By: Kurt Sampson
Many groups of Native American peoples lived on the Horicon Marsh and the Rock River and utilized the land and water with its numerous natural resources. In the early history of Dodge County Wisconsin, in the area we now call Horicon, these groups of people included the Potawatomi, Menominee, Sauk and Fox, Sioux, and most notably, Winnebago, or as they refer to themselves today, the Ho Chunk Nation of Wisconsin.
One of the earliest historical mentions of the Winnebago people in the Horicon area was related by Satterlee Clark in the pages of the History of Dodge County Wisconsin 1880. Clark describes his layover in Horicon during a portage to the upper Rock River from Lake Winnebago and its southern outlet, the Fond du Lac River. He recollects the night of September 2, 1830, at the southern mouth of the Horicon Marsh: “I slept in an Indian lodge on the east bank of the Rock River where Horicon now stands. There were two rows of lodges (wigwams) extending several rods north from a point near where the Milwaukee & St. Paul Bridge (railroad trestle) now spans the Rock River. The population… I should judge, was close to 2000 – bucks, squaws, and papooses. I was on my way in the company of a Winnebago Indian named White Ox to an Indian settlement at the head of Lake Koshkonong. I was but 14 years of age and lived with my father at Fort Winnebago. The Indians treated me well, and I have no cause to complain of ill usage at their hands at any time during the 17 years thereafter that I traded with them. They always possessed and exhibited the warmest friendship for me, and now, when a few scattered remnants of the once powerful tribe that inhabited Southeastern Wisconsin come to Horicon, they never go away without paying me a visit.”
Satterlee Clark was born in Washington D.C. on March 22, 1816. He attended Utica Academy in New York, and shortly after in 1828 moved to and settled for a short time at Fort Howard in Green Bay, Wisconsin Territory at the age of 12 with his father. Two years later in 1830 he was appointed sutler at Fort Winnebago by President Andrew Jackson but because of his young age was forced to subcontract the work to a resident of Detroit named Oliver Newbury. Nonetheless, he served as the principle sutler, whose job as a civilian merchant was to sell provisions to the United States army in the field, in camps, or in quarters. Sutlers sold wares from fort stores, from the back of a wagon, or even from temporary tents while traveling with an army. Satterlee Clark worked from Fort Winnebago from 1830 to 1843; he came into contact with many different Native American peoples, especially the Winnebago people who altered his trading practice toward them because of their want for modern European goods. At Fort Winnebago he met his wife Eliza, the young daughter of a southern military officer stationed there; they were married in the Old Indian Agency House.
Fort Winnebago and the Old Indian Agency House were located overlooking the eastern end of the portage between the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers, east of present day Portage. It was the middle one of three fortifications along the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway that also included Fort Howard in Green Bay and Fort Crawford in Prairie du Chien. Fort Winnebago was constructed in 1828 as part of an effort to maintain peace between white settlers and the region’s Native American tribes following the Winnebago War of 1827. The fort and the Indian Agency House served directly to deal with the Winnebago Indian presence in this region. Indian Agent John Kinzie was appointed to oversee the Indian Agency House in 1828, and eventually with his wife Juliette Magill Kinzie, they lived together at the portage from 1832-1834. Juliette Kinzie would later write of the young couple’s experiences at the portage in her book Wau-Bun, the “Early Day” in the Northwest, which chronicled their experiences dealing with the Winnebago people in this region in paying out the annual annuities promised by the United States government; this included the Winnebago bands along portions of the Rock River.
The strategic importance of the portage on the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway was central to maintaining order in this new territory. Fort Winnebago’s location near the portage allowed it to regulate transportation on the heavily traveled connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. This afforded Satterlee Clark an opportunity to travel throughout this region and come into contact and trade with many Indian peoples. Clark was a vocal proponent of Indian rights and was even accused of helping the Winnebago to resist the United States treaty proposal in 1836 in which the government wished to strip the Winnebago of all of their lands east of the Mississippi. Governor Henry Dodge even attempted to strip Satterlee Clark of his license to trade with the Winnebago because his influence among them was so great. The Winnebago Indians were the most influential Native American tribe in Dodge County at the time, and they held prominent positions on the entire length of the Rock River stretching from the river’s beginnings at the Horicon Marsh all the way down into central and northwestern Illinois. The Horicon Marsh was once even referred to as the great Winnebago Marsh by early European settlers. William Larabee, an early Horicon settler, is credited with naming Horicon after Lake Horicon in his native New York (now called Lake George). Horicon was thought to mean “clear or pure water” by the local Horicon Indians.
