IAGenWeb Project - Clayton co.

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History of Clayton County, Iowa
Chapter III

Prehistoric Races

(page 281-286)

In the year 1848, the Treasury Department of the Government employed David Dale Owen, of New Harmony, Ind., to make a geological survey of Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. He soon after took the field in person, and in 1852 the Government published his report in a large volume, accompanied with maps, all of which contains a mass of highly valuable and interesting matter.

He was the pioneer geologist of the Upper Mississippi Valley, and his great labor and work has formed the foundation for all who have, or who may, succeed him.

He was a native of Scotland, educated in Switzerland, and with his father came to America and settled in Indiana. He also made a geological survey of his adopted State, Kentucky, and Arkansas, and he died in 1860 greatly lamented by all who knew his value and worth as a man and a scientist.

By an act of the Legislature of Iowa, approved Jan. 23, 1855, the Governor of Iowa, by the advice and consent of Senate, was authorized to nominate a person competent to make a geological survey of the State, and in accord with the provisions of this act, James Hall, of New York was appointed and during the years 1833-’36 and ’57 completed the survey, and in 1858 the State published his report in two volumes.

This report contains many new and valuable additions to that of Mr. Owen; particularly in regard to the Coal Measures and paleontology of the State, and is full of highly interesting matter.

By another act of the Legislature of Iowa, approved March 30, 1866, Charles A. White, of Iowa, was appointed State Geologist for two years, and he also proceeded to make another geological survey of the State, and his report was also published by the State in 1870, in two volumes.

This report also contains much valuable and interesting matter, and is a valuable addition to that of its predecessors.

Since then nothing has been done by the State to require any more knowledge, either of her mineral wealth, her paleontology, or of the remains of the silent pre-historic races that lie entombed in her soil.

The end and aim of all these surveys were to give a general outline of the geology of the State, and from the means and time to which they were confined, it was impossible for them to give an extended local survey to each county, and we must be content with what we have from them, together with what observations have been made by private parties.

The topography of the county, consisting of its surface, its trees, roads, streams, bridges and towns, has all been given in our history under different heads, together with its physical geography, and it is, therefore, only necessary for us in this article to describe and point out its rock formations.

Beginning on the Mississippi River at the northeast corner of our State, and running west until we strike the northwest corner of Howard County, thence southeasterly through that county and the west part of Winneshiek, so as to include the valley of the Turkey therein, thence along the south bank of that stream, crossing the Volga about one mile above its mouth, and on to the northeast corner of Delaware County; thence diagonally through Dubuque County to a point on the Mississippi near Bellevue in Jackson County. We have then, here and there exposed to view, and cropping out over this wedge-shaped tract, all the different members of what geologists call in Iowa the “Lower Silurian,” together with detached portions of the lower beds of the “Upper Silurian,” crowning the highest bills; and beginning at the same point as before, and following down the Mississippi, and carefully noting where one after another of its lower formations dip out of sight, to a point below McGregor, and thence westward up and along the valleys of the streams, and commencing with the lower rocks, it includes and exposes within this local belt,

1st, A rock on which stands the city of Lansing, consisting of sand, lime shale and magnesia, and in alternate beds, in which Judge Murdock has found the Trilobite, the Singula and the Orthis. At Lansing this rock rises up to about 100 feet above the river, and dips from that city both north and south, and for several miles the great river has cut its bed through it, and by none of the geologists we have mentioned is it noticed as a distinct rock in Iowa geology.

2. Rising higher in the series we come to the Potsdam sandstone, which rests upon the former, and attains at Lansing a thickness of not over eighty feet, and this rock, like the other, has a north and south dip from the same point, and its southerly dip throws it below the bed of the river a little below McGregor, and this may be said to be the first rock of the “Lower Silurian” in the ascending series that is exposed in the county of Clayton, and no fossil remains have ever been found in it, and, as its name indicates, is a great mass of sand, almost crumbling to the touch.

3. As we pass above it we find resting on it what is generally known as the “Old Magnesian lime rock,: having a striking resemblance to the Galena, and in many locations in Clayton and in Allamakee is “lead bearing,” but never in sufficient quantities to pay for working. It is also in many localities rich in fosssiliferous remains, and furnishes a most excellent building rock, and it dips out of sight a little above Guttenberg.

4. In passing still higher and resting on the former is what is called “the St. Peter sandstone,” which, like the Potsdam, is a loose, friable mass of sand, contains no fossils, but its extreme whiteness in places make it a valuable rock for the manufacture of glass, and many tons of it have been sent away from Clayton for that purpose. In several localities the red oxide of iron percolates through it, giving to the mass a beautiful variegated appearance, from which it has been called in places “the picture rocks,” and having the same southerly dip as all the others, it also passes out of sight within the limits of Guttenberg.

