Indian Lizard Effigy Mounds in Milwaukee Wisconsin

Ancient Indian Lizard Effigy Mounds in Milwaukee Wisconsin


On the west side of the river, within the limits of the city, were numerous mounds occupying the several promontories overlooking the city and bay. The most remarkable group was near the intersection of Walnut with Sixth Street, as represented on Four different varieties of structures may be seen. The oblong (a), which is simply a ridge of earth; the lizard (b), an elongated ridge terminating in a point at one end, and having two projections or legs at the other; the winged mound (c), being a circular tumulus, with two long, slightly curved arms or wings; and the anomalous mound (d), differing from the ordinary form by having the legs on opposite sides, instead of the same side. These works were, in 1836, covered with a dense forest. The oblong, at a in the plan, appears to have been the “observatory,” being in a very conspicuous place, from which may be seen all the works, while in the opposite direction there is presented a magnificent view of the valley of the river, and the bay of Lake Michigan, now called Milwaukee Bay. It is eighty-three feet long, twenty wide, and four in height.
Two of these mounds were opened, but produced nothing beyond the fragment of a bone, and a slight admixture of carbonaceous matter near the original surface. They were composed of the same tough, reddish, sandy clay that constitutes the adjacent soil. There are two large natural elevations or mounds near these works, and upon the summit of one was a small “winged mound.“ The other, though the largest, was apparently not occupied by the aborigines. In that part of the city known as Sherman’s Addition, we first find mounds of undoubted animal forms. One of these ( Fig. 2) is on ground covered by the corn hills of the present race of Indians, who occupied the lands in this vicinity down to a very late period. It may be considered as a rude representation of a wolf or fox guarding the sacred deposits in the large though low mound immediately before it. Both of these are of so little elevation as to be scarcely observed by the passer by; but when once attention is arrested, there is no difficulty in tracing their outlines. The body of the animal is forty-four feet, and the tail sixty-three in length. A more graceful animal form was found on block No. 36. (SeePlate VII. Fig. 2.) It may be regarded as the representation of an otter. Length of head and neck, twenty-six feet; body, fifty feet; tail, seventy feet. Its direction is a little south of west.
Whatever may be said in regard to the mounds which I have denominated "lizards,” there can be no doubt that they do, and were intended to represent the forms of animals. But what shall we say of the next figure , with its long, slightly curved arms? If, like some others hereafter described, it had a beak, it would be considered a representation of one of the feathered tribe; or, if it had legs as well as a body, it might be deemed a rude imitation of the human form. We may suppose that in the lapse of ages these works have been more or less modified by natural causes, and also that portions were constructed of different and more perishable materials, now entirely gone. This figure points almost directly south. It is thirty-four feet long, the arms being sixty feet. It was surveyed by me a number of years since, and was almost immediately afterwards removed to prepare the foundation of a house. How many more of these interesting structures have been lost to the antiquary, by being destroyed before a plan and record of them were made, it is impossible to determine; but their number must be very great.