Chapter 1 - Richland County Antiquities.


    Before the white man, the Indian, before the Indian---who? The archaeology of any county forms one of its most interesting chapters. Who the ancient dwellers were, what they did, what lives they led, are now all questions of conjecture. Their history appears only in their monuments, as silent as the race the fact of whose existence they perpetuate. The relics they left are the only key that we possess to their lives, and these give a history whose antiquity seems almost Adamic. The principal remains left consist of earthworks, mounds and parapets, filled with the rude implements of the people who built them, and with the bones of these lost portions of humanity. From their proclivities to build these earthworks, these people are known as "Mound Builders", the only name that now fits their peculiar style of life. The mounds erected by them are of all sizes and shapes, and range in height from three or four feet to sixty or seventy feet. In outline they are of equal magnitude, although none of great height were ever known to exist within the confines of Richland county. Those discovered are generally small in size and irregular in outline. They have in nearly all instances been much reduced in height, as the exigencies of modern life demand them for practical purposes.

    The more pretentious earthworks are very generally distributed from western New York, along the southern shore of Lake Erie, through Michigan, to Nebraska, thence north from this line to the southern shore of Lake Superior. From this line they extend south to the Gulf of Mexico. Mounds occur in great numbers in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida. They are found in less numbers in western New York, the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Michigan, Iowa, and portions of Mexico. In choosing this vast region, extending from the Alleghanies to the Rock Mountains, and from the great lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mound Builders took possession of the great system of plains, controlling the long inland watercourses of the continent. Along the broad levels drained by this cast river system, the remains of prehistoric man are found. Archaeologists have no difficulty in locating the places which were most densely populated, by irregular distribution of the works. It is interesting to note that in the selection of these sites for these earthworks the Mound Builders were influenced by the same motives, apparently, which governed their European successors. It is a well established fact that nearly every town of importance in the valleys of the Ohio and Mississippi and their tributaries is located on the ruins left by this ancient people. The sites selected by the Mound Builders for their most pretentious works were on the river terraces, or bottoms, no doubt because of the natural highways thus rendered available, besides the opportunities for fishing and the cultivation of the warm, quick soil, easily tilled.

    The earth mounds are classified as sepulchral, sacrificial - temple or truncated- symbolic or animal- also known as emblematic- and defensive or mounds of observation. The first named, sepulchral, are the most common. Emblematic or symbolic animals are known to have existed in this country, but nearly all traces of them have been obliterated by that leveler of savage country, the plow. Sepulchral mounds were devoted to the purpose of burial and were generally pyramidal in form and usually contained layers of clay, ashes, charcoal, various soils and one or more skeletons, often very many. Sacrificial mounds are usually stratified, the strata being convex layers of clay and loam, the layers alternating above a layer of fine sand. They also contain ashes, igneous stones, charcoal, calcined animal bones, beads, implements of stone, pottery and rude sculpture. They also have altars of burned clay or stone, resting in the center of the mound upon the original earth, on which the people offered sacrifice, employing fire for the purpose. Mounds of observation- sometimes termed defensive- are found upon prominent elevations. They were, doubtless, alarm posts, watch-towers, signal stations, or outlooks. They commonly occur in chains or regular systems and still bear traces of the beacon fires that once burned upon them. In addition to the division of mounds already made, some add monumental or memorial mounds, not numerous, supposed to have been erected as memorials to the distinguished dead among the Mound Builders.

    Scarcely any of the few small mounds in Richland county have been properly opened. The examinations have rarely been systematic, and hence mush has been lost. Commonly the plow has been run over the mounds, regardless of the history a careful search would reveal, until almost all traces of their existence have been obliterated. This ruthless leveling of the mounds has been perpetrated, however, less to gratify the iconoclastic propensities of the plowmen, than their cupidity. They wanted the corn the mounds would produce. Running the plowshare through the mounds is not a very successful method of obtaining a knowledge of their contents.

    The high bluffs and the broad, level bottom lands along the Wisconsin river are in many places thickly dotted over with these monuments of a vanished race. In the neighborhood of Excelsior, Port Andrew, Richland City, and all along the Wisconsin river these mounds are quite numerous, and are of various shapes and sizes, but we have failed to find that any attempt has been made to elucidate their mystery by a careful research.

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

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

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

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

    Many other monuments of this long-vanished race are to be found throughout the county, but it would seem that no further effort has been made toward investigating them. It is a well-known fact that the Indians never prepared burial places for their dead like the mounds referred to; neither did they erect altars, where animals and human beings were immolated to secure the favor of the Great Spirit and afterward cover such altars with a mound of earth. These, and many other important considerations lead the majority of students of antiquity to the opinion that the Mound Builders were a distinct race of people, and that they inhabited a large portion of America long before the Red Men took possession.

