Pages 96-103 From the book
"History of Wabasha County" Published in 1884
Concerning Wabasha and Winona Counties in Minnesota
The geographical position of Winona county is between parallels 43 and 45 north latitude, 44 passing through the center of the county, and between meridians 91 and 92 west, a small portion of the county lying west of 92. It is organized from townships Nos. 105, 106, 107 north, of ranges No. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 west, and contains twenty organized townships, fifteen of which are full townships, containing thirty-six sections. One is organized from half a township, and one is formed of townships Nos. 107 and 108, of range No. 8. Four are irregular in form on the northern boundary, and are fractional. The county is located in the southeastern part of the State of Minnesota, and is bounded on the north by Wabasha county and partly by the Mississippi river, and on the east by the Mississippi, which flows here in a southeasterly direction, and on the south by Houston and Fillmore counties, and on the west by Olmsted and Wabasha counties. In shape, nearly a right-angled triangle, longest on the southern boundary, being about forty miles or six and a half townships in length, and twenty-four miles or four townships in width from north to south. It is regular in form on the southern and western boundaries, the Mississippi river forming nearly the hypothenuse of the triangle from northwest to southeast.
The surface, within the distance of about twelve miles from the Mississippi river, is bluffy or broken, the river being about five hundred feet below the general surface. Houston county is a trifle higher in altitude; with that exception this county is the highest on this side, and contiguous to the river from its source to its mouth. Bold perpendicular ledges of rock form the sides of the bluff in many places along the river, and a considerable portion of the south part of the county contiguous to the root river is of the same character. Four townships of the northwest part of the county along the Whitewater are also rough and rocky. The remainder of the surface is undulating prairie, irregular in extent, comprising not far from six townships, and located in the central and western parts of the county.
When the altitude is reached there is great uniformity in the appearance of the surface, and any other highland may be visited without materially ascending or descending, the high lands being all connected by a series of ridges which form the divides between the streams which flow into the Mississippi and those which flow into the Root river on the south and the Whitewater on the north.
There are no swamp lands in the county, and not a regular quarter-section that would be benefitted for agriculture by artificial drainage. There are a few acres in patches along the Mississippi and along the margins of some of the smaller streams of marsh or bog lands, liable to overflow, but producing excellent grass. The waters of the county all find their way to the Mississippi; those in the north part of the county furnish the south branches of the Whitewater. On the north and east each township contributes a stream to the Mississippi. The largest and most important of these is the Rollingstone, which drains nearly one hundred square miles of surface, and affords water-power for six large flouring mills. There are also several unoccupied powers on the different branches of the stream.
Each township of the southern tier also furnishes a stream to Root river. All these streams are formed by springs, and are nearly uniform throughout the year as to supply of water, and, having considerable fall, afford water-power which in the future may be developed.
The surplus water of the county finds its way to these streams through the ravines and small valleys reaching out toward the prairie in all directions.
Utica, or town 106, range 9, occupies the summit, being drained on the northeast into Rollingstone, on the northwest into Whitewater, and on the south into Rush creek; and this township is also nearly the center of the prairie surface.
The longest, largest, main ridge of the county begins in the southeastern part, on the divide between the waters which flow into the Mississippi and those which flow into Root river, and extends in a northwesterly direction through the townships of Dresback, New Hartford, Pleasant Hill, Wilson and Warren into Utica. From this main ridge branches innumerable extend in every direction. The most important ones are Homer ridge between Cedar and Pleasant Valley creeks, and Minneiska ridge between Whitewater and Rollingstone, both ridges leading to the Mississippi river.
In the south part of St. Charles in Saratoga, and the northw4est part of Freemont, are to be found some broken ridges or hills, none of them rising above the general surface of the county. The valleys surrounding these hills are not so deep as the valleys along the streams in other parts of the county, and in some places they gradually rise and extend into broad upland prairies.
In this part of the county, or among these hills, there are several fine groves of timber. Cheatem's grove in the southwest part of Utica, Blair's grove in the northeast part of Saratoga, and Harvey's grove on the line between Saratoga and St. Charles, are the most notable. They contain a fine thrifty growth of oak, poplar and butternut, with a dense growth of underbrush in some places.
