IAGenWeb Project - Allamakee co. Misc. Historical Items

Logo copyright Waukon Standard, used with permission

Logo courtesy of Jeremy J. Troendle, Managing Editor, Waukon Standard

Permission to publish the Wexford Wanderings series on the Allamakee co. IAGenWeb was granted by the author, Hugh E. Conway. We thank him for his generosity.


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11 * Article: 12 * Article: 13 * Article: 14 * Article: 15

page 1-- Introduction & Articles: 1-5
page 2 -- Articles: 6-10
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Articles: 16-21
page 5 - Articles: 22 & 23


European settlers coming to the New World and settling in Iowa were often serenaded through the night by a chorus of howling wolves. The melodious serenade started with the low whining call of a single wolf, that was soon was joined by pack mates until as many as 40 wolves were sending their savage cries far into the night echoing through the hills and valleys of northeast Iowa. Timothy Madden’s wife Rosina spent many a night complaining about the loud, annoying racket the wolves were making and how the loud clamor scared the children.

Two different species of wolf were present in Iowa in the early 1800’s when the first white settles arrived. The larger timber wolf‘s (Canis lupus lycaon) coat could be any color in the spectrum from nearly pure white blending in perfectly with winter snow to a jet-black that made the wolf seemingly invisible in the dark of night. Their average weight is 65 to 115 pounds, with some giant individuals weighing up to 195 pounds. The wolves’ height is from 26 to 38 inches with a total body length of 40 to 58 inches.

The wolf has three layers of wolf coats (capes) along its back with lengths ranging from 1/4 inch to four inches. Wolves are able to erect the long hairs (raising the hackles) on their nape and along their spine, which made them look much larger and more ferocious. A large pack of timber wolves will own and hunt in a territory of over a hundred square miles. Each pack is lead by the dominant pair of wolves in the group, the alpha male and female.

The smaller plains wolf (Canis lupus nubilus) inhabited the grassy prairies and roamed along the edge of forests. Their pack size was smaller than that of the timber wolves. The usual hair color of the prairie wolf is a streaked combination of grays and browns that acts as camouflage blending in with the tall prairie grass. The prairie wolves were notorious for roaming close to cabins at night searching for food and howling throughout the night. Wolves require three to ten pounds of meat a day to survive. They live a life of feast or famine, going many days without eating, then binging when food is available by eating up to 20 pounds of meat in a single meal.

The hardest time for wolves was in the cold winter months when snow is deep and there is a scarcity of game animals. In the early days, settlers had a difficult time keeping domesticated animals, especially sheep and chickens that often fall prey to wild animals, especially hungry wolves.

In the bedtime stories and folklore of the early settlers, the wolf was portrayed as a hellhound beast to be destroyed or as a creature to be feared. Europeans grew up with stories of the Big, Bad Wolf trying to catch and make a snack of Little Red and her grandmother in “Little Red Riding Hood”, or of the Big, Bad Wolf huffing and puffing to blow down the house and eat the pigs in “Three Little Pigs.” In mythology, wolves are one of the creatures considered to be shape-changers switching into animal and human form, possibly starting the legend of a werewolf changing from human to a blood thirsty wolf during a full moon.

Not all stories or tales of the wolf are bad. A female wolf mythically raised the famous children (Romulus and Remus) who are credited with founding Rome. In the “Jungle Book,” Mowgli, an orphaned boy in India, was adopted and raised by a pack of wolves. Native Americans portrayed the wolf as brave, honorable, and intelligent. In Native American society, the Wolf Clan performed social welfare roles by administering public health and safety.

In the folklore of the Sioux tribe, the Creator made the world with four wolves; Blue Wolf, Black Wolf, White Wolf, and Gray Wolf. Blue Wolf referred to the day and Black Wolf to the night. In time, all but Grey Wolf went to live below ground. The offspring of the four wolves first lived as animals and gradually through time evolved into human beings.

There have been only a few reported cases of wolf attacks in the United States and only one documented fatality. J. J. Audubon, founder of the Audubon Society, reported an incident that occurred in 1830 where “two colored people carrying axes were traveling through Kentucky when a pack of wolves attacked them”. They defended themselves with the axes until one man dropped his ax and climbed a tree. The next morning the bones of his friend and the bodies of three dead wolves were found scattered in the snow.

Biologists say that there are four possible reasons for a wolf to attack a human:

1) Extreme hunger.

2) Familiarity, such as in a zoo or owners with a wild wolf or wolf-dog mix.

3) During a chase for large game and to protect a fresh kill.

4) Disease, especially rabies.

