When Europeans first penetrated the country that has since become the States of the Middle and Northwest, and drained by the Ohio and Upper Mississippi and their tributaries, they found it either dense forests or wild prairie, presenting no evidence of ever having been cultivated. But here and there were hillocks of regular form, and mounds, some of them of great size, evidently of artificial construction, usually occupying commanding sites on high lands overlooking streams. Besides these there were walls of considerable extent, sometimes inclosing an area of 100 acres. Of these works, the Indians could give only vague and unsatisfactory accounts, and even acute research of archaeologists has resulted but in theories and conjectures.

In Clinton County, there are scarcely any of these mounds now visible, though some have been plowed over and obliterated but as there are a great many just across the river, especially at Albany, it is altogether probable that the same Mound-Builders occupied both banks of the Mississippi, and therefore a brief study of time little that is known and the great deal that is conjectured, about these extinct people, is germane to the purposes of this history.

The articles found in these mounds are of considerable variety. The most complete collection in the world is in the Museum of the Davenport Academy of Sciences. It comprises stone, bone and copper spear-heads, arrow-heads, of endless variety and all degrees of finish, stone axes, hammers and celts, shaped and pierced fragments of stone, intended either as ornaments or charms, earthen­ware, coarse and unglazed, but usually ornamented with some simple design, curiously similar to those characteristic of the stone age in Europe, and stone pestles, hoes and scrapers. Pieces of native copper and other minerals, from such points as to indicate a rude commerce, have also been exhumed. It is probable that the local mounds, though not necessarily all of the same age within many decades, were built by the same people, and probably by the ancestors of the present Indians. That the Indians knew nothing of these ancient tumuli proves nothing. An Italian peasant is ignorant of the history of the mighty monuments of Rome. Moors could not now build an Alhambra, nor Egyptian fellahs the temples of Karnak; and, even if some Indian tribes in the West developed some skill in mechanic arts, it could be lost by war, or other causes of tribal degeneration, decay or extermination. Retrogression is easy, not only among red, but white men, as may be readily observed on any frontier. It is very possible that Indian tribes that had attained to a rude agricultural condition, while undisturbed, by the frequent incursions of some more warlike tribe, as the Iroquois, who did extend their raids to the Mississippi Valley, might be compelled to revert to the hunting and fishing state. But in Iowa and Illinois buffalo and other large game were always so abundant, as far as can be inferred from the records of early explorers, that it is very dubious whether the Indians who dwelt in Clinton and adjacent counties ever attained even so advanced a civilization in regard to houses, agriculture and clothing as the Iroquois of the East, or even the Navajos of the Far Southwest. It is doubtful whether any of the mounds indicate any very great antiquity, though so far the really ancient mounds have furnished but very few implements, except those of stone or native copper; but this does not indicated the same age as such relics do in Europe, for, at the time of the Spanish invasion of Mexico (1519-21), stone and copper implements were in use among even the highly civilized Aztecs. The problem of the past in regard to this part of our continent is even more insoluble than that of the Etrurian cities in Italy, whose inscriptions are as yet unreadable even by the wisest philologists. Tablets covered with rough hieroglyphics and apparently intended as records have also been found in local mounds. But they do not indicate as high order of mind as did the neat bark-writing of later tribes.

The question arises, what was the design of these mounds? While the large ones farther east were undoubtedly intended to serve as fortresses, those in this vicinity seem to be tombs, points for sentries' lookouts or places for religious exercises and sacrifices, often, there is reason to believe, of human beings. Some contain only bones and articles usually buried with the dead others contain nothing, at least that has survived decay.

The flint arrow-heads, spear-heads and knives vary greatly in workmanship, some being finished with astonishing skill; others are dull and clumsy. The material varies from a semi-translucent horn stone to a dull chert. The forms are of very different shapes, from a spike-shaped flint two and one-half inches long by one-fourth of an inch thick and an inch wide to a stout ovate blade two inches long by one and one-fourth wide. It would be very easy to make out at least twenty types of these weapons. The axes, hatchets and chisels are generally made of dolerite, a greenish, tough rock, or of grayish syenite, and in a few cases of a beautiful flesh-colored granite elegantly finished. Tools, probably used for skinning animals, seem to be in most cases made of dolerite, as it retained an edge longer than most other stones. Pieces of these are found in the drift gravels and were probably the sources of supply. The cherts came from the Niagara limestone; the copper, from the Lake Superior veins; the obsidian, from Mexico; pipestone, from Minnesota; the mica, evidently used for ornaments, from North Carolina, and the best arrows from a certain flinty ridge in Central Ohio; hence there must have been an infant traffic carried on by courier and canoe, the barbaric precursor of the steam caravans that now traverse the same regions.