    The implements made by the extinct race are also of interest to the student of archaeology. Very few utensils, made of copper, have been found in this part of Wisconsin, owing partly to the fact of the unexplored condition of many of the mounds, and to the additional fact that little, if any, copper exists in this part of the United States. What does exist is in loose fragments that have been washed down from the upper lake region. When mounds are explored, great care is necessary lest these small utensils be lost, as they are commonly scattered throughout the mass, and are not always in close proximity to the skeletons. The copper deposits about Lake Superior furnished the prehistoric man with this metal, and, judging from the number of relics, now found, which were made of this metal, it must have been quite abundant. The population then must also have been quite numerous, as occasionally copper implements, tempered to an exceeding hardness, are found about the country. These implements are small, generally less than half a pound in weight, and seldom exceeding three pounds. There were millions of these in use during the period of the ancient dwellers, which must have been thousands of years in duration. The copper implements left on the surface soon disappeared by decomposition, to which copper is nearly as subject as iron. Only a comparatively few of the Mound Builders were interred in burial mounds, and of these only a part were buried with their copper ornaments on or about them. Of those that were, only a small part have been discovered, and, in many instances, the slight layer of earth over them has not prevented the decay and disappearance of the copper relics. Articles of bronze or brass are not found with the remains of the Mound Builders, and it is evident that they knew nothing of these metals in the Mississippi valley, nor did they possess any of the copper that had been melted and cast in moulds.

    Stone relics, however, are very numerous and well preserved. Stone axes, stone mauls, stone hammers, stone chisels, etc., are still very plentiful, and were the common implements of the prehistoric man in this part of the West. None were made with holes or eyes for the insertion of a helve or handle. They were made more perfect by rubbing and polishing, probably done from time to time, after they were brought into use. A handle or helve, made of a with or split stick, was fastened in the groove by thongs of hide. The bit is narrower than the body of the ax, which is generally not well enough balanced to be of much value as a cutting instrument. It is very seldom the material is hard enough to cut green and sound timber. The poll is usually round, but sometimes flat, and, rarely, pointed. It is much better adapted to breaking than cutting, while the small one are better fitted for war clubs than tools. As a maul to break dry limbs they were very efficient, which was probably the use made of them. In weight they range from half a pound to sixteen pounds, but are generally less than three pounds. The very heavy ones must have been kept at the regular camps and villages, as they could not have been carried far, even in canoes. Such axes are occasionally found in the Indian towns on the frontier, as they were found in Wisconsin among the aborigines The Mound Builders apparently did not give them as much prominence among their implements as their savage successors. Double-headed hammers have the grooves in the middle. They were made of the same material as the axes, so balanced as to give a blow of equal force at either end. Their mechanical symmetry is often perfect. As a weapon of war, they were indeed formidable, for which purpose they are yet used in the wilds of the far West.

    Implements known as "fleshers" and "skinners", chisel-formed, commonly called "celts," were probably used as aids in peeling the skins of animals from the meat and bones. For the purpose of cutting tools for wood they were not sufficiently hard, and do not shoe such use, excepting a few flint chisels. They must have been applied a coal-scrapers where wood had been burned, but this could not have been the general use without destroying the perfect edge which most of them now exhibit. The grooved axes were much better adapted to this purpose. Fleshers and scrapers of various sizes and shapes are numerous in this county.

    Pestles to grind maize so as to fit it for cooking have been found in a variety of forms- some cylindrical, some bell-shaped and some cone-like. The materials are also various, consisting of green stone, syenite, quartz, etc., and sometimes sandstone. Most of the pestles are short, with a wide base tapering toward the top. They were probably used with one hand, and moved about in the mortar in a circle. The long, round instrument, usually called a pestle, does not appear to be fitted for crushing seeds and grain by pounding or turning in the mortar. It was probably used as a rolling pin, perhaps on a board or leveled log, but not upon stone. It is seldom found smooth or polished, and varies from seven to thirteen inches in length. In outline they taper toward each end, which is generally smooth and circular in form, as though it had been twirled in an upright position.

