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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":

Chapter 1

Sub-chapter - 
The Red Men and the Fur Trade


First Men in Wisconsin

-As transcribed from pages 6 - 8

A large portion of the surface of Wisconsin is covered with small heaps of earth or mounds that are without doubt the work of man, and not of nature. The formation of these earthworks was formerly attributed to a pre-Indian race of men known collectively as the Mound Builders; modern archaeologists, however, have repudiated the theory of a prehistoric race, and now are certain that the true mound builders were none other than the Indians. A peculiar kind of mound occurs in southern and central Wisconsin and in the neighboring regions of northern Illinois, eastern Iowa, and southeastern Minnesota, that is not found elsewhere in the United States. These are the effigy mounds, slight eminences that take the outline of deer, bears, panthers, turtles, various kinds of birds, and in one or two instances of man. The origin of these effigy mounds has been much discussed. It is now accepted by scientists that their makers were a tribe known to the first discoverers of the Northwest as the Puant or Winnebago Indians.

The great number and extent of the mounds scattered over the surface of Wisconsin indicates the presence of a large Indian population in prehistoric times; but at what era in the world's history, or in what way the Winnebago reached Wisconsin we can only infer from a few scattered facts. The migration legends, of the Siouan peoples, to which stock the Winnebago belong, indicate that they came from the region near the sources of the Ohio River. Pressed upon by neighboring Algonquian peoples they slowly progressed along the Ohio Valley, leaving great earthworks as they advanced. In the course of several centuries they reached the Ohio's mouth, and there divided, one large branch passing northward along the Mississippi River, gradually separating into many tribes that located chiefly west of the great river. Somewhere, possibly at the mouth of Rock River, one group of this vast horde, attracted by the abundant game of the pleasant valley, moved eastward and northward, and after occupying the valley of Rock River to its headwaters, spread along the Fox River and around the lake now called Winnebago, terminating their migration at the shores of Green Bay. From the size of the trees growing upon the artificial mounds, it is inferred that the settlement of the Winnebago in Wisconsin must have occurred some time before the discovery of America by Columbus.

The Winnebago who peopled Wisconsin's valleys, and built their mounds along her streams and lakes were in what is known as the Stone Age of primitive culture. Contrary to the common belief, they were not a wandering, but a home-loving people, devotedly attached to the places of their birth, the homes of their fathers and the sites of their villages. These villages were so advantageously placed that the sites of most of Wisconsin's present cities were those once occupied by the Indians. The woods and streams supplied their simple needs of food, clothing, and shelter. From the skins of animals they fashioned their garments, by hunting and by harvesting wild rice they gained their food. Their lodges were built of slender trees covered with bark, and with mats formed of plaited reeds. Gradually they learned a rude form of agriculture, by cultivating the ground with hoes of bone and plows of wood, corn and pumpkins were added to their food supply. They had no domestic animals except dogs, which also served as an addition to their food supply. Their tools and implements of warfare and of chase were made of stone, flints chipped to a point tipped their arrows, axes and hatchets were of edged stone, war clubs swung a heavy stone head. The only metals known were lead and copper. The former mined in a crude fashion was mostly used for ornament. Copper, secured by intertribal trade from Lake Superior, was beaten by hand into ornamental shapes, and occasionally used to tip weapons and domestic implements.

The change of seasons brought to Wisconsin Indians changed modes of living. During the winter season they left their permanent villages and in small groups scattered through the forests, subsisting as best they might on the products of the chase. They built temporary wigwams of pelts thrown over poles, within which fires were kindled that kept them from freezing. Upon the return of spring they sought their villages and corn fields. The summer was the time for religious rites, for council and for warfare. Raids upon neighboring enemy groups were a normal part of the Indian's life. In every village a council house was built where questions of war and alliance were discussed by the chiefs and elders. The religious rites clustered about a unit resembling a clan; the effigy mounds were the symbols of the clan totems. Near to these totems burial mounds were placed. The' sacred mysteries of the tribe and clan were there celebrated.

Aside from warfare, intercourse was maintained with other tribes by means of trade. The extent and volume of intertribal trade was considerable. Sea shells found in Wisconsin mounds prove that they had passed from hand to hand among all the tribes between its inhabitants and the Atlantic coast. Shells, bits of metal, articles of dress and ornament, constituted the bulk of the exchange. Shells pierced and strung or wrought into belts were both the medium of exchange and the binding symbol of intertribal treaties and agreements. While the fate of captives taken in war was horrible, envoys were sacred, and treaties were observed inviolate.

The red man's life was by no means idyllic as children of nature have been supposed to lead. Famine and disease stalked his footsteps; war and wild animals carried away his young; struggle and hardships made up his lot in life. None the less it is open to question whether the contact with the white man did not make the condition of the Indian worse. He soon became dependent upon the farmer's products for clothing, implements nnd weapons. He forgot the arts of his primitive economy. Urged on by the greed af traders he rapidly killed off the wild game or drove it farther into the wilderness, which he had to penetrate in order to secure the store of furs with which to purchase his necessities. Thus hunting became more and more important to his existence, and with increased efforts and superior weapons brought ever-diminishing returns. The red man became dependent upon the trader for the very means of life. After the French and Indian War when all traders of the French race were withdrawn from Wisconsin, the English traders who after a lapse of two years went to Lake Superior found naked, starving savages who in less than one hundred years had ceased to be self-sufficing, and could live only by means of relations with white men. Thus arose the fur trade, which was not only a commercial or an economic regime, but a system of government, a form of social life, a means of exploitation, and a stage in the development of the American frontier. 




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