You’ll recall that last week America Unearthed host Scott F. Wolter claimed that the Knights Templar sent word to the Mississippian city of Cahokia announcing their coming, which triggered the Mississippian collapse due to an undisclosed prophecy that required all Native Americans to give up civilization and “go wild” to survive the coming of White People.
In 1787, Benjamin Smith Barton claimed that mounds like those found at Cahokia were the work of Vikings, and we know that Scott Wolter has re-assigned the imaginary voyages of the Vikings and the Norse to the “Norman French” Templars, so I guess that’s one connection—but Wolter doesn’t say that the Templars built Cahokia, but rather that they caused its collapse.
With that line of inquiry coming up dry, I next tried to turn to legends about Cahokia. Wolter claimed that his Native American informants provided him with oral histories that are hitherto undisclosed. This would be an interesting trick since there is no way to tie a modern tribe to the original inhabitants of Cahokia given the extensive population shifts of the post-Collapse and post-Contact periods. But there are relatively few legends of Cahokia. One, a Siouan tale, doesn’t actually mention the city but talks about a “mountain” near St. Louis, which archaeologists say refers to Monk’s Mound. Another, the legend of Red Horn, is thought to reflect a late form of Mississippian cult beliefs about an all-red god.
The only connection I can find in fact comes from alternative literature where an imaginary “white” god with a beard and a tunic is imagined to have wandered across the Americas teaching Native people how to be civilized. Derived from Spanish misconceptions of Aztec and Peruvian myths, alternative writers, particularly the credulous anthropologist Pierre Honoré, who fabricated false quotations to support his idea of white master race that ruled the ancient Americas, later writers have imagined a “White God” (from the title of Honoré’s 1964 book In Quest of the White God) all across the Americas. Terry J. O’Brien matter-of-factly asserted that such white gods were present at the construction of mound sites like Cahokia in Fair Gods and Feathered Serpents (1997). That said, a few references to a single recitation of the Sauk myth of Getci Mu’nito suggest that this fellow was “an old, white-headed man of majestic appearance” who taught the art of civilization and vanished into the north. But I’m pretty sure it referred to white hair, not white skin.
Weirdly enough, the foreign man who wandered into Cahokia and became a god was a brief allusion in a 2010 short story by Kurt Anderson called “Human Intelligence” in Neil Gaiman’s anthology Stories: All-New Tales. Anderson placed the visitor in 1317.
The only prophecy I can find is the one related of the allegedly “white” Quetzalcoatl and later applied to the Spanish at the Conquest. I am skeptical of any oral traditions that have left no trace in the ethnographic literature until 2012-2013. As we have seen before, old Native American myths of monsters were transformed into dinosaurs as soon as dinosaurs became popular. We have also seen how genuine Micmac oral traditions about the French colonization of Nova Scotia have been backdated to become “proof” of Henry Sinclair’s imaginary voyage to Canada.
Could this be the origin for the claim that the Templars reached the Mississippian lands and caused the Cahokia collapse?