5. Still passing upward, we have exposed the whole length of the county on the Mississippi, and extending to Eagle Point in Dubuque, as well as up and along all the western tributaries of that river, what is called “the Trenton limestone,” and with the exception of some of its lower beds, is totally unfit for building purposes, but makes the very best of lime.

If during the long ages of the turbulent and sedimentary seas that deposited the preceding St. Peter sandstone, marine life did not exist, then upon the very first inch of the Trenton deposition that life began in the greatest profusion, and continued on until the end, showing it to be the richest in fossiliferous remains of all the members of the Silurian age.

6. Above and resting on the Trenton, is the Galena, or as it is sometimes called, the “Upper Magnesian,” lime rock, composed of sand lime, magnesia, and this is the principal lead-bearing rock of the world, whenever it attains a degree of thickness and compactness to hold its minerals. It must be noticed that (with perhaps the Potsdam sandstone as an exception) all these members of the Silurian age, become alternately, and in their order, the surface rock, and grow thinner and thinner as they arise from their southern dip until they finally cease; and in the case of the Galena it enters the southeast corner of our county with considerable thickness, and where it is pressed down by the shales and the Niagara of the Blue Belt Hills become in detached basins the surface rock, but never reaches the northern limits of the county.

It was known to the early Spanish and French voyagers, as well as to the early settlers of Galena and Dubuque, that lead ore existed in the bluffs formed by this rock in the rear of Guttenberg, and as early as 1843 Thomas P. Park, Robert Campbell, Daniel Justice, E. Cornish, Herman Graybill, Christian Wise and others had all of them good “prospects” along the bluffs of Miners’ Creek, from which they derived good incomes.

After these came Noble and Goodridge, Sargent and Goodnough, Joseph Holmes and many others, and so great was the yield and so glittering the prospects that Fleck & Brothers erected a smelting furnace on the creek, and for many years Guttenberg exported considerable quantities of the metal both in ore and in the pig. In all the great lead basins of Iowa and Wisconsin, the lead exists in perpendicular seams of alternate openings, with a cap of solid rock separating them; but in the mines of Guttenberg the openings are horizontal, and it is perhaps from this fact and the low price of the mineral that all these mines have been abandoned and the smelting furnace demolished.

In 1845 Tobias Walker and others discovered rich lead mines in Buena Vista Township, and for a time there was a great rush of miners to this locality; but most of the discoveries were found to exist in “bunches,” and this fact, together with the gold excitement of California, which broke out soon after, scattered these miners, and since that time but little prospecting has been done in this locality beyond the first discoveries; but form them, many millions of pounds have been obtained, and it is the impression of good geologists that large deposits of the ore still lie hidden in these mines.

Beyond these two localities lead ore has been found in varies places in the county, both in the Galena and in the “Old Magnesian,” but never in sufficient quantities to pay for the labor expended.

About three miles above Guttenberg, James and Lueius Langworthy, in an early day, discovered a small seam of mineral, and entered a large tract of land in the vicinity, and commenced to work the seam, but it soon proved worthless.

It has been reported that large quantities of lead have been raised and obtained from this mine, and, as this mine exists in the “Old Magnesian,” these reports have deceived some of the most eminent geologists of our times, and have induced them to believe, and assert that here was an “exception,” a “fault,” a “slide,” or an “anomaly,” but we can assure our readers that there is neither, and that the only “fault” there is, is in believing the stories and giving them a wide circulation over the scientific world, when there was nota shadow of truth in them; and the man who will expend money and labor mining in this rock, anywhere from this locality to Lake Superior, in expectation of wealth, will be sadly disappointed in the end.

The similarity between this rock and the Galena rock is so striking, and in a broken, tumbled-up country, where both exist and are running with a dip, the difficulty in tracing the attitude of the one or the depression of the other have often led experienced miners astray, and before knowing their mistake, or often being ignorant of any distinction between them, have expended large sums of money and years of labor without any return.

7. Passing on upward over the Galena, we have underlying the soil of the county what has been called the “Maquoketa Shales,” and, as part of this system in a few localities, the pure slate filled with iron pyrites, and some of the beds of the former showing the remains of trilobites and other fossils.

8. Crowning our highest hills from Buena Vista to the northwest corner of the county, and in detached portions,, we find the Niagara, which in many places furnishes the finest building rock in the county.

It must be noticed that in describing all of the foregoing rocks in an ascending series from the Mississippi River, and in passing up the tributaries, that each one of them forms a water-shed of its own, from which gush springs of the clearest and purest water, and from erosion, forming an uneven line of out-crop, give these valuable springs to nearly every eighty acres in the county; nor can we leave this branch of our subject without calling attention to the fact, that in no case does any one of these formations commingle its materials with any of the others, either above or below it, but on the other hand there was an abrupt ending of the one before the succeeding one began, showing clearly that a long interval of time must have elapsed, with a great change of circumstances between the ending of the one and the beginning of the other.

