ANCIENT WORKS IN THE VICINITY OF LAKE MICHIGAN.
THE most southerly point on the west shore of Lake Michigan where traces of ancient labor can be found, is about four miles south of the State line between Wisconsin and Illinois. These works are doubtless burial-places, and consist of a series of round or conical mounds, nine in number, from three to five feet in height, and about thirty feet in diameter, arranged in a serpentine row along the crest of a ridge of sand, an ancient lake beach, which extends for many miles along the lake shore. (See Fig. 1.) We first saw this beach in the road three miles north of Racine, and traced it at intervals into the State of Illinois. It has an elevation estimated at fifty feet above the present level of the lake, and at the mounds affords a good view of the country on both sides. It is here about half a mile distant from the lake. It consists of sand and gravel, and rests upon a bed of hard clay. There is no doubt that this ridge extends south to the end of the lake, and is connected with the remarkable series of ridges described by Prof. Shepard.1 It is occupied by the main road from Milwaukee to Chicago, and is frequently so broad on the top as to afford room for buildings.
We saw no other mounds, nor could we hear of any in this vicinity. Some surveys, however, made by Professor Lathrop, indicate that the turtle form extends down Rock River as far as Rockford, or within six miles of the Kishwaukee. Traces [page 6:] were discovered between this place and the State line. We were told that the row of mounds found here was straight; but examination shows it to be otherwise. Their serpentine arrangement is not, however, deemed a matter of much importance; for where no efforts were made to secure regularity, some such disposition of the mounds would be quite natural. A few miles south of this place is the town of Waukegan, which was formerly called Little Fort, in commemoration of the fact that something once existed there supposed to be the remains of a small fort; but whether or not it was the work of the aborigines, is not known.
At the city of Kenosha we found, on the ancient sandy beach upon which the city is partly built, abundant evidence of a former manufactory of arrow-heads and other articles of flint. Several entire specimens were collected after a little search, besides numerous fragments that appear to have been spoiled in the process of chipping them into form. It is not easy to conceive how such work could be done at all with the scanty tools of the natives; and we are not surprised to find that there were many failures. The chips, or small fragments of flint, were very abundant in numerous places along the sandy ridge, especially near the Durkee House, and in the vicinity of the burial-ground immediately south of the city. Many different kinds of flint, or more properly of chert, appear to have been wrought at this place, as is shown by the fragments. It is quite probable that the pebbles or boulders along the lake shore furnished the material employed by these early manufacturers; for flint of the same kind may be seen there in abundance. These pebbles are from the corniferous rock of Eaton, and here constitute a portion of the drift, being associated with the tough blue clay that underlies the sand, and is the basis of the whole country around. The clay is carried away by the dashing waves, leaving a beach of clean pebbles, kept constantly smooth and round by attrition. Numerous fragments of pottery, of the usual form and composition, were also found on the same sandy places.
No ancient works were noticed along the valley of the Des Plaines1 River, which here lies between Lake Michigan and the Pishtaka River.
Proceeding northward from Kenosha, along the west shore of Lake Michigan, the next evidences of ancient labor are found at Racine; showing that, notwithstanding the great difference between the moral, social, political, and other conditions of the red and white man, they usually fix upon the same points as favorite places of residence. The map (Plate II.) will convey to the reader a correct idea of the interesting groups of works at this place. In the examination of them, and in the preparation of this map, I have been materially assisted by Dr. P. R. Hoy, of Racine. The works occupy the high ground bordering upon Root River, from one to two miles from the margin of the lake, and immediately back of the city limits. They consist mostly of circular burial-mounds, of no great size or height, with one circular inclosure, and several tapering ridges. There are also two semicircles opening on the edge of the bluff towards the river. The group of very numerous and remarkable mounds represented at the lower part of Plate II. [page 7:] was surveyed with some minuteness, with a view to detecting the order of arrangement upon which they were constructed. The result shows very clearly that no order or system was adopted. Each person buried was placed where chance might lead the relatives or friends to select the spot. No three mounds could be found on the same straight line; indeed, it seems as if it were the intention of the builders to avoid all appearance of regularity. Large mounds are interspersed with smaller ones, without regard to symmetry or succession.
Dr. Hoy has recently opened one of these mounds, and found in it the skeletons of seven persons, buried in a sitting posture, and facing the east. (See Fig. 2.) The bones were not accompanied by ornaments or articles of any kind that had resisted the destructive effects of time. The teeth of the adult skeletons were much worn, but sound and firm. It was observed that the muscles of the jaws must have been unusually large and strong. The bones of the skull, except in one instance (probably that of a female), were found to be remarkably thick and solid. These skeletons were much decayed, and could not be restored. The mound opened was seven feet high and fifty feet in diameter, being the largest of the group. A basin-shaped excavation had been made in the original soil, about eighteen inches deep, reaching to the gravelly subsoil, upon which the skeletons were placed side by side, all facing in the same direction. The legs, which had been laid horizontally, retained their original position; but the skulls and bones of the bodies were huddled together by the settling upon them of the earth in which they were placed. There were no indications of fire.
