Indian Mounds and Earthworks Near Milwaukee Wisconsin


Indian Mounds and Earthworks Near Milwaukee Wisconsin
Map showing Indian Mounds Near Milwaukee Wisconsin

The relative position and extent of the earthworks in the vicinity of Milwaukee, will appear on reference to the map They extend from Kinnickinnic Creek, near the place known as the Indian Fields, to a point six miles above the city. It will be observed that they occupy the high grounds along the margin of the river and streams, but not on the immediate shore of the lake. Although the mound-builders often occupied the margin of the smaller lakes in the interior, they seldom or never selected the immediate shore of Lake Michigan for the site of their works.
[page 13:]The banks of rivers appear to have been their favorite localities; and in this respect they resemble the present Indians, who select sites commanding a view of the country around them (so as to be able to detect the first approach of an enemy), and near hunting and fishing grounds. They appear also to have had an eye for the beautiful as well as the useful, in choosing their places of abode.
From the same hills on which are found these mounds, the workmen, in grading streets, digging foundations for buildings, preparing terraces for gardens, &c., often disinter the skeleton of an Indian, with its accompanying ornaments, and perhaps his brass kettle placed at the head. A number of the skulls thus brought to light were sent to Dr. S. G. Morton, to be used in the preparation of his Crania Americana.1
1See that work, p. 179.

The bluffs along the Milwaukee River, on which these works are mostly situated, have an elevation of from 30 to 100 feet above the water. They are usually quite steep, though not so much so, except in one or two places, as to be precipitous.
There is evidence, drawn from the presence of deposits of fresh-water shells in layers of sand and gravel, that the waters of the lake at this place once stood at a level considerably above their present height; and at that time much of the site of the present city was submerged. The bluffs were then washed by the waters of the bay, and presented steep broken fronts. The banks were gradually undermined, and slides of considerable extent occurred precisely as is now seen on the present margin of the lake. Whether this subsidence was subsequent to the erection of the mounds, is uncertain, their situation being such as to throw no definite light upon the subject. There are no works below that level that can lay claim to great antiquity.
The ancient works about Milwaukee are most numerous at a place near the small creek called the Kinnickinnic, and on lands known as the Indian Fields. They are chiefly in section twelve, township six, and range twenty-one, town of Greenfield. When the country was first settled (in 1836), the place was destitute of trees, and exhibited signs of recent Indian occupancy and cultivation. The creek borders it on the south and west, and an extensive swamp on the north and east, thus separating it from the adjacent country, and rendering it secure from sudden surprise or attack, without the necessity of extensive works of defence. It will be observed, as we proceed, that similar circumstances were often taken advantage of by these careful people.
The fields lie at a considerable elevation above the bottom-lands of the creek, and are much broken and uneven in surface. The soil is loose, sandy, or gravelly, and could be easily worked by the rude instruments of the aborigines; which may have been an inducement for selecting this spot. The subsoil is gravel, to an unknown depth. The Milwaukee and Janesville plank road passes through the fields; and the wood land adjoining has been adopted on account of its gravelly soil, undulating surface, and beautiful forest-trees, as the site of a cemetery for the city, named appropriately the “Forest Home.”