    Perforated plates, thread sizers, shuttles, etc., generally made of striped slate, are met with in an almost endless variety of forms, most of which have tapering holes through them flat-wise, the use of which has been much discussed. They are generally symmetrical, the material fine-grained, and their proportions graceful, as though their principal use was that of ornamentation. Many of them may well have been worn suspended as beads or ornaments. Some partake of the character of badges or insignias of authority. Others, if strung together on thongs, or belts, would serve as a coat of mail, protecting the breast or back against the arrows of an enemy. A number of them would serve to size and twist yarn or coarse thread made of bark, raw-hide, or sinew. The most common theory regarding their use is, however, lacking one important feature- none of them show signs of use by wearing, the edges of the holes through them being sharp and perfect. This abjection applies equally well to their use as suspended ornaments. Some of them are shuttle-form, through which coarse threads might have been passed for weaving rude cloth of bark or fibrous plants, such as milk-weed or thistles. There are also double-ended and jointed ones, with a coarse section, about the middle of which is a circle and through which is a perforation.

    Badges and wands, in a variety of forms, are frequently found. They are nearly all fabricated from striped and variegated slate, highly finished, very symmetrical and elegant in proportions, evidently designed to be ornamental. If they were stronger and heavier some of them would serve the purposes of hatches or battle-axes. The material is compact and fine grained, but the eyes, or holes for handles or staves are quite small, seldom half an inch in diameter. Their edges are not sharp, but rounded, and the body is thin, usually less than one-fourth of an inch in thickness. The form of badges known as "double-crescents" are the most elegant and elaborate of any yet brought to notice. They were probably used to indicate the highest rank or office. The single crescent perhaps signified a rank next below the double. In nearly or quite all the crescents the points turn outward. The finish around the bore of all winged badges and the crescents is the same- from two-fifths to three-fifths of an inch. On one side of all is a narrow ridge, on the other, a flat band, lengthwise, like a ridge that has been ground down to a width of one to two-tenths of an inch. Badges and crescents are invariably made of banded slate, generally of a greenish shade of color. The other forms of wands or badges, such as those with symmetrical wings or blades, are also made of green striped slate, highly polished, with a bore of about one-half an inch in diameter, apparently to insert a light wooden rod or staff. They were probably emblems of distinction and were not ornaments. Nothing like them is known among the modern tribes, in form or use, hence they are attributed to the Mound Builders. In addition to stone ornaments, the prehistoric man seems to have had a penchant, like his savage successors, to bedaub his body with various colors, derived from different minerals. These compounds were mixed in hollowed stones or diminutive mortars- "paint-cups"- in which the mineral mass of colored clay was reduced to powder and prepared for application to the body. Such paint cups are not common in this county; in fact, they are quite rare.

    A few pipes of special note have been found. The comparative rarity of aboriginal smoking pipes is easily explained by the fact that they were not discarded, as were weapons, when those by whom they were fashioned entered upon the iron age. The advance of the whites in no way lessened the demand for pipes, nor did the whites substitute a better implement. The pipes were retained and used until worn out or broken, save the few that were buried with their dead owners. What was the ultimate fate of these can only be conjectured. In very few instances does an Indian grave contain a pipe. If the practice of burying the pipe with its owner was common, it is probable that the graves were opened and robbed of this coveted article by members of the same or some other tribes.

    It only remains to notice the "flints", in addition to which a few other archaeological relics of minor importance are found about the country, but none of sufficient import to merit mention, or to throw additional light on the lost tribes of America. Arrow and spear-heads and other similar pieces of flaked flints are the most abundant of any aboriginal relics in the United States. Stone implements, such as have been heretofore mentioned, have been found in all parts of Richland county, but more frequently along the banks of Wisconsin and Pine rivers and other streams. "Indian arrows", on the contrary, are found everywhere, and there is not a boy living amid pastoral surroundings who does not treasure among his possessions a few of the flinty weapons. They are chiefly made of hard and brittle siliceous materials; are easily damaged in hitting any object at which they are aimed, hence many of them bear marks of violent use. Perfect specimens are, however, by no means rare. The art of arrow making survives to the present day among certain Indian tribes. A classification of arrow-heads is not within the scope of this work; indeed it is rarely attempted by archaeologists. The styles are almost as numerous as their makers. In general, they are all the same in outline, mostly leaf-shaped, varying according to the taste of those who construct them. They may have been chipped- probably most of them were- and some may have been ground. Spear-heads exhibit as large a variety as arrow-heads. Like arrow-heads, spear-heads were inserted in wooden handles of various lengths, though in many tribes they were fastened by thongs of untanned leather or sinews. Their modes of manufacture were generally the same. Sometimes tribes contained "arrow-makers," whose business it was to make those implements, selling them to or exchanging them with their neighbors for wampum or peltry. When the Indian desired an arrow-head, he could buy one of the "arrow-maker" or make one himself. The common method was to take a chipping implement, generally made of the pointed rods of a deer horn, from eight to sixteen inches in length, or of slender, short pieces of the same material, bound with sinews to wooden sticks, resembling arrow shafts: the "arrow-maker" held in his left hand the flake of flint or obsidian on which he intended to operate, and pressing the point of the tool against its edge, detached scale after scale until the flake assumed the desired form.