Another mound of smaller dimensions, opened under my inspection, contained a confused mass of bones, also very much decayed, and resting upon the gravel, which was here two feet below the original surface. Bones of at least three individuals were discovered. Their confused condition might be owing to the custom, still prevalent among the Indians, of placing the bodies of those who die or are killed away from home, in trees, where they remain until the softer parts are decayed and gone, when the bones are collected and buried. No ornaments, or indeed remains of articles of any kind, could be found in this mound; nor was here any charcoal, burnt clay, or other indication of fire.
These mounds were made from the surface soil; and no traces of excavations, or places whence the materials were taken, could be detected. It is not probable that the earth was penetrated more than a few inches to obtain the quantity necessary [page 8:] to form the mounds, some of which are quite small, not more than one or two feet in height above the original surface of the ground. They are of various dimensions, from five to fifty feet in diameter, and from one to seven feet in height. Many of them are now nearly levelled by the plough. They may still, however, be detected in the cultivated fields by a trifling elevation, or by a slight difference in the color of the soil, In one case, at least, the plough had turned up the bones from beneath.
The plank road leading from the city to Rochester and Burlington, on the Pishtaka River,1 passes near this great group of ancient mounds. Many of them are on the line of another road, and are levelled from time to time by the inhabitants in working out their road tax, without regard to the sacred deposits they contain; and in a few years, all traces of them will be gone for ever. This spot was probably the common cemetery for the neighboring tribes, and not their place of residence. Its situation, on the level ground back from the river and bluff; and at the head of a deep and narrow ravine, may be adduced as an evidence of this. The fact that seven bodies were buried in one mound apparently at the same time, and three or more in another, seems to indicate that many died simultaneously by some calamity.
Subsequently to my visit to this locality, Dr. Hoy informs me that he had the good fortune to obtain two vases of pottery from one of the mounds. They were in a gravel-pit, two feet and half below the original surface of the ground, in immediate contact with the fragments of two skeletons much decayed. One is made of cream-colored clay and white sand, quite similar in composition to our pale bricks. It has a nearly uniform thickness of about one-fifth of an inch, and was originally quite smooth and hard. I have so far restored it as to render it a good specimen. It would hold about five quarts, being seven inches in diameter at the mouth, and eleven and a half inches high. The other is of a red, brick color, about half as large, much thicker and coarser, and crumbled a good deal in handling. A considerable portion of gravel was used in connection with the clay in its fabrication.
Dr. Hoy further adds: Some workmen, in digging a ditch through a peat swamp, near Racine, found a deposit of disks of hornstone, about thirty in number. They were immediately on the clay at the bottom of the peat, about two feet and a half below the surface. Some of the disks were quite regular; they vary from half a pound to a pound in weight.
The following account of the ancient works near Racine, furnished by Dr. Hoy, will be found to contain additional details, with some inferences in regard to their age, and the character of the people who made them.
The most numerous and extensive group is situated one mile west of the city. It embraces sepulchral mounds, all small, from one to eight feet high, unaccompanied by circles, effigies, or other earth-works. The city cemetery, just located, embraces a part of these mounds, which will be preserved, adding not only beauty but interest to the rural spot. [page 9:]
On the point of the high bluff marked A on the map (Plate II.)is a mound six feet high, in connection with an embankment 235 feet long. This embankment is two feet high, and twelve feet wide at the point nearest to the mound, and tapers gradually to a mere point at its western extremity, near a spring. I am informed that there were formerly other works connected with this, which have been obliterated by cultivation and other improvements. (An enlarged plan of this interesting group is shown on Plate II.)
A little further east, on the same side of the river, is a single low mound, occupying the projecting point of a bluff. Opposite this, on the north bank of the stream, there is a cluster of mounds crowded into a small space, bounded on the east by a long mound, and on the west by a lizard mound 1 eighty feet long.
The remaining works, situated on the bluff north of those last named, consist of three lizards, one oblong and six conical tumuli, and three inclosures. The two semicircular embankments are situated on an almost inaccessible bluff eighty feet high. The embankments are slight, not over one foot in elevation, and ten or twelve feet broad, but perfectly distinct and well defined. There is some evidence that they formerly constituted graded ways leading to the river. They are tolerably well situated for works of defence, but, without the addition of palisades, could afford no protection. The small circle, from its size and position, could scarcely have been designed for a work of defence. Neither of these has any perceptible ditch on either side; if one formerly existed, it is now obliterated. The lizards are much alike, from two to two and a half feet high, and from twelve to fourteen feet broad at the shoulders, the tail gradually tapering to a point. The longest is 130 feet, and the shortest 80 feet in length.