Despite Satterlee Clark’s efforts to persuade the Winnebago from ceding their lands, the Winnebago eventually ceded all their lands in Wisconsin in various treaties beginning in 1829, and again in 1832, in which the region of Horicon and Dodge County was included. A third treaty drafted in 1837 stipulated the removal of the Winnebago to Iowa, and increased European settlement immediately followed. Dodge County was created by an act of the Wisconsin Territorial legislature in 1836, and was named in honor of Henry Dodge. Even though many Winnebago Indians were forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands due to questionable treaties, many returned to Dodge County and the Horicon area in the 1830s and remained. Dodge County in the 1830s was still a mostly wild unsettled territory with many Winnebago Indian villages remaining on the Rock River. On Captain T.J. Cram’s map of the Wisconsin Territory dated 1839, “Hochungara” (Ho-Chunk) is listed as being a Winnebago Indian village at Horicon, with an ancient Indian trail leading westward to Beaver Dam. Translations of Hochungara include: “the big fish people,” “the people of the parent speech,” and “the people of the original language.” Current Ho Chunk Nation elders say it means “the people of the big voice” or “the people of the sacred language.”
In 1845, Mrs. George Beers of Horicon recollects that the Winnebago Indians living near Horicon wore red blankets to distinguish themselves from the Potawatomi and Menominee Indians that also frequented the area. Mrs. Beers relates an account that in the 1840s, Horicon was still a very wild and beautiful place. She describes Horicon as an Indian planting ground where many corn hills could be found scattered about the town. She states many Indian burial mounds were scattered throughout the area, especially in the area of the old train depot on the eastern side of the river. Mrs. Beers was especially fond of the numerous natural springs found throughout the Horicon area that we now know had a direct correlation for the numerous effigy mounds constructed in the area. Springs are sacred to most Native American tribes in the Great Lakes region including the Winnebago. This has been confirmed through years of archaeological as well as ethnological research that has determined that often times ancient burial mound sites were constructed near springs that were deemed sacred to the ancient and more modern Native American inhabitants. One interesting story that highlights this belief by the Winnebago was recorded in the History of Dodge County Wisconsin 1880, stating that Vita Spring in Beaver Dam was held in great esteem by the Native American inhabitants of this area for centuries for its “healing waters” and rightly named it “healing spring.” In the 1840s, Chief Much-Kaw (as he was known to Beaver Dam residents) referred to the spring as “much good water.” Much-Kaw claimed to be about 120 years old when he finally died in 1860. He contributed his long life to drinking the spring water out of Vita spring in what is now known as Swan City Park.
Other settlers of Dodge County also chronicled Winnebago Indian villages to have existed at various times around the Horicon Marsh. Samuel Thomas reported in 1848 and 1849 that the Winnebago village of “Hobnail” thrived on the edge of the Horicon Marsh near Burnett Township in Section 22 on a small stream flowing into the Horicon Marsh. The village was purported to contain roughly 200 inhabitants, including a few Potawatomi. There was reported to be 20 or more round wigwams and longhouses covered with bark and marsh grass rush matting. The longhouses were partitioned off with matting inside, and the Indians inhabited this location from early spring to the beginning of winter. The native men had percussion lock guns and raised some corn hills and had dugout canoes. Another Winnebago village called “Scalp Village” was also listed around this same time near the old Zoellner’s Mill in Chester Township on the north end of the Horicon Marsh. Winnebago Indians occupied many other portions of Dodge County as well. Jacob P. Brower, the first permanent settler of Fox Lake, relates a story of encountering Winnebago Indians at Fox Lake in 1838 and coming into contact with the Winnebago Chief Mach-koo-kah and his subordinate Chief known as the “Dandy” by early settlers because of his magnificent facial paint and feather headdress. They are also known to have inhabited virtually every community in Dodge County, with written accounts appearing in the early histories of Beaver Dam, Waupun, Westford, Oak Grove, Burnett, Chester, Williamstown, Theresa, Hustisford and Lowell to name a few.