    The peculiar and distinctive features of these various relics of past ages may be of little interest to some readers, but the fact of their existence, and that they are the only remains of a race of human beings who passed away, possibly hundreds of years before the advent of the white man on the American continent, urges the effort to solve the mystery of the ancient people and their works. And from the great number and variety of stone implements found in Richland county, one would suppose this section was a favorite locality of that peculiar race, and that fact adds a local interest to what would otherwise be, perhaps, a dry subject. A nation doubtless arose and fell in the same region where now thrives an Anglo-Saxon civilization, and we, "who tread on the earth that lives over their brow", can obtain information concerning them only by a careful study of the implements and works they have left behind them. But the solution of the problem has baffled the skill, research and learning of the most noted scientists of two continents, since the existence of these "works of human hands" was first determined. True, we have theories, ably supported by argument, and these, in the absence of absolutely established facts, we must accept, weigh, adopt, or discard, and still remain in darkness as to the origin, mission and final destiny of the Mound Builders.

    Judging by the works that they have left- and that is in accord with scriptural suggestion- they were a powerful race of partly civilized and industrious people. The earth monuments only remain, these enclosing relics of rude art, together with the last lingering remains of mortality-the crumbling skeletons- which the curious investigators have disturbed in their resting places. But even these have yielded to scientific methods of examination some knowledge of the character and lives of the race. The twentieth century dawned in almost as great ignorance of the prehistoric race as did the nineteenth, yet in the ever restless spirit of modern investigation, efforts have been made to link the Mound Builders with some ancient and far distant race of civilized mankind.

    As early as 1772, Rev. David Jones publicly noted the existence of the mounds and advanced his views concerning them. In 1784, Arthur Lee wrote a treatise on the lost race and advanced some rather visionary ideas regarding it. Ephraim George Squier, of New York, also became greatly interested in archaeological matters, and in 1846, he and Dr. Edwin Hamilton Davis, of Ohio, joined in the preparation of a work which formerly stood at the head of the archaeological literature of North America. Recognizing the merit of this work, the Smithsonian Institution at Washington, D.C., assumed a protectorate over it, and in 1848 published the work of Squier and Davis, together with some plans and notes furnished by others, under the title of "Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley". This publication constituted the first systematic work with description and figures of the numerous remains of the Mound Builders. From that day to the present the Smithsonian Institution has continued to publish books and original papers relating to the subject. Stimulated by this additional recognition, and in view of the absorbing interest of the subject, many original investigators have published manuscripts and books at private expense, some of which are very elaborate and complete.

    It is a noticeable feature of all the early publications in this department of archaeology that they attach great antiquity to the Mound Builders. The variations in this regard are also very great. Some assume that thousands of years have elapsed since the building of these ancient relics, and all agree that they are very old. Eminent authorities are as widely at variance regarding their antiquity as they are concerning their origin and purpose. In closing this chapter we present the views of a number of recognized authorities as tending to show that the Mound Builders were, or may have been, the immediate predecessors of the Indians found here on the advent of the white man.

    The Marquise de Nadaillac, in his admirable work on "Prehistoric America," published in 1895, and edited and verified by W.H. dale, sums up a voluminous discussion as follows: "What, it may be asked, are we to believe was the character of the race to which, for the purpose of clearness, we have for the time being applied the term 'Mound Builders?' The answer must be, they were no more or less than the immediate predecessors, in blood and culture, of the Indians described by De Soto's chroniclers and other early explorers, the Indians who inhabited the region of the mounds at the time of their discovery by civilized men. As in the far north, the Aleuts, up to the time of their discovery, were, by the testimony of the shell heaps as well as their language, the direct successors of the early Eskimo ---so in the fertile basin of the Mississippi, the Indians were the builders, or the successors of the builders, of the singular and varied structures attributed to the Mound Builders. It is here that a very different opinion has been widely entertained, chiefly by those who were not aware of the historical evidence. Even Mr. Squier, who, in his famous work on the ancient monuments of the Mississippi valley, makes no distinction in these remains, but speaks of the Mound Builders as an extinct race and contrasts their progress in the arts with the supposed low condition of the modern Indians, in a subsequent publication felt compelled to modify his views and distinguish between the earthworks of western New York, which he admits to be of purely Indian origin, and those found in southern Ohio. Further researches have shown that no line can be drawn between the two; the differences are merely of degree. For the most part the objects found in them, from the rude knife to the carved and polished "gorget," might have been taken from the inmost recesses of a mound or picked up on the surface among the debris of a recent Indian village, and the most experienced archaeologist could not decide which was their origin. Lucian Carr has recently reviewed the whole subject in a manner, which cannot but carry conviction to the impatient archaeologist, but the conclusions he arrives at have the weight of other, and, as all will admit, most distinguished authority. "It is not asserted that the mounds were built by any particular tribe, or at ant particular period, nor that each and every tribe of the Mississippi valley erected such structures, nor that there were not differenced of culture and proficiency in the arts between different tribes of Mound Builders, as between the tribes of modern Indians now known. All that can be claimed is that there is nothing in the mounds beyond the power of such people as inhabited the region when discovered; that those people are known to have constructed many of the mounds now or recently existing, and that there is no evidence that any other, or different people, had any hand in the construction of those mounds in regard to which direct historical evidence is wanting. Summing up the results that have been attained, it may safely be said that, so far from there being any a priori reason why the red Indians could not have erected these works, the evidence shows, conclusively, that in New York and the Gulf states they did build mounds and embankments that are essentially of the same character as those found in Ohio."

