Ancient Mound Cultures in the Midwest: Trempealeau’s Little Bluff

Sunday, Mother’s Day, my oldest son and I took a small hike in the Town of Trempealeau up to the ancient mounds of the Mississippians, who lived in this area overlooking the Mississippi River 1000 years ago. The property is now permanently protected by our local land trust, Mississippi Valley Conservancy, through a conservation easement. The land is called Little Bluff.

Besides learning from the wayside kiosks, we were looking at the spring ephemerals and trees. It was a beautiful, albeit short hike that transported you back through imagination to ancient times.

Jack in the Pulpit. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2021

The Mississippians were platform mound builders and farmers of corn. Their way of life is described on the kiosks. They borrowed soil from one area of the forest to make the raised mound that you can clearly see when walking the trail.

Part of a large mound at Trempealeau’s Little Bluff trail. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2021.

The platform mounds, raised, rectangular and flat topped, were used as spiritual temples and a place of residence for the group’s leader. The community’s hierarchy was stratified with a leader, elite, and commoners. The commoners lived below the mounds on land that is now the town of Trempealeau that sits on the edge of Mississippi River. The large body of water supplied fish, while the surrounding woodlands provided deer and other game. The forest also provided many edible plants, as it does today.

The Town of Trempealeau sits below Little Bluff. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2021.

Elm samaras were still dangling from the trees. I learned these are edible during a foraging class earlier this month. I’m not sure the Mississippians ate these but I found them quite tasty. Although we did not see fungi, I am sure those were plentiful on these ancient lands as well.

Elm Samaras on Little Bluff. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2021.

Besides having access to water and food, the area is beautiful. We saw shagbark hickory trees just staring to leaf out. As well as carpets of violets and Virginia Blue Bells.

It was an interesting hike in many ways, contrasting old and new in our minds as we traversed the mounds, looked down into the borrow pits, and out onto the review view below. We could see what would attract the Mississippians to settle on Little Bluff, even if one only considered the spiritual implications. Beautiful nature abounds!

Long view of one of the rectangular mounds at Little Bluff. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2021.

Most of my information for today’s post was found on the kiosks or on the Trempealeau Interpretive Path website. On the website you will find a lesson plan for elementary students, which also provides much of the background information I used today. It can be found here. If you are a local teacher or homeschooling parent, I would definitely consider a trip to Little Bluff in Trempealeau.

View of the Lock and Dam in Trempealeau from Little Bluff. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2021.

More can be found about mid-western ancient cultures at the Mississippi Valley Archeology Center at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse. For more specific information on the Mississippians, check this page: https://www.uwlax.edu/mvac/pre-european-people/mississippian–oneota-traditions/mississippian–oneota-traditions-introduction/.

The highlighted pages in this post were used as sources of information or verification while writing today’s entry. Thank you to all the scientists who perform this work.

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