In 1851, Dr. Increase A. Lapham, Wisconsin’s preeminent scientist, came to Dodge County to survey ancient Indian effigy mounds in the city of Horicon along the banks of the Rock River. In his landmark publication on Wisconsin’s ancient mound sites entitled The Antiquities of Wisconsin, as Surveyed and Described, published in 1855, Lapham states: “The most extended and varied groups of ancient works and most complicated and intricate are at Horicon. Plate 37 represents the principle groups immediately below the town, but does not include all in the vicinity. They occupy the high banks of the river on both sides. There are about 200 ordinary round (burial) mounds in the neighborhood and all, with two exceptions, quite small. The two larger ones, on the west side of the river, have an elevation of 12 feet, and are 65 feet in diameter at the base. The others are from one to four or five feet high. In several of them we noticed very recent Indian graves, covered with slabs or stakes, in the usual method of Modern Indians.” Plate map 37 in The Antiquities of Wisconsin, as Surveyed and Described illustrates the diverse Late Woodland Period (A.D. 700 – A.D. 1200) effigy mounds and conical mounds still remaining in the area of Horicon in the vicinity of the old Winnebago Indian village in 1851. Mostly destroyed today by development of the modern city of Horicon, a few of these mounds still exist today on Larabee Street and Valley Street along the Rock River.
The city of Horicon today is built entirely upon hundreds if not thousands of ancient as well as more historic period Native American burials; this attests to its long prehistoric occupation as a favorite area for habitation among many Native American cultures over many thousands of years. Today archaeologists refer to these myriad mound-building cultures as being part of the Woodland Tradition, which stretches from about 800 B.C. until about A.D. 1350. Many ethnographic researchers and archaeologists have attributed the construction of Late Woodland Period (A.D. 700 – A.D. 1200) effigy mounds to the early ancestors of the Winnebago in this region. Winnebago myths, stories, legends, and cosmological beliefs illustrate in their oral traditions a rich and varied account of the Winnebago people and the development of their clan systems that seemingly tie them directly to effigy mound shape construction; mounds in the shapes of bears, deer, birds of various types, water panthers and turtles just to name a few. Many of these effigy mound types are preserved in the Nitschke Mounds County Park just outside of Horicon in Burnett Township on County Highway E, two miles west of Horicon.
Interestingly, Satterlee Clark in his recollections of his 1830 visit to Horicon does mention the numerous burials along the banks of the Rock River in Horicon stating “Along the banks of the river could be seen the last resting place of many good Indians.” He doesn’t refer to them as ancient effigy and conical burial mounds. Clark relates the practice of the Indians at Horicon burying their dead above the ground along the banks of the Rock River on prepared platform scaffolds constructed of wooden poles and brush about six or seven feet above the ground. Interestingly, he also relates how it was a common practice of the Indians to bury the dead in canoes covered with bark and sealed with tamarack gum and then placed up on these platforms. This was a burial practice that was also seen on the lower Rock River in Wisconsin near Lake Koshkonong as related in the memoirs of Aaron Rankin who first came to what is now called Fort Atkinson with the first settler Dwight Foster in 1836. On a deer hunting trip he states: “Coming out near Rock River I saw a canoe suspended by two crotched posts stuck in the ground. I had been told there was a dead Indian in the canoe, and climbing up the posts I looked over into the canoe. Well, all there was left of that Indian was a few bones and a piece of Blanket.”
Satterlee Clark eventually moved to Horicon in 1855 and worked for the railroad, but prior to that he had curtailed his Indian trading for a time being and moved for a brief period to Green Lake, Wisconsin (then Marquette County) where he studied law. Clark was a Democrat, a state assemblyman from Marquette County in 1849 and later from Dodge County in 1873. He also served as a representative of Dodge County in the State Senate from 1862-1872. Outspoken in his political views, he vigorously opposed the Civil War and frequently praised the Confederate leader Jefferson Davis, whom he had known briefly at Fort Winnebago. Although considered a Copperhead, Clark’s warm personality and friendly, accommodating nature made him a popular figure with both whites and Native Americans. Once in Horicon, Clark used his popularity with the Native Americans to resume his trade with them. He established a trading post out of the upper back attic window above the original kitchen of his home in Horicon located on 322 Winter Street. This home was built on a hill on the east side of the Rock River overlooking the strategic beginnings of the river flowing south out of the mouth of the Horicon Marsh. Owned by the John Deere Corporation, this house is known as the Satterlee Clark Historic House and is the home of the Horicon Historical Society. This was a strategic location for control of the upper Rock River and access to the Horicon Marsh for thousands of years.
CAPTION FOR PHOTO:
James Milton Smith’s painting depicts the area of Horicon stretching to the mouth of the Rock River as it flows south from the Horicon Marsh, as it may have looked in the 1830s with numerous Native American inhabitants.