There are a number of reports of rabid wolves traveling long distance to attack humans. In 1851, a rabid wolf bit 46 people and killed 82 animals near Hue-Au-Gal, France. In the Turkish town of Adalia, another rabid wolf wounded 128 people and killed 85 sheep. Rabies or “hydrophobia” is transmitted by bites from animals with rabies. The disease causes the victims to rage in delirium, howling like wolves, and attacking and biting those around them. There are historical correlations between outbreaks of rabies among people and the werewolf trials that were held in Europe.

In many other countries wolves have been responsible for killing people. Even today, Russia, China, and the Middle East have people in poorer sections of their countries killed by wolves. Our forefathers and early settlers in the United States believed that they had the right to protect their family and livelihood from danger. They were willing to obtain inexpensive and efficient weapons that ordinary people could afford that provided protection from predatory animals and could be used to kill wolves.

In early spring of 1857, Mr. Schultz had exhausted nearly all of his flour during a very long and severe winter. He loaded his sleigh box with bags of wheat to grind at the mill in Decorah. On his return trip home near nightfall, a hungry pack of timber wolves started following the horse and sleigh. Being unarmed and fearful, Mr. Schultz threw over a bag of open flour hoping to stop the wolves and gain time to get to the safety of his house. It worked, but for only a short time as the starving wolves quickly gulped down the flour before again starting in hot pursuit. As the sun came up, Mr. Schultz reached his home with no wolves in site but to his dismay all of his flour was gone.

Farmers in Iowa demanded help and the Iowa legislature responded in 1858 by starting a bounty on wolves. In the first five months of 1871, Allamakee County paid bounties on 47 wolves. During 1881, bounty was paid on 88 wolves. In 1903, there was still a $10 bounty per wolf. In 1913, Allamakee County was paying $20 per wolf. By 1960, the only states in the lower 48 that still had wolves in the wild were Minnesota and Michigan.

The bounty system had a negative side effect. Some hunters and trappers farmed wolves by catching and killing the young wolf pups and leaving the adults alive to produce young for next year. Unscrupulous individuals would split the wolf hide to get bounties in more than one county courthouse by bringing an ear to one county, another ear to a second county, and wolf lips to a third county.

Many methods were used to capture and kill wolves. Snares and wolf traps were set and checked at regular intervals. Poison in meat was placed near wolf dens. Another method was a human hunter howling to bring curious wolves within range of a shotgun or rifle in the hands of the howler, or his friends positioned approximately 50 yards upwind between the howling human and the wolf den.

Still another method for prairie wolves was a circular wolf hunt where all the men and boys in an area would turn out with horses and dogs on a selected day forming a gigantic circle covering many square miles. The small army would make loud noises and continually close in the circle until the final signal was given for the dogs to be let loose into the circle center where five, ten, and as many as 50 wolves would be killed in a single day. Guns were not allowed in circular wolf hunts for fear of someone being shot; instead each member had his dog and a sturdy club to dispatch the wolves. Sometimes, two circular wolf teams were formed to compete with each other. The winning team received a feast provided by the losing team and the bounty money from the wolves.

My dad told a tale of hunting with wolfhounds in the Wexford valley. The great hounds of Ireland were specially bred by the Celts as early as 237 BC to protect the 150 Irish kingdoms and to hunt wolves, boar, and bring down the gigantic Irish elk that stood six feet tall at the shoulders. After all the guests were safely placed inside at night, the giant hunting dogs were turned loose to protect homes and herds from intruders. The Irish wolfhound is the largest and tallest of all dog breeds. Christopher Columbus, on his fourth voyage to the Americas, brought along an Irish wolfhound for protection and companionship. The breed almost became extinct in the 1780’s after the last Irish wolf was killed, but a Scotsman kept the blood line alive.

Here is an interesting story about Irish wolfhounds that occurred around 400 AD. For six years, a young 16-year old Patrick MacAlpern, later known as “St. Patrick”, was enslaved and kept as a shepherd with only a hound for companionship. After a dream, Patrick traveled 200 miles to the Irish coast and found passage to Spain aboard a ship full of stolen Irish wolfhounds. Patrick’s ability to control the dogs won the penniless man his passage to Europe. When the ship ran out of food and landed in a desolate part of Spain, Patrick said a prayer and miraculously a herd of wild pigs appeared providing food and nourishment for both the men and dogs.

My dad, Hugh Conway, tells a tale of the Sweeneys and Gallaghers who lived near Mauston, WI. These hunting companions had some real good wolfhounds that were capable of running down a full-grown wolf. They enjoyed the thrill of a good wolf chase and spent many a weekend visiting my dad in the Wexford area hunting with their dogs. The hunters would listen for the barking of the dogs and position themselves along the next valley the wolves would come down. When the wolf passed in front of them, they would shoot the wolf. If the dogs caught the wolf first, they would go back and pick up the wolf carcass to claim the bounty.