From causes which we have no space to discuss in this article, the great “Drift flow” only struck the southwest portion of our county, leaving it, with portions of other counties adjoining, an island during the period of the turbulent seas that deposited the “Drift.”

Without descending into a particular description of the fossils of her rocks, we have here given a general outline of the geology of the country, together with what is known of its mineral wealth, and more we could not do under all circumstances.


Prehistoric Races
Prepared by Judge Murdock
(page 286-291)

From the very earliest ages down to the advent of the white man it is evident that the valley of the Mississippi River afforded an abundant supply of everything that was necessary for the support and increase of savage races.

There was a time when the Mississippi and the Ohio entered the great ocean a little above Cairo, through a common mouth, and, unlike many other rivers of the globe, their waters have always had free access to that ocean, from which they have always been well stocked with fish, and innumerable wild fowl has ever floated on their waters and nested on their banks, while the plains and forests of their water-sheds have always swarmed with wild game, and draining the center of a great continent of many miles in game, and draining the center of a great continent of many miles in extent in a north and south direction, the savage had only to await the return of the vernal equinox to bring him along their banks a fresh supply of migratory fish, birds and animals, more sure and certain than the crops of the civilized agriculturist. It was in this great valley, skirted in the distance by a double range of lofty mountains, that the white man found the Indian flourishing in all his savage glory, and, knowing its importance to the existence of his race, the stately savage fought long and hard for its retention before he gave way to superior force and discipline; and when he left he took with him his origin, his history, and his domiciles, and but for an occasional upheaval of his dead, and the transient wanderings of remnants of his race among us, it would be hard for us to prove that within the memory of men still living vast numbers of his race and kindred once occupied this soil.

Not until the Indian had glided out of sight did we begin to suspect that he himself was but the successor of other and distinct races who had preceded him in this great valley, and who, like himself, had yielded to that inevitable fate that befalls animate and inanimate life alike, and gradually that suspicion grew, until it has at last developed into a fixed and permanent reality that throughout the length and breath of this vast continent other and distinct races from the Indian once held the sway of empire, and permanently occupied the soil; and one of whom, from the peculiar form of his earth-works, we call the “Mound builder.”

Beginning at the mouth of the Mississippi River, on high lands beyond the reach of inundations, and following it upon either shore, as well as along the shores of its greatest and smallest tributaries, and the ridges and divides that separate them until all of their head waters are reached, on e would never be out of sight of the works and remains of these strange people; and, judging form their extent and vast number, as well as what we have before said of the prolific sources of food along the route, we must conclude that these people once existed in countless numbers.

The wide extent of their works to which we have referred includes Clayton County, and, along the water-courses, every other tract of land from Lake Winnepeg to the Gulf of Mexico; but, confining our observations to the limits of the county, and beginning at its southeast corner and following along the shores, the benches, the bluffs, and the ridges of all the water-courses and tributaries that lead to the Mississippi River, we can enumerate their works by the thousand. Starting off at the point of a main ridge, we follow, perhaps, a long row of round or conical mounds, branching to the right and left on every spur of the ridge, and making detours and crossing valleys to other ridges, either to encounter the same class of works or a commingling of these, with long earth-works, of from forty to perhaps a thousand feet in length, and these again ceasing abruptly in a cluster of earth works in the shape and form of some bird or animal.

On a ridge not far from North McGregor, we have counted no less than sixteen of these animal mounds, all of which were in sight of each other, and ranging from two to three hundred feet in length, and all looking like things of life lying down in repose.

In the erection of these animal mounds great labor was required, and while they exist their purpose will ever be a subject of discussion and conjecture; and when we see this class of mounds commingling together with the long and round mounds in the same locality, or even scattered wide apart, we are led sometimes to think that they differ in point of age, and that they are the commingled works of two or more races instead of one.

We know that the long mounds would exactly fill the purpose of interment for a large number of dead killed in battle, and although but few human remains have been found in them, and these of a doubtful ages, yet the battles and the erection of these mounds may have occurred so long ago that every vestige of their remains has had time enough to perish.

It is a hard matter to judge and compare the relative ages of two or more earth-works, for one of a century will look to the eye as one as old as one of ten centuries; but in passing along the ridges, the long mounds are very much denuded or flattened, and in many instances are only discernible by an experienced eye, while the round mounds of the same material, on the same ridge, and seemingly a part of the same system of works, have a fresher look, are less denuded or flattened, and often contain more or less human skeletons, some of which are at present in a good state of preservation.

The raw material composing the bones of the “Mound-builder” is greater and more compact than those we have met of the civilized races, and all circumstances considered, would outlast the latter in the ground by many ages, yet with all, their durability is but a question of time.

