Effigy Mounds
Administrative History
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Chapter Eight:

More than one-half billion years ago, the central United States was covered with warm, shallow seas. Over the centuries, the seas laid down layers of sediments, shells, and lime deposits. Jordan sandstone, deposited during the Cambrian period, forms the oldest layer within Effigy Mounds National Monument. The sandstone is generally located along the base of the east-facing bluffs. Dolomite limestone of the Prairie du Chien formation overlies the Jordan sandstone. The limestone forms the dominant geologic strata of the area.

Fayette silt loams comprise the principal soils of the hilltops. Developed from silty wind-blown materials known as loess, the brownish-gray topsoil is four to eight inches thick. It covers a yellowish-brown clay subsoil which extends to twenty-eight inches below the surface. The steep hillsides are covered by a six- to twelve-inch thick layer of sandy soil resting on bedrock. The soil is very thin, and exposed bedrock is common.

Eastern hardwood forests overlap with western grass lands, resulting in a heavily forested area punctuated with prairie openings. Climax stands of oaks, hickories, maples, and basswoods claim the steep hillsides, while the drier, shallow—soiled southern bluff sides and the bluff tops bear small prairie openings with various stages of succession interspersed at random. Three—quarters of the national monument is situated on these uplands; the remainder consists of floodplains, ponds, rivers and creeks. The Sny Magill unit, located about ten miles south of the headquarters area, is situated almost entirely on the Mississippi River terrace.

When the Mound Builders occupied the area, the uplands were dominated with sugar maple and basswood forests possibly dotted with openings of prairie on the ridge tops. Currently, vegetation is similar or at an earlier stage of succession. White and red oaks, shagbark hickories, basswoods, and big tooth aspens dominate the northern portion of the monument's north unit. Ironwoods, chinquapin oaks, eastern red cedars, and blue beeches are also present. The area immediately north of the Yellow River contains red oaks, sugar maples, shagbark hickories and big tooth aspens. Red oaks and sugar maples, white oaks and shagbark hickories comprise the south unit forest. The Sny Magill unit, a river floodplain which overflows annually, is dominated by elms, green ashes, silver maples, and swamp white oaks.

Today, the larger openings in the north and south units are remnants of historic agricultural activities, and are populated to varying degrees with exotic species of grasses and shrubs. Encroachment threatens to eliminate these openings.

Scientists have conducted no formal survey of wildlife present in the national monument, but the area seems to be typical of eastern hardwood ecosystems. There have been occasional sightings of gray foxes and coyotes; and although not sighted within the monument boundaries, evidence shows that such rare and endangered species as the black bears, bobcat, and river otters may inhabit the area. Almost three hundred bird species nest in or migrate through the national monument. These include peregrine falcons, red—shouldered hawks (which nest on the Yellow River floodplain), and bald eagles. The Higgin's eye clam, a Federally endangered species, lives in the Mississippi River on the monument's edge. Other rare or endangered species located within Effigy Mounds National Monument include goldenseal, genseng, sullivantia, glandular wood fern, leather grape fern, golden corydalisut have produced a variety of studies resulting in an excellent information base on the park's cultural and natural heritage. [1]

The quests for information began before the monument was authorized. As mentioned above, the first archeologists to study the mounds in the area were Theodore H. Lewis and Alfred J. Hill, who surveyed the area in 1855. Ellison Orr conducted his research early in the twentieth century.

The National Park Service prepared several reports during the 1940s, when authorization of a national monument seemed certain. In 1946, Regional Historian Olaf T. Hagen prepared his "Pictorial Record of Features on and near Areas of the Proposed Effigy Mounds National Monument," which contained a photographic introduction to many of the area's archeological resources. The following year, NPS Archeologist Jesse D. Jennings wrote a summary report on the effigy Mound Builders culture based on Orr's work and other sources. [2]

