Conservancy seeks to stabilize ‘Cavanaugh Mound,’ secure the historic site

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 331 views 

The discovery of a human bone and continued erosion at a mound in Fort Smith built by Native Americans has caused The Archaeological Conservancy to expedite its plans to stabilize and preserve the structure.

The mound, located behind the New Liberty Baptist Church in south Fort Smith, is believed to have been constructed by Native Americans (possibly Caddo Indian ancestors) between AD 1100 and 1300. It is believed the Caddo Indians built the mound in several phases. The mound was originally about 200 feet long at the base of each of the four sides and about 40 feet tall.

A human bone was recently discovered near the mound, but it’s not likely from a Native American, according to Jessica Crawford and Tim Mulvihill. The bone is likely from a family that lived near the mound in the late 1800s and used it to bury family members.

Crawford is the southeast regional director for The Archaeological Conservancy, the private, non-profit organization that purchased the “Cavanaugh Mound” in 2006 to prevent its further destruction. The Archaeological Conservancy was formed in 1980 for the purpose of acquiring and preserving important archaeological sites. Mulvihill is an archeologist with the University of Arkansas system and with the Arkansas Archeological Survey.

Researcher Gregory Vogel documented the history and structure of the mound in this 2006 research report. The mound top includes a burial plot when the land was owned by the Henry Stappleman family. Vogel’s research suggests 12 members of the family were buried on the mound top between 1890 and 1900. No grave markers are now present.

Vogel, who visited the site between 2002-2004, also noted: “The size, shape, and stratigraphy of the mound all indicate that it was constructed and used in a manner similar to other Caddoan era platform mounds in the Arkansas River valley. The mound appears to be alone on the landscape, not connected of a group of surrounding mounds and not located within or near a contemporaneous settlement. It overlooks the Poteau/Arkansas River bottoms to the west and was probably visible from both the Spiro and Skidgel sites in prehistoric times.”

The Spiro Mounds were built as part of a culture that thrived between A.D. 900 to 1300. The Caddoan culture is part of the American Late Prehistoric period (AD 700-1700).


Crawford and Mulvihill met Friday (March 27) in Fort Smith to inspect the mound and begin to work on a game plan to save the structure. Crawford said the mound is important to the Albuquerque, N.M.-based Conservancy, but issues related to property ownership, access and costs have been difficult to resolve. However, the appearance of a bone and recent years of erosion have resulted in the mound being a priority. She hopes to get the mound stabilized within six months.

“It’s not good to have human remains coming out of the side of the mound,” Crawford told The City Wire during a Monday interview. “We are definitely going to try to come up with some sort of a plan to stabilize it.”


Stabilizing the mound will require fill dirt. Crawford is working to figure out how to get the right type of fill dirt, and will also need access to the site for large vehicles. She is also open to anyone who wants to donate fill dirt.

“If anyone has fill they want to donate, we would appreciate it and it would be tax deductible because we are a non-profit,” she said.

Crawford also said the mound is private property and discouraged anyone from digging on the mound or being on the property.

“It is private property and we will prosecute trespassers,” she said.

Crawford and Mulvihill said the mound was not likely used by Native Americans for burial, which would mean ancient artifacts are not buried within the mound. Mulvihill said the structure appears to be a “platform mound” on which a structure might have been built. An attempt to use radar to peer into the mound was attempted in March 2011, but the ground was too dry for usable data.

Mulvihill also mentioned the possibility of getting the city of Fort Smith involved in helping maintain and possibly manage the area.

“I think this goes along with the history of Fort Smith. … It’s the pre-history of Fort Smith and I think it goes along with the city’s theme that they have established,” Mulvihill said.

Crawford said the Conservancy would “welcome” a site “with interpretive signs as part of a city park,” but said the first priority is to stabilize the mound.

“First we have to get the mound stabilized. That’s the first thing,” she said.