Inside the legal battle for the Octagon Earthworks

Chris Gaitten
The third hole at Moundbuilders Country Club is built into a 155-foot-diameter circular enclosure located at the southeastern opening of the Octagon Earthworks.

In 2007, history professor Richard Shiels got a serendipitous call from a tribal headquarters tucked into the nook where the state lines of Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas all meet. It was the office of Glenna Wallace, the chief of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, and she wanted to attend a lecture at Ohio State. The day after the speech, Shiels took a group to the Octagon Earthworks, then the primary focus of OSU’s Newark Earthworks Center for interdisciplinary research and public education, which he founded. Wallace had never heard of the Octagon.

She was stunned by what she saw. The Octagon Earthworks consist of two massive geometric figures: a 50-acre, eight-sided enclosure, with walls running up to 550 feet long, and the 20-acre Observatory Circle, more than 1,000 feet across. The earthen architecture was constructed sometime between the first and fourth centuries by Native Americans. Wallace swelled with pride. She was also in disbelief. How had she never heard of this place?

Her elation didn’t last, instead dissipating into anger. Moundbuilders Country Club golf course had been laid out across the Octagon site. There was a tournament that day, and she wasn’t allowed on the land her Shawnee ancestors would have treated as sacred before they were removed from Ohio. Wallace swore an oath not to cut her hair until the golf course was removed.

A dozen years later, her hair is still growing.

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