In addition to the works represented on Plate II., there is a cluster of eight mounds, situated on a sandy ridge, three-fourths of a mile further south.
I opened one of the lizards, but found nothing. We excavated fourteen of the mounds, some with the greatest possible care; they are all sepulchral, of a uniform construction, as represented by Fig. 2. Most of them contained more than one skeleton; in one instance, we found no less than seven. We could detect no appearance of stratification, each mound having been built at one time, and not by successive additions. During these investigations, we obtained sufficient evidence to warrant me in forming the following conclusions. The bodies were regularly buried in a sitting or partly kneeling posture, facing the east, with the legs flexed under them. They were covered with a bark or log roofing, over which the mound was built. The apparent confusion in which the skeletons are sometimes found, is owing to their falling over at different angles, at the time, perhaps, of the giving way and caving in of the temporary roofing. It is quite common to find skeletons before reaching the primitive receptacle or pit. These were undoubtedly subsequent interments, made by the modern Indians. They are in a [page 10:] different state of preservation, and are mostly found in an extended posture. All the primitive crania were crushed and flattened by the weight of the superincumbent materials. In two instances, however, I succeeded, by great care and labor, in restoring these flattened fragments to their original shape. One of them is represented on Plate LIII. It was found in one of the mounds of the crowded group on the north side of the river. The two are much alike, and quite different in several particulars from the various Indian crania that I have examined. The zygomatic arch has not the same projection, the angle of the cheek-bone is more obtuse, and the orbits are rather less angular than in the modern Indian. The heavy, projecting jaw, and the flattened occiput, are quite characteristic of these ancient mound skulls. Facial angle, 76°. Internal capacity, eighty cubic inches.
No implements or ornaments were observed in the mounds, excepting in three instances, in which rude pottery was found. The shape of the pots is precisely similar to those said to be used by the Burmese for all culinary operations. They place three stones in a triangle to support the pot in a perpendicular position.
The disks of hornstone were obtained while digging a ditch through a peat swamp one-fourth of a mile south of the mounds represented on the plate. (Plate II.) About forty were taken out. They were situated immediately on the clay stratum, underneath the peat, which was two feet thick at this point. A number of arrow-heads and stone axes have been found in the vicinity.
In regard to the antiquity of the works at Racine, it may be stated that, on the mound from which I obtained the pottery, there was a burr-oak stump (Quercus macrocarpa), which contained two hundred and fifty rings; and the tree was cut ten years since, when the land was first occupied. Near this I excavated another mound, on the centre of which were the remains of a large stump which must have been much older. Immediately under the centre of this stump I obtained the cranium before mentioned. A stump on the long mound at A (Plate II.) has 310 rings; and near by are the remains of a large tree, and an oak stump five feet in diameter. These facts indicate an antiquity of at least a thousand years.
In conclusion, I must remark that whatever be the legitimate inference drawn from similar works and remains in other places, concerning the state of civilization attained by the mound-builders, the evidence here goes to prove that they were an extremely barbarous people, in no respect superior to most of the savage tribes of the modern Indians.
Much care has been taken to present an exact figure of the skull discovered by Dr. Hoy, which he proposes to contribute to the museum of the Smithsonian Institution.
Between Racine and Milwaukee we found a single mound, which was six feet high, and the remains of one or two more about half a mile below the place where the main road crosses Oak Creek. This mound was more than usually steep on its sides, and may consequently be supposed to be of recent origin, time not having levelled it down as much as those of greater antiquity. A mound that had been [page 11:] removed several years since, disclosed a number of skeletons of human beings, and an earthen cup said to hold about a pint.1
The relative position and extent of the earthworks in the vicinity of Milwaukee, will appear on reference to the map, Plate III. They extend from Kinnickinnic Creek, near the place known as the Indian Fields, to a point six miles above the city. It will be observed that they occupy the high grounds along the margin of the river and streams, but not on the immediate shore of the lake. Although the mound-builders often occupied the margin of the smaller lakes in the interior, they seldom or never selected the immediate shore of Lake Michigan for the site of their works.
[page 13:]The banks of rivers appear to have been their favorite localities; and in this respect they resemble the present Indians, who select sites commanding a view of the country around them (so as to be able to detect the first approach of an enemy), and near hunting and fishing grounds. They appear also to have had an eye for the beautiful as well as the useful, in choosing their places of abode.
