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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":

Chapter 8:


Changes in Nature Wrought by Man

-As transcribed from pages 70 - 72

When the first white man gazed upon the Trempealeau country he beheld a vastly different land physically than we live in today. It was dressed in its primitive clothes, so to speak. The bluffs, save for the work of the mound builder, had not been defaced by man. The contour of the hills and valleys was influenced only by the alluvium and the wash of storms, for scarcely any land was cultivated, in the modern sense of the word, by the Indians.

Here and there in secluded places along the hills were forests, but generally the country was untimbered and covered with brush and wild grass, which was burned over each year by the Indians.

The Indians, no doubt, had some particular reason for doing this, though it is difficult to conjecture why they deemed it necessary to burn over the land annually. No doubt they could travel through a burned-over country much easier than over one obstructed with a tangle of grass and brush, and traveling more swiftly mean more game. New grass grew better also in the burned-over places, and thus the ponies of the Indians had better grazing on account of this primitive method of land clearing.

Indian trails took the place of our modern roads, and no guide board pointed its inartistic hand to direct the inquiring traveler. Along these indistinct trails many of the early settlers made their way. with difficulty and along the wooded streams were obliged to pick their way by blazed trees.

There were many small lakes or sloughs in the county when the pioneer came that have since gone dry. On Trempealeau Prairie were a number of these tiny lakes where James Reed trapped muskrat, but today we see no sign of the former outline of these bodies of water. Arcadia was built in a marshy slough which has since been filled with dirt hauled from a range of hillocks in the rear of the village. On the other hand, we have a number of lakes in our county that were not here in the early day. These artificial bodies of water represent our waterpower and are usually designated by the undignified name of mill ponds. One would hardly dare apply that name to beautiful Lake Marinuka of Galesville, reposing in the valley of Beaver Creek, and possessing all the charm and reflecting qualities of a natural lake.

But perhaps even greater changes have taken place in the flora and fauna of our county since the early day than in the physical features. In order to appreciate more fully these changes, let us picture the early settler and his wild environment; his log cabin in the clearing of one of our secluded valleys, nestling at the foot of a hill where a spring trickles into a dugout water trough a few feet from the cabin door. Standing against the log barn is the yoke for the oxen, and near-by is the upturned breaking plow, while the mattock and ax repose on a half cut log near the woodpile. At the side of' the cabin is the rude wash bench made from a slab of wood and four wooden pegs for legs. We may also see the grindstone in the backyard, and hanging under the rafters of the barn is the scythe, the cradle and the flail. And we must not overlook the lye-leach and soap kettle, nor the half-sled and stone-boat.

Herds of deer can be seen grazing on the hillside, and in the spring and autumn days the honking of wild geese fills the air. The boom and hoot of prairie chickens can be heard in the early spring days, and, during the summer, from across the hot green fields, comes the plaintive note of the plover and the whistle of the gopher. The sound of the drumming partridge comes from the thicket near the clearing, and the whistling quail proclaims his presence by his far-carrying "Bob White."

The bark and chatter of the grey and red squirrel can be heard in the woodlands, while at night the hoot of the owl mingles at times with the howl of the wolf or barking fox.

During the spring and summer the woods ring with the songs of a variety of birds. From early dawn until dark the tireless songsters fill the air with music, and in season the whip-poor-will lashes the silence of the night with his rhythmic strain.

Wild flowers grow in profusion, and many a sloping hillside blushes scarlet with painted cups in the May days, and in June time the wild roses light with a pink glow the wilderness where the pioneer came to build his cabin home.

Along the hills grow blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, while wild plum and cherry thickets offer their fruits in many of the valleys and by the streams in the bottom lands.

In June the odor of wild strawberries comes floating from some hidden patch-a breath of perfume that has the aroma of shortcake, and what a pleasant adventure to hunt out the hidden patch and gather the luscious berries in ruddy clusters.

But time and change have wiped the picture out. Cultivation ahd pasturing has removed the wild touch-the rustic element--and obliterated many of our wild flowers, while the hunter has killed or driven away all of our big game.

The buffalo disappeared from this region before the coming of the white settler, but elk were found here as late as 1865, and wild deer were seen in our county as late or even later than 1890. The wild pigeons disappeared about forty years ago, and our decreasing wild ducks will soon be of the past. The beaver, the otter, the martin, lynx, the bear and panther, have long since disappeared from our county, and of all the larger native wild animals we have the 'wolf fox and bobcat, still to be found in the wild recesses of the county today.

The process of extermination is taking place among our wild flowers, and many of the rare varieties will soon become extinct unless some means is taken to preserve them. The white lady-slipper is becoming a very rare flower, and even the yellow lady-slipper is growing alarmingly scarce, as is also our painted cup that grew in such abundance in the early days; still rarer is the showy orchid and other species of the orchid family.

There seems to be an increasing demand to preserve our noble forests and to keep in a wild state our most beautiful mountain districts. The government has seen fit to establish a large number of forest reserves, besides maintaining its national parks. We all appreciate this, though we cannot all visit these national wonders of beauty, and that is the reason why it seems to us that each county should have its wild playground.

In order to appreciate sweet sounds there must be silent places, and in order to appreciate our tame and subdued surroundings we need the wild touch to recuperate our blunted senses, to rest our minds and restore our mental poise. The natural park, with its native forests, its wild flowers and unsubdued grandeur offers the only relief to these conditions, and it also offers a solution to the problem of keeping our native flora from extermination.

 


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