Baraboo in the 1840s

by "a pioneer"

Miles Paddled
The Baraboo River Near the Middle Baraboo Village

The Effigy Mounds. This Baraboo valley has been a point of attraction to other human beings than the present occupants; therefore I cannot commence giving a sketch of the present settlement without turning back a page or two in the Book of Time and reading therefrom what is there made intelligible. —The valley of this river is filled from the mouth for a distance of 40 miles up it with marks of a teeming population, more ancient than the stately oak that has grown its thousand years and has been as many more decaying upon the graves of their dead, and in their gardens and cultivated fields. These mounds, which are so abundant, are of many forms. Some are in parallel ridges, from 10 to 40 rods in length, and from 3 to 5 feet in height, and from 15 to 30 feet in width at their base. Others are conical, while others again represent huge animals, birds, reptiles, &c., and there are places that have the appearance of our gardens, being thrown into beds about six feet wide, and 8 or 10 inches high, with spaces between of 16 or 18 inches, and from one to twenty rods [11 yards] long with now and then a wider space or alley. The representations of birds are in some cases very perfect, with their wings extended; they measure from 12 to 25 and 30 rods [66 to 137.5-165 yards] from tip to tip of their wings. The representations of animals seem to be not quite so perfect. Their bodies measure from 4 to 10 rods [16.5-55 yards] in length, and from 15 to 30 feet in depth, with short clumsy legs, and their heads more generally dropped below the line of their backs, as does a hog’s. Yet they are, to the close observer a standing evidence that the architect intended to represent some kind of animal. Therefore, in view of these abundant marks of human exertions, what a dense population this country must have supported; as we may reasonably conclude by their agriculture. Are there not here all the elements now for the support of an equally dense population? But as they have not left us their census reports, the comparison will have to be left to other than human records to decide.

The Exile. Again—this valley seems to have been made choice of by the red man as his stopping place.—The Winnebagoes chose these rapids for their abiding place, for here, within a distance of three miles were their villages, four in number; and there, near ‘our village,’ was their council house. On these rapids were their fisheries, from which they obtained some of their supplies. There on the south side of the river, only a league distant was their sugar camps—groves composed almost entirely of the sugar maple: I never beheld handsomer. They are nearly girdled down by their frequent tappings. Those small prairies, and frequent thickets, on the north side of the river, made fine haunts and green pastures for deer and small game, as well as the lordly elk. On the range of bluffs between this place and the Wisconsin river on the south, on those heavy oak ridges, and fields well calculated for the bear. Was there ever a country better calculated for the Indian to enjoy his life according to his own peculiar nature and habits? But alas! That fell destroyer of his social and religious happiness, as well as his mortal being—Civilization—a word that comes to his understanding as—do ye to others what you can that is bad, and do yet not unto others any good acts which you would have done to yourselves. The crafty white man held out the bait, the trappings of his art, and their gaudy show dazzled the judgment of a majority of their rulers, for which they sold their birthright, and the bones of their fathers, to their superior and much civilized white brethren. At this move the tribe in general together with one of their chiefs, (Dandy.) remonstrated. He would not sign the treaty, and objected to leaving the country, but was with the rest of the tribe forced to leave for their new homes, west of the Father of Waters, and several hundred miles north of their present location. He, with his adherents, returned, and were by the U.S. dragoons hunted up and again removed; but they again returned, and for the last year have been upon the border of our settlement, doing no one any harm except in the imagination of some soft brained men, who sometimes succeed in getting the women a little excited.

After the Winnebago treaty was ratified, those wayward and resistless pioneers, waiting to have a new field opened for their enterprise, immediately took possession of their corn fields and gardens.—This very much annoyed the Indians, and to use the words of one of those pioneers as related to the writer, “they would make up all kinds of faces, and call me all kinds of names they could think of—blackguard and make sport of me, and even threaten to kill me, and I thought sometimes they would; but I told them that they dare not injure me or any thing I had; if they did every Indian of the tribe would be hung.” This man could speak their language with as much fluency as his own, and therefore understood all they had to say to him, perfectly well. It is a saying that ‘men brought up in the woods are not to be frightened by owls,' and I would say of these early settlers, by Indians either.