Today in northeast Iowa, you do not have to worry about the fate of wolves but rather about the fate of your livestock since wolves are on a comeback. In 2004, an estimated 3,020 wolves live in Minnesota. There is a good chance that the southern range of some of the wolf packs runs into the northern counties of Iowa. Again, the nighttime serenade of howling wolves will begin ringing through the hills and valleys around Wexford.


The early settlers coming to America left a world of tyrannical landlords, religious persecution, and for the Irish immigrant’s mass starvation from a devastating potato famine. They made the long journey across the ocean to a new world where other perils awaited, including diseases such as dangerous outbreaks of the flu.

Yes, the common flu has wreaked havoc on families and left countless people suffering and many people dying. In the United States in a typical year, such as 2001, there were an estimated 97,920,000 cases of the flu with over 100,000 American citizens being hospitalized and approximately 20,000 residents dying from the flu or flu-related complications.

In America, the flu (referred to as the “GRIPPE” in colonial days up to the Civil War) can be traced back to the winter of 1779 when George Washington came down with a case of the flu at Valley Forge. In the Civil War, Spanish War, and World War I, solders used the name INFLUENZA because the deadly disease seemed to come from nowhere, sicken many, and mysteriously pass from soldier to solder without rhyme or reason. The flu was an equal opportunity disease making people sick regardless of race, ethnic background, gender, religious preference, political power, or social status.

Flu, or influenza, is not a modern day disease but can be traced back to earlier times. The book “Of the Epidemics” written by Hippocrates in 412 BC mentions an illness describing flu-like symptoms. In 212 BC, the Roman Legion attacking the city of Achradina, Sicily stopped the battle when both sides became sick with a terrible case of virulent disease having flu-like symptoms that killed or incapacitated many people on both sides.

In 1580 A.D., one of the first recognized world wide flu pandemics spread from North Africa through Europe, Asia, and North America. In a few small, isolated Spanish villages, everyone died. In the last millennium, there have been an estimated 20 flu epidemics with four major flu pandemics that have killed 1 million or more humans.

The Russian flu (1889-1890) was a pandemic that started in central Asia (China) spreading through Russia and Europe. By late 1889, the pandemic continued to spread to North America and then into Africa, Japan, and Pacific Rim countries. The Russian flu pandemic consisted of more than one wave with the original variety in central Asia being relatively mild and subsequent forms from Russia much more virulent and deadly, killing over 250,000 Europeans and approximately one million people worldwide.

During the time that the Russian flu was raging in North America, fourteen parishioners were laid to rest in the Wexford Cemetery. Similar to most flu outbreaks, the majority, eight, of the deceased were elderly. Mr. Brennan had enjoyed life for over 90 years and Mrs. Collins had lived well into her late seventies. Unlike them, Baby Manning had been on this earth but a scant six months. During flu outbreaks, the elderly and very young are most susceptible to the flu and complications caused by the flu, including pneumonia and interactions with previous diseases, especially tuberculosis.

The worst flu pandemic occurred from 1918 to 1920. This massive flu outbreak made approximately one billion (1,000,000,000) people sick, claimed the lives of 6,500 Iowans, killed over 548,450 people in the United States, and worldwide an estimated 20 to 50 million people. Because Spain experienced the first major flu outbreak, the pandemic became known as the “The Spanish Flu”.

In Iowa City during the peak of the Spanish flu pandemic from October till Christmas, most schools, theaters, dance halls, and public gatherings were closed. Why, even the Iowa football games were played in an empty stadium without fans. The University was quarantined, with hospitals full of patients and additional infirmaries established on-campus at the Commerce Center and downtown at the Masonic Temple.

Many major cities passed civil ordinances trying to stem the spread of the flu. San Francisco required all residents to wear facemasks in public. New York and Chicago required the use of a handkerchief while sneezing or coughing. In Spokane, all schools, theaters, places of amusement, dance halls, churches, and Sunday Schools were closed and conventions or other public meetings were prohibited. Even weddings and funerals limited the number of people who could attend to less than ten. The Colgate Company placed ads describing methods to prevent flu, including breathe as much fresh air as possible, chew food carefully, and avoid tight clothes, tight shoes, and tight gloves.

The disease probably started in France or the United States and twice passed around the world. One theory has a flu-infected duck or bird defecating into a barnyard in the United States near Kansas where a pig became infected and passed on a highly contagious mixed-up variant form of the virus to a farmer. This hybrid (bird, pig, human) flu virus was lethal to humans and had the ability to spread easily from person to person.

The farmer passed on the disease to a solder drilling at Fort Riley, KS. Members of the 89th and 92nd Army divisions leaving Fort Riley brought the flu to Europe, where soon American, French, British, and German solders were dying in droves. In World War I, more solders died from influenza than from enemy fire.

The Spanish flu was unusual because this virus killed many young, strong, healthy individuals in the prime of life. Many young fathers and mothers succumbed to the disease. Flu symptoms usually started with high fever, chills, headache, muscle ache in legs and back, and a dry cough with the inside of the mouth and throat turning bright red.

