Prehistoric


From the Winona County section of the 1884 book



Native American Stone Implements
Plowed Up By The Rheibeau Boys In West Burns Valley


Going back beyond tradition, we find in our midst evidences of a numerous people having once occupied the adjacent territory.

Judge George Gale, the founder of the university at Galesville, Wisconsin, in his very valuable work, "Upper Mississippi," says, "To us of the New World there is a ‘Greece' that literally ‘slumbers in the tomb.' A nation or people which for centuries occupied a territory nearly as large as all Europe, and had a population which probably numbered its millions, have left the graves of their fathers and the temples of their gods so unceremoniously that their very name has disappeared with them, and we only know of their existence by their decayed walls and tumuli, and by their bones, exhibiting the human form, although in a far-gone state of decay."

Judge Gale's book shows great research and critical acumen, and the calamity which befell the plates in the great Chicago fire should be repaired by a new imprint of the volume. My space will only admit of a reference to the work, but I cannot forego the justice to say that, so far as I know, Judge Gale was first to notice in print the mounds and other earthworks in Trempealeau county, Wisconsin, and at La Crescent in Minnesota.

Few persons have any adequate conception of the vast area covered by earthworks in the United States, or of the immense labor expended in their construction. A mound in Montgomery county, Ohio, according to Gale, contains 311,353 cubic feet of earth. One in Virginia is seventy feet high and over 1,000 feet in circumference, and the great Cahokia mound of Illinois is ninety feet high and 2,000 feet in circumference, containing over 20,000,000 cubic feet, and one in the State of Mississippi covers and area of six acres.

In these mounds there are sometimes found pearls, sharks' teeth and marine shells, obsidian or volcanic glass, native copper and native silver, sometimes united unalloyed, as found only in Russia and on Lake Superior, where innumerable stone implements are still to be found that have evidently been used in extracting those metals. Lead has also occasionally been found, but not so frequently as copper. Sone implements are found in mounds and upon the surface, especially after plowing, wherever these ancient works appear. The implements are generally manufactured from syenite or some hard trap rock, and consist of stone pipes, hammers, axes, scrapers or fleshers, pestles, spinners or twisters, still used by Mexican Indians. Obsidian, chert and copper, spear and arrow heads are quite common. About the mounds of the lower Mississippi old pottery is quite common, but among those of the upper Mississippi it is only occasionally found. The mound-builders must have possessed mathematical knowledge, as some of their earthworks show a good degree of geometrical skill, as well as military ideas of defense against assaults of enemies.

Ten miles below La Crosse, on Coon prairie, there is a line of earthworks and mounds of considerable size and interest, and on the Clark farm, on the La Crosse river, the works all seem to be of a defensible character. At Onalaska they are also quite numerous, and about one mile above McGilvray's ferry on Black river there is an old earth fort and mounds that still remain quite conspicuous.

At Galesville and vicinity are quite a number of mounds, including some built in the shape of man, and many, according to Gale, in the shape of animals. The most conspicuous, because most accessible, are the mounds in and near the village of Trempealeau. One, west of Mr. Boer's residence, commands a fine view from its elevation above the surrounding surface. In the neighborhood of the Baptist church there are also several of an interesting character. Near Pine Creek station there are some very fine ones. At La Crescent and on Pine Creek, Minnesota, there are a number of mounds of small size; and coming up to Winona, on the south shore, at intervals they appear at Dresbach, Dah-co-tah, Richmond, La Moille, Cedar Creek, Homer, Pleasant and Burns valleys. Upon the farm of Miss Maggie Burns there are several mounds that still remain undisturbed, but along the public road several very symmetrical mounds have been leveled in construction and repairs of the thoroughfare.

Upon the table of West Burns valley the Rheibeau boys plowed up some of the most elegantly-shaped stone implements ever discovered in any country. To my chagrin, after a vain attempt to purchase them, I was told that a gentleman from Milwaukee had induced Mrs. Rheibeau to part with them, and thus were lost to the museums of Winona a few celts not surpassed by any in the large collection at the Centennial Exposition.