The time fixed upon for their removal was the 12th day of May, 1849. A day that will long be remembered by the Winnebagoes—the real test to their feelings not having come till then. To leave the graves of their friends, (which to an Indian is no light matter,) the haunts of their younger days, a country which they might well have become attached to—all these things were brought fresh to their minds on the morning of the 12th by the U.S. dragoons being present to assist in their removal; and, said an eye witness, their lamentations and cries were heard yet while out of sight; and, said the same person, there was not a member of the tribe, save some of their chiefs, who would not have given all they possessed to have the bargain made by them recanted; but our christian mode of making treaties with the Indians is to get some kind of a bargain with some or all of the chiefs, and then show them the sword and a map of the country west of the Mississippi, and the Indians have learned to understand the rest.

The snow-clad peaks of the Andes is to be their ultimate resting place. – We call them barbarians—therefore we must treat them in a barbarous manner. We do not like their religion—therefore we send our clergy among them to christianize and civilize them,—and after more than a hundred years of this kind-hearted attention has been paid them here in the new word, what has been the result? Have their morals been improved? Their honesty, uprightness, and integrity been strengthened? Or their sterling worth in any way been bettered? ...

Passenger Pigeons. On the 2d day of April, 1846, we were visited by a flock of pigeons, the magnitude of which was almost beyond conception. From noon until night the heavens were darkened by the immense flocks as they passed over; they seemed to be lighting a little south of us. In company with others I went to see them; when we got within a quarter of a mile of the Skillet Creek on the west road we began to hear them, and when across on the south side of the creek, we saw one of the most wonderful sights I ever beheld. It was now night, but the moon gave full its usual quantity of soft, pale light. Every twig, even to the tops of the trees, could be seen; but as we approached them, it seemed as though we were entering a heavy piece of hemlock woods, or some underground passage.—The noise made by their twittering was so deafening that it was difficult to be heard except as we were close to each other and spoke in a very loud tone; we could hear trees fall, and branches break, on every side of us so heavily were they loaded; and when they thus broke or fell the noise made by their raising sounded like heavy distant thunder. I think that no one who saw the rookery would disagree with me in saying that there was enough to cover the surface of the ground one or perhaps two feet deep. This will serve to give something of an idea of the magnitude of the flock. We concluded it would be a difficult matter to raise any crop, or live in company with then. They had got possession and could not be driven off; but on the 10th (9 days from their first appearance) there came one of those general storms that sweep from the Atlantic through the northern states and down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. The snow fell that night about a foot deep, and continued falling until noon the next day; it came very damp, and the depth of water, (i.e. when the snow was converted to water) was 2.80 inches, as ascertained by my rain gauge, (Simeon De Witt’s conical rain gauge.) The next morning the snow was all gone, and so were the pigeons.

The Great Winnebago Scare. In the fall of 1845, there was a farce played off upon the people of Sauk Prairie by an inhabitant of this settlement. This individual did not play his part out of any malicious feeling or thirst for fun—but was sincere in what he said and did. The exact date I have lost; but upon a certain night the inhabitants were aroused from their dreams.—Commencing at the bluffs each neighbor carried the alarm to his next, and so on—in a short time the whole neighborhood, save one family, were out on the prairie, leaving with all possible dispatch (sic) for the villages on the Wisconsin river. The cause of this alarm was the appearance of this deluded individual, a man of good reputation for sobriety and truth—coming, with one or two of his neighbors, whom he had frightened and started off with him in the dead of night to Mr. Jameson’s and stating, with all the earnestness which a sincere belief is the truth of the statement would cause a man to assume, that the Winnebagoes were massacreing the inhabitants of the Baraboo-–that he saw the buildings burning, and heard the shrieks of the captives, &c.; this came with so much force and appearance of truth, that Mr. J. did not for a moment doubt, but determined to seek his own and family’s safety in flight, and give his neighbors the same opportunity. The alarm went throughout the length and breadth of the prairie. They came in from every quarter and rendezvoused at Upper Sauk, and organized a company to meet the Indians. It was a time of trial, as they expected to have their houses burned and their property destroyed. But as the morning dawned as bright as ever, and dissipated the dismal shades of night, that always cast their gloomy shades also over the mind, many of their fears left them. Most of the Bluff farmers went back to their farms, and to their disappointment found every thing as they had left it.

Commentary. "10 to 40 rods" — a rod is 16.5 feet, so 10 to 40 rods would be 165 to 660 feet (55 to 330 yards).

