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Koshkonong Prairie

Anderson - Amundson Family History
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~ Koshkonong Prairie ~

In 1841 Bjorn Anderson Kvelve and Abel Catherine von Krogh moved from Illinois to the Koshkonong Prairie settlement near what is now Albion, Dane County, Wisconsin.  They were the first settlers there, and their daughter, Martha, was the first white child born in the area, perhaps in Dane County.  The following description was written by their oldest son, Andrew.



Written by Andrew Anderson in 1898)

(As I am probably the only male person living now, in 1898 A. D., to give a description of Koshkonong, Dane Co., Wisconsin, as it appeared in the year 1841, the beauties of this region will continue unsung if I remain silent.  Since Koshkonong Prairie was my home, the sketch will principally be upon Koshkonong Prairie.)

Koshkonong is the Indian name of Koshkonong Lake.  The locality undoubtedly derived its name from Koshkonong Lake, a part of Rock River, which runs through the southeastern part of Wisconsin.  The lake is about 4 miles wide and 8 miles long.

There is also a creek that has its source in the northern part of Dane Co., running south at the eastern border of Koshkonong Prairie and emptying into Koshkonong Lake, called Koshkonong Creek.

The east side of the creek was heavy woods, and as the lay of the land is slightly undulating, this creek is very crooked.  I have footed the banks many miles, and boated it partly, in fishing and hunting expeditions.

Koshkonong Prairie contains part of Koshkonong, Albion, and Christiana townships.  When I located with my parents upon Koshkonong Prairie in the year 1841 it was a wilderness.  And the impression that I carry with me is of a most beautiful natural scenery.  I was then nine years old.

This prairie is undulating and was studded with hardwood groves and burr oak openings; otherwise the prairie had no brush or grubs.  During the summer season from early spring until late in the fall there was a luxuriant growth of grass and a great profusion and variety of beautiful flowers, displaying the colours of ten thousand rainbows--painted not by the hand of man.

There was an Indian trail leading from northwest to Koshkonong Lake across this prairie.  It seems that the Indians went to this lake to celebrate some important event in connection with the tribe, as they continued for many years at stated seasons to congregate there and set up their wigwams.  I never went to these gatherings, but it was probably a regular Pow-Wow.  This trail had been used many years before my eyes beheld it, as the original track was deep, and other tracks were made parallel with it.  There were also 2 Territorial roads, one east and west, leading from Milwaukee to Madison, Mineral Point, and probably to Prairie du Chien; and one north and south, intersecting the Milwaukee road at a place called Mayhew Tavern, crossing by Goodrich's Ferry upon Rick River a short distance below Koshkonong Lake, leading south into the state of Illinois.

Koshkonong Prairie and its woods, Koshkonong Lake and Creek were veritably teeming with wild game and birds.  To be able to give the names of all of them would require an ornithologist, which I am not, but I can mention some.  Of migrating birds, there were the Pelican, wild Goose, Sand Hill Cranes, Mallards, or gray ducks, Wood Ducks, Teals, Mud Hens, Prairie Plover, Water-snipes of several kinds, King-Fisher, Shye Poke, Night-Hawk, Song birds, and birds of beautiful plumage in great variety. Of climatic birds, there was the prairie chicken, partridge, quails, several kinds of owls, and of course other birds that are common in the north temperate climate.  During the spring freshet, Koshkonong Creek would overflow the lowland bordering along the creek and the surface of the water would at times be almost covered with ducks.  Some species of ducks would stay during the summer season and brood.  Large flocks of wild geese would light down on patches of winter wheat in the fall of the year.  The prairie chickens were so many that when a flock lighted into a field of corn shocks, the farmer became minus considerable corn.  In walking in the woods, there would be a regular whirr of partridges and quails.  The deer was a common thing to see.  I once saw a flock of several within probably not more than 10 rods, standing looking at me. Of course, as Koshkonong Lake was a resort for the Indians, the deer were hunted and killed when they were hungry, but no fear of killing for sport.  There were many of them with their ponies roaming through the country.  I saw at one time a squad of Indians decorated with gay feathers and paint near our log cabin--don't know if it was warpaint or not--but they did not disturb anyone.  When any of them came to the cabin, they came for the purpose of getting something to eat, and if any quantity was offered, they retained all and departed with it.

Koshkonong Lake and Creek contained a great quantity of different kinds of fish, such as Suckers, Red-horse, Pickerel, Pike, Catfish, Black Bass, Perch, Sunfish, Bullhead, Dogfish, and others.  In the spring of the year when the suckers came up the creek to spawn, there would be so many in places that the bottom could not be seen.

The Koshkonong locality was in every way an orchard in the wilderness, bearing or producing various kinds of fruit.  Upon the prairie and in near scattering burr oak trees, was any quantity of strawberries; in the margin of the groves, there was an abundance of large sweet plums, also many large crab apples.  I saw some as large as ordinary sized greenings.  In