My niece, Mrs. Louise Page, found a number of arrow and spear heads and a few fragments of pottery in Homer, and near the Keys mansion she picked from the river bank a large stone hammer, which is now in the museum of the Winona normal school. The hammer was imbedded about two feet in the soil, and was most likely buried, like the silver ornaments found near it, in the grave of some dead warrior. The Catholic emblems in silver were those in common use among the Catholic Indians and half-breeds of Canada within my recollection, and most probably belonged to some Canadian voyageur, or perhaps was buried, after the Indian custom, with the body of some Indian (or squaw) convert to the Catholic faith. The high point at Keys' was a favorite burying-ground, because of its extreme height above the river during an overflow of the lower land of the prairie. The sties selected for their burying-grounds indicated to the old traders the Indian's anticipations of a possible overflow of the prairie.

Upon the farm of Myles Roach, in the town of Homer, a number of stone arrow and spear heads have been found by the sons of Mr. Roach, and one of copper was found which was purchased by R. F. Norton, now of the village of Homer. There have also been found along the river front in Winona copper implements, one of which, found by Geo. Cole, is in the possession of his father, Dr. James M. Cole, of Winona.

Most of the implements found on the surface have, no doubt, been lost while in use, but those found in mounds and in ossuaries have been placed there with the remains of the dead. The ossuaries of Barn Bluff and of Minnesota City were, no doubt, places of interment of the bones of the dead, which had been divested of their flesh by exposure upon scaffolds or trees.

In the early days of my first acquaintance with the Dah-ko-tahs, no other mode of burial would satisfy their ideas of a proper sepulture, but after a time the example set by the white people of burying their dead had its influence, and in modern times, except among the wildest bands, the Sioux began to bury their dead soon after their demise. The body of Chandee, son of Wah-kon-de-o-tah, the war chief of Wah-pa-sha, was buried upon my brother's property at Homer by special request of his relatives. His sister, Shook-ton-ka, the champion girl racer of the band, and some children of Wah-pa-sha, were buried near the site of the Huff house. After the treaty was decided upon by the band, many bones of the dead were removed and buried in secret places at night, lest they should be disturbed by white settlers, whom the Indians knew would eventually occupy the county. Some of the ancient mounds have been used by modern tribes as receptacles for their dead, but in such cases the fact is readily discernible, as no regard has been paid by the modern Indians to the strata of earth, clay and sand, or gravel, of which the burial or sacrificial mounds have been composed. It is believed by some that the circle of sculls found in an ancient ossuary at Minnesota City were the crania of victims to some religious sacrifice around the altar-pole, or else of captives slaughtered and left, as puppies are left in modern times, with heads to the pole, which might account for the position the sculls were found in. At Bluff Siding, opposite Winona, along the wagon-road to Galesville, a number of mounds may be seen, occupying an admirable position for defense.

The limits of my paper have been reached, and I must hasten to a close; but I crave my readers' interest in behalf of my brother Willard, in connection with his settlement in Winona county. As for myself, it will suffice for me to say that, dissatisfied with what appeared to me as time thrown away upon the frontier, I returned to Detroit and recommenced the study of medicine in the office of Dr. Scoville, an eminently successful physician and surgeon. Upon the appointment of Adrian R. Terry, uncle of Gen. Terry, to the surgeoncy of the 1st Mich. Reg. During the Mexican war, I was given the hospital stewardship of that regiment, and served to the close of that war. While quartered in Cordova, Mexico, I was placed in full charge of the post hospital during the illness of Drs. Terry and Lembke, and returned to Detroit, Michigan, at the close of the war in medical charge of one detachment. Having acquired a taste for a free life when the gold discovery in California became a fact, I went overland through Mexico to Mariposa, where, compelled at first to fight Indians in self-defense, I finally became a member of the Mariposa battalion. While on duty in that organization I became one of the discoverers of the now famous Yosemite valley, the name of which was given by myself, as will appear in my book, "Discovery of the Yosemite," published by F. H. Revell, of Chicago.