At the heads of all the streams, or along their margins, timber of various kinds is found. As we approach the top of the bluffs it consists mostly of white and red oak, with patches of white birch. In the valleys are found burr oak, hard maple, white ash, rock and red elm, basswood, hackberry, black walnut, butternut and poplar. The bluff lands, which include the parts of the county lying along the Mississippi, the Whitewater and the branches of Root river, and the ridges connecting them, are generally well timbered, especially on their sides facing the north, the fires of early spring burning the south sides before the snow has left the north sites, or before they become sufficiently dry to burn. Where the fire is kept out timber rapidly springs up.
As the line of the county extends to the middle of the channel of the Mississippi, and the channel sometimes passes next to the Wisconsin side, there is in the townships of Rollingstone and Winona a large amount of bottom-lands covered with timber. Oak, ash, elm, birch, cottonwood, willow and maple are most abundant.
In the two townships last mentioned, there is lying between the bluffs and the river a sand or gravel prairie six or seven miles in length and about three-quarters of a mile in width, which is a few feet above high water, and of nearly uniform level surface. Contiguous to this prairie, and next to the bluffs, is a series of terrace or table lands, which are timbered with the three kinds of oak before mentioned. The same character of table-lands also occur at the mouths of all the streams that flow into the Mississippi.
As we leave the timber and ridges approaching the prairie throughout the whole county, there is more or less grub or brush land, which is usually a small growth of oak, red and white. There are also patches of brush land consisting of hazelnut, wild plum and crab-apple.
The bluff and ridge lands throughout the county, especially the part that is timbered, consist of a clay loam varying from one foot to twenty feet in depth. As the Mississippi and the larger streams are approached, the sides of the bluffs are in many places quite precipitous, the rocks cropping out to the surface. As the bluffs are descended, the soil changes in composition by an admixture of sand and lime from the decomposed rocks.
Lands lying close by the river at the mouth of the valleys have little or no clay at the surface, but the soil is underlaid by a stratum of clay or loess (an unstratified usually buff to yellowish brown loamy deposit found in No. America, Europe, and Asia and believed to be chiefly deposited by the wind ~ Merriam Webster) almost impervious to water before reaching the gravel or sand rock of the bed of the river.
As we ascend the streams that flow into the Mississippi, if the valleys are broad the soil is a stiff, tenacious clay of bluish cast, but darkens in color on exposure to the air.
This clay is evidently local drift, as it is stratified and does not contain any boulders, drift coal, nor other matter indicating true northern drift. Where the valleys have retained the wash of the bluffs, and the water-courses have not interfered, the clay is covered and mixed with vegetable mould, sand and lime, in some places several feet deep.
The soil of the upland prairie is a deep dark loam, and is underlayed by stiff clay or by rock. This soil does not materially change in color nor in texture by cropping. Among the broken ridges or hills of the south-central and west parts of the county the rocks come very near to the surface of the upland, and the lower ground, though gradually rising into upland prairie, is in places quite sandy. There is upon the surface of this sandy land an accumulation of decomposed vegetable matter very dark in color, indicating the presence of lime in its composition.
The soil of the brush or grub lands is similar in appearance to that of the timber lands, but contains a much greater amount of crude vegetable matter.
Spring wheat has been considered as the staple crop, but oats, corn, barley and potatoes in the order named are largely grown.
The timbered or ridge lands have produced good crops of winter as well as spring wheat for twenty-five years, and winter wheat was also grown in the valleys near the Mississippi for several years very successfully. It has not, however, succeeded on the prairie.