Healthy, strong men one day would be found dead the next as their lungs filled with fluids and blood from hemorrhaging caused by pneumonia. Many of the victims showed a blue color on the lips, ears, face, fingertips, and toes from the lack of oxygen.

During the time that the Spanish flu was raging in North America, twenty-two parishioners were laid to rest in the Wexford Cemetery. Similar to the Spanish flu, fourteen of the deceased (ages 14 to 46) were seemingly in the prime of life.

My dad sadly relates a tale of how his dad, Hugh, at the age of 45 died during an outbreak of the Spanish flu. In the winter of 1918, Hugh was working with his great-uncle Tom Gallagher on the Pacific Railway. They had helped to build 1,300 miles of track on the transcontinental-railway, including sections along the Chicago, Northwestern, and Pacific Railways. Hugh’s job was the manager and food supplier for the working horses and timekeeper for the railroad workers.

His wife Anna, daughter Kathleen, and sons Leo and baby Hugh came down with bad cases of influenza. Hugh took off work and rushed home to care for his family and nourish them back to health. Hugh wore himself down caring for his sick family and when he became sick with the Spanish flu his defenses were weakened. Hugh seemed to be getting better when suddenly he took a turn for the worse. It is believed that complications from the flu and pneumonia caused his death two days later in mid-December, 1918,

Anna Madden Conway had no way to support the family in Spokane, WA and all the extended relatives from both sides of the family lived in Iowa and Wisconsin. How awful that must have been packing up the belongings that she could carry and trying to bring her dead husband and three sick kids back on the train from Washington to Iowa. Luckily, the rest of the family fully recovered from the flu and Hugh’s body was buried in the dark, rich earth of Northeast Iowa.

The Conway family never went back to Spokane. Since they had to move fast to get Hugh’s body back to Iowa for burial, they left many belongings, including large or bulky items, behind. The family was really upset when the Shaughnessy cousins from Spokane wrote that the belongings left behind had been take possession of by the new residents, with many valuable items damaged or destroyed by the hooligans who followed them in renting the house. When the cousins were able to get into the house, they sent back a few items, including a Christmas doll from Hugh for his daughter Kathleen. Even though the bisque head had been broken, the doll became a cherished possession for his lovely young daughter.

My dad regretted not growing up and sharing more experiences with his dad (Hugh) but he was happy to leave the flu-stricken cities where in Spokane alone an estimated 16,985 people became hospitalized with influenza and its complications, which killed 1,045 citizens of Spokane. Hugh loved growing up and living in the beautiful and healthy environment (as that) found in the Wexford area. But, even in this idyllic setting the dreaded flu bug can sicken relatives, friends, and neighbors.

Different strains of viruses are responsible for causing the flu. The strains can mutate with great regularity, causing new epidemics. There is currently a bird flu strain that has crossed over to humans in Asia that has the medical community worried about a possible flu pandemic. Since 2003, cases of the avian flu virus crossing over to humans have been reported in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, and China. At least 133 people have become sick with the avian flu and 68 have died. A lot of money and effort is currently being directed towards finding a vaccine to work against this flu mutation that may develop the ability to become pandemic.

You can get the flu virus by coming in contact with an infected object (door knob or telephone) or from the spray when a person with the flu sneezes or coughs. The flu can be spread to others from just before the symptoms are noticed through three to four days after symptoms appear. Ways to help reduce your chances of getting the flu include:

Avoid the spread of the virus
Avoid exposure to people with the flu.
Develop good hand washing habits.
Avoid touching eyes or nose with your hands.
Get an annual flu vaccination (shot helps to either avoid flu or reduce severity)
Annual flu vaccines are based on expected form of flu and may not work with different mutations (viruses constantly change so vaccines must incorporate different virus strains from year to year)
The best time to get a flu shot is October 1 to mid-November, well in advance of the peak flu activity, which is normally December to March.
If you get the flu
• Rest in bed.
• Drink plenty of fluids.
• Take over-the-counter medications, as needed.
• If you have a serious case of the flu or complications develop, see a doctor.

I hope you never get the flu, but if you do please take care of yourself and protect others.


In the midst of winter’s bitterly cold days with howling winds blowing snow drifts as high as your belly button, it is nice to reflect back on the warm lazy days of summer and think about an enjoyable outdoor activity such as fishing along the banks of the mighty Mississippi River. Fishing is a relaxing pastime that dates back to ancient Egypt, where the first known painting of an angler with a rod or staff dated around 2000 BC was found etched in hieroglyphics on rock. Fishing, as a means of putting food on the table and at times as a source of survival, has come a long way since ancient Egyptian times, thanks to improvements in fishing methods and gear including: rods, hooks, tackle, and reels.

