Shiloh Mounds, Cahokia, and Moundville Come Back to Life in Native American Novels

Monks Mound, the largest of many mounds at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Illinois.
Contrast the size of the mound with the tiny car passing by on the road!
Photo courtesy of Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. Click on the photo to enlarge.


Excerpt From:
People of the Thunder by Kathleen and Michael Gear
Novel Series: North America’s Forgotten Past
Publisher: Tor/Forge
Tourism Attractions:
Shiloh Indian Mounds, Cahokia
State Historic Site, Moundville
Archaeological Park
Locations: Tennessee, Illinois, Alabama
Step into the beautiful but violent world of North America’s Forgotten Past in the epic twin novels
People of the Weeping Eye and People of the Thunder by award-winning authors
Kathleen and Michael Gear. Combining decades of writing for the commercial
fiction market and professional archaeological research, the Gears link
together three real and important archaeological sites in these two novels that
readers can still visit today: Shiloh Indian Mounds in Tennessee
(Rainbow City
in the novel), Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Illinois,
and Moundville Archaeological
Park in Alabama
(Split Sky City).
Learn more about these mysterious and fascinating sites by clicking on their
museum park links in the Tourism Guide after the short excerpt below. They were each once powerful kingdoms that stretched their influence far down the rivers they overlooked.
The Gears are currently working on People of the Morning
, which is set in Cahokia at a different time during the height of its power. Once released, People of the Morning Star will also include a tourism link
to the real state historical site of Cahokia,
allowing readers to visit the website from inside the novel when reading on an
iPad or Kindle. This will make People of the Morning Star one of the first
interactive tourism novels in the nation, along with Blind Fate and F. Scott
Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise: Interactive Tourism Edition. Readers of
People of the Morning Star will not have to go to their desktop computers and
do web searches to find out more about Cahokia; they will be able to instantly
click on the link inside the book on their Kindle or iPad and see a full-color tourism website that gives them all the tourist information they need to literally step into the real
settings of the story.
The Gears have written many Native American historical
novels set in National Monuments and Parks around the country. If they update more of their novels with short interactive tourism guides and links to the real
places, that could provide new digital gateways that allow readers to jump from the pages of their imaginations to the real sites as tourists. This would have a positive economic impact, especially during these challenging times. Embedded tourism guides would also enrich the readers by offering them a much deeper connection to the stories and
the places. Each of the three sites in these two novels has a staff and museum
for visitors to delve deeper into the real history of the area. Having been to
the real Moundville, I can attest that nothing prepares a reader for the
experience of stepping into the physical setting where the characters once
lived and breathed in a time long before our own . . .
Contrarythe woman once
known as Two Petalswalked
through the quiet night. Her moccasin-clad feet scuffed the plaza’s trampled
surface, the sound of leather on clay like the whisper of distant ghosts. Her
straight body moved purposefully, rounded hips swaying. Black flowing hair
swung even with her buttocks, and she clutched a beaverhide blanket closely
about her shoulders. With each exhalation, she watched her breath fog and rise
toward the black, star-encrusted sky. Overhead, the constellations seemed to
shimmer and wink against the winter night.
            Around her,
the great Yuchi capital known as Rainbow
City slumbered. Even now
the size of the city, with its tall, building-topped mounds, thousands of
homes, temples, society houses, and granaries, amazed her. The city’s sleeping
soul surrounded her like the low hum of insect wings. She could feel the
immensity of it: all those thousands of souls breathing, mired in Dreams, their
passions muted by sleep.
One of the Shiloh Mounds (Rainbow City) in
Shiloh National Military Park.
Click to enlarge photo. NPS Photo by Chris Mekow.
            This was
the western capital of the Yuchicalled
the Tsoyaha in their own language. The city had been built on a high bluff
overlooking the Tenasee
River. The location had
been chosen not only because it was well above the worst of the great river’s
periodic floods, but it was strategically placed just below the river’s bend.
Sheer heights on the east and north provided a natural defense, while the
western and southern approaches were protected by a tall palisade bolstered by
archers’ platforms every twenty paces. Rainbow City
controlled passage up and down the Tenaseethe
trade route carrying goods between the southeastern and northern river systems.
            Though Two
Petals had walked in the ghostly ruins of Cahokia and climbed its great mound, Rainbow City left her feeling humbled. Cahokia
was a place of dried bones; Rainbow
City flexed warm nerve
and healthy muscle. It lived, thrived, and bristled with energy.
temples, palaces, and society houses perched atop square earthen mounds capped
by colored clays sacred to the Yuchi. The buildings reminded Two Petals of
brooding guardians overlooking the empty plaza. The image was strengthened by
steeply pitched thatch roofs that jutted arrogantly toward the heavens. Beyond
them lay a packed maze of circular houses, their thickly plastered walls and
roofs a uniquely Yuchi architectural form. The dark dwellings hunched in the
night, as though weighted by the countless sleeping souls they sheltered.