Though this county does not claim to be the banner county of the state in wheat-raising, it is entitled to its full share of the credit for the popularity to which Minnesota wheat has attained for quality and amount to the acre under cultivation. It is said to be a fact that any soil which will produce good crops of wheat will also grow good crops of any of the cereals adapted to the climate. Whatever failures may have occurred in the production of the common cereals in this county, in no case can the failure be attributed wholly to the character of the soil. For the production of these grains the average yield compares favorably with any portion of the state. One instance of the marvelous productiveness of the soil may be given. Upon the first farm opened in the Rollingstone valley there was sown, in the first week in October, 1852, some winter wheat. It was harvested the first week in July of the next year, threshed upon the ground with a flail and cleaned with a sheet in the wind, and yielded thirty-seven bushels to the acre. The same ground produced nine successive crops of wheat, and the ninth was the best that had been raised. This ground has now been under cultivation for thirty years without any particular rotation of crops and without artificial manure, and is apparently as productive as ever for any crop except wheat, yielding large crops annually of corn, oats, barley or grass. The average yield of wheat has, however, materially decreased in this, as well as in other counties of the state for a few years past. It is believed to be owing entirely to climatic reasons, as there has been no diminution in the yield of other grains. ("But in the seventh year shall be a Sabbath of rest unto the land, a Sabbath for the Lord: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard." Leviticus 24:3 ~ included by webmaster who says, "I believe the mistake of failure to rotate and failure to allow land to lie fallow has been proven by modern farming methods.") The grass product ranks next to oats in acreage, being somewhat more than corn, and within the last few years stock of all kinds is receiving much attention, and so far no general diseases have appeared among swine, cattle and horses.
Of other productions than those already named there is found in our market rye, buckwheat, beans, flax-seed, timothy and clover seed, grapes, tobacco, onions and honey.
In the vicinity of the bluffs contiguous to the Mississippi, and along the margins of the smaller streams, crab-apples, wild plums and grapes are abundant.
In the timbered belt, about the groves, and in sheltered locations, several varieties of the cultivated apples are grown. As reported by the assessors, there are at present growing in the county about 51,000 apple-trees.
Of the smaller fruits, grapes, strawberries, raspberries, currants, etc., are grown in all parts of the county, and yield abundantly.
In character and variety of wild plants and flowers, this county does not differ materially from others similarly situated. The upland prairie produces grass mainly. There is, however, during the summer, a great profusion of wild flowers. Upon the warm hillsides, or on sandy land, in early spring, sometimes before the snow has disappeared, the well-known anemone is the most conspicuous; during May and June, blue or violet and scarlet are the predominating colors; in July and August, white and yellow adorn the roadsides and uncultivated places. In the fall the moist grounds are literally covered with purple and white.
In the whole timbered belt and along the margins of the streams the ground is loaded with a dense growth of rank vegetation.
Wild deer had been kept out by the Indians, but for a few years after the first settlements were made they gradually increased in numbers; a few are yet seen every winter.
The black bear, being somewhat migratory, has been occasionally seen. Both timber and prai4rie wolves were at first quite common; the prairie-wolf is still annoying the flocks, but the timber-wolf is rarely seen. Foxes, red and gray, stay about the rocky ravines and bluffs. Beaver were quite plenty in many of the streams. Several otters have been caught, also mink, weasel, and large numbers of musk-rats.
The badger, raccoon, woodchuck and polecat are common.
The large gray wood-squirrel and the prairie gray squirrel, the red squirrel, the chipmuck (sic)(the black squirrel has visited us, but is not at home), and both varieties of gopher are numerous.
Of the rabbit the gray is most common.
Of the migratory feathered species that remain here a short time in the spring, but do not nest, the wild goose, the brant, and several varieties of ducks, are the most plenty. These confine themselves mostly to the immediate vicinity of the Mississippi river. The curlew is occasionally seen, also the pelican. Of those that remain during the summer and nest here, the wild pigeon and blackbird eagle are common. The mallard and wood-duck frequent the small streams and nest here, but not abundantly.
All the migratory birds common to this latitude are to be seen here.
Of those that remain all winter the prairie-hen is most general; the partridge, the quail, the blue-jay, and several varieties of owls, are usually about the sheltered places in the timber.