From the same hills on which are found these mounds, the workmen, in grading streets, digging foundations for buildings, preparing terraces for gardens, &c., often disinter the skeleton of an Indian, with its accompanying ornaments, and perhaps his brass kettle placed at the head. A number of the skulls thus brought to light were sent to Dr. S. G. Morton, to be used in the preparation of his Crania Americana.1
The bluffs along the Milwaukee River, on which these works are mostly situated, have an elevation of from 30 to 100 feet above the water. They are usually quite steep, though not so much so, except in one or two places, as to be precipitous.
There is evidence, drawn from the presence of deposits of fresh-water shells in layers of sand and gravel, that the waters of the lake at this place once stood at a level considerably above their present height; and at that time much of the site of the present city was submerged. The bluffs were then washed by the waters of the bay, and presented steep broken fronts. The banks were gradually undermined, and slides of considerable extent occurred precisely as is now seen on the present margin of the lake. Whether this subsidence was subsequent to the erection of the mounds, is uncertain, their situation being such as to throw no definite light upon the subject. There are no works below that level that can lay claim to great antiquity.
The ancient works about Milwaukee are most numerous at a place near the small creek called the Kinnickinnic, and on lands known as the Indian Fields. They are chiefly in section twelve, township six, and range twenty-one, town of Greenfield. When the country was first settled (in 1836), the place was destitute of trees, and exhibited signs of recent Indian occupancy and cultivation. The creek borders it on the south and west, and an extensive swamp on the north and east, thus separating it from the adjacent country, and rendering it secure from sudden surprise or attack, without the necessity of extensive works of defence. It will be observed, as we proceed, that similar circumstances were often taken advantage of by these careful people.
The fields lie at a considerable elevation above the bottom-lands of the creek, and are much broken and uneven in surface. The soil is loose, sandy, or gravelly, and could be easily worked by the rude instruments of the aborigines; which may have been an inducement for selecting this spot. The subsoil is gravel, to an unknown depth. The Milwaukee and Janesville plank road passes through the fields; and the wood land adjoining has been adopted on account of its gravelly soil, undulating surface, and beautiful forest-trees, as the site of a cemetery for the city, named appropriately the Forest Home. [page 14:]
About fifty circular mounds, and four or five of the lizard form, have been found here. Some of these can yet be traced, though the plough has made sad havoc with most of them. Two of the latter class were here associated in manner not observed elsewhere in the State. (See Fig. 5.) One is two hundred and fifty feet in length. It is not asserted that these figures were meant by the builders to represent an animal of the lizard form, or an animal at all. Still their great numbers in the eastern part of the State, and their uniformity of general outline, show that this peculiarity of form was not without design. It has been suggested that they may have been intended to represent a war-club with points set in, as is common among some savage tribes; but the attenuated form of the extremity would seem to oppose this idea.
As is the case with the works of other forms, there are no two precisely alike in their dimensions, or in their direction with reference to the cardinal points. But it has been observed that the larger extremity, or head, is usually directed towards the south. They vary in length from one hundred to four hundred feet. The usual height of the body may be stated at four feet; from which there is commonly a gradua1 diminution both in height and width to the extremity. It is frequently impossible to decide exactly where it terminates. They are almost always associated with mounds of round or oblong form, usually having about the same general direction. When they occupy the edge of elevated ground, the head generally points obliquely towards the low ground; and the projections or legs are on the side towards the ridge. (See Plate V.)
On the land of Mr. Geo. O. Tiffany, half a mile south of Forest Home Cemetery, is a sort of inclosure opposite some very large springs. (See Plate IV, No 1.) The walls are about eighteen inches high, and three or four feet wide. It is on a level flat, from which there is a descent of about eight feet to the springs. The wall is double, as shown by the figure, the outer one interrupted by two gateways. There are some irregular excavations within the inclosure. Large trees grow upon and near the works, constituting a dense forest of thrifty growth. The flat on which these works are built terminates in the rear by high hills surmounted by the mounds before described.
There can be no doubt that this wall of earth is the only remaining trace of some building erected here on account of the copious springs opposite the main opening; but the nature of the edifice can only be conjectured. Perhaps it may have consisted of palisades or timbers set in the ground, against which a bank of earth was erected to secure greater strength and permanency. There is no regular ditch accompanying the wall, as is found in similar works in New York and elsewhere. Immediately above these works another was traced, with a ditch very irregular in its form, direction, and dimensions, which proved to have been the work of the [page 15:] beaver. This industrious little animal had here set up a colony, and erected his works; his nation has had its rise, and its decline and fall, since the aboriginal structures were abandoned.
