The Moundbuilders

When I began this blog my focus was on telling the stories of the communities and people that settled in this beautiful county, raised families and built communities. Milton was the first that I chose to write about, but some issues caused me to put this aspect of my overall vision for the blog on the back burner. I do intend to get back to telling the stores of who we were and how the communities began; some grew, some didn’t. But within each community there are amazing stories of men, women, bravery, hardship and joy to be told.

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It came to me that in order to tell our story in the most accurate way I must go back to the beginning. To a time before trappers began coming to the area and before the Native Americans that now live in what became Wisconsin, and tell the story of The Mound Builders. This group of Ancient Americans were here before the Native American cultures we know today. They lived in and around the southern part of the state, migrating with the seasons and the available food supplies. One of the most interesting things about this group of people is that they constructed earthen mounds that were a part of their spiritual and daily lives, perhaps they were even a form of communication between the various clans somehow.

There are several questions that come to mind about the mound builders. Who were they and how did they live? What about the mounds, what were they for? What happened to them?

So who were the Mound Builders

The Mound Builders lived in and around the midwest, including Wisconsin from about 7000B.C to 1700 A.D. This vast period of time breaks down into three groups defined by how they lived. These periods are:

  • The Archaic Period – 7000 to 1000 B.C. The people of this period were mostly nomadic hunter gatherers, living in semi permanent villages that followed seasonal food sources. The mounds constructed near the end of this period were dome shaped and used for burial purposes.
  • The Woodland Period – 500B.C. to 1300 A.D. This period saw a lot of change. Some of the clans settled into permanent villages and began farming. The bow/arrow and pottery had been introduced and the mounds began to take on animal shapes.
  • Mississippian Period – 1000 to 1700 A.D. The biggest change in this time period is the introduction of pyramid style mounds from a culture outside Wisconsin. The villages were more organized. They had a type of hierarchy within the community.

Artifacts like arrowheads and pottery have been found that place Mound Building cultures in South Central Wisconsin to the late Woodland and Mississippian periods. They were a people in transition.

The earliest settlers of this area appear to have been a melting pot of several races and cultures migrating to this area from different parts of the American Continent. These people are considered pre Columbian because they were here long before Columbus, the Spanish or any other people that found their way here. Some may have come up from South America through Mexico and South from what would be Canada.

Two different types of mound builders found their way to the Great Lakes area and South Central Wisconsin. The first group consisted of family clans that were mostly nomadic, hunter gatherers. They made their camps near a water source and followed the seasonal migration of animals and available food. These people are the main focus of this blog.

The second group was the pyramid mound builders of the Mississippian period. While this group is interesting their culture was more formal and advanced in that they built walled communities and had a governmental and spiritual leadership hierarchy. The Mississippians also did not construct dome or effigy mounds like the ancient people of this area.

In Wisconsin, the mound builders lived from about Green Bay across to the Mississippi and down. They lived near lakes and rivers in semi permanent camps that followed seasonal food sources. Several changes in the way the mound builder lived began at the end of the Archaic Period through the Woodland Period that altered their lives, and perhaps brought on their disappearance. During this time interactions between the mound builders and tribes moving west to get away from the white people coming from Europe encouraged trade. Two big things that were gained was the use of the bow & arrow and stronger pottery. Having these two tools made a big difference in the way they lived. With easier hunting and better food storage now possible less seasonal migration was necessary and some clans settled into more permanent villages and began farming vegetables such as squash, goosefoot (Lambs Quarters) and sunflowers. Lake Koshkonong had an abundance of wild rice which drew many birds and with deer and other small game this was a wonderful place to settle. The practice of mound building could very well have been something gained during trade between other native clans such as the Hopewell or other people from across North America.

Their homes were dome shaped, covered with bark and thatch. They had a small opening giving access into and out of the structure and also had openings at the top for ventilation that could be closed when not in use.

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This picture was taken at the Hoard Museum in Fort Atkinson

What about the mounds, what were they for

Near the end of the Archaic period something changed in the way the Ancient Americans lived. They began to construct and bury their dead in mounds that can be found across central and southern Wisconsin. The building of mounds was a very labor intensive task. All work was done manually one basket of dirt at a time. Conical mounds were the first type built. They varied in size from a relatively small, holding one or two deceased members of a clan to mounds that were in use over long periods of time and may have held generations of deceased clan members.