Today, I would like to share a tale with you passed down by my father about a memorable day of fishing. As a youngster growing up in the Wexford area, Hugh was spending the summers helping with the farm chores at the Madden farm. During a hot week in early July, Uncle Fred Madden had promised that if Hugh worked hard and finished all of his chores, he would take him fishing Sunday afternoon.

One beautiful Sunday morning, Hugh woke up early and hurried out to do his chores. He brought in wood for the wood cook stove (there were no electric or gas stoves). Since there was no running water in the house, he next went to the well to hand pump and bring back a pail of fresh water. The job he hated the most was emptying out and cleaning the night pots. At the Maddens’ farm, the toilet was an outhouse located outside, next to a large old cottonwood tree approximately twenty steps from the front door. When using the outhouse, there was plenty of reading material since the toilet paper used for wiping consisted of old copies of catalogs from Sears and J.C. Penney’s.

By the time he finished doing the chores, the sun was up and Aunt Bea had made a big breakfast of fried bacon, sunny-side up eggs, and fresh baked bread with hot coffee or fresh cows’ milk to drink. After breakfast, everyone dressed up in their Sunday best to attend morning church services at Wexford. The family took the long, five-mile buggy ride down the hill past Manton’s and Marley’s then up the Wexford valley to the church.

When they returned home from church, Fred sent Hugh off to gather the fishing tackle and equipment. Hugh changed into old clothes, then quickly rushed outside to the storage shed, where he picked up two bamboo-fishing poles, a spool of cotton fishing line, staples for sinkers, four cork bobbers, a dozen fishing hooks, a container with six nightcrawlers, and a jar with four big fat grasshoppers. He put all of the material into a bucket and ran back to Fred.

Together, they started walking down the hill toward the Mississippi River, stopping often along the half-mile hike to turn over logs and rocks looking for additional worms and crickets that could be used as bait. They were careful when turning over the logs and rocks making sure to look and listen first for a hidden rattle. Rattlesnakes often hid beneath logs or rocks.

When Fred and Hugh reached the river, they went to the top of a large boulder that many years before had rolled down off of the hillside and was now jutting far out into the river. The flat top of the boulder was ideal for arranging the fishing supplies. Hugh securely tied the cotton line onto the bamboo pole, placed the bobber for the desired depth, tied the staple on for weight, and tied the sharp eagle hook on with a square knot attaching the worm onto the hook by threading the worm’s body along the length of the hook.

From previous visits, they knew that along the side of the rock closest to the bank was where the bass, crappie, blue gill, sunfish, and perch could be found. In the deeper water in front of the rock, there were bigger fish including catfish, carp, buffalo, suckers, mooneye, walleye, dogfish, and northern pike.

With anticipation, Hugh tossed the line out in front of the rock and watched the worm quickly sink out of sight into the deep murky water. In a heartbeat, the bobber disappeared under the water and Hugh jerked back on the pole with all of his might to set the hook. The line went taut and Fred rushed to help Hugh pull in the fish. With a loud “SNAP”, the cotton line broke and the loose end of the line flew back at Hugh. Fred and Hugh looked at each other, frowned, shook their heads, and then went back to fishing.

Fred impaled a big green grasshopper on his hook, tossed the line out toward the deeper water, and watched the grasshopper quickly disappear into the water. In a matter of seconds, the bobber was jerked under the water and Fred yanked back on the pole. Again, the cotton line stretched tight before snapping with a loud “POP” and the frayed end came hurtling back toward Fred.

Fred looked at Hugh and said, “This fishing trip is not going as we had planned. We have already lost two bobbers, two hooks, and half of our fishing line and danged if I’ll let a fish get the best of me.” With that, he gathered up the fishing gear and said, “Come on, I’ve got an idea”, and set out back up the trail to the top of the hill. Now Uncle Fred was a very resourceful person and quite a problem solver.

When they reached the top of the hill, Fred went to the storage shed and pulled down a roll of chicken wire. He found the cut end of the mesh roll and started to carefully unwind a single strand of galvanized wire from the roll. When Fred had unwound approximately 20 feet of wire, he stopped and cut off the end. He made three loops with the wire and handed it to Hugh.

Next, Fred picked up a sharp double-headed ax from the shed and headed toward the edge of the woods, where he selected and chopped down a young oak tree. Fred cut a four-foot length from the fallen tree. He slipped the oak piece under his arm, picked up the pail with the fishing gear, and headed back down the hill toward the fishing spot with Hugh in tow carrying the wire.

On top of the flat rock, Fred secured the wire in place around the newly made oak fishing pole. The other end of the wire was carefully threaded through the eye of the fishhook and twisted securely to keep the fishhook attached to the wire. Fred threaded a big, fat, wriggling nightcrawler along the length of the hook and tossed the baited hook, with the wire following, out away from the rock into the deeper water.