With the national monument's authorization imminent, Service Archeologist Paul Beaubien traveled through Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio in late May 1949, to study mounds and artifact collections in those states. Beaubien also presented talks on burial mounds and the Mound Builders at the University of Illinois in Bloomington, Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, the Illinois State Historical Museum in Springfield, Dickison Mound State Park, and Cahokia Mounds State Park near East St. Louis, Illinois; the Ohio State Historical Museum, Mound City Group National Monument, and Siep Mound State Memorial in Ohio; and Angel Mound State Memorial, Indiana. Beaubien met Dr. Charles Keyes, a major promoter of the movement to protect the effigy mounds, at Mount Vernon, Iowa. Keyes loaned some of his manuscripts on the northeastern Iowa mounds to Beaubien, which proved beneficial to the Service's understanding of the area. [3]

Beaubien conducted his first field work at Effigy Mounds National Monument in May 1950, when he and Superintendent Joe Kennedy surveyed and recorded the mounds in the south unit. The following month, Beaubien cut longitudinal trenches through a linear mound, a bear effigy, and three conicals near Hanging Rock. The excavations were intended to gather data and materials for interpretive purposes; unfortunately, the mounds yielded very little of either commodity. A five-foot-wide by seventy-seven-foot-long trench dug in a 106-foot linear mound, for example, was void of artifacts, as was the bear and most of the conicals. One conical mound yielded some charcoal, allowing the archeologist to fix the date of the mound at 930 years old plus or minus 300 years. [4]

The following autumn, the National Park Service entered into identical cooperative agreements with Clayton and Allamakee Counties' Soil Conservation Services whereby the county agencies prepared soil conservation plans in consultation with the National Park Service and then implemented the plans on non—Federal lands. The Park Service assisted with the preparation of the plans, and implemented them within the national monument. [5]

In 1952 Beaubien returned to Effigy Mounds to work with the monument's staff archeologist, Wilfred D. ("Wil") Logan. The focus of this research project was the large collection of mounds located south of the existing national monument in an area called Sny Magill. As discussed earlier, the Sny Magill mounds had been considered for inclusion in the national monument since the 1937 Baker, Butterfield, Hummel report, but was excluded from the monument's original boundaries for a variety of considerations. Sny Magill was managed in part by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and partly by the Fish and Wildlife Service. There was some fear that logistical problems in transferring the needed land from those agencies to the National Park Service would delay the establishment of Effigy Mounds National Monument. Others were concerned that the Corps' insistence on retaining flooding rights to ensure safe navigation of the Mississippi River could be inconsistent with the monument's preservation mission. All hoped the mounds would receive some measure of protection because they were already in Federal ownership. The exclusion of the Sny Magill mounds was never intended to be permanent, however, and in 1952 the National Park Service sought and received permission of the Corps and the Fish and Wildlife Service to do some archeological testing at Sny Magill to confirm or dispel the belief that the mounds merited the protection of the national monument. [6]

Figure 19: Archeologist Paul Beaubien examining a longitudinal trench through a mound in the north unit, 1950. Photographer unknown. Negative #1, Effigy Mounds National Monument.

The field work took several weeks to accomplish, and conditions during the summer of 1952 were not pleasant. (Indeed, summer conditions at Sny Magill, a swampy area covered with poison ivy and thistle, are never hospitable to intruders!) Access to the mounds was difficult, as described in a letter from Beaubien to Regional Historian Merrill Mattes:

Arrived ok and found that one could reach the Sny-Magill mounds by walking through a field for a half mile and then sloshing through a swamp for another 1/2 mile. So decided to go to work there. . . . Hired a large boat, with operator, motor, etc. and a guide to move the equipment in by water. . . . Slosh through the swamp twice a day. Suppose a GS—11 or -12 [7] archeologist could evaluate mounds after one trip thru the swamp and would be too intelligent to make the trip day after day. [sic] [8]

The 1952 survey work at Sny Magill left no doubt concerning the significance of the site, in spite of the fact that archeologists did not locate a village site as they had hoped. Excavation of Mound 27, a bird effigy, yielded important information about the Effigy Mound Builders culture. Mound 24, a medium—sized conical, contained Hopewellian artifacts, and Mound 7, a small conical, contained evidence of both the Hopewellian and the Effigy Mound Builder cultures. Mound 43, a large conical, contained several burials. The crew's investigation confirmed that several mounds at Sny Magill had been vandalized. Upon completion of their work, the crew refilled the holes and seeded the land, thus restoring the shape of the mounds. [9] Beaubien completed his report on the project in 1953.