Speckled trout were in all the small streams of this county and very plenty. There are a few left in nearly all of them. The state fish commissioners have placed young ones in some of the streams. The water coming from springs and being rapid is nicely adapted to their habits, and some efforts have been made to propagate them. There are several fine springs well adapted to fish culture. The main difficulty seems to have been to guard against sudden overflow, as the streams are liable to rise very high and quickly. Fish common to the Mississippi river run up several of the streams in the spring and return to the river again. The Mississippi furnishes a large quantity of fish yearly, the greater portion being taken with the seine. The varieties generally caught are buffalo, catfish, pickerel, bass and wall-eyed pike. There are also sturgeon, sunfish, perch, suckers, and several other kinds.
The geological formation of the county is quite uniform in character. The appearance of the rocks at the surface, in St. Charles, Saratoga, and part of Fremont and Utica, is somewhat different from those lying along the Mississippi, the Whitewater, and the streams that flow into Root river. Here, also, the valleys are much broader, and the loam, or top-soil, thicker and more evenly spread. The highest lands are tillable and usually turfed all over.
The lowest visible rock along the Mississippi, and probably underlying the whole county, is the St. Croix sandstone. This sandstone varies somewhat in appearance and texture. In the southeast part of the county the quarries show a fine building-stone of superior quality for working, of a grayish color, that hardens on exposure to the air. In some places the rocks are of a reddish cast, probably owing to the presence of iron. Some of the layers are quite soft and are readily excavated. In the south part, Utica, St. Charles, part of Fremont and of Saratoga, the sand-rock cropping out of the hills or low bluffs is nearly white in color, loose in texture and disintegrates rapidly, forming a beautiful white sand. Overlying the sandstone is the lower magnesian (magnesium oxide ~ webmaster) formation, which also probably underlies most of the county. It is a hard, flinty, whitish or light-gray rock, composed of lime and sand, with streaks of calcite along the larger streams. The upper portion only is visible, the lower part being covered with wash from the bluffs. This rock is not available for use, being very hard and of irregular fracture, not easily quarried or worked. In some places along the Mississippi there is seen, overlying the lower magnesian, a sandstone loose in texture, crumbling rapidly and largely forming the soil of the sides of the bluffs. It is probably not more than fifteen or twenty feet in thickness. Corresponding with this sandstone, there extends through a part of the towns of Wilson, Hart, and part of Norton, a sandstone of similar texture, but deeper colored, more firm, and in some cases regularly and beautifully corrugated. Overlying this sandstone is magnesian limestone, its layers generally regular, but varying in thickness. This is the generally-used building stone of the county. This stone does not change on exposure, and large quantities are used by the railroads and shipped to Wisconsin. There are some small specimens of fossil remains to be seen in this limestone. In the vicinity of St. Charles the limestone is largely composed of fossil remains, trilobites and cretaceous shells of several varieties.
There are no evidences of northern drift in this county. Probably owing to its altitude no boulders are to be found. The clay generally exists in pockets, and is stratified. There are some small deposits of loess usually in the valleys, and mound-like in appearance. Where wells have been sunk in different parts of the county, upon the higher lands, the rocks are found to be of nearly uniform character, and water is not usually found till the sandstone is reached. The well of Mr. Clawson, in Saratoga, presents an unusual phenomena. At the depth of seventy-five feet the drill opened into a crevice or a cave, and the air rushed out with great violence. At the distance of four feet more the rock was again struck, and water obtained at the depth of one hundred and forty feet from the surface. The current of air in the well changes with the wind, the downward current in winter freezing the water in the pipe to the depth of the crevice, seventy or more feet, and again rushing out, so as to thaw all the ice about the well.
In numerous places along the Mississippi, especially upon the gravelly headlands, are yet evidences of the mound-builders. Where the mounds have been examined little has been discovered beyond stone implements, arrow-heads, and in some places skeletons, which are no doubt intrusive burials. Large quantities of clam shells and bones of various animals are also found, mixed with pieces of charcoal and with ashes. In one case a charred package of white birch bark was found of nearly a cubic foot in size, and scattered about the mounds is usually found much fragmentary rude pottery.