The heavy wire and baited hook quickly sank out of sight. Within seconds, Fred felt a mighty pull on the wire and jerked the oak pole, setting the hook. The fight was on as Fred slowly rolled the oak pole, inching the fish closer to shore. After 20 minutes of hard work and slow reeling the wire onto the oak pole, a large shadow momentarily appeared near the water surface forming the outline of a REALLY large fish. After another 10 minutes of hard work, the fish had finally been reeled in enough to see it in the water. Since the fish was so huge and the top of the rock was two feet from the surface of the water, Fred had to work the fish around the side of the rock. Fred was sweating hard from the struggle but determined to catch this fish as he worked for another 15 minutes edging the large fish slowly around the side of the rock until the fish was close enough to bring up on the bank.

Both Fred and Hugh worked together to bring the giant carp onto dry land along the bank of the river. When the fish was finally securely on dry land, Fred gave a loud roaring “YAHOO”, jumped for joy, and did an impromptu Irish jig of joy. They both looked with surprise at the giant carp that must have weighted at least 40 pounds. Fred’s mouth watered thinking of how Bea would have fun cooking up a delicious meal with a main course of stuffed carp for supper that night.

I hope you enjoyed a tale from the past of fishing along the Mississippi River and how ingenuity combined with problem solving skills lands the big fish. May you spend many a day relaxing along the Mississippi River in northeast Iowa, but please do not go out and start unwinding chicken wire to fish with because the quality of fishing line, especially monofilament, is all that you need to pull in trophy fish.


Timothy Madden told his sons, who passed on to my father Hugh, that when he first arrived in Iowa and gazed across the large valley located north of Harpers Ferry there were numerous man-made mounds of varying sizes stretching from the base of the bluffs across the plain all the way to the Mississippi River. Through the years, the plow and farming have leveled the land, removing any clue of the mounds.

Today, there are still a number of mounds present in Allamakee County, including two small mounds on the Madden farm and a large conical mound nearly 25 feet tall located in the Wexford valley along Red Oak Road. Historically, the mounds came to be located in the area because of the activities of Native Americans.

Native Americans played a major role in the cultural heritage of northeast Iowa and some of their customs helped to change the shape of the landscape. The earliest Indian culture found in northeast Iowa was that of the hunter-gatherers which dates back approximately 12,000 years based on Clovis and Folsom style projectile spear points used to hunt the extinct woolly mammoths and mastodons at the time of the Wisconsin Ice Sheet.

From approximately 300 B.C. to 1300 A.D., bands of Hopewell Indians living in what is now northeast Iowa developed food-gathering techniques. Initially, they were hunter-gatherers and later changed into a more agrarian lifestyle with crops and gardens. This Indian civilization and era is often referred to as the Woodland Period. They made pottery and are known for their earthen mounds. Early efforts at mound building consisted of round burial mounds built using clamshells and bones from large game animals including the scapula blades from bison. The mounds marked the place of burial for descendants to visit and in time became sacred places where spirits dwelt. Some of the mounds were massive, towering over 50 feet in height. Later, the Hopewell started construction of animal-shaped mounds.

Effigy Mounds National Monument near McGregor contains 195 mounds, including 31 which are man-made mounds in the shape effigies that represent living creatures including eagles, falcons, bison, deer, turtles, lizards, and bears. Other areas in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota have mounds built in the shape of lynx, panther, bison, water birds, eagles, lizards, turtles, and a fork-tailed bird that resembles a man.

Around 1300 A.D. another Native American Indian group called the Oneota that belonged to the Mississippian Culture moved into northeast Iowa. The Oneota were native farmers and villagers who grew corn, squash, and beans. The Indians of the Mississippian Culture were also known for mound building and produced large mound cities where as many as 50,000 people lived. The most famous site, built with high pyramidal earthen mounds, was located in Collinsville, Illinois near East St. Louis.

The Winnebago Indians (called Ho Chunk in Wisconsin) are a tribe consisting of 21 bands that were moved into northeast Iowa by the treaty of Prairie du Chien in 1825 and another treaty in 1832 following the Black Hawk War. A few bands of the tribe had helped the Sauk Indians led by Chief Black Hawk. The Sauk were defeated at the Battle of Bad Ax near De Soto, Wisconsin in the fall of 1832. Col. Zackery Taylor (future President of the United States) was involved in the fight against Black Hawk and Lt. Jefferson Davis (future President of the Confederacy) was put in charge of the guard detail bringing Black Hawk from Fort Crawford in Wisconsin to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis.

By 1840, the whole Winnebago tribe had been removed from the eastern side of the Mississippi River to the Neutral Ground in northeast Iowa. When Iowa became a state in 1846, the majority of Winnebagos were moved to Minnesota, then on to a reservation in South Dakota, and finally to the Nebraska Indian Reservation in 1865. A number of the Winnebago Indians did not like the conditions in Minnesota or South Dakota and moved back to northeast Iowa and Wisconsin, including a small band of approximately 16 individuals who set up a permanent camp with teepees at the base of Mount Madden in Allamakee County.

