Doctor buys, preserves access to historical Tennessee tribal site

Nashville, Tennessee (AP) 1-09

Dr. Arthur Cushman couldn’t stand the idea that most people couldn’t get to a place where ancient tribes once built a thriving civilization along the Harpeth River.

So Cushman bought the 65 acres leading to Mound Bottom, guaranteeing that visitors will have access to the 1,000-year-old earthworks that the state has preserved for decades.

“I believe, as Chief Seattle said, ‘We belong to the Earth. The Earth does not belong to us,”’ said Cushman, a Nashville neurologist with a lifelong passion for Indian culture and history.

Until Cushman made the purchase, it was difficult for anyone to get onto the property to marvel at the mounds that ancient tribes built up, one basketful of earth at a time, until they towered overhead.

By buying the gateway property, Cushman ensured that future visitors will enter it surrounded by undisturbed woods and wildlife and the remains of dozens of smaller mounds and fortifications.

“This area is still considered sacred,” he said. “The earth is sacred, the trees are sacred.”

 
Tennessee’s state naturalist emeritus Mack Prichard agreed. Prichard participated in earlier excavations at Mound Bottom after the state bought the site in 1972.

“These places are very rare and unfortunately, bulldozers have been at work on most of them,” he said.

Visitors to Mound Bottom can stand on the site and see a view that is not all that different from the world the mound builders knew 1,000 years ago.

A horseshoe-bend in the river still rolls around the land. The fields beyond are still being farmed, and the gateway to the mounds is still woodlands.

Those woodlands were almost lost to the bulldozers, too.

Developers were looking into the gateway property when Cushman bought it.

“Dr. Cushman saved the day,” said Kathleen Williams, executive director of the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation. “We’re trying to save the beautiful sites, these sacred sites that by right belong to the people of Tennessee ... I think we’re doing God’s work here now.”

The state purchased Mound Bottom in 1972. Between the river and a neighboring property owner who didn’t welcome intruders, the site was accessible only by boat.

It is still closed to most visitors, but the Greenways Foundation is offering tours to groups that contact the foundation and make arrangements.

 

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