The earthenware is of various colors, some a cream tint like fine flower-pots, and from this running through all shades to a dark brown. It is generally rough and coarse in material and ornamented in straight lines of one or two series, though several specimens exhibit a higher degree of ornamentation. The beads or other personal ornaments or amulets are of copper, stone or bone. Wampum does not appear to have been used, as among Eastern Indians. Some copper may have been obtained from the drift, as several considerable pieces have been found within the county, evidently brought by glaciers from the north coast.

The Mound-Builders wore some sort of cloth as well as the dressed skins of animals. Some of the implements are found wrapped in wonderfully well-preserved cloth much resembling canvas. Trepanned skulls and flattened shin-bones are met with, showing that a rude sort of surgery, either for medical or superstitious reasons, was practiced, and that the skeletons are similar in conformation to the present tribes of Indians. No ethnological differences have been observed sufficient to give weight to the theory that these regions were inhabited by a previous race distinct from the copper-colored Aborigines. Anatomically judged, the Mound-Builders were neither larger nor stronger than men of to-day. In some instances, the skull departs from the ordinary Caucasian or present Indian-type, "the frontal bone receding from a prominent superciliary ridge, leaving no forehead, or rather the eye looks out from the frontal plate very similar to a turtle's shell and no more elevated." But the low forehead may have been artificially caused as in the case of the Flatheads in the Northwest, who may be congeners of the Mound-Builders forced from their old homes by more powerful adversaries.


Probably by far the most dramatic and tragic portion of the history of Clinton County is that of which there is neither tradition or record, antedating the arrival of the white man. Probably every romantic bluff along the river and deep grove along the creeks, has been the scene of attack and defense, ambuscades and massacres, as thrilling as those which, embalmed in the pages of poets and romancers, have made Scotland, Wyoming, New York and New England historic and classic ground. But the warfares and feuds of the Indian or other tribes are of no more moment now than "the conflicts of kites and crows," to which a great writer has compared the squabbles of the old German barons. Now sagamore and warrior, denizen and invader,

"—all are gone,
Alike without a monumental stone,'' 

unless a few crumbling and scattered earthen mounds serve as memorials. When the first white settlers took possession of their claims in Clinton County they must—if they paused from their labors to meditate—have felt very much as did the Israelites who ventured into the deserted Assyrian camp and there found such great treasures defended or owned by no man. Future generations will read of how their forefathers entered in and possessed the virgin prairies of Clinton County, finding farms, compared with the rugged East or arid West, virtually prepared by Nature's hand, very much as people now marvel at the gold and silver found by Cortez and Pizarro. But how different is the title to the fruits of the prairies, won by honest toil, from that to the wealth wrenched by the Spanish conquistadores from the Aztec and Inca, and the blessing that has followed the former contrasted to-day with the curse that has settled over the latter, is attested by the comparative result of the forty years of white occupancy in Clinton County and the two centuries since the Spanish conquests in the tropics.

It is not to be regretted, if the highest interests of the race are considered, that the red man had practically vacated Iowa's prairies before the territory was overspread by the westward-rolling wave of white immigration. Several alternatives would have been the result—a war of extermination as in Massachusetts, the "dark and bloody ground" of Ohio and Kentucky, and in the Gulf States, causing scores of desolated homes and the decimation of the bravest and best among the settlers, or the growth of a system of peonage as in the Southwest and Mexico, and troublesome negotiations as to the respective rights of savage and white man, varied by massacres like those in Minnesota. The moral status and nationality of the settlers would have secured them against amalgamation.

Probably there were none of the settlers so engrossed in considerations of possible profit from the bounteous soil which could not help, by its luxuriant primeval growth, testifying to its richness, that they failed to appreciate the vastness, gorgeousness and sublimity of the landscape, as they prospected for or selected, the sites of their homesteads. The whistle of the steamer echoed for miles over the quiet prairie, preventing loneliness from being felt by the settlers in the eastern part of the county, and hinting of the busy and fast approaching world of traffic, into which the new country they were developing would soon be incorporated. Never was there a fairer fresh field for pioneers to create a State as near perfect as permitted to men, to mould one that would worthily succeed the prairies which Bryant has so fully and poetically pictured.


"These are the gardens of the Desert, these
The unshorn fields, boundless and beautiful,
For which the speech of England has no name— 
The Prairies. I behold them for the first,
And my heart swells, while the dilated sight
Takes in the encircling vastness. Lo, they stretch
In airy undulations, far away,
As if the ocean in its gentlest swell,
Stood still with all rounded billows fixed,
And motionless forever. Motionless ?
No—they are all unchained again. The clouds
Sweep over with their shadows, and, beneath,
The surface rolls and fluctuates to the eye.
Dark hollows seem to glide along and chase
The sunny ridges. Breezes of the South !
Who toss the golden and the flame-like flowers,
And pass the prairie-hawk that, poised on high,
Flaps his broad wings, yet moves not— 
* * * * —have ye fanned
A nobler or a lovelier scene than this?
Man hath no part in all this glorious work;
The hand that built the firmament hath heaved
And smoothed these verdant swells, and sown their slopes
with herbage, planted them with island graves,
And hedged them round with forests. Pitting floor
For this magnificent temple of the sky— 
With flowers whose glory and whose multitude
Rival the constellations! The great heavens
Seem to elope down upon the scene in love,— 
A nearer vault, and of a tenderer blue
Than that which bends above our eastern hills.