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At one point in time the area around Lake Koshkonong had about 13 groups with a total of about 500 mounds around it. Unfortunately with the coming of Europeans many went under the plow or were taken apart by weekend treasure hunters. Chances are that not much was found in the treasure hunts, as the mound builders did not often bury their clan members with personal items. The mounds that are left around the lake, if they still exist, are on private land and should not be approached without permission.

Near the end of the Woodland period that something changed again within the culture of the ancients and the mound builders began constructing effigy mounds. Several animal shapes have been found such as birds, turtles, bears, panthers and even human figures. These mounds were built in harmony with their surroundings. Some mounds seem to be placed where they conform to the land the best. They also appear to depict the spiritual beliefs system of the Ancient Americans. Near the higher elevations of an area bird mounds were constructed representing the upper world. The middle elevations are where bear, panther, deer and human shapes are found representing the middle world at the lower elevations, usually near water turtles and other types of water creatures can be found.

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Even though there is a great deal of time between the construction of conical and effigy mounds, they can usually be found near each other. Which makes one think that these locations had significant importance and were visited frequently for ceremonial purposes.

When the mounds began to be identified there were several ideas floating around about who might have constructed them. Stories of a lost race were spread. Some even speculated that it was the Ancient Romans, Greeks or even the Aztecs. Nobody wanted to believe that it was Native Americans. Their culture was so different from anything that the Europeans knew that they couldn’t believe any Native American was capable of constructing the mounds.

It was Increase Lapham that made the connection between the mounds and the Ancient Americans. Lapham was born in Palmyra N.Y. in 1811. He went to work at the age of 13 and worked his way from a laborer to become an engineer. At the age of 25 in 1836 Lapham moved to Wisconsin and in time became Wisconsin’s first scientist. He wrote about 80 books and pamphlets on subjects covering the flora and fauna of Wisconsin. His book “The Antiquities of Wisconsin” was a study of Wisconsin’s Indian Mounds.

Any idea of what the mounds purposes could have been beyond being a burial sight is  speculation. It is thought that because mounds were built in groups that seemed to have specific placements, it’s possible that they served as ceremonial places or seasonal meeting areas for clans to meet and practice their spiritual beliefs. Some evidence has been found to indicate this is the case.

In my research I found a terrific website by Andrew Khitsun which documents the mound sites here in Wisconsin. You can find that link here.

In the Rock County area there are a couple of different mounds sites. Between Milton and Fort Atkinson is the Jefferson County Indian Mounds and Train Park. Within the small park eleven mounds can be seen, both conical and effigy. There were originally as many as 72 in this group that was spread out over a mile. Whitewater has a site at 288 S. Indian Mound Parkway  that is a little unusual because there is no water source of water nearby. There may have been when this group was constructed and the lake or creek dried up.

Fort Atkinson has a very rare mound, as a matter of fact it is thought to be the only remaining one like in the country. It is a Panther Intaglio. A Intaglio is a reverse effigy. Instead of building a mound up, it is dug out, like a pit. It can be found along the Rock River.

What happened to the mound builders?

This is one of those nobody really knows for sure questions. The transition from the Late Woodland to the Mississippian period brought more trade and more change. The coming of Pyramid Mound builders up from the south introduced corn and beans to the local peoples as well as a way of life that was totally different from what they knew.

The pyramid mound builders are thought to be outposts of the Cahokia people from western Illinois near St. Louis. This culture, like the mound builders of this area, had no written language so it is not known what they called themselves. At it’s peak the community was as large as six square miles and was home to as many as 20,000 people with more living outside the city. They were a melting pot of races living peacefully from various areas of the south. The Cahokia people had a well established system of government and their community was enclosed as was the community that settled on Crawfish River at what is now Aztalan near Lake Mills.

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Aztalan was only inhabited for a period of about 300 years. The city was then abandoned for reasons unknown. It could be that they were driven off by mound builders native to the area, but the question remains. What happened to our mound builders? They also mysteriously disappeared.

There are a few different scenarios to consider. The first is that the two cultures merged over time and became one group. Around 1200 ad there was a cooling off period in the weather. This would have made it difficult to raise crops so perhaps they moved out of the area. A final possibility is that the mound builders were driven off by more aggressive native Americans moving west.