Another Shiloh Mound stands quietly among the trees.
NPS Photo by Chris Mekow.
Contrary needed but close her eyes in order to sense the occupants. She
experienced their Dreams the way an anchored rock knew the river’s current. The
weight of their loves, hatreds, lusts, hungers, triumphs, and fears flowed
around her. Were she to surrender her control, all of those demanding souls
would filter past her skin, slip through her ears, nostrils, and mouth. Like
permeable soil her body and souls would absorb them. Then, in the manner of a
saturated earthen dam, she would slowly give way, carried off in bits, pieces,
and streamers by the flood.
            “But I am
not earth.” No, I am a great stone. I
stand resolute, lapped only by the waves of their Dreams. Feel them, washing up
against me, seeking a grasp, only to drain away before the next.
Two Petals
clasped her arms around her chest, hugging herself for reassurance…
            “You must lean to deal with what
you have become,” Two Petals told herself. “Trouble is coming.”
            She sighed,
sensing a perpetual isolation of a person touched by Power. Forget the Dreams
of others; her own were frightening enough. Not so many moons past, while in Cahokia, she had been carried away on Sister Datura’s
armsborn off to the
Spirit World. The Visions she had had of the future remained just behind her
eyes, as clear as when she’d first seen them. Were she to beckon, they would
come flowing forward. She would again see the terrible black-souled chief, his
hand trembling as it reached out to caress her naked skin. Or know the
guilt-stricken eyes of a woman whose bloody hands dripped red splatters onto
hard ground while she trembled beneath the twists of fate. In other scenes, an angry war chief led a thousand warriors through a silent forest. And finally,
swirling water washed over a great scaled hide that shimmered with all the
colors of the rainbow.
Another Shiloh Mound surrounded by fall leaves.
NPS Photo by Chris Mekow.
            She fixed
on that final image, staring into the great crystalline eye, as though looking
through time and worlds into another reality. As she did, a faint Song began to
fill her souls with a tremolo that echoed from her very bones. The melody rose
and fell, lifting her spirits like a leaf on the breeze. Two Petals could feel
herself rising, spinning, carried aloft on the vibrant notes. She began to
Dance across the hard-packed plaza, arms undulating to the beat. Souls swaying
in time to her skipping feet. The Song played within her.
            “Soon,” she
promised, her body spinning in time to the melody.
            As quickly
as it had come, the Song faded, leaving her to stand alone and motionless in Rainbow City’s great plazabut
one more of the many shadows that mingled in the night. In that instant she
felt utterly destitute.
            “You are never truly alone,” a familiar
voice remarked . . .
—Excerpted from PEOPLE OF THE THUNDER Copyright © 2008 by
W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear
Entrance to the Shiloh Indian Mounds
National Historic Landmark.
NPS Photo by Chris Mekow.
I first learned about the Gears’ historical novels from
Senator Clay Scofield, Chairman of the Alabama Senate Tourism and Marketing
Committee. Senator Scofield was kind enough to fly into Tuscaloosa to present the 2012 SELTI Tourism
Fiction Award to Kathryn Lang during the Moundville Native American Festival. Read his wonderful speech, where he invited all authors to focus on real Alabama tourism attractions, by clicking here. Kathryn’s
short story “Digging Up Bones” was set in Moundville and had won the Inaugural
SELTI Writing Contest. After our radio interviews, Scofield mentioned to me that
Moundville had also been the setting for a historical novel, which led me to read People of the Weeping Eye. After chatting with the authors, Kathleen and
Michael Gear, I learned that People of the Thunder continued the story of Two
Petals, Old White, and Trader, and that they had written many novels set in
real places, although they had never included tourism links.
Although I had heard of Cahokia in Illinois
from Moundville’s Director, Dr. Bill Bomar, I had not heard of the Shiloh
Mounds in Tennessee, “Rainbow City”
in the novel. Because the Shiloh Mounds are part of the Shiloh National
Military Park
with the National Park Service, they were largely preserved. Rainbow
City plays a key role in
People of the Weeping Eye and continues in People of the Thunder. Although the
original inhabitants of these cities abandoned them long ago, the ruins remain
as haunting reminders of the cultures that once thrived on the rivers of this
Temple Mound at Moundville Archaeological Park.
These novels are set in a time before the Europeans came,
but also when Cahokia is already in ruins.
Although Split Sky City
(Moundville) is still very much inhabited in the novel, another Gear novel, A
Searing Wind,
shows it also in ruins in another time period.
Many of the structures and physical remains of lost cultures
around the nation have faded away, but not at these sites. One can still walk
through the plazas and the climb the mounds that once served as vital cultural
centers. The Gears are exceptional at bringing the reader into these worlds and
allowing them to breathe the same air as the characters. Although the
characters are fictional, they represent the real people who once lived in
these cities.
I offer the short excerpt above from People of the Thunder
as an example of the Gears’ quality writing style, a style that carries through
in both novels. Please click on the links below to learn more about the Gears
and the real places that their characters once lived in.

What do authors Kathleen and Michael Gear think of literary tourism? Click here to read in their own words.

November 12, 2012

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