During this time, Timothy Madden and his three young sons, Fred, Mort, and Mike, farmed this area. In early mornings during spring and summer, one of the boy’s jobs was to drive the cattle down the hill to the lush green grass found at the Big Meadows where the Wexford Creek empties into the Mississippi River. In the evening, they returned and brought the cattle back to the safety of pens since there were still large predatory animals including wolves and black bear in the area.

One morning, the boys had taken the cattle down to the Big Meadow and were returning home by a short cut, climbing up the steep front side of Mount Madden. Near the top was a large boulder half buried in the earth on the west side of the mountain.

Mort challenged Mike to move the boulder and Mike placed his shoulder to the big rock pushing and shoving with all of his strength, with no luck. Then, Mike challenged Mort to move the rock and Mort shoved and pushed until his face turned bright red, but still the rock never moved. Finally, all three boys started pushing on the rock, rocking and rolling the big stone back and forth until finally the boulder rotated forward and started to slowly move forward and roll down the hill.

The boys were smiling and happy until Fred shouted “LOOK" as he pointed down the hill in the direction that the rock was rolling. That darn rock was making a beeline right for the middle of the Winnebago camp. In horror, the boys watched as the big rock rolled down the steep hill gaining momentum and speed. The large rock narrowly missed a young Indian boy before crashing into the side of a teepee.

The Winnebago braves were yelling, shouting and running toward the teepee that was damaged, when a small Indian boy started yelling and pointed up the hill towards where the Madden boys were standing. Quick as a lick, all three boys set out in a rapid run toward home a long mile run away. Their feet seemed to grow wings as vivid memories of extremely angry men rapidly climbing the mountain spurred them on. All three boys were out of breath when they reached home. It was a long time before they were able to tell their dad, Timothy Madden, the story of what had happened. Timothy was angry with his boys and told them their youthful folly will cost them extra chores and a lot more work around the farm.

Next, Timothy went out to the root cellar with an empty sack and came out with the sack bulging. He headed down the hill toward the Winnebago camp with the three boys in tow to make amends to his neighbors, apologize for the youthful folly of his three young sons, and to offer gifts of repentance. All that Timothy said when he returned home is thank goodness that no one was hurt when that large rock smashed into the teepee. For over thirty years from the time Timothy had first arrived and settled in the Wexford area, he had lived in peace with the Winnebago.

The Winnebago Indians had lived peacefully in their camp at the base of Mount Madden for many years. More than once government troops had forcibly removed them from Iowa to a reservation in other states but they had returned to their camp at the base of Mt. Madden, a place that they called home. The Winnebago lived and survived off of the land until the disappearance of the majority of the larger game animals and birds from northeast Iowa, including buffalo, elk, black bear, white tailed deer, and turkey.

Hope you enjoyed this story from the past. Here is a wise Indian proverb to learn from and live by: Do not criticize another person until you have walked a mile in their moccasins.


Early settlers coming to northeast Iowa found an unusual type of soil arrangement called karst topography. Thanks mainly to the fact that the massive Wisconsin Ice Sheet “luckily” missed northeast Iowa in the Paleozoic age, leaving what is referred to as the “Driftless Area”. The “Driftless Area” refers to the fact that no glacial drift material was deposited in northeast Iowa during the last series of glaciers.

In karst topography, the underlying limestone formation with numerous layers allows water to flow in abundant underground rivers, supplying water to the numerous springs that lead into the many creeks and streams that pass through the valleys of northeast Iowa. On the Madden farm along the Wexford Creek bottom, there are two naturally occurring springs where clean fresh water seemingly bubbles out of the ground before forming a wet swampy area that drains into the Wexford Creek. Along the Wexford Creek, there are at least ten locations - that I am aware of - where fresh water springs feed sparkling clean water into the creek.

Karst landscape refers to areas that have soluble limestone bedrock close to the ground surface. Another characteristic of karst topography is sinkholes, where the limestone bedrock has been eroded away from acidic groundwater, leaving a void or hole under the ground that collapses, forming an oval-shaped sinkhole. The Yellow River Watershed in northeast Iowa that extends through Allamakee, Clayton, and Winneshiek Counties contains at least 2,953 sinkholes that have been identified and mapped. Sinkholes will often plug and unplug repeatedly, using timescales of months, years, or decades. Sometimes sinkholes will open, exposing decade-old farm equipment, machinery and old household items that were dumped into the hole by people who have long since died.

