Antiquities of Wisconsin I. A. Lapham
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Chapter 4


THIS important river rises in Columbia and Adams counties, in two small streams that unite a few miles north of Fort Winnebago. Thence it has a sluggish current and crooked course, expanding into broad shallow lakes, or winding through rice marshes, until it enters Lake Winnebago. At a place known as Butte des Morts (or Mound of the Dead), it receives the waters of Wolf river, which is larger than the Neenah itself. Between Lake Winnebago and Green bay the river has a descent, over numerous rapids, of one hundred and seventy feet.

The public surveys not having all been completed, the area drained by this river cannot be exactly stated; but it is estimated at about 6,700 square miles.

At a place on the east side of Green bay, called the Red Banks (township twenty-five, range twenty-two), as we are informed by Hon. Morgan L. Martin, in his annual discourse before the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, delivered in 1851, there are traces of ancient cultivation, still distinct, over a tract of several hundred acres, now overgrown with forest-trees of a large size; the product, according to computation, of five centuries. The remains of an embankment inclosing an acre or two of ground, occupy an elevated position in the immediate vicinity.

No other aboriginal works about Green bay have come to my knowledge, though they may have existed and been long since destroyed; for settlements have existed there since a period nearly or quite as far back as the year 1665.
Little Butte des Morts, as seen across the Lake. June 14, 1851.

Nor do we find such traces along the rapids below Lake Winnebago. The advantages of water power had no attraction for the natives. The gently flowing stream and placid lake were more favorite places of resort. Hence, we perceive no indications of ancient mounds till near Lake Winnebago; the first one in ascending the river being on the west side of Little Lake Butte des Morts, a name indicating the existence of the mound, and the purpose for which it was erected. (See Fig. 25.) [page 61:]

This tumulus is about eight feet high, and fifty feet in diameter. It is to be hoped that a monument so conspicuous, and so beautifully situated, may be for ever preserved as a memento of the past. It is a picturesque and striking object in passing along this fine lake, and may have been the cause of serious reflections and high resolves to many a passing savage. It is well calculated to affect not less the bosoms of more enlightened men. There is neither necessity nor excuse for its destruction; and we cannot but again express the hope that it will be preserved for the benefit of all who may pass along that celebrated stream.

The summit of the mound is about fifty feet above the lake, affording a very pleasing view embracing the lake and the entrance to the north channel of the river.

Among the articles discovered in the field near by, was some burnt clay in irregular fragments, with impressions of the leaves and stems of grass, precisely like those found at Aztalan.

This had been a place of burial, and, perhaps, of well contested battles; for the plough constantly turns up fragments of human bones and teeth, much broken and decayed. Arrow-points of flint, and pipes of the red pipestone and other materials, have also been brought to light.

Two miles further east, and half a mile from Menasha, is a group of eight mounds about four feet high, and from forty to fifty feet in diameter. They are on the southeast quarter of section fourteen, township twenty, range seventeen, not far from the shore of Lake Winnebago. This ground has been selected for a cemetery by the present inhabitants, who do not scruple to dig up the Indian skeletons to make room for the bodies of a more civilized race.

The ground here, as in numerous other places, exhibits marks of former culture in rows or beds, very different from that of the modern Indians. These are covered with a dense forest of young and thrifty trees, the largest not more, perhaps, than one hundred and fifty years old; so that the whole have grown up since the time of Marquette, or within one hundred and eighty years.

In the village of Menasha is an elongated mound, quite high at the end towards the river, and terminating at a point at the other. A similar one exists on Doty’s island,1 forming a sort of counterpart to the first. They are not exactly opposite, but are both directed towards the river.
1 The residence of Hon. James D. Doty, M. C.

The eastern extremity of Doty’s island has long been occupied by Indians, as is evinced by the regular cornhills covering nearly the whole surface, as well as by a new feature, not before observed, or supposed to be within the pale of Indian customs. The ground was originally covered with loose stones, fragments of the solid limestone rock that exists everywhere not far beneath the surface. These stones had been carefully collected into little heaps and ridges, to make room for the culture of the native crops. The stone heaps are six or eight feet in diameter, and from one to two feet in height. The interstices are now filled with soil, and partially covered with grass and weeds.