"As o'er the verdant waste I guide my steed
Among the high, rank grass that sweeps his sides.
The hollow beating of his footstep seems
A sacrilegious sound. I think of those
Upon whose rest he tramples. Are they here— 
The dead of other days ?—and did the dust
Of these fair solitudes once stir with life
And burn with passion? Let the mighty mounds
That overlook the rivers, or that rise
In the dim forest, crowded with old oaks,
Answer. A race, that long has passed away,
Built them; a disciplined and populous race
Heaped with long toil the earth, while yet the Greek
Was hewing the Pentilicus to forms
Of symmetry, and rearing on its rocks
The glittering Parthenon. These ample fields
Nourished their harvests, here their herds were fed,
When haply by their stalls the bison lowed
And bowed his maned shoulder to the yoke.
All day this desert murmured with their toils,
Till twilight blushed, and lovers walked and wooed
In a forgotten language, and old tunes,
From instruments of unremembered forms,
Gave the soft wind a voice. The red man came— 
The roaming hunter tribes, warlike and fierce,
And the mound-builders vanished from the earth.

"The solitude of centuries untold
Has settled where they dwelt. The prairie-wolf
Hunts in their meadows, and his fresh-dug den
Yawns by my path. The gopher mines the ground
Where stood their swarming cities. All is gone;
All save the piles of earth that hold their bones.
The platforms where they worshiped unknown gods,
The barriers which they builded from the soil
To keep the foe at bay -- till o'er the walls
The wild beleaguers broke, and, one by one,
The strongholds of the plain were forced, and heaped
With corpses. The brown vultures of the wood
Flocked to these vast, uncovered sepulchres,
And sat, unscared and silent, at their feast.
Haply, some solitary fugitive,
Lurking in marsh and forest till the sense
Of desolation and of fear became
Bitterer than death, yielded himself to die.
Men's better nature triumphed then. Kind words
Welcomed and soothed him ; the rude conquerors
Seated the captive with their chiefs; he chose
A bride among their maidens, and, at length,
Seemed to forget—yet ne'er forgot—the wife
Of his first love, and her sweet little ones,
Butchered amid their shrieks, with all his race.

"Thus change the forms of being; thus arise
Races of living beings, glorious in strength.
And perish as the quickening breath of God
Fills them or is withdrawn. The red man, too,
Has left the blooming wilds he ranged so long.
And, nearer to the Rocky Mountains, sought
A wilder hunting ground. The beaver builds
No longer by these streams, but, tar away,
On waters whose blue surface ne'er gave back
The white man's face—among Missouri's springs,
And pools, whose issues swell the Oregon—
He rears his little Venice. On these plains
The bison feeds no more. Twice twenty leagues
Beyond remotest smoke of hunter's camp,
Roams the majestic brute in herds that shake
The earth with thundering steps—yet here I meet
His ancient footprints stamped beside the pool.

"Still the great solitude is quick with life— 
Myriads of insects, gaudy as the flowers
They flutter over; gentle quadrupeds,
And birds that scarce have learned the fear of man,
Are here, and sliding reptiles of the ground,
Startlingly beautiful. The graceful deer
Bounds to the woods at my approach. The bee,
A more adventurous colonist than man,
With whom he came across the eastern deep,
Fills the savannas with his murmurings,
And hides his sweets, as in the golden age,
Within the hollow oak. I listen long
To his domestic hum, and think I hear
The sound of that advancing multitude
Which soon shall fill these deserts. From the ground,
Comes up the laugh of children, the soft voice
Of maidens, and the sweet and solemn hymn
Of Sabbath worshipers. The low of herds
Blends with the rustling of the heavy grain
Over the dark-brown furrows. All at once,
A fresher wind sweeps by and breaks my dream,
And I am in the wilderness alone."




SOURCE: Allen, L. P., History of Clinton County, Iowa, Containing A History of the County, it's Cities, Towns, Etc. and Biographical Sketches of Citizens, War Record of it's Volunteers in the late Rebellion, General and Local Statistics, Portraits of Early Settlers and Prominent Men, History of the Northwest, History of Iowa, Map of Clinton County, Constitution of the United States, Miscellaneous Matters, &c, &c., Illustrated. Chicago IL; Western Historical Company, 1879




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