Perhaps the Ancient Americans were the ancestors of the Native peoples of Wisconsin, like the Chippewa, Winnebago and the Sauk. Whatever happened to them, the ancient Americans left us a legacy of their culture in the landscape we call Rock County.

 

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Back to the Beginning

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I stopped by to tell you guys that I appreciate you all so much and I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. As you know I haven’t posted in some time. I do intend to get back to something similar to a regular schedule soon, but it will most likely be a monthly post not a weekly one. My Rock County Park posts are on hold till Spring. I have another cool and interesting Rock County History thing lined up to begin in the spring as well and  there is a post in the works that I am hoping to have completed soon.

When I began this blog it was with the intent to speak to the history of the County and how it’s towns and villages began and grew from what some would consider a wilderness to what we are now. I hit a bit of a research snag and that portion of my project was put on the back burner for a bit. I do have every intent to get back to that aspect of my project, but the snag was actually a good thing.

What I first thought was a roadblock was actually a detour that led me back to the beginning. I recognized that although white people didn’t begin coming into this area until the late 1700’s, there were people already here before the trappers began to arrive! And, this is where Rock County’s story must begin.  I have been researching these Native Americans and they are an interesting group of people with a story that should be told and I hope to have this post ready for you soon.

Have a Wonderful Holiday ❤ Sharon

Our County Parks

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Gibbs Lake

My goal of visiting and blogging about Rock Counties Parks continues this week with another park I had never been to, Gibbs Lake Park. Our largest at approximately 299 acres, it is located in the northwestern area of the county and is an easy drive from Janesville. Take Hwy 14 west about seven miles, turn right onto Eagle Road and follow that for about three miles, then turn left onto Gibbs Lake Road. The entrance to the park is on the left about ½ mile down. This park is not what I expected but I was not disappointed either.

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Within the boundary of the park there are forested areas, prairie, and swamp land. Then, there is of course, the beautiful Gibbs Lake and Little Gibbs Lake. Originally called Big Spring and Little Spring Lake, they are connected by the now aptly named Gibbs Creek which after leaving Gibbs lake crosses the road and continues on toward the Yahara River. Access to Little Gibbs Lake is difficult as it is separated from the rest of the park by an elderberry swamp so unfortunately I can’t tell you about it.

The parking lot is a good size making it easy for vehicles with boat trailers to maneuver their way to the launch at the end of the lot. At the time I visited this was in frequent use with five craft on the water. The lake covers about 73 acres and is a good spot for small watercraft. Gibbs Lake is about 23 ft. at its deepest.

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There are boat launch fees in effect from April 15 to the end of October of $6.00 for residents and $8.00 for non-residents. Fees can be paid either on a per day basis or seasonally. Envelopes are available for payment on site. When paid, the fee includes access to The Happy Hollow, Royce Dallman and Gibbs lake.

Fishing is allowed on the lake. I asked a gentleman in the process of launching his boat what he catches and was told mostly bluegill, he did say that he thought there were bass and northern in the lake but he has never caught anything like that.

Gibbs Lake also offers land related enjoyment. There are multi use trails for horseback riding, hiking, and cross-country skiing in the winter. The park is relatively flat. With no steep hills hiking difficulty is low, making it very pleasant. The trails are open from dawn to dusk but for safety reasons not after dark. Equestrian trails are not open in the winter.

I found the trails to be a nice width making it easy to hike two abreast and have a conversation at the same time. My son and I set out along a trail that led from the picnic area and after a short walk we found that it opened up onto another picnic area. A map in the brochure indicates a swimming area, I think this was it but there was no beach. It was still a lovely spot with a picnic table available. We continued on with our hike, following a trail that we thought was going to loop around and take us back to the main picnic area. To our surprise, we found ourselves at the equestrian lot which is about one quarter of a mile to the east of the main entrance. This was a happy accident as I did want to check the lot out.

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The lot has plenty of room for both animals and trailers. There was also a lovely covered picnic area. Riders are asked to clean up after their horses in the lot area and keep in mind that they are not allowed in the lake, the picnic, or boat launch area. Hikers are asked to yield to those on horseback for everyone’s enjoyment and safety.

