The recent 100th anniversary of the dedication of Man Mound Park has prompted me to review my notes on Indian mounds in Sauk County, especially those from the years 1971-1974 when I field checked the old surveys (for example Cole 1922 and Stout 1906) to see what mounds remained. I summarized my findings, with a two page map, in my county history (Lange 1976). I thought that it might be of interest to share some of my recollections and other information which I didn't mention in my history.
The first significant surveys of local mounds were those by William H. Canfield (1819-1913). Sauk County's pioneering historian, and Increase A. Lapham (1811-1875). Lapham attained prominence in a number of fields; he was Wisconsin's pioneering naturalist.
The greatest concentration of mounds in Sauk County was in the area where Baraboo now is located, in fact Baraboo once was called "Mound City." This appellation today would elicit only quizzical stares. Here are comparable numbers of mounds for then (the early surveys) and now (my field surveys) for 16 of Sauk County's 22 townships (I have no definite information for the remaining 6 townships): Baraboo - 230 and 25; Greenfield - 54 and 14; Fairfield - 82 and 7; Sumpter - 86 and 1; Merrimac - 142 and 12; Prairie du Sac - 69 and 15; Woodland - 2 and 0; LaValle - 20 and 1; Dellona - approximately 30 and 0; Delton - 87 and 9; Excelsior - approximately 30 and 0; Reedsburg - approximately 17 and 6; Ironton - 2? and apparently 0; Franklin - several and 0; Troy - approximately 45 and 5; and Spring Green - 52 and 9. For the 100 or so mounds in the entire county, just several dozen (merely 3-4 per cent of the original number) are in decent shape. Again and again in my notes I find the distressing annotation, "destroyed" or "no trace" or "couldn't find them." It becomes almost a litany, so that the annotation, "still there," is like a breath of fresh air.
Most mounds were and are on private property, but without exception I was granted permission to enter private land, in fact sometimes the landowner joined me in the search. These were the extremes: one landowner saying, "all that information is in the Courthouse," and another landowner as an old man showing me mounds while informing me that as a child he accompanied his father when he showed Arlow B. Stout the mounds on the property.
So when I review my field surveys of over 30 years ago, what comes to mind? Sadness mainly, coupled with the thought that it was inevitable. The following rather casual note appeared in the Baraboo Republic for 4- October 1876: "We are informed that Mr. Hugh Edwards, living near Butterfield's Bridge [by the Lower Narrows along SH33], recently plowed down an ancient mound in which he found the remains of a number of human beings." As Oswald Ragatz, an early settler in Honey Creek Township, remarked, "I suppose we should not have destroyed them. But they were then regarded merely as obstacles to cultivation, and everybody plowed them down."
If you'd like to see mounds, stop at the Nature Center in Devil's Lake State Park and pick up a copy of the Indian Mounds Nature Tour, or visit the Kingsley Bend Mound Group along the west side of US16 south of Wisconsin Dells. And for detailed information on mounds, see the book, Indian Mounds of Wisconsin (Birmingham and Eisenberg, 2000).
Birmingham, R.A. and L.E. Eisenberg. 2000. Indian Mounds of Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison WI, 245 pages.
Cole, H.E. 1922. Summary of the Archeology of Western Sauk County. Wisconsin Archeologist, Volume 1, Number 3, New Series, pages 81-112.
Lange, K.I. 1976 (latest printing 2001). A County Called Sauk: A Human History of Sauk County, Wisconsin. Worzalla Publishing Company, Stevens Point, 'WI, 168 pages (Chapter 3).
Stout, A.B. 1906. Summary of the Archaeology of Eastern Sauk County. Wisconsin Archeologist, Volume 5, Number 2, pages 227-288.