Further up the creek, on the west side, north of the plank road, and not far from some very large mounds, are three similar works, except that they are not on the immediate bank of the creek. Two of them are represented in Fig. 6. The inclosure is about one hundred feet long, and thirty wide, in its greatest dimensions. The opening at d appears to have been caused by the washing away of the earth by the rain that fell within the inclosure. The walls were nine feet wide and one foot high. The small size of these inclosures prevents their ranking with the works of defence or other extensive embankments described in the first and second volumes of the Smithsonian Contributions; and we can only suppose them to be the remains of ancient buildings, or structures of some kind, needful in the simple condition of those who erected them.
A few rods east of the cemetery, on the land of Mrs. Hull, may be seen a remarkable excavation, surrounded in part by the earth thrown from it. (See Plate IX. Fig. 1.) It has four sloping ways or entrances, one of them very much elongated; and the reader will not fail to discover in its general figure that of a lizard mound reversed. There are other similar excavations to be described hereafter; from some of which, if we could take a cast and reverse it, we should have an exact representation of a lizard mound.
At Walkers Point were several circular mounds and lizard mounds, now dug away in the process of grading streets. One of them, exhibited in section, was examined during the excavation, and found to be composed of whitish clay, of uniform texture and appearance. The blue, yellow, and red clays, found abund- [page 16:] antly in the country, all assume a whitish color upon exposure at the surface; and it is, therefore, not difficult to account for the difference in the color of the clay composing this mound, without resorting to the improbable conjecture that it was brought from a great distance. The several layers of soil, brown subsoil, and blue clay, run uninterruptedly under the mound, showing that it was built upon the natural surface. (See Fig. 7.) No excavation had been made, and no relics of any kind were found in it. Indeed, the animal-shaped mounds have never been found productive in ancient relics or works of art. It was probably for purposes other than the burial of the dead, that these structures were made.
Only one locality has been discovered on the east side of the Milwaukee River where the mound-builders erected their mysterious works. This was at the intersection of Johnson and Main streets, where there were formerly two lizard mounds, and some others, as represented on Plate V. On one of these is given the dimensions in feet, showing the method usually adopted in surveying these earthworks. One of the mounds has a slight angle near the extremity of the tail, as represented in the plate; but this is not very common. The other figure is of the more common form. These figures are in their normal position, being on high ground near the edge of a hill or bank, their heads towards the south, legs towards the bank, and their general direction obliquely towards the edge of the bank. A simple oval mound, and one with arms or wings, are seen near the lizards; and a few rods to the north was an oval ring, whose diameters were forty-four and thirty-one feet. The wall was nine feet wide, and only one foot in height.
On the west side of the river, within the limits of the city, were numerous mounds occupying the several promontories overlooking the city and bay. The most remarkable group was near the intersection of Walnut with Sixth Street, as represented on Plate VI. Four different varieties of structures may be seen. The oblong (a), which is simply a ridge of earth; the lizard (b), an elongated ridge terminating in a point at one end, and having two projections or legs at the other; the winged mound (c), being a circular tumulus, with two long, slightly curved arms or wings; and the anomalous mound (d), differing from the ordinary form by having the legs on opposite sides, instead of the same side. These works were, in 1836, covered with a dense forest. The oblong, at a in the plan, appears to have been the observatory, being in a very conspicuous place, from which may be seen all the works, while in the opposite direction there is presented a magnificent view of the valley of the river, and the bay of Lake Michigan, now called Milwaukee Bay. It is eighty-three feet long, twenty wide, and four in height.
Two of these mounds were opened, but produced nothing beyond the fragment of a bone, and a slight admixture of carbonaceous matter near the original surface. They were composed of the same tough, reddish, sandy clay that constitutes the adjacent soil. There are two large natural elevations or mounds near these works, and upon the summit of one was a small winged mound. The other, though the largest, was apparently not occupied by the aborigines. In that part of the city known as Shermans Addition, we first find mounds of undoubted animal forms. One of these (Plate IV. Fig. 2) is on ground covered by the corn hills of the present race of Indians, who occupied the lands in this vicinity down to a very late [page 17:] period. It may be considered as a rude representation of a wolf or fox guarding the sacred deposits in the large though low mound immediately before it. Both of these are of so little elevation as to be scarcely observed by the passer by; but when once attention is arrested, there is no difficulty in tracing their outlines. The body of the animal is forty-four feet, and the tail sixty-three in length. A more graceful animal form was found on block No. 36. (See Plate VII. Fig. 2.) It may be regarded as the representation of an otter. Length of head and neck, twenty-six feet; body, fifty feet; tail, seventy feet. Its direction is a little south of west.
