Outagamie County, Wisconsin
History and Genealogy
The geological record reveals that the last glacier of the most recent ice age entered Wisconsin around 23,000 years ago. It consisted of five different lobes that covered roughly half of the state: the Superior, the Chippewa, the Wisconsin Valley, the Green Bay, and the Lake Michigan Lobes. The Green Bay lobe, the largest of the five, covered most of the eastern half of the state, including Outagamie County.
About 14,000 years ago, scientists believe that the Paleo-Indians, ancestors of modern day Native Americans, came to North America by way of a land bridge that connected Siberia to Alaska. They were primarily hunters skilled at taking now extinct large mammals such as wooly mammoth, mastodon, giant bison, and musk oxen. These master hunters were nomads, following the great herds which roamed across the North American landscape. Around 12,000 years ago, they hunted their way into the fertile tundra left uncovered by the rapidly receding glacial lobes of Wisconsin.
As the Green Bay lobe retreated northward, the tremendous force of its weight upon the land carved out the basin that would one day become Lake Winnebago and the Fox River Valley. After the waters of the melting glacier receded into the prehistoric Great Lakes, the land of Outagamie County was a barren depository of glacial rock, clay and silt. When the perma-frost released its iron grip upon the land, tundra vegetation from the southern part of the state began to grow upon the fertile soil. These low growing plants are similar to those found today in the artic regions of Northern Canada and Alaska. This new growth attracted the herds, which in turn brought the first Paleo-Indians into the Fox River Valley.
Archaeologists estimate that by about 12,000 years ago, the ancestors of modern day Native Americans were living in the fertile zone on the edge of the receding glaciers. They lived in small bands of closely related individuals who traveled great distances across the tundra pursuing the herds of prehistoric caribou and bison that made up their protein rich diet. These bands were by necessity a closely related family, bound by the ties of kinship that both defined their identity and helped to ensure their survival. They camped in natural shelters such as caves and rock overhangs near the herds of great mammals that they hunted.
In Kenosha County, Wisconsin, 100 miles south of the Fox River valley, over 30 Paleo-Indian campsites have been uncovered. The bones of butchered woolly mammoth, still showing the cut marks made by the stone knives of the ancient hunters, have been well preserved in the silt and clay glacial soil of the region. These stone artifacts can help to paint a picture of what life was like for these ancient first people. The large fluted points found near the remains of the mammoths indicate that they Paleo-Indians killed their prey with long thrusting spears. Specialized stone tools for rendering the carcasses have also been found. They include knives for skinning and cutting, and scrapers for preparing the hides to be used for clothing and shelter. Examples of these Stone Age implements also have been found at many other sites throughout the southern Great Lakes region.
Mickelson, David M. “Wisconsin’s Glacial Landscapes.” Wisconsin Land and Life. Ed. Robert C. Ostergren and Thomas R. Vale. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997. 38-40
Outagamie County Genealogy and History Project