    Lucian Carr further says: "In view of the fact that these same Indians are the only people, except the whites, who, so far as we know, have ever held the region over which these works are scattered, it is believed that we are fully justified in claiming that the mounds and enclosures of Ohio, like those in New York and the Gulf states, were the work of red Indians of historic times, or of their immediate ancestors. To deny this conclusion, and to accept its alternative, ascribing these remains to a mythical people of a different civilization, is to reject a simple and satisfactory explanation of a fact in favor of one that is far-fetched and incomplete, and this is neither science or logic."

    We quote a few brief extracts from sayings of other eminent students and scholars, and leave the determination to the question to the patient reader:

    "The earthworks differ less in kind than in degree from other remains respecting which history has not been entirely silent" - Haven.

    "There is nothing, indeed, in the magnitude and structure of our western mounds which a semi-hunter and semi-agricultural population, like that which may be ascribed to the ancestors or Indian predecessors of the existing race, could not have executed." - Schoolcraft.

    "All these earthworks- and I am inclined to assert the same of the whole of those in the Atlantic states, and the majority in the Mississippi valley- were the production, not of some mythical tribe of high civilization in remote antiquity, but of the identical nations found by the whites residing in those regions." - Brinton.

    "No doubt that they were erected by the forefathers of the present Indians." -Gen. Lewis Cass.

    "Nothing in them which may not have been performed by a savage people." - Gallatin.

    "The old idea that the Mound Builders were people distinct from and other than, the Indians of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth centuries, and their progenitors, appears unfounded in fact, and fanciful." -C.C. Jones.

    "Mound Builders were tribes of American Indians of the same race with tribes now living." - Judge M. F. Force.

    "The progress of discovery seems constantly to diminish the distinction between the ancient and modern races, and it may not be very wide of the track to assert that they were the same people." - Lapham.

    The preceding pages give the views of well-known scientists and explorers, both early and recent. It is not the purpose of this work to decide controversial questions, but to give both sides and allow the reader to form his own opinions, based upon authorities cited.

    In concluding this chapter we will state, however, that, although Richland county may not be a rich field for archaeological research, yet the evidences in existence that this section was once the abode of these unknown earth workers, are sufficient to create a local interest in any information concerning them. Judging from the mass of published information on the subject, the Mound Builders were a race or races of people, somewhat nomadic in their habits, yet more centralized in habitation than the Indians of historic time. They were semi-agricultural in pursuits, given to hunting and fishing, and schooled in the primitive arts of warfare. They had some knowledge of trade, or a system of rude barter, which brought them into possession of articles from far distant localities, since in Richland county, and particularly in the vicinity of Richland Center, copper implements have been found which must have come from Lake Superior. But, after all, our opinions can be but deductions drawn from the mementos they have left us, and which have withstood the forces of nature that causes less enduring materials to crumble and decay. However carefully we may study and examine these rude and imperfect records, much will doubtless always remain shrouded in dense obscurity.

If you have resources for Richland County or would like to volunteer to help with look-ups, please e-mail Tim Stowell
You are visitor since 2 Aug 2011 -- thanks for stopping by!

There were 1142 visitors at our previous host from 10 Mar 2006 to 2 Aug 2011 and 1116 visitors to a previous site from 23 Apr 2002 to 10 Mar 2006.

Last updated: 2 Aug 2011
Top of Page
1906 Richland County History
Richland Co., WI Page