Rather than take our chances on getting turned around on the trail again we walked the road back to the main lot. It is my opinion that the trails could be a bit more clearly identified but overall they were nice and it was a lovely hike. The trails are well kept and there is a variety of trees and wild flowers to enjoy as you ride or hike. The mosquitoes on the other hand were out in full force. We used repellent before we left the parking area and still had them following us in a swarms. So be prepared!

The parks amenities include a nice shaded picnic area with grills, restrooms with pit toilets, and trash bins. There is also a water pump but it was not working when we were there. It may have just needed to be primed. As with all our county parks, no entrance fees are charged and the park is open from dawn to dusk. As I said earlier Gibbs Lake is not what I expected, but I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon, and look forward to visiting this park again!

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Rotary Botanical Gardens

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Today’s post is not one of our County Parks and it’s so much more than just a park. It is, like so many others, one I had never been to and I must admit that the Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville is a fantastic place to spend an afternoon. It’s filled with one stunning internationally themed garden after another. So much love and care goes into maintaining the grounds. It takes your breath away when you step out of the reception building and look around.

The gardens are located on Palmer Drive just south of the golf course. Parking is free. The lot is a very generous size and admission to the gardens is a reasonable $7.00 for adults over the age of 16 with seniors paying $6.00, children 6 to 15 as well as veterans $5.00, and under 6 is free. After paying, visitors are given a paper wristband to wear that indicates admission has been paid but also gives visitors access to the park throughout the day. If for some reason you must leave the park then wish come back that same day, it isn’t required to pay again as long as you have your wristband on! How cool is that?!  From May through August the Botanical Gardens are open from 8:30am to 8pm. Much of the park is wheelchair accessible making it a lovely outing for the whole family.

There are special events going on at the gardens throughout the year. Coming up on August 30 is a seminar on ornamental grasses. The gardens are available to rent for special events. I am told the Christmas Light Show is quite a spectacular sight. I will definitely check it out this December! You can find out more about upcoming events on their website they also have a Facebook page.

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The idea for what would become such a magnificent refuge from the outside world began with a retired Orthodontist named Dr. Robert Yahr in 1988. His dream was to create an internationally themed garden the community could enjoy. He contacted the two rotary clubs in Janesville at the time to see if they would be interested in joining together for the project. They did and in 1989 this absolutely stunning 20 acre complex of 25 themed gardens is the result.

My son and I were at the Botanical Gardens for about two hours and were not able to see all the gardens, so plan on making it a day. You won’t be sorry.

I will leave you with a slide show of the gardens we visited.

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Our County Parks

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Today’s County Park is not in Rock County (gasp!) but it relates to Lake Koshkonong, and it fits the overall story I am working on. A short distance into Jefferson County is Lake Koshkonong Effigy Mounds Park. It can be a little complicated to get to, but it’s worth the trip.

The parking area accommodates only two or three cars, but in all the times I have been there, I have rarely found anyone else visiting that didn’t walk from a nearby home. There are no amenities like wash rooms, picnic tables, or playground equipment but there are very nice benches scattered along the trail through the park.

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This map is from the brochure provided by the Hoard Historical Museum.
407 Merchant Ave. Fort Atkinson, WI. 53538

This park covers approximately five acres and contains 11 effigy mounds built by Native Americans that predate the Ho-Chunk Nation. There were 72 mounds within an area of about a mile, but with the coming of Europeans and farming, a vast majority were eliminated — making these remaining mounds very precious.

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Nobody really knows why the mounds were constructed in animal shapes, which can only be identified from the air, but it’s widely believed that the purpose was ceremonial. There is the remnant of a trail through the park that is thought to be one the Native Americans traveled during their seasonal migration through the area. These mounds are considered sacred by the Ho-Chunk People, so please be respectful and do not walk on them.

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I found a little bit of conflicting information between the plaque at the entrance of the park, and a brochure I picked up at the beginning of the trail. The plaque indicates that the mounds were thought to have been built between the years of 650-1200 AD. The brochure says that this happened between 300-1642 AD. I thought that the 1642 date seemed late; by this time white men were beginning to come into this area, and I thought the mound builders were a much older culture. After contacting the Hoard Historical Museum, the creator of the brochure, the earlier 650 to 1200 time frame is more correct.