The country about Lake Winnebago was first inhabited by the Kickapoo tribe; [page 62:] though it is stated that the Mascoutins (Gens des Prairies) were there at one time.1 The former were driven away by the wandering and warlike tribes of Sauks and Foxes, who very early united, and, penetrating to the west, first established themselves here. They were in turn compelled to move further west by the Chippewas, aided by the French.2 How long the Chippewas maintained possession is not known. In 1766, Carver found on Doty’s island, “a great town of the Winnebagoes;”3 and more recently this region has been occupied by the Menomonees.
1 Drake’s Life of Black Hawk, p. 16.
2 Supposed to have been in 1706.
3 Carver’s Travels, &c., N. Y. ed. 1838, p. 41.

Which of these tribes, if either, performed the labor of gathering up the stones, it would be difficult to decide; nor are we able to say whether the heaps are of the same age as the mounds or of later origin.

From Menasha we went in a sail-boat across the north end of Lake Winnebago, to examine and survey the mounds on the top of a high limestone cliff or ledge.

On the northwest quarter of section thirty-six is a small clearing on the bank of the lake, not far from the foot of the bluff; in which were traces of three long mounds; and in the adjacent forest are three small embankments, extending across a small ridge from the bank of the lake to a valley back of it. We had much difficulty in climbing the ledge, which has quite a formidable aspect, and is probably two hundred feet high above the water; the last forty or fifty being perpendicular, or nearly so. From the top commences an almost level plateau, extending towards the east; and here we were fully paid for our labor, by the magnificent view of the lake and surrounding country. Those who have examined the banks of the Niagara below the great falls, or the mountain ridge as is seen in western New York and Canada, will have a correct idea of this ledge of limestone; and being composed of a rock of the same geological age, the resemblance is not to be wondered at.

Passing along the ridge, we came upon the series of ancient works represented upon Plate XLI, No. 1,1 extending for some distance near the edge of the rocky escarpment. It will be observed that they are of the same forms as those heretofore described further south and southwest, and, with one or two exceptions, are arranged with the heads towards the south.
1 On this plate the figures are brought nearer together than the scale requires; but the distances thus encroached upon are given on the plate.

The fact that the first figure is placed transversely, preceded by two mounds or advanced posts, may have a particular significance; but, if so, its meaning is now lost. The cross, near the centre of the group, is usually called “the man” by the few persons who have seen this locality; but it wants the legs and the contraption for the neck, seen in the mounds of human form at the West.

These are the most northern of any animal-shaped mounds in the eastern part of Wisconsin. They terminate near the south line of section thirty-six, township twenty, range eighteen.

Although tormented by mosquitos, and oppressed by the close, hot, and damp atmosphere of the dense forest, we followed the ledge five miles to another series of similar remains, represented on the same plate, No. 2. [page 63:]

They are situated on the extremity of a ridge, at a place where the main ledge is further back from the lake, and is much less steep.

Here was found a turtle-mound, but differing from the usual form in several particulars, as will be seen by the figure.

The land along the east shore of Lake Winnebago is among the finest in the State. The growth of trees and shrubs is so dense that it is difficult to penetrate it without the aid of an axeman. It is just such land as would be selected by an agricultural people.

These are, doubtless, the structures alluded to by Mr. R. C. Taylor, from information communicated to him by Dr. Lyman Foote, of the United States Army.1
1 Silliman’s Journal, XXXIV, 95.

There are mounds of ordinary circular form in the vicinity of the southern extremity of Lake Winnebago; some of them have been opened and found to contain human bones.

We have heard of others of imitative forms on the west side of the lake, between Oshkosh and Fond du Lac, which we did not visit, nor could we obtain very definite information in regard to them.

Just before the Neenah enters Lake Winnebago, it expands into a broad sheet of water called the Great Butte des Morts lake. Near the head of this lake is the mound from which its name is derived, on the north or left bank of the river. This is the site of the conflict between the Chippewas and French against the Sauk and Fox bands;1 but I can find no authority for the popular belief that the tumulus was raised at that time as a covering for the bodies of the slain.
1 Pike’s Expedition, Appendix to Part I, p. 45.

