AmeriCorps rangers craft dugout canoe at Etowah Indian Mounds


Carrying on an “ancient tradition,” AmeriCorps rangers are creating a one-person dugout canoe at Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Site. Started in late October, the nearly 8-foot wooden vessel is slowly taking shape with winter weather posing recent challenges.

“The dugout canoe is an ancient tradition that has been used by many cultures for centuries,” AmeriCorps Interpretive Ranger Jeremy Thomas said. “There is one on display at Etowah Indian Mounds in the museum. They were documented by the Spanish and used by most Native American cultures. We needed a new one as the one at Etowah can no longer be outside, and it would be a good, long-term project to work on that would show how the Native Americans lived and worked:“The wood for the canoe is a poplar log, and the tree came from just down the road at Allatoona Pass. The tree had to be taken down, and it was perfect for the idea of being a dugout canoe. … As the log is very heavy, it was a challenge to move the log from Allatoona Pass to the Etowah River at Etowah Indian Mounds where it now sits. Moving it involved a truck, trailer, winch, tractor and about eight people.”Along with Thomas, three other AmeriCorps rangers are forming the canoe – Irina Garner, Diane Burgoon and Jessica Joyner.“I would say we have averaged about every other Saturday since [October] for at least two [to] three hours each session,” Thomas said. “I would say we have spent about 24 hours working on it. The Native Americans could usually make a canoe this way in seven [to] 10 days, working on it nonstop 24/7. They would work on it all day and night. We have been taking [our] time with it so that we can continue to work on it up until the launch day in July:“Working on the canoe involves building a fire and getting hot coals and burning wood. Then the hot coals and burning wood can be moved to the log. I usually use a flat shovel for convenience; they would have used whatever they had available, be it sea shells they would have traded for, flat rocks or even sticks. The fire burns into the log and burns away the inside of the log. On the outside, clay can be used to prevent burning in areas that we are trying to preserve and not burn. On top of the hot, burning coals, I place rocks which help to reflect the heat back into the log to help it burn and the coals to last longer. When the hot coals are no longer hot, they can be removed, and the charred remnants on the canoe are scraped away so that new hot coals can be added to continue to burn out the inside of the canoe. At the end of each session, we put out the fire.”Along with the weather, the log’s components also are presenting some obstacles for the AmeriCorps rangers.“The weather has been the toughest challenge,” Thomas said. “We cancelled the dug-out canoe session on the day it snowed; and if it is raining we have had to cancel as well. Another challenge that we are having to work around is the wood itself. There are a couple knots in the wood that take longer to burn through than the rest of the canoe.“Mostly I hope the visitors take away a little knowledge and a respect for the people who had to do this to survive. They couldn’t go down to Wal-Mart and just buy groceries and [a] plastic canoe and take a trip. It was a tough and challenging life, and they found a way to survive.”By viewing the AmeriCorps rangers’ living history demonstration, patrons are learning more about the 54-acre site, where several thousand American Indians lived from A.D. 1000 to A.D. 1550. Regarded as the most intact Mississippian Culture site in the Southeast, Etowah Indian Mounds at 813 Indian Mounds Road in Cartersville features six earthen mounds, a village area, a plaza, borrow pits and a defensive ditch.Currently, the dugout canoe is scheduled to launch July 9 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.“It gives everybody the opportunity to see something that’s not done very much, at least not in our country, anymore,” said Keith Bailey, interpretive ranger for Etowah Indian Mounds. “In the past, that was the Native Americans’ main form of transportation. So for guests that are interested in Native Americans, they might want to see that:“[Once the canoe is finished], the kids that come with school groups [or on] weekends that see it will get a better understanding of exactly how important it was to have those dugout canoes for trading up and down the river. It will be kept outside down at the river, probably mostly as a demonstration item. It really depends on how well it floats in the river. I guess, if it surprises us and does very well, we may actually make a more active demonstration of showing people that yes, you can make a log that floats.”For more information on the Etowah Indian Mounds, visit or call 770-387-3747.