Walking the trail through the park feels wonderful. I love spending time there because the energy of it is so peaceful. As you walk around the various mounds its hard not to imagine what the people who lived in the area, and built these amazing mounds, must have been like. I find it is a great place to meditate. I would recommend taking some time and visiting this park. Also, bring some kind of bug defense, as the park backs up to a thick patch of trees, and is heavily wooded itself.

For more information about this Jefferson County Park you can contact follow this link.

Have a great day!

Our County Parks

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There isn’t really a great deal to be said about next stop on my mission to visit each of Rock Counties Parks. I have been to this one several times. This weeks park, Indianford County Park, can be found just east of Fulton and South of Edgerton. Indianford is a small unincorporated community that straddles the Rock River. The park is also small, just a bit over 2 acres, and is split between the east and west banks of the Rock River.

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Each side of the river has some amenities like picnic tables, porta-potties and trash bins. The west side park also has a water pump and I believe I saw a grill. Parking is limited on each side of the river. Parking on the east bank is shared with businesses. There are three restaurant/bars, that when open create competition for parking space.

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Although small, the parks are fairly well-kept. The east bank is higher, it’s bank is steep with many large rocks along the edge that are overgrown with weeds. This makes access to the water a little complicated. Years ago I would bring my young son to this park because he enjoyed climbing on the rocks and playing in the shallow water on this side of the river. The east side also gets more sun as there are fewer trees. The west bank park is nicely shaded and has a low access to the water making canoe and kayak entry to the water possible.

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The highlight of this park is the river and it’s dam. The first dam was built of wood in 1846. This turned what was a shallow stream with a gravel base and large rocks into a river and raised the water level in the lake upstream by three to four feet.

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Someone caught a bike!

When I was there several people were fishing from the banks on both sides of the river. You can catch Walleye, Muskellunge, Large and Small Mouth Bass as well as Northern Pike. The east side park has a sign posted listing size and catch limit regulations. Alcohol is not allowed in the park and dogs are allowed only in posted areas. The park is open from 5am to 10pm.

Have a great day!

Our County Parks

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Royce Dallman Park is the next on the list of County Parks that I visited. You can find this park at Charley Bluff, off Cnty. N straight out Charley Bluff Road. While it is not the smallest of Rock County Parks, at just 2.3 acres, it is more a launching site for small boats onto Lake Koshkonong than it is a park. It does have some nice amenities. There is a picnic pavilion with a couple of tables, rest rooms with pit toilets, a water pump, one grill that is quite a ways past the rest rooms a water pump and there are trash bins. When I was visiting the park the rest rooms were fairly clean but had no toilet tissue, so it might be a good idea to bring some along, just to be on the safe side.

This park is named for Royce Dallman who lived and worked in the county as a DNR Game Warden from 1940 to 1964.

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The park is a long loop with one road into the park and the opposite side of the loop heading out. There is ample parking for vehicles hauling boat trailers but no real designated area for cars. Your best bet is to park up by the wash rooms or off to the side of the lot on the exit portion of the loop. The restrooms are at the end of the parking lot. You can almost see them.

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The boat launch has a little bit of a curve to it but the boaters seemed to not have an issue with it. There is a boat launch fee and envelopes provided to pay with a secure drop point for the envelope. Fishing is allowed on the lake with Muskellunge, Walleye, Sauger, Large and Small Mouth Bass in the lake. A sign is posted with size and catch limits.

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There is a map of the lake near the boat launch that shows the locations of the most shallow areas of the lake and something that I though was pretty impressive. There is a life preserver station that gives people the opportunity to borrow life preservers for children that do not have one. Then, when you are done boating you simply return it to the bin.

What the park lacks in playground equipment and space for games it more than makes up for and shines in the area of water sports. The lake is a natural shallow reservoir approximately half way between Fort Atkinson and Indian Ford. It’s average depth ranges from six to seven feet. There was a time when it was the second largest inland lake in the state but has dropped to the eighth largest. That still makes it a good size lake at about 10500 acres! There is so much more that I could tell you about this jewel in our county, but I don’t want to give away too much information about the lake, as I am planning a future blog about it, so I will stop here with two views of the beautiful Lake Koshkonong!