Whatever may be said in regard to the mounds which I have denominated "lizards, there can be no doubt that they do, and were intended to represent the forms of animals. But what shall we say of the next figure (Plate VII. Fig. 3), with its long, slightly curved arms? If, like some others hereafter described, it had a beak, it would be considered a representation of one of the feathered tribe; or, if it had legs as well as a body, it might be deemed a rude imitation of the human form. We may suppose that in the lapse of ages these works have been more or less modified by natural causes, and also that portions were constructed of different and more perishable materials, now entirely gone. This figure points almost directly south. It is thirty-four feet long, the arms being sixty feet. It was surveyed by me a number of years since, and was almost immediately afterwards removed to prepare the foundation of a house. How many more of these interesting structures have been lost to the antiquary, by being destroyed before a plan and record of them were made, it is impossible to determine; but their number must be very great.
Proceeding up the river, we find the next works on the school section, between the plank road from Milwaukee to Humboldt and the river. (See Plate VII. No. 4.) They consist of three lizard mounds, and four of the oblong form, occupying a high level plateau completely covered with the original forest trees.
We next find, on sections twenty-nine and thirty, in township eight, and range twenty-two, on the west side of the river, at a place usually known as the Indian Prairie, about five miles north of the city of Milwaukee, a very interesting system or group of works. They are situated on a beautiful level plain, elevated about thirty feet above the river, which runs along the eastern border. The bank of the river is nearly perpendicular, forming a safe protection against attack from that direction. It may be seen by the map presented (Plate VIII.), that these works are further protected on the north and south by deep ravines. The works are all included within these natural defences. Whether they were ever protected on the west seems doubtful. No traces of embankment or ditch could be found, nor any indication of other modes of defence usually adopted by uncivilized nations. There may have been defences of wood, long since decayed.
There are two principal mounds situated near the middle of this space. They are both fifty-three feet in diameter at the base, where they almost touch each other, and eight feet high. The southern one has a level area of twenty-five feet diameter at the top. [page 18:]
It often occurs in a group of works like this, that one mound is erected on the highest position, from the top of which the whole may be seen. These may be called the Observatories, a name that in this case belongs to the mound with the level area. It may also have been the place of sacrifice or altar-mound; but of this we can only judge from the analogy in form and position to similar works which elsewhere were undoubtedly used for that purpose. Surrounding these are numerous tumuli of a circular form, the exact relative positions of which were ascertained by survey, and represented on the map. No definite system or order of arrangement was observed, as will be evident on inspection.
These tumuli are from two to four feet high, and from ten to fifty-four feet in diameter at the base; many of them being unusually broad in proportion to their height. None are so high and prominent as the two first mentioned. The two mounds in the form of a cross at the southern extremity of this group will at once attract the attention of the reader. An enlarged plan is given of one, with its dimensions. The head of the cross is level on the top and rectangular. This form of mound is frequently found in Wisconsin.
But what marks this locality as one of peculiar interest, is the discovery of five works of excavation, of regular form, being the reverse of the usual works. Instead of an embankment of earth thrown up, we have here a cavity in the ground. Four of the excavations lie in a southwest direction from the two larger central mounds. In approaching the former from the latter, a small trail or path is discovered, which gradually, becomes larger and deeper, until it leads into a sunken area surrounded by embankments, composed probably of the earth thrown out of the excavation. Upon looking back, it is perceived that this pathway goes directly to the mounds. These excavations are shown on an enlarged scale on Plate IX. Figures 2 and 3. There are usually three curved entrances to each excavation, as shown in the figures.
The other excavation is similar to these, except that it lacks the long guarded way or approach, leading towards a mound; though the principal openings are towards the Observatories. (Plate IX. Fig. 4.) It is quite probable that the bottom of these pits was once level, and that the sides were perpendicular, or nearly so; but now they have a gentle slope, and the bottom is concave, as shown by the sections. (Plate IX. Figs. 2 and 4.) With our present limited knowledge of the habits of the people who constructed these works, it would perhaps be idle to attempt to conjecture for what purposes the excavations were made. What structures of wood may have been connected with them is of course unknown. All traces of so perishable a material would long since have entirely disappeared.
The earth thrown from one of these excavations encroaches slightly upon the path leading to another, thus indicating (unless this circumstance has been caused by rains), that they were made at different times. Indeed, it is hardly to be supposed that any extensive system of works was ever planned out by the aborigines, and built up at one time. Those we find were doubtless the results of successive efforts, perhaps by separate and distinct generations, and even in some instances by distinct tribes.
We observed four small circular inclosures, about thirty feet in diameter, the [page 19:] ridge having no great breadth or elevation. One circle surrounded a cavity two feet deep, in which was growing a group of basswood-trees (Tilia americana) of large size. There are at this locality two crosses, two oblong and twenty-two circular mounds, and five excavations.
