Eagle Mounds in Eagle Township (Richland County, Wisconsin)

Eagle Mounds in Eagle Township (Richland County, Wisconsin)

An Overview and an Update By: Jan Beaver and James Scherz October 21, 1993

Eagle Township, in Richland County, Wisc., adjoins the north side of the Wisconsin River directly north of Muscoda, Wisconsin. Reportedly, there  was  once  an  important village of the Fox and Sauk Indians near Muscoda before the coming of the Whites. Subsequent  to these Indians being  moved  from  their  homeland  after the Blackhawk  War,  a US Bureau of Land  Management  Office was set  up in  Muscoda, which oversaw  the sale of land to white settlers. Early surveyors (some working for this office)  were  the  first  to write about the numerous Indian effigy mounds found near Muscoda. Pidgeon’s book Traditions of De-Coo-Dah, 1853, tells of  the  once famous composite  emblem  mounds  on the north side of the Wisconsin River opposite Muscoda. He related stories that these composite mounds symbolized the joining or uniting of two different peoples  into a  new tribal unit. This area was evidently once very significant in the histories of various Native American peoples.

Moreover, large eagle mounds were once located in the region. Like the important composite mounds, most of the eagle mounds were plowed flat by early white farmers. Yet the name “Eagle” Township still persists. Some say it comes from the eagle effigy mounds that once were found on the landscape in this area.

One bird or eagle mound still survives in a park west of Orion. There are also some round and linear-like mounds extant on land presently owned by Frank Shadewald, at the end of Indian Mound Road. But these mounds are only remnants of large complexes of mounds that have long since been flattened. This destruction was already well underway when the area was visited by T.H. Lewis in 1886. Lewis surveyed, in a very accurate manner, tens of thousands of effigy mounds in many states. His survey techniques are well documented, and his notes are meticulous. Essentially his herculean efforts have never been adequately published, although they are well known to people in certain circles. Recently, his notes were microfilmed by the Minnesota Historical Society and have now become available in microfilm form to the interested general public.

From these microfilm records, the impressive mound groups that Lewis laboriously surveyed can be converted into hard copy maps. If a few mounds still exist in a group he surveyed, maps made from his data can be overlaid on maps made by modem surveying methods. This then makes it possible to precisely locate the mounds that Lewis surveyed. If the fields where the mounds once stood have not been too deeply plowed and ·eroded, soil sampling can be used to show the original roots of the mounds (see Vol 3 of “The Journal of The Ancient Earthworks Society”, 1990). Of course, the mounds could also be reconstructed from the notes of T.H. Lewis, provided that a few of the mounds that he originally surveyed still exist (for the positive location of his maps to present ground positions).

This is indeed possible with a large group of effigy mounds of eagles (and of other creatures) on the property of Frank Shadewald (and adjoining neighbors). Aerial photos used to create a background map of farm fields on which to locate Lewis mound data, further indicate that from soil patterns alone, other large effigy mounds can be identified and reconstructed. One of these mounds, that shows up vividly and very positively on the aerial photos, is in a group that T.H. Lewis merely mentioned in the 1880’s as already having been mostly destroyed by fanning (and which consequently he did not completely survey).

But from the clear patterns in the soil, as seen in the aerial photos, there is a vivid outline of a giant eagle mound in this area. Even the beak on the head is clear in the ghost-like image that comes from the patterns in the soil. Although evidently flattened long ago, the soil patterns indicate that the mound is not destroyed, and that careful soil analysis should be able to locate its precise position and extent. Initial analysis of the maps made from the aerial photos on a PG2 Stereoplotter (a precise Swi instrument specifically designed to produce maps from aerial photos) indicates that the ghost-like giant bird that can be seen in the soil patterns (and other possible associated mounds-now flattened) indeed can be precisely located in the field by the proper use of precise ground surveys and the steroeplotter.


Figure 1 shows a copy of a USGS topo map of the area in Eagle Township, across the river from Muscoda, Wisc. Figure 2 shows a preliminary map produced from the notes of T.H. Lewis of a mound group with many eagles (some of which were once located on the farm now owned by Frank Shadewald). Some of the round mounds and the linear-like mounds in this group still exist, so that the map made from the notes of T.H. Lewis can be overlaid on the map constructed from aerial photos and the ground location of the once­ extant group determined.  Figure 2a shows details of  a few mounds in this group.  Figure 3 shows a preliminary overlay of this group on a map of the general area made from aerial photos. One will also note in Figure 3 the extant eagle mound in what is called “Eagle Mound Park” about 1/2 mile east of the group. The sire of this still extant bird or eagle mound is much smaller than the image of the large eagle mound that shows up in the soil about 1/2 mile north of the western end of the group compiled from the notes of T.H. Lewis. Figure 4 is a copy of a photo analyzed on the PG2 Stereoplotter to map the outline of the Ghost Eagle. Figure 5 shows more mounds mapped by Lewis which can be connected to the rest of the group by proper use of the PG2 Stereoplotter and 1955 photos which showed the location of two mounds in this other group before they were flattened by construction of “Effigy Mound Road”. Figures 6 and 7 show alignments associated with the sun on the winter and summer solstices. Figure 8 and 9 relate to other mounds, still intact in the 1880’s, which T. H. Lewis surveyed, and which can also be converted to maps of the type shown in this preliminary report.

Contributors of Work in  This Report:

Other contributors to this preliminary work include: Frank Shadewald, Adrian Frost; also Larry Johns, He Ping, Richie Brown and Robert Wasserman-all working for the Winnebago GIS group; and Buck Trawicky from The Ancient Earthworks Society. We are indebted to T.H. Lewis and others who worked on mounds in this area, such as Charles Brown and Prof. Frank Stekel (University of Wisconsin, Whitewater).