Monument Archeologist Logan accomplished other work in 1952 independent of Paul Beaubien. His article, "Past Iowa Archeological Research and Future Research Trends," appeared in the first issue of the Journal of the Iowa Archeological Society. The article, which summarized work done by the several archeologists who had worked in northeastern Iowa, received commendations from National Park Service Chief Historian Herbert Kahler. [10] Logan and two assistants excavated Mound 33 during the summer of 1953, uncovering a coppery breastplate and several burials in the conical mound. Logan completed his report on the work the following year. [11] He used data he gathered in and near the national monument to prepare his report, "Woodland Cultures of Northeast Iowa." Logan, who was completing the requirements for his doctoral degree at the University of Michigan, also used this data as the basis for his dissertation. When he accepted a transfer to Ocmulgee National Monument, Georgia, in mid-1957, Logan requested an extension on the due date for the Park Service version of the report until after his dissertation was approved. Superintendent Berrett objected, saying he needed the completed report as soon as possible to guide his interpretive programs. Acting Chief of Interpretation Merrill Mattes agreed, and the deadline was not changed. [12]

Early research at Effigy Mounds National Monument was not limited to the area's archeological resources. In 1956, the Service undertook an ethnobotanical study to identify wild plants in the area, photograph them, and use the data for interpretive programs. [13] At the same time, national monuments systemwide were preparing what were then called "administrative histories," summaries of resources and current management strategies, according to a nationally prescribed format. The program was intended to obtain information about park management to guide the Mission 66 development program. [14] Like many such programs, this assignment was to be undertaken by park staffs whether or not there was appropriate staff available to accomplish the work. At Effigy Mounds, where there was no historian on staff, the job was assigned to Archeologist Logan. [15] Logan's administrative history comprised three major parts: a brief history of the area; some discussion of the establishment of the national monument; and a description of major developments and research activities. The document, which totaled less than fifty pages, was the Service's first formal attempt to document the history of Effigy Mounds National Monument. [16]

In 1957 the Region allocated $50,000 for further research at Effigy Mounds National Monument. There was a need to prepare a base map of known archeological sites which would guide management decisions concerning Mission 66 developments, and for additional data for interpretive programs and exhibits. For the first time, Regional Chief of Interpretation H. Raymond Gregg advised against conducting further excavations at the national monument. He pointed out that hundreds of mounds in the general area had been excavated, producing very little in the way of artifacts. Gregg believed effigies already damaged by cultivation would produce sufficient data for interpretation, and that artifacts gathered in previous excavations could supply materials needed for museum exhibits. [17] The decision to conduct nondestructive testing has remained the standard at Effigy Mounds National Monument since that time.

The flurry of research activities continued during the late Fifties and early Sixties. In August 1957, Wayne H. Scholtes, a Professor of Soils at Iowa State University, took soil samples and conducted a pollen analysis of the samples. [18] The following year, Regional Soil Conservationist Fred Dickison visited to park to gather data to develop a strategy for vegetation maintenance at the national monument. [19] The monument staff worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1960-61 to record observations of bald eagles in the area. [20] Another cooperative venture enlisted the State Archeologist to survey and map the mounds in 1960. [21] In 1963, the Park Service contracted with an Iowa State University student to develop a herbarium for Effigy Mounds National Monument. The student located 329 species of plants within the monument's boundaries. [22] State Archeologist Marshal McKusick revisited the monument in July 1964 to study the Ellison Orr papers and make notes on excavations within the monument boundaries. [23]

In addition to all of the planned research, an important discovery was made quite by accident in the summer of 1963. Following up on a suggestion made by Wil Logan, formerly of the monument staff and then Regional Archeologist, staff Archeologist Garland Gordon noticed a few sherds eroding near the mouth of the Yellow River. James Gordon, who was with his father at the time, informed Garland he had "found some of 'those' near a spot where he fishe[d] occasionally." [24]

Garland Gordon investigated the site his son pointed out to him at the juncture of the Yellow and Mississippi Rivers on the Nazekaw Terrace and knew at once it was significant. Historically, the site was situated above the river flowage and protected by the bluffs immediately to the west. The series of locks and dams constructed on the Mississippi River during the 1930s, however, caused frequent inundation of the terrace. Exposed by unusually low water levels in 1963, Gordon discovered [25] a large middle Woodland site with some Late Woodland and Oneota materials. He photographed the area, then collected over 2,000 items including projectile points, celts, anvils, part of a gorget, and a "surprising amount of bone" from just below the waterline to approximately two feet above it. There were also some remnants of historic occupation of the area. [26] Based on his initial investigation of the site, Gordon recommended it for inclusion in the national monument. Further testing revealed the site probably extended across the railroad tracks and onto the terrace holding the visitor center.