Although this spot has long since ceased to be the residence of an Indian population, yet it is annually visited by a few families, and numerous traces of their presence are still visible. Many of the mounds have been opened for the burial of the remains of Indians recently deceased; and we saw on one mound three graves but lately formed. They were secured from the ravages of the wolves and other animals, by logs of wood held in their places by four stakes, in the manner represented on Plate VIII. Only one kind of wood is used on the same grave, there being no mixture of different trees on any. One grave was covered with logs of iron-wood (Ostrya virginica), the other two with those of oak; even the stakes are of the same wood as the logs. These logs were from four to six inches in diameter, and four and a half feet long. The grounds in the neighborhood, and for some distance north and south of the ravines forming the boundaries of the more ancient works, are covered with those common mammillary elevations known as Indian corn-hills. They are without order of arrangement, being scattered over the surface with the utmost irregularity. That these hillocks were formed in the manner indicated by their name, is inferred from the present custom of the Indians. The corn is planted in the same spot each successive year, and the soil is gradually brought up to the size of a little hill by the annual additions. This is the work of the women.
At the southern extremity of these remains, another evidence of former cultivation occurs, consisting of low, broad, parallel ridges, as if corn had been planted in drills. They average four feet in width, twenty-five of them having been counted in the space of a hundred feet; and the depth of the walk between them is about six inches. These appearances, which are here denominated ancient garden-beds, indicate an earlier and more perfect system of cultivation than that which now prevails; for the present Indians do not appear to possess the ideas of taste and order necessary to enable them to arrange objects in consecutive rows. Traces of this kind of cultivation, though not very abundant, are found in several other parts of the State.
But, however ancient these garden-beds may be, they were not made until long after the erection of the earthworks; for, as will be seen (Plate VIII.), they extend across them in the same manner as they do the adjoining grounds. Hence it is evident that this cultivation was not until after the mounds had lost their sacred character in the eyes of the occupants of the soil; for it can hardly be supposed that works executed with so much care would be thus desecrated by their builders. The original inhabitants must therefore have been succeeded at an early period by probably another race, and the labors of the white man have consequently not alone tended to obliterate these vestiges of an ancient people.
We have thus traced four probable epochs in the history of this interesting locality. 1st. The period of the mound-builders, who, perhaps, selected it on account of its naturally secure position. 2d. That of the garden-bed culti- [page 20:] vators. 3d. That of occupancy by the modern race of Indians. 4th. The present period, when their descendants continue to visit it, and to bring hither the remains of their departed friends.
A few circular mounds, but no other works, are found near Saukville, on the Milwaukee River, in Ozaukee County. At this place was discovered one of the most regular and best finished stone axes that we have obtained. A little further west, on the road to Newburgh, is a group of oblong embankments, occupying the end and flanks of a ridge, as represented on Plate X. Here is a mound established, as is usual, on the highest point; and if the forest were removed, it would command a very extensive view of the surrounding country. Whether the peculiar arrangement of these oblong elevations is the result of design or accident, is not easily determined. There can be little doubt that the place was a station for a look-out, or post of a sentinel, whose duty it might be to give notice of the approach of an enemy, or perhaps to detect the presence of game in the country. The earthworks are not of such magnitude, nor are they so arranged, as to justify the conclusion that they constituted a work of defence; and they may be only receptacles of the last remains of some distinguished persons.
On the south side of the Milwaukee River, in the town of Trenton, are several groups of works not visited by me. One of them, surveyed by my friend, Mr. L. L. Sweet, is represented on Plate X., and, as described by him, consists of a turtle, two crosses, two club-shaped, three oblong, and five conical mounds. They are situated on lots numbered six and seven, of section eighteen, in township eleven, and range twenty. I carefully noted, says Mr. Sweet, the dimensions, &c., of the most important of these mounds, and send you the result. The largest cruciform figure is one hundred and eighty-five feet in length of trunk; the head, twenty-four feet long; the arms, seventy-two feet each; the height at the head, three feet ten inches; at the centre, four feet six inches. Uniform width of the head at the base, twenty-eight feet. The shaft gradually diminished in height and width to a point at the end. The appearance is that of a cross sunk in light earth, in which the lower extremity is still buried beneath the surface. I was forcibly struck with the fact that the arms were of exactly equal length, and at right angles to the trunk. I felt and said, Here is order and design; but what that design is, we probably never shall know. Is it possible that the people who constructed these works found their way to this continent after the Christian Era? Perhaps not; yet curiosity will make the inquiry. Two round mounds near the foot of this cross are each three feet high, and twenty and twenty-two feet in diameter at the base. The oblong bears N. 22° E., and is sixty-eight feet long, twenty-two wide, and four feet five inches high; the ends are square.