There is to be found on all the clay ridges that abound with earth-works a little mouse, of what order we cannot stop to inquire, and this little rodent works its way down into the tomb of the “Round Mound-builder,” and often builds its nest in his skull, while age after age the progeny feed upon the other bones, until they are all consumed, when it emigrates to more plentiful deposits, and we are inclined to think, if the truth is generally known, that this mouse is no respecter of races; but it is here that we see a sure and powerful assistant in the obliteration of human bones.

All these facts could fill these long mounds with the dead of men killed in battle, and belonging to a race who may have preceded the “Round Mound-builder,” by many ages.

But when we come to the “Round Mound” we find that they generally contain more or less adult human skeletons, and this being the rule, we are warranted in asserting that all of them have been erected for one and the same purpose, and that either from the causes we have mentioned, or from some other unknown cause, the remains have disappeared from some of them; and if we are right in this conjecture, then the number of subjects that are now, and have heretofore been in these round mounds within the limits of our county is, and has been enormous.

From fifteen to twenty well preserved adult skeletons in a single mound is no unusual find, and these are generally found lying on their backs, with their heads outward, and their lower limbs crossed in such a manner that hardly a part of one can be dislodged without disturbing some parts of another, and in this manner they present themselves to the eye of the philosopher and the curious, to bid them solve the mystery of the origin, their life, their death, and their sepulcher.

This is a command and a task not easy to perform, and much of which, if undertaken in regard to living races, would prove a failure.

It is now generally conceded that the “Mound-builder” was distinct and separate from all other races of the globe; that the race is now, and has been for centuries, totally extinct, and that none of the living civilized or savage races of the earth have ever left us the slightest truthful history or tradition of the existence of a living “Mound-builder,” and it is therefore certain that they arose up, passed over continents beyond the line of written history, and far beyond the reach of the traditions of living savages, and alone to their bones and their earth-works must we therefore look for a solution of the mystery that has ever hung around them.

It does not appear that their heads have ever been artificially deformed, but are in the shape in which nature formed them, and they generally slope from all sides to a cone, forming a solid bony ridge or bump on the top, and the whole well braced with good material, and bearing a strong resemblance in shape and form to the mound from which they were procured; and if we can believe that a people with uniform heads will produce none but uniform ideas, that always culminate into uniform works, and that high and conical crowns are indicative of great reverence, fear and superstition, then we have touched the key that unlocks the mystery which has so long hung over the sepulcher and the fate of the “Mound-builders,” leaving their origin and their history to be traced in the future back through the deposits of glacial mud to that early morning of primeval life.

Certain is that civilization has never been found growing wild on any part of the earth, and some writer has observed that it can only result from the cross or amalgamation of two or more races into one, whereby the uniform ideas of each are changed in the progeny into discordant thought and action, and which in turn produces doubt discussion, inquiry and experiment, until at last a system of law and order is gradually conceived by which life, liberty and the accumulation of property are all protected.

On this continent alone the works of the “Mound-builder” are too laborious and too extensive to be accomplished by the mandate of any form of government known to savage races; and no ties of kindred nor affection for the ordinary dead has ever been found, either among the savage or the civilized races, that was strong enough to impel the labor necessary for their construction. Many of these mounds, with their skeletons in preservation, are found on steep and almost inaccessible points and bluffs, while others are several miles distant from water and on high and sterile ridges, with no indications of former habitations near them, and when uncovered, many of these skeletons about their heads present the appearance of a movement before death occurred and after the body had been placed in position.

From all of these facts, and many others which we could present, it must be that the subjects in these mounds walked to the spot selected while alive, and there under a terrible superstition, now indicated by the shape and form of their heads, and drowned to every sense of life by some devilish and inspiring chant from the voices and instruments of their friends around them, quietly laid themselves down to be covered up by the survivors; and whether this immolation was forced or voluntary, its long practice finally resulted in the total extinction of the race.

Near clusters of these round mounds we have in many places found a singular heap of earth and stones which, when uncovered, proved to be an excavation in the ground walled round with rock, calcined by heat, across which is found the charred remains of a stick, and the cavity filled with ashes, charcoal and charred human bones, many of which are split lengthwise and all broken up into fragments, and if we are not here dealing again with the commingled works of two or more races instead of one, then the “Round Mound-builder” was a cannibal of the very worst type.

But we must here conclude by saying to the reader that we have given the “Mound-builder,” as we have seen and judged him from our own standpoint, and we cheerfully turn him over to others who, from fuller investigation may arrive at a different and a more rational conclusion concerning him.


-transcribed by Brittney Jo Welsh for Clayton co. IAGenWeb, August 2011
-source: History of Clayton County, Iowa, 1882, Chicago: Inter-State Publishing Co., 1882. Reproduced by the sponsorship of the Monona Historical Society, Monona, Iowa, reproduction Evansville, Indiana: Unigraphics, Inc., 1975;
pages 281-291


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