Archeologist Gordon and Superintendent Donald Spalding shared concern over the lack of protection afforded the site, christened the "FTD Site," because of its exclusion from the monument's boundaries. They agreed to keep the site's location secret from all but the professional community until they could better protect it from vandalism. [27] Protection from vandalism proved less a problem than protection for the erosive action of the Mississippi River. The Mississippi, artificially high because of the Corps of Engineers' series of locks and dams, was scouring the bank and destroying the FTD site.

Subsequent testing has been coincidental with periods of unusually low water levels in the Mississippi River, as was the case in 1975 when the Luther College Archeological Research Laboratory under David Benn and Dean Thompson studied the FTD site. These investigations revealed successive layers of artifacts indicating long-term occupation. The Gordon and Benn—Thompson investigations were stopped by water in the test pits, apparently with several feet of productive strata remaining below the water table. Ground—penetrating radar investigations recently indicated that archeological materials are present twelve or thirteen feet below grade. [28]

Benn and Thompson were so impressed with the site's significance and so distraught at the impact of wave action on the site, they submitted a copy of their preliminary report to State Historic Preservation Officer Adrian Anderson, and requested his help in protecting the site. Benn and Thompson also sent a copy of the report to the Corps of Engineers District Office in St. Paul, Minnesota; [29] the St. Paul office was responsible for maintenance and operation of the series of locks and dams north of Guttenberg, Iowa.

In June 1976, several Corps of Engineers officials, including Assistant Chief of Engineering Peter Fischer; Chief Counsel Michael Ferring; Arthur Pera, Chief of Hydrology and Hydraulics; John Seeman, Chief of the Reservior Regulation section of the Hydraulics Branch; Environmental Resources Chief Robert Post; and Archeologist Daniel Bowman met to discuss the erosion problem and determine what, if any, responsibility the Corps had in abating it. After considerable discussion, they agreed that Mississippi River navigation made possible by the system of locks and dams was a major cause of the erosion which was destroying the FTD site, and the Corps of Engineers had some responsibility to mitigate the effects of the erosion on the FTD site. [30]

Lack of funds and confusion over who was responsible for preparing National Register of Historic Places documentation for the site delayed any further action by the Corps. In 1979, the Corps of Engineers allocated funds for data recovery at the site, but a bureaucratic snafu prevented a contract for recovery from being awarded before the fiscal year ended; thus the Corps lost both the dollars and the proposed contract. [31] Coincidentally, Eastern National Park & Monument Association [32] offered $3500 in matching funds for research at the FTD site in 1979; the monument's Eastern National Parks agent, Archeologist James Mount, rejected the offer because of the Corps of Engineers commitment to take action. [33]

As it turned out, the technicality which prevented the award of a data recovery contract in 1979 saved the site. David Berwick, who succeeded Bowman as the Corps' St. Paul District Archeologist early in 1980, met with Stan Riggle of the State Historic Preservation Office staff at the FTD site in April of that year. Berwick believed data recovery of such a significant site should be undertaken only as a last resort; he resolved to determine whether the site could be preserved in situ. [34]

He discovered that it would not only be possible to preserve the site, it would be less expensive than the previous plan to recover and curate the materials. With the full support of the state historic preservation office, the Corps of Engineers contracted with Archeologist David Over street and the Great Lakes Archaeological Research Center to collect surface materials at the FTD site. [35] In consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages many of the islands in the project area, the Corps of Engineers hired a contractor to repair the scour holes and repair damage to the shoreline in the vicinity of the FTD site. J.T. Brennon Co., Inc., of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, accomplished the work in 1981. [36]

Not much formal research was accomplished at Effigy Mounds National Monument during the late 1960s and the 1970s. Luther College accomplished a reconnaissance survey of the Ferguson property in 1974; the college's report recorded the two bear mounds discovered by Ranger Bill Reinhardt a few years earlier. [37]

