IN the arrangement of my subject, I prefer to make use of the natural features of the State, rather than the political divisions into counties. At almost every annual session of the legislature, the boundaries of old counties are changed, and new ones are established from time to time with the progress of settlement and improvement; while the natural features, the great valleys or basins and their dividing ridges, always remain the same. It is also found that this is a more natural division of the ancient works; for they lie mostly along the valleys of streams, or on the borders of the small clear crystal lakes with which the State abounds. I have also indicated localities by reference to the numbers of the sections, townships, and ranges, as adopted in the government surveys of the public lands, rather than to the names of the towns.
It has been a leading object to ascertain whether any order or system can be detected in the arrangement of the several works. With this view, the exact relative situation of groups of mounds has been carefully observed and delineated; and for the purpose of determining whether there existed any general system of arrangement extending over large districts, the accompanying map (Plate I.) has been constructed, showing the relative position of all the works of which the precise location has been ascertained. This map has been carefully reduced from the public surveys, and exhibits the general features of the State with sufficient minuteness for the purpose intended.
The first narrative in which any notice of the existence of ancient works in this State was made public, is that of Major Longs Expedition in 1823; from which the description of those at and near Prairie du Chien is copied in the following pages. The next is that of the late R. C. Taylor, in Sillimans Journal, for 1838, Vol. XXXIV. Dr. John Locke made accurate measurements of several works between the Four Lakes and the Blue Mounds, published in his report on the geology of the Lead Mine District. But the most extended essay is that of Mr. S. Taylor, relating chiefly to the ancient works at and near Muscoda, on the Wisconsin River. The results of these several papers are embodied by Messrs. Squier and Davis in their Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, constituting the first volume of the Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge.
As the district embraced in these researches has but recently been brought into notice, a short account of its general physical features will not be out of place here, and will aid in understanding the descriptions which follow. [page 2:]
The State of Wisconsin lies between the parallels of 42° 30 and 47° north latitude, and between 87° and 93° of longitude west from Greenwich; or it extends from the State of Illinois on the south to Lake Superior on the north, and from Lake Michigan on the east to the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers on the west. Its area is about 55,000 square miles. About three-fifths of the State lie in the basin of the Mississippi; and the remainder is drained by the streams tributary to the waters of the Great Lakes Superior and Michigan. The former portion is naturally divided into five great valleys, occupied by as many principal streams the St. Croix, Chippewa, Black, Wisconsin, and Rock rivers. The latter may be divided into three parts that drained directly into Lake Michigan, the basin of Green Bay and its tributaries, and that which is drained into Lake Superior.
These several hydrographical basins indicate also the general topography of the State. The dividing grounds between the basins attain usually but a slight elevation above the surrounding country; so that it frequently happens that a lake or marsh is drained in two opposite directions, and the water sent towards the ocean at widely different points. These water-sheds, or divides, as they are called, attain their greatest elevation about the sources of the Montreal River; where there is found a continuation into Wisconsin of the Porcupine Mountains of the Lake Superior Mining District. At one point near this place, the ridge is about 1,150 feet above Lake Michigan;1 while at the western boundary of the State it is diminished to about 500 feet. The region around the source of the Wisconsin River is a grand summit, from which the rivers flow in every direction like the radii of a circle. They run into the Mississippi River, Lake Superior, and Green Bay.
The surface of Wisconsin may be characterized as nearly level, or gently rolling, except along the banks of the Mississippi, and the lower portions of some of its principal tributaries, where it is more broken, and where steep rocky cliffs and precipitous hills abound. There are also prominent peaks in this region, which tower above the general surface, so as to form conspicuous objects in the landscape; of these the Blue Mounds are the most elevated, being 1,224 feet above Lake Michigan.
There is a ridge of broken land running from near the peninsula between Lake Michigan and Green Bay, in a southwesterly direction, through the western parts of Manitowoc, Sheboygan, Washington, and Waukesha counties, and thence into Walworth and Rock counties. It is from three to five hundred feet in height, with an occasional peak of even eight hundred feet above Lake Michigan, and consists of irregular elevations and depressions throughout its whole course. At places the depressions are more regular, and from their round form are called potash kettles. They are doubtless owing to the decay and gradual washing away of the soft and easily decomposed limestone by which the ridge is probably underlaid.
Another prominent feature in the topography of Eastern Wisconsin, is the cliff or escarpment of limestone resembling the mountain ridge of Western New [page 3:] York, extending along the eastern shore of Green Bay, and thence, in the same general direction, through Brown, Calumet, Fond-du-Lac, and the eastern part of Dodge counties. It constitutes the cliffs along the east side of Lake Winnebago; and interrupts the flow of the rivers west of it in their course towards Lake Michigan, turning them northward into Green Bay. From its crest another system of rivers originates, which, running in the same general direction, flow into Lake Michigan. Immediately west of this bold escarpment commences a remarkable series of ridges, probably caused by drift agencies (whatever they may have been), and of which some notice will be found in the following pages.1
The moderate elevations, and the gentle declivities of the several valleys, cause the waters to flow in slow and uniform currents, and to assume, in very numerous instances, the form of lakes of greater or less extent. It is precisely such localities that afford the greatest facilities for Indian population. During the hunting season, the wild man roams over the vast forests and prairies; but his village is always established near some lake or gently flowing river, abounding in fish and wild rice, and affording him a subsistence, either directly or indirectly, by enticing within his reach innumerable animals that seek their food at the same place.
|Lapham, Increase Allen, 1811-1875. The antiquities of Wisconsin. Washington : Smithsonian Institution, 1855. p. 1-3.