Koshkonong Area History
The Lake Koshkonong area has a rich and vibrant history. Paleo Indians inhabited the Koshkonong area as long ago as 12,000 years. Evidence these early Indians was found by archaeologists from Beloit College in 1965 at a site in a field across the Rock River from Fort Atkinson. Mound builders may have lived on the shore of Lake Koshkonong as early at 2500 B.C., leaving the Koshkonong Mounds as evidence of their society rituals.
The first European traveler to leave a historical record of his visit was Charles Gautier de Verville in 1778. He wrote in his journal: “Fell upon a lake near two villages whose inhabitants one to the number of 100 puants (Winnebagoes) and the other 200 Sakis (Sacs) had left for winter quarters.” French fur traders, many of whom had married Indian women, became the first white settlers on Lake Koshkonong, after 1785. Charley Bluff on Lake Koshkonong was named after Alexander Charles Vieux, an early French settler and fur trader who sold furs to Solomon Juneau.
Between AD 650 and 1200, groups of Native Americans throughout the southern half of Wisconsin and portions of adjacent states built earthen mounds of various shapes and sizes, including mounds shaped like animals, today called effigy mounds. The 11 mounds preserved here in the Jefferson County Indian Mounds and Trail Park were part of a larger group of 78 mounds and include symmetrical and animal shapes, resembling birds, turtles or lizards, and perhaps spiritual figures. A remnant of an ancient trail is also visible in the park.
The people who built effigy mounds hunted and collected food, often returning to the same locations seasonally. They lived in semi-permanent villages, used the bow and arrow, and made and used pottery. Mounds likely served ceremonial, spiritual and practical purposes, perhaps marking territories and designating special gathering places. Mounds often, but not always, contain burials. The Lake Koshkonong area once had 23 effigy mound groups, composed of about 500 individual mounds.
The Underground Railroad
Joseph Goodrich moved to Milton in 1838 and built the Milton House Inn in 1844. Goodrich was known for his anti slavery views and was soon involved in the Underground Railroad. Due to the possibility of fines and imprisonment, he could not allow the slaves into the Inn, where they may be seen by guests. Instead, he housed them in the Inn’s basement. Access into and out of the basement was through a tunnel connected to a cabin in the back yard. From the Milton House, slaves could continue on towards Lake Koshkonong and then keep heading north, eventually reaching freedom in Canada.
To learn more about the Milton House and the Underground Railroad, visit the Milton House Museum at 18 S. Janesville St. Milton, WI.[hr]
The local Winnebago tribes had a legend about a water monster which lived in the depths of the lake. They must not have realized how shallow the lake was, as a monster of any size probably wouldn’t have fit in the lake. Anyway, this monster was said to have great power and a terrible form. It would attack any Indian canoe which dared to cross the lake. Oddly enough, it never attacked the white man’s canoe, only the Indians’. Eventually two brothers set out to disprove the claim of a monster. Traveling by canoe, they started across the lake in opposite directions. A fierce storm blew up, capsized their canoes and the brothers both drowned. When the bodies were found they had white clay in their nostrils and ears. This was a sure sign to the Winnebago that the brothers had been caught and drowned by the monster.
A legend still heard today concerns the deer footed woman. Travelers along highway N, between highway 59 and Whitewater, have reported seeing a woman along the side of the road, especially during dark or foggy conditions. If they stop to offer her a ride, she is no longer there, having vanished into thin air. However, a fresh set of tracks, resembling deer tracks, is always found at the site.
I have just recently learned of an area ghost story. Apparently many years ago, when the Lake House Inn was still a hotel, two young girls were staying there. One of the girls drowned in the lake. The other girl is still waiting for her to return.[hr]
Formed by the construction of the Indianford Dam in 1846, Lake Koshkonong is a large shallow lake with a maximum depth of only seven feet. It is an impoundment of the Rock River which makes up both the inflow and outflow of the lake.
Lake Koshkonong shares its name with Fort Koshkonong, a fort of some importance during the Black Hawk War. It is a natural lake, and at the time the fort was active, before the Rock River was dammed, the area was actually a cattail marsh with the Rock River running through the middle.