During the war of the rebellion I served in the ranks as a private, and through successive promotions (having had conferred upon me a degree) reached the rank of manor by a commission as surgeon of the 36th reg. Wis. Inf. Assigned to detached duty on March 27, 1865, with the 1st Minn., I served in that regiment as its sole medical officer until its return to Washington as the close of the war.

I will close this paper with an extract from a series of articles furnished the "La Crosse Chronicle," that I hope may be deemed a fitting close to my subject.

In 1848 and later, my brother Willard was employed in moving the Indians. Some of them, the Winnebagoes especially, were very much dissatisfied, and declared they would not leave for the home selected for them on the Minnesota river. Will's influence was great among them at at that time and he succeeded in collecting about three hundred of them. Having arranged with Miller for the use of the warehouse of his old firm, he quartered them in it. They seemed contented enough until a short time before the steamer came to carry them up the river, when they set up a most unearthly yell, broke through their guard, seized their ponies from an adjacent corral and disappeared. Other means were then resorted to, and they were removed in smaller squads or details; but they would return again and again to their native haunts as if drawn back by some occult force. Will's discernment would penetrate all disguises of paint, red, green or blue blankets, until at last they yielded to his persisted efforts and remained upon the new reservation.

My brother has assured me that many of the Indians receipted for by the officers at Fort Snelling he had removed over and over again. With Indian cunning they would assume a new name with each new disguise, and the officers were unable to discover or remedy it.

With the Indians went Asa White and Tom Holmes, both of whom had squaws for wives. Miller & Myrick had already dissolved partnership before the Indians were removed, and were virtually out of the Indian trade, but their influence was still more or less potent in Indian affairs, and they were advised with as to their management. My brother's persevering energy in removing the Winnebagoes was awarded by a permit to trade with the Wabasha band, and he settled upon their reservation.

This gave him great advantages, and obtaining the consent of Wah-pa-sha, rewarding him liberally, Will planted old Mr. Burns and his remaining family upon what has since been known as the Burns' farm, providing each member old enough with a claim.

Will was unable to choose as well for himself as he had for the Burns family, for being under the impression that the site of Winona was subject to overflow, he located at Homer, which he named after his birthplace, the village of Homer, New York, state. Here he built the first house in 1849, and in 1850-51 made a large addition to the building and moved into it. Peter Burns and himself became interested in a scheme to control the trade of the interior, by securing the nearest "high-water landing" below Winona, and for that purpose, in conjunction with Borup, an old trader and a brother of Senator Alex. Ramsey, of St. Paul, they laid out the village of Minne-o-way, building a large hotel and storehouses to accommodate the very large business destined to reward their enterprise. By some oversight they had neglected to comply with some provision of the law, and a keen-sighted man by the name of Dougherty, discovering their neglect, pounced down upon their claim, and in a suit that followed secured land, hotel and storehouses as his homestead. Burns was lucky enough, before the final decision was rendered, to sell his interests for $4,000.

As to the site of Winona, known to the Dah-co-tahs as Keoxa, it was firmly believed by the old traders and lumbermen to be subject to overflow in the highest water. From the deck of a steamer passing at the highest stage, the space left dry really appeared very small. In very high water all of the low land of the prairie was submerged and a volume sufficient to run a steamboat ran down south of the city, before the railroad embankment was raised. The Indians laughed at the supposed folly of the white men in building on the "island," and it was an anticipated joke that Will would sometime be seen, pike-pole in hand, rescuing the gloating property of this embryo city and hauling it out upon his higher landing.

Poor Will! He had been out so long upon the frontier that he failed to realize what money and enterprise would do to improve and protect a city so advantageously situated as Winona. He and his brave wife are both gone now from the scenes of their early hopes and perils. He left in August, 1861, and she in 1868, leaving a family of two sons and four daughters.

RETURN