The smaller cross is one hundred and sixty feet long; the head, twenty-two feet; the arms, each fifty-one feet; the height two feet eight inches. It terminates in a point, and resembles the large one in every respect. The body of the turtle is twenty-two feet long, and fifteen feet wide; the head, four feet long; the height three feet eight inches. It has but three legs, one of which seems to have been left unfinished or destroyed. The head is towards the river. There are some other small mounds in the vicinity, not represented on the plate. The ground on which [page 21:] these works are situated has a gentle inclination towards the river, the banks of which are about three and a half feet high; the water has but a moderate current. The soil is composed of a dark sand, with a slight admixture of loam.
I am further indebted to Mr. Sweet for a survey and brief notice of the group of works on section thirty-one, township twelve, range twenty, represented on Plate XI. They consist mostly of ridges of earth from three to four feet high, and from twelve to fifteen feet wide at the base, and are of various lengths. They are supposed to have been originally square at the ends, but now are rounded by the effects of rain, &c. One mound, one hundred and thirty-two feet in length, is shaped like a war-club. It has been asserted, says Mr. Sweet, that this was a regular fort, being an inclosure; but on a careful examination, I find it is not so. The long mound (thirty-two rods in length) with another at right angles to it, upon a hasty examination, might suggest that idea; but the full survey shows that the conclusion would be a wrong one. The land here and for some distance around is level, the soil sandy, lightly timbered with iron-wood (Ostrya virginica) and sugar maple, with no large trees. There are no streams of water within half a mile of these mounds. The last mentioned circumstance is rather unusual.
There are said to be other localities still further up the Milwaukee River; but their exact situation could not be ascertained, nor could I obtain any reliable account of their character and extent.
Proceeding northward, in the vicinity of the west shore of Lake Michigan, we find the next ancient works on the Sheboygan River.
Plate XII. shows the general character of a very interesting group at the country residence of Dr. J. F. Seely, on a prominent point of land on the north side of the river, three miles above its mouth. They are in the northeast quarter of section twenty-eight, in township fifteen, and range twenty-two. The mounds are mostly of the kind called lizards, though presenting some remarkable variations from the usual type of the species, as a naturalist would say. In one the tail is crooked, with a double curve of serpentine form; in another it makes a considerable angle with the body; and a third has the front leg or projection extended forward. Two of the mounds are apparently of the same general character, except that they have two gradually tapering extensions or tails, projecting in opposite directions, as will be seen by reference to the plate. At the Doctors house is a work consisting of three nearly parallel ridges, united at the southern extremity, not far from the edge of the steep hill on which the preceding works are situated. They are about two hundred feet in length, but have only a slight breadth and elevation.
This promontory resembles in its general form the fortified hills so often found in Northern Ohio and in New York; but, after a careful search, no trace could be found of a wall extending across from one hill to the other. The occupants probably relied for defence upon the natural security of the position, as in numerous other instances in Wisconsin.
Other works are known to exist towards the head of this fine stream.
With the exception of a few small mounds near the village of Manitowoc, we have now described all the ancient works in the vicinity of the Great Lake. The last named are situated on the northeast quarter of township nineteen, half a [page 22:] mile northwest of the village. One of them was penetrated to some depth below the original surface, but not the least trace of any deposit could be detected. Pits had been dug in several other mounds, and, so far as we could learn, uniformly with the same negative results. The soil here is sandy, and the materials of the mounds consist of sand, with spots of darker color or mould, as if portions of the surface soil were mixed with the sand. There are eight mounds, situated on a level plain elevated about sixty feet above the river, to which there is a very steep descent. They are not exactly round, but of an oval form: the longest diameter lying in a north and south direction, or at right angles with the steep bank.
The following notice of the works near Manitowoc1 is from a letter written by Mr. Charles Musson of that place. There are some mounds and embankments, or breastworks (or what seem to have been used for that purpose), found about half a mile northwest from the town, on a high, level, and dry piece of ground of considerable extent. These embankments now rise to the height of about four feet; their breadth at the base being from ten to twelve feet. In one place there are two, ranging north and south, parallel to each other; one about thirty rods, the other forty rods long, and seventy rods apart. They present every appearance of having been works of defence for two contending parties. In the vicinity of the breastworks, between and to the south of them, are about twelve mounds, varying in size; some are as large as fifteen feet in diameter at the base, and eight feet in height. Some of these have been opened, and, I think, in one bones were found; but nothing certain can now be known. It seems highly probable that this might have been a battle ground, and these mounds the burial-places of the slain. The suggestion is not the less probable from the fact of there not being anything in them which can be recognized as human remains. For it is certain, from the size of the trees now growing on the apparent fortifications, that they must have been erected centuries ago; some are pine trees four feet in diameter.
These works are supposed to be the northern limit of ancient monuments on or near the lake shore.
|Lapham, Increase Allen, 1811-1875. The antiquities of Wisconsin. Washington : Smithsonian Institution, 1855. p. 5-22.