I was once asked by my cousin, Jerry Kernan, where the location was of a cave or sinkhole that my father Hugh had mentioned during a conversation at the Sweet Ridge Circle Breakfast in the Wexford hall. The women at Wexford have formed groups or circles of women within an area that are responsible for preparing breakfast after Sunday morning mass to raise funds for the church or for special intentions.

My dad told an interesting story about the cave that I would like to share with you. Hugh and his brother Leo were returning from Sunday Mass along the Wexford Creek bottoms when they spied a hole in the ground near the junction where two ravines intersected. One ravine led down from the Mort and Mary Madden farm, and the other ravine had its start near or on the Mike Mullarkey farm. When the young boys came close to the large hole, they looked down and were unable to see the bottom of the hole.

The boys ran to the Madden farm and picked up ropes for climbing, lanterns for light, and gloves to protect their hands, and hurried back to explore the large hole in the ground. They tied the rope around the nearest stout cottonwood tree and ran the other end of the rope down into the hole. Even with the lantern light the boys could just make out the bottom of the sinkhole many feet below.

Leo went down the rope by bracing his feet against the dirt on the side of the hole, using a hand-under-hand method of climbing down the rope. Hugh passed a lantern down to Leo, using a smaller rope. Leo yelled that there is a large room up ahead that is tall enough to walk into while still standing. Hugh climbed down the rope and together they set out to explore the cave. The light from the lantern made the large room, which was actually a cavern, glow eerily. The rocks scattered on the bottom of the floor and along the sides of the cave contrasted with the dark soil, forming ghostlike shapes in the lantern light.

The large cavern extended back approximately 15 feet into the hillside before narrowing down into a smaller passageway. The boys walked forward before being forced to stoop and then to crawl along on their hands and knees for the last 15 feet into a passageway that became smaller and narrower until the opening was too small for them to advance any further. Leo said, “Listen, I think I hear running water,” and Hugh replied, “Yes, it sounds as if there is a stream or river ahead.” With that they both backed out and climbed out of the hole. The boys went back to the Madden farm and told everyone about the cave, but none of their uncles or aunts were interested in exploring a hole in the ground.

That winter there was lots of snow and a combination of snow melt and spring rains caused a number of boulders, large rock, stones, and dirt to partially fill in the hole. Today, there is only a small depression where the entrance to the cave once stood. Maybe sometime in the future the cave will again reappear, showing another entrance into an underground river.

If you ever discover a cave, please beware. Caves often contain elevated levels of a gas called carbon dioxide (C02) or other dangerous gases. Cave atmospheres containing greater than one percent carbon dioxide are called “foul air.” This can occur in limestone caves with relatively still atmospheres, like those in northeast Iowa. To the beginning caver, the first encounter with foul air is often a frightening experience. Typically, there is no smell or visual sign associated with foul air, and the first signs are increased pulse and breathing rates. Higher concentrations of C02 lead to clumsiness, severe headaches, dizziness, and even death. In the past, miners used canaries, known as “Miner's Canaries” as detectors of dangerous gas in caves and mines. The bird is affected by the gas faster and in smaller quantities than the human body, giving the miners a warning to leave the mine.

The “Japanese Waltzing Mouse” was also used by miners to detect dangerous gases. This species of mouse was constantly active moving around in his cage. The mouse lived in a special cage with metal sides that amplified the sounds that the mouse made when actively moving. When the mouse in the cage became silent, the miners were warned of a potential gas problem.

There are other caves in the northeast Iowa area, including one on the front side of Mt. Hosmer in Lansing called Indian Cave, and another in Clayton County called Spook Cave, near Monona. Early pioneers in Clayton County often talked about hearing strange noises coming from a hole in a hill along Bloody Run Creek. Thus, Spook Cave, which is a river cave formed in karst topography, gained its name.

Spook Cave forms a single passage (by river) through the hillside along Bloody Run River, with low ceilings and rock outcropping at several points. It is possible to take a guided boat tour through the dark cave. On the boat tour, the guide explains how the cave was formed and points out and describes different rock formations along the way. If you take the tour, you should also bring a coat because the temperature in Spook Cave is always near 47F.

Another characteristic of karst topography in northeast Iowa is that the north and northeast-facing slopes keep cool in summer and warm in winter. Small ice caves, where the ice is believed to be up to 10,000 years old, are located behind limestone, which are scattered with loose rock (talus) near the base. Warm air is moved down into the ice cave in summer, escaping through vents as cooler air. The reverse flow occurs in winter, when the warm air moves out from the caves. The area near the ice caves keeps a constant temperature of approximately 40F and is home to plants and animals that existed in the glacial periods.

Early pioneers used these areas in a way similar to refrigerators since the temperature was always near 40F. Often they would dig root cellars on the north facing slopes to store produce during the hot summer and cold winter months.

Yes, northeast Iowa has an interesting history and is a wonderful place in which to grow up - enjoying and discovering nature’s beauty.

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