"council house" — for this council house, see the notes to Middle Barribault [Baraboo] Village, No. 2 in Kinzie's receipt rolls of 1829-1830. The council house is commemorated by the street that passes by the place where once it stood: Council Street.

James F. Bodtker
Dandy (Little Soldier)
Madison, 1866

"Dandy" — in 1836, at the village at the site of the present Baraboo, Keramąnįga was the Peace Chief. Dandy was the son of Black Wolf, who was known to be a War Chief. As his son, we can expect that Dandy was the War Chief for this village. He was eventually recognized as chief of the tribe by the U. S. Government, reflecting a break down of the old system. For Chief Dandy, see The Green Lake Band, Lawson, The Winnebago Tribe, Kinzie's Receipt Roll, 1829-1832, Spoon Decorah's Narrative, James’ Horse, How Big Fox Saved Godin.

"blackguard" — pronounced blágərd, a word unfamiliar to most people today. It means, "to abuse or disparage (someone) scurrilously."

J. J. Audubon
Passenger Pigeons

"pigeons" — I included this passage on pigeons, since it resurrects the world as it was in pre-Columbian times. These pigeons are, of course, passenger pigeons (Ectopistes migratorius), which were hunted to extinction. This would have been inconceivable to people living at that time, as J. J. Audubon makes abundantly clear in his description of how numerous they were.

In the autumn of 1813, I left my house at Henderson, on the banks of the Ohio, on my way to Louisville. In passing over the Barrens a few miles beyond Hardensburgh, I observed the Pigeons flying from north-east to south-west, in greater numbers than I thought I had ever seen them before, and feeling an inclination to count the flocks that might pass within the reach of my eye in one hour, I dismounted, seated myself on an eminence, and began to mark with my pencil, making a dot for every flock that passed. In a short time finding the task which I had undertaken impracticable, as the birds poured in in countless multitudes, I rose, and counting the dots then put down, found that 163 had been made in twenty-one minutes. I traveled on, and still met more the farther I proceeded. The air was literally filled with Pigeons; the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse, the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow; and the continued buzz of wings had a tendency to lull my senses to repose.1

Silliman’s American Journal of Science and Art, 1832  
Simeon De Witt's Gauge  

"Simeon De Witt’s conical rain gauge" — this invention made its appearance around 1830, and was swiftly adopted by the Army.

Mr. Simeon De Witt read the following communication:


I shall now submit to the Institute the description of a rain-gage, which is simple in its construction more convenient in its management, and which will show the amount of small quantities of rain more accurately than the most approved that has been brought into use. It consists of an inverted hollow cone, with an appendage to its base, opening like a funnel, of such a diameter as that three inches fall of rain into it, shall fill the cone; and a scale so graduated, as that when it is put down to the bottom of the cone, the water mark left on it shall show the quantity of rain fallen.2

"Sauk Prairie" — the area centered about coördinates 43.290671 89.8130356.

Notes to the Commentary

1 John James Audubon, The Birds of America, Vols. I-IV, 1827-1838: Plate 62.
2 Transactions of the Albany Institute, Volume 1 (1830): 60-61.

mentioning sacred (artificial) mounds: The Waterspirit Guardian of the Intaglio Mound, The Green Lake Band, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (v. 1), The First Fox and Sauk War, Buffalo Dance, Buffalo Clan Origin Myth, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Mijistéga and the Sauks, Bear Clan Origin Myth (v. 12), Traveler and the Thunderbird War (v. 5), Little Priest’s Game, The Story of How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, The Resurrection of the Chief’s Daughter, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Lost Lake, Tobacco Origin Myth, v. 5, The First Fox and Sauk War, Featherstonhaugh's Canoe Voyage; see also, The Archaeology of the Wazija, Indian History of Winneshiek County, Habitat of the Winnebago, 1632-1832, The Winnebago Tribe, The Hocąk Notebook of W. C. McKern from the Milwaukee Public Museum, The McKern Papers on Hocąk Ethnography, The Wisconsin Winnebagoes, Information Respecting the History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States, The Smoky Mountain Massacre, The Thunderbird Warclub.


"Sketches of the Settlement of Baraboo," by a Pioneer, The Standard, Baraboo, Wisconsin (Thursday, Dec. 19, 1850). Thanks to Paul Wolte, Executive Director of the Sauk Co. Historical Society, for bringing this article to my attention.