The photograph above is from the Plum Bayou Trail at the Toltec Mounds Arkansas State Park, a site listed on the NRHP. The mound in the foreground is Mound A (center left) and the mound on the right is Mound B. I forsook my weekend writing this week to take Paimona and our spawn to the site and enjoy its surroundings. Situated now in the middle of farming country in Arkansas, the Toltec Mound site is not in fact Toltec at all. Though surmounting evidence is demonstrating that perhaps the tribes of Mexico had interaction with Texas bands, they never got anywhere close here.
The site itself sits upon an oxbow lake of the Arkansas River, directly in its valley, and is near the Plum Bayou stream. It is a site of great importance to the people that lived in the area circa 600 through 1100 CE. A place of ceremony, at one point in time it had 18 mounds (all but the largest two are deflated and marked as such) There was an embankment that circled the site that had two broken areas to map the Equinox and Solstices. Most likely, the only residents of the city were the ruling elite of the area and the specific feasts and festivals would bring other those that lived in other communities to the mound site.
In the most generalized of terms, this site is late Woodland to early Mississippian periods of history in the US. Using Little Rock as a bearing, Arkansas is a state that can be divided into quarters, drawing a straight line essentially going west to east and north to south. During the Mississippian period, we know the NW was inhabited by possible mound building cultures from OK and TX; however, the Osage mostly inhabited this difficult area during Summer months. The NE was inhabited by the Quapaw (from whom we derive the name Arkansas as mentioned by French Missionaries whom called these people the Kappa Akansea). There are a large number of mound sites in the NE corridor of the state, most specifically Casqui (Parkin, AR) and Nodena (outside Wilson, AR). Both these cities were mentioned in the Gentleman of el Vey’s account regarding De Soto’s trek through the Southeast and is where his journey began to fall apart. The SW corridor of the state was home to the Caddo, and the SE corridor was home to the Plaquemine/Tunica peoples and was were De Soto would meet his demise and be consumed by the oxbow lake of the Mississippi now known as Lake Chicot.
What makes Toltec so interesting is that the site was abandoned essentially 200 or so years before the other large mound complexes in AR were established. We do not know who they were or whom they became after leaving the area. Most likely (my opinion), the site’s importance began to wane during a period of harsh environmental concern like other later mound complexes, causing the importance of this ceremonial center to fall in comparison to another, growing mound site. Due to its location in Arkansas and the general geography of the later people, it is hard to identify as to which tribe or in what areas the Plum Bayou culture integrated or developed. The site sits between North Little Rock, AR and a small group of farming towns outside the city known as Scott, Keo, and England. Down the road in Scott is the Arkansas Plantation Museum for those interested in the historical period.
As a writer and a developer of a world, these experiences are interesting because some of the most interesting and important decisions and locations are sites like these. This is literally the keystone in a cultural geography. If you are ever in AR and you need something to do, attend this museum. The staff there is genuinely helpful and kind. Further, the prices for a guided tour and not expensive. And even though it’s touristy as all hell, by SOMETHING or ANYTHING for that matter. Those funds help keep this park going and it’s historical significance is worth even a few scant dollars of your time and interest.