In 1975, Robert Q. Landers of Iowa State University, in Ames, Iowa, conducted a survey of native prairie remnants in Midwest Region parks; this was the first time the Service studied the prairie stands at Effigy Mounds National Monument. Landers' study revealed that the national monument contained some prairie remnants of good quality, and recommended that action to preserve and restore the prairie be undertaken. A follow-up study by University of Wisconsin student Greg Moore in 1983 confirmed Landers' findings and recommended the use of prescribed burns to restore the prairie and prevent further encroachment of woody species. Dr. Thomas Blewett from Clark College in Dubuque, Iowa, conducted a more thorough vegetation survey in 1986 and reiterated Moore's recommendations, adding that immediate action was needed to protect two of the field areas and eight bluff top prairie remnants. [38] Shortly there after, the National Park Service prepared a fire management plan to guide the prairie restoration efforts at Effigy Mounds National Monument.

The fire management plan was both a research and a resources management document. It studied "the historic role of natural fire in setting back succession of natural communities" and presented a strategy for using controlled burns to reduce fuel buildup and arresting succession while sup pressing natural and accidental fires within the monument. [39] Implementation of the fire management plan began in 1987.

Volunteers produced the first aerial photographs of the Sny Magill unit in 1980. Dr. Clark Mallam and several others from Luther College [40] worked with monument staff from March 15 to April 7, 1980, to clear the mounds of shrubbery and outline the bases of the mounds with sixteen—inch wide powdered lime borders. On April 12, the Prairie du Chien Flying Club donated two hours of flying time and a pilot to fly over Sny Magill so they could be photographed. A $250 research grant from Luther College covered transportation costs related to the project. [41] The aerial photographs were very important in assessing the accuracy of information concerning the Sny Magill mounds. The photographs showed, for instance, that existing maps of the mounds in the unit were only approximate in size and arrangement; that five mounds were being eroded heavily by Johnson's Slough, and an unknown number of mounds north of the monument boundary had been destroyed by erosion. Further, the photos showed there were at least ninety—seven mounds in the unit, not ninety-six as previously thought. Twenty—five of the mounds showed signs of relic—hunting. Finally, the aerial photographs showed signs of late nineteenth and early twentieth century occupation of the vicinity. [42]

Apparently, the relatively informal 1980 aerial survey stimulated a desire to use similar techniques to test the accuracy of existing data, particularly in instances where one investigator's records contradicted another's. In autumn 1986, the National Park Service contracted with Aerial Services, Inc., of Cedar Falls, Iowa, to provide photogrammetric data and topographic maps of Effigy Mounds National Monument. Aerial Services' technicians flew over the area twice, taking measured photographs from elevations of 1500 and 3000 feet above grade. [43] In the summer of 1987, the National Park Service sent a crew of archeologists [44] under the leader ship of Janis Dial—Jones to verify reports on previous archeological studies at Sny Magill. Vegetation in the area was already 1.5 meters high when the crew arrived, and working was difficult. [45]

Dial—Jones and her team found the photogrammetric maps were accurate, but failed to show the lowest mounds such as numbers 58 and 60, nor did they show small features such as depressions in the mounds. Park Ranger Robert W. Petersen's 1983 "Summary of the Mounds in Effigy Mounds National Monument," which contained a map and verbal descriptions of the Sny Magill tumuli, contradicted earlier reports by T.H. Lewis and Paul Beaubien. Archeologist Dial—Jones and her crew investigated three discrepancies raised in Petersen's 1983 report. They investigated Mounds 95, 9, 12, and 13, and found Petersen's map to be accurate; Beaubien's 1953 report showed the mounds to be further north than they actually were. The team found that Petersen's map of the area east/northeast of Mound 59 was not accurate. Finally, Petersen's verbal descriptions contradicted his own map in regard to the sizes and locations of Mounds 92, 93, and 94; the 1987 field check demonstrated that Petersen's text was largely accurate, but his map of these features was not. [46] Further, the crew identified fifteen mounded features not identified on previous maps which may be burial mounds. [47]