Near this Butte the Wolf branch of the Neenah enters, being properly the main stream. Col. Charles. Whittlesey, of the United States Geological Corps, explored this stream, and he informs me that he found no remains of ancient works on its banks.

At the Falls of the Waupacca (a tributary of the Wolf) mounds are said to exist, and also at some other localities in the vicinity.

Near a small stream, called Eight-mile creek, in the town of Utica, on the land of Mr. E. B. Fiske (northwest quarter of section fourteen, township seventeen, range fifteen), is a mound called the Spread Eagle (see Plate XLI, No. 3). It is of small dimensions, the whole length being only forty-six feet.

There are two oblong embankments in the vicinity; and the house is built upon another called the Alligator, but its form could not be distinctly traced at the time of our visit.

There is a group of conical tumuli, forming an irregular row, half a mile below Ceresco (section seventeen, township sixteen, range fourteen), and others of a similar character formerly existed at and near the village.

At several points along the Neenah, between the Portage at Fort Winnebago and the Butte des Morts, are localities of mounds.

Mr. R. C. Taylor informs us that “on the shores of Buffalo and Apuchwa lakes, wherever the land is dry and sufficiently elevated, one may observe, even from the [page 64:] water, a vast number of tumuli. Upon the summit of some of these may, from time to time be recognized the modern crave of some Winnebago or Menomonee chief:, strongly protected by pickets. The margins of the Neenah river are remarkable for numerous Indian remains of this description. Colonel Petitval, of the United States Topographical Department, who was engaged during the summer of 1837 in a survey of this river, had the kindness, at my request, to give some attention to these mounds. He describes an immense assemblage of them at a point on the river called the Red Bank, extending far into the interior, both north and south, for an undetermined distance. Twelve of them at this place were opened under his direction, and among them was an animal mound one hundred and fifty feet long. All contained human bones in a very decomposed state.”1
1 Silliman’s Journal, XXXIV, 95.

The mounds examined by me along the Apuchwa and Buffalo lakes, were entirely of the conical form, or burial-mounds. They were observed at the villages of Marquette, Montello, Roxo, and Packwaukee; the same places that formerly were the seats of aboriginal population being now selected as the sites of embryo towns and villages by men of a different race.

There is a fine group on section twelve, township fourteen, range ten, occupying prairie ground near a branch of Grand river. Further up this river (on section eleven, township fourteen, range eleven) is a collection of about one hundred mounds, mostly of the same form. Only one was sufficiently perfect to admit of being surveyed and delineated. It is called the “Man,” and is remarkable for the unequal length of the arms. (Fig. 26.) It had been opened before our visit. The The Man, near Mt. Moriah.head points to the south, and towards a high hill called Mount Moriah. The soil is sandy, and the mounds do not, therefore, preserve their original shape as distinctly as in other localities. The round mounds are worn down and spread out, so as to form [page 65:] a very flat cone. In one was found the skeleton of a man, with fragments of pottery, &c.

There are also a few mounds near Lake Maria, at the source of Grand river (sections twenty-five and thirty-six, township fourteen, range twelve).

The Neenah river is in some places bordered by a high sandy bank, frequently higher near the water than further back. Along the margin of this bank, small indistinct mounds are of frequent occurrence, placed as if intended to guard or watch the passage of the river. They are often of a subtriangular form, the shortest side and highest point being towards the river. They are unusually small, and have but little elevation.

At a place known as Moundville, are some structures quite perfect in their shape and outline. They are in the oak-openings, on the west side of the river, in township fourteen, range nine; and consist of several raccoons and bears, with oblong and round mounds, and one animal form (Fig. 27), whose genus and species could not well be made out.
At Moundville. Forty feet to an inch.

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Lapham, Increase Allen, 1811-1875.   The antiquities of Wisconsin.   Washington : Smithsonian Institution, 1855.   p. 60-65.
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