Chapter 2 - Mound Builders and Indian Occupancy

    The historian, looking back away down the dim corridor of time, perceives faintly in the mythical light of that far off, pre-historic period, before the red man's foot had desecrated its soil, the traces of a race who evidently peopled these hills and valleys of Richland county; a race who lived in semi-barbaric civilization, akin to that of the Aztec that Cortez found on the plains of Mexico; a race who lived and died and left no trace of their existence except the mysterious mounds and ridges that they have built or that mark the site of their ruined buildings; a race of whom no tradition even exists from which their history can be written; a people of mystery, and probably ever to remain so - the Toltecs or Mound-builders.

    The high bluffs and the broad, level bottom lands along the Wisconsin river are in many places thickly dotted over with these reminisences of a vanished race. In many localities these relics have attracted much antiquarian attention, and many theories have been advanced, plausible enough, but apparently only based upon vague speculation, accounting for their origin and purpose. The few slight traces of bones and implements, with, in some instances, pottery, are all that are left to tell us of a race that has been extinct for centuries.

    In the neighborhood of Excelsior, Port Andrew, Richland City, and all along the Wisconsin river, these mounds are quite numerous, and are of various shapes and sizes; but we have failed to find that any attempt has been made to elucidate their mystery by a careful research.

    During the summer of 1881, a party from Mineral Point made some research, near Lone Rock, in this county, under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution, and in the interest of anthropology, of which the following account is given:

    "The mounds opened were in the meadow of Mr. Loomis, two miles north of Lone Rock, where was found a group of about twenty mounds - all round, except one, which was oblong, and about 200 feet long. The land and mounds had been cultivated, but are now in grass, and no doubt, by these means, the mounds have been greatly denuded; they were in diameter the same as those above mentioned, but lower; no regular design in their position was observed, except in those farthest east, where were seven round mounds in a north and south line, with a mound to the east and west of the second mound, from the south end of the line, each mound about thirty feet in diameter, and distant sixty-six feet from center to center, thus forming a cross. The second mound from the south end or center of the cross was opened, but at the depth of four feet, they were satisfied from the appearance of the earth, that it had been opened before, and the excavation refilled, as it showed no outward signs of having been interfered with.

    "Another mound to the west was then opened, and at the depth of three feet the bones of three persons were found; they were so decomposed, fragile, and near to dust that it was only with great care, that parts of them could be preserved; these bodies had been laid upon the surface of the ground, and the mound erected over them; they were doubled up at the knees and hips and laid east and west, with the head alternately each way; one of them is thought to have been a man six feet three inches, and the others of ordinary stature. Strong evidence that part of the remains had been burned, were obtained here, as also the greater part of the genuine skull of a mound builder; many bones and fragments, some charred to coal were taken from here, as also many of the teeth, which were best preserved of all.

    "Another mound about 100 feet southeast of the last one mentioned, was then opened, and at the depth of two and one-half feet were found the bones of two ordinary stature, in the same condition, and buried in the same manner, as those last described."

    Some idea of the antiquity of these mounds, so called, may be gathered from the fact, that some of them in various portions of the State, represent the form of a mastodon, which leads to the inevitable conclusion, that those ancient builders were cotemporary with that long extinct animal. This theory has been strengthened by the presence of mastodon bones found in the mounds. And the conclusion is reached that, either these Toltecs were of earlier date than has been generally supposed, or that the mastodon or mammoth is of later.

    Many other monuments of this long banished race are to be found throughout the county, but it would seem that no further effort has been made toward investigating them. Whether they were a race with all the refinements and civilization of the Egyptian or Babylonian, as has been claimed for them, or whether they had but the ruder culture of the more primitive races, remains as ever an unwritten mystery; their history has perished in the lapse of ages, and been buried under the dust of centuries.

    Of their successors, the red Indian, the Scythian American, but little has been preserved. Their traditions, like the traditions of all barbarous races, border so much upon the marvelous; are so inter-warped with the myths and creations of the imagination, that what is fact and what is fable it were difficult to determine. The early French explorers in their wanderings to and fro, throughout what is now the broad domain of the State of Wisconsin, record about all that is positively known of the whereabouts of the various tribes that then had a habitation or that hunted and fished within the limits of the State.

    We are told, that the earliest that is known, with any degree of accuracy, of any tribes inhabiting the vast wooded solitudes of Richland county, is, that, it was the hunting ground of a portion of the tribe of Sauks or Sacs, and their friends and allies, the Ottagamies or Foxes. These tribes are of the great Algonquin family and are perhaps one of its most noted branches, and the first mention is made of them by the French Jesuit missionary, Allouez, during a voyage made by him in 1665. The valley of the Wisconsin river seems to have been a favorite locality for them. They were, as is told by the Jesuits, an industrious Nation, singularly so for Indians, and cultivated large tracts of corn lands. History still records the fact that they had quite an extensive village on the northern banks of the Wisconsin river, within the limits of this county, not very far from the present site of Port Andrew, perhaps just west, near what is now known as the Coumbe farm, as the large amount of graves of the red hunter and warrior, found upon that place would lead one to believe.

    The northern part of the county was claimed and held by a portion of the Winnebagoes, or men of the sea, as the name is translated, showing that they had migrated from the shores of the great salt water in previous ages. These two tribes, with a small sprinkling of Pottawattamies, formed the bulk of the aboriginal inhabitants before the advent of the white man.

    The Foxes and Sacs ceded all their portion of this county to the United States, by a treaty, signed in 1804, so that they were no longer owners of any land within its limits, nor were they found in any great numbers this side of the Mississippi river, until the episode of the Black Hawk war, in 1832. However, this was, from the date of its cession to the general government, by the Foxes and Sacs, the favorite hunting ground of the Winnebagoes. These people had some settlements also in the southern and central portions of the county, according to tradition, and were for many years inimical to the Americans, having espoused the cause, and taken up arms in favor of the British, during the War of 1812-15.

    In 1816, however, a treaty of peace was entered upon with them by the general government, at St Louis; and finally, in November, 1837, the Winnebagoes ceded to the United States, all their lands east of the Mississippi river. Nothing was reserved, and it was agreed upon by the contracting parties, that within some eight months from the time of the signing of the treaty, the Indians would all move west of the 'Father of Waters.' This arrangement was not fully carried out, the rich forests of Richland and adjoining counties proving too strong a temptation, and many still lingered in their former home. The history of these nomadic inhabitants has been treated here in rather a cursory manner, as the full details will be found elsewhere in this volume.

    Close in the neighborhood of Port Andrew, in the southern portion of the county, tradition still points out the place of a battle, between two bands of rival Indian claimants, for the right of hunting in the rich region of the Wisconsin bottoms.

    Another fact in history is, that Black Hawk crossed Richland county in his retreat from the infuriated settlers of Grant and Jo Daviess counties, just before he made his last stand at Bad Ax. The trail along which he passed was plainly visible to many of the early settlers, and was followed by many of them. The trail, as seen by them, crossed the Wisconsin river near the mouth of Honey creek, then passed northward through the towns of Buena Vista, Ithaca, Rockbridge and Bloom, following one of the creek valleys.

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