americans and the original Celtic settlers in the county, have already raised $30,000 and are now lobbying for the remaining amount owed.

The Daniel Foundation, the fifth-largest private charitable organization in the state, donated the $30,000 to help preserve the mounds.

“Our project now is to come up with the $70,000 to complete the grant,” said Dr. Charles Borden, FOOIM treasurer.

“We’re looking at foundations, corporations, individual donations, any source that we can beg, borrow, or steal from — well, maybe not steal,” he joked.

FOOIM was formed in August 2006 with the sole purpose of raising money to protect the mounds so they could continue to educate today’s citizens about Native American heritage and culture.

The Board of Education receives grants for the park annually, but that money can be used only to promote the Education Center on the premises and does not cover regular maintenance on the park, said Borden.

“Lawrence County has one of the largest Indian populations in Alabama, and this is one of the only places that provides Indian children with education about their heritage,” said Cantrell. “We want to protect this land because, really, almost everyone in this state has Indian heritage.”

Along with the education center at the park, the mounds offer a spiritual insight into the lives of Copena Indians who inhabited the Lawrence County area from about 1000 B.C. to 1000 A.D.

The Oakville Ceremonial Woodland Mound is 27 feet high and covers about 1.5 acres. It is believed to have been a cultural center for the Copena Indians.

Walker said there was a likely a temple of sorts on top of the mound at one time. A few years ago, ground-radar devices detected large rock columns inside the mound that possibly once supported a building.

The Oakville Copena Burial Mound is 20 feet high and covers about one-fourth acre. Experts believe the mound is over 2,000 years old, said Walker.

Though it was originally used only for Indian burials, some settlers were buried on top of the mound, creating the Old Settlers Cemetery.

The earliest graves, marked with large limestone crypts, are dated 1816. Many of those descendants can be traced to Cherokee Indian Chief Doublehead’s clan through interracial marriage, said Walker.

One of FOOIM’s projects is building a fence around the burial mound to protect it from intruders. A few years ago, vandals tried to excavate one of the tombs, said Walker. They destroyed a few of the large tombstones.

FOOIM is also trying to raise money to pave a second entrance to the park through the recently acquired land. The park is home to various local, state and national cross-country tournaments throughout the year. Cantrell said because of its rising popularity, additional parking is also necessary.

The park and education center are open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 4:30 p.m.

For more information or to make a donation to FOOIM, call the Oakville Indian Mounds Education Center at 905-2494.

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