The Dial—Jones team also prepared site forms for sixty-five of the known Sny Magill mounds and fifteen mounded features in 1987. The forms recorded the conditions of the mounds, including the presence of potholes, animal burrows, or trees. Where animal burrows were present, the forms indicated the size and number of burrows and whether they were active or inactive. Forms for mounds with trees stated the size and condition of the trees. All of this information served as a base for subsequent monitoring and management of the Sny Magill unit. [48]

While studying the mounds, the archeologists noted several indicators of historic late—nineteenth and early— twentieth century use of the area. Many of these failed to show up on the photogrammetric map of the area, and were discovered solely on the basis of careful field investigation. Although the tall vegetation made it impossible to determine the magnitude of the historic occupants' impact on the mounds, the crew noted considerable evidence of historic use of the central portion of the mound group, and recommended further study when vegetation was not so high. Because the water level of Johnson's Slough was exceptionally low in 1987, the crew used the opportunity to survey the bank of the slough, where they found both prehistoric artifacts and materials dating from the late nineteenth century to the present. [49]

Indeed, the summer field crew uncovered a great deal of information concerning the Sny Magill mounds, and set the stage for another flurry of research activity. The National Park Service contracted with Chuck's Surveying and Mapping, Inc. to conduct a new survey of the unit in November 1987. [50] The Service also contracted with Elizabeth Henning of Oneota Enterprises, a Calmar, Iowa, research firm, to prepare a land-use history of Sny Magill. The study involved researching documentary sources such as tax and land records, maps, newspapers, and other sources to determine how the area had been used historically. [51] The Service awarded a third re search contract in autumn 1987 to Arthur Bettis III of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to conduct a geomorphological study of Sny Magill. Bettis conducted twelve tests: eight with a manually—operated five-centimeter diameter probe, and four soil pit analyses. The study was intended to study how land forms at Sny Magill developed and how they had changed over the last 2000 years. This would help the National Park Service determine how the artificially high water levels caused by Pool 10 had affected the site; whether the frequent flooding of the area was a recent (twentieth century) or a centuries—old phenomenon; whether those floods were removing topsoil or leaving silt deposits, and where prehistoric occupation and use of the area was likely to have occurred. [52]

Bettis' "Surficial Geology and Pedology of the Sny Magill Unit of Effigy Mounds National Monument," the new survey, and the archeologists' 1987 field work provided the foundation for further archeological research in 1988. Janis Dial-Jones returned to Sny Magill in the spring of 1988 with Archeologists Rene Botts and Giselle Barrett to complete site condition forms for the remainder of the known mounds and for an additional mounded feature and to collect detailed transit information on the portion of the mound group adversely effected by historic occupation. As suspected, the mounds in the area were lower than in other parts of the mound group, and some were damaged or destroyed by historic use of the area. [53] One of the frustrations Archeologist Dial—Jones faced while working at Sny Magill was inconsistent identification of the various mounds by previous researchers. Over the years, several archeologists had applied their own numbering systems to the Sny Magill mounds, resulting in much confusion. After two summers of intensive field work at Sny Magill, Dial-Jones noted that the maps prepared by T.H. Lewis in 1885 were the most accurate in terms of documenting the sizes and relative locations of the various mounds. She recommended that the Lewis system be used consistently for all future references to the mounds at Sny Magill. [54]

Also in 1988, Dr. Dale Henning of Luther College conducted a surface inspection of the unit and subsurface testing of the area between known mounds, including testing of some of the mounded features identified by Dial-Jones and her crew. When his excavation revealed a burial in one of those "mounded features," Henning verified that it was a linear mound, unrecorded prior to the 1987 field work. Henning also investigated three rock shelters at Effigy Mounds National Monument to determine whether they contained archeological materials; all three of the shelters tested contained artifacts. [55]

For almost half a century, the National Park Service has sought information on her wealth of cultural and natural resources in an effort to meet the mandate set forth by President Truman when he set aside the monument. While the Service has made steady progress in building a firm base of knowledge to guide its resources management activities and educational programs, there is still much to learn. Over the coming decades, new research techniques and conscientious application of current research procedures will continue to improve our understanding of the cultural and natural re sources at Effigy Mounds National Monument, and of the interaction between these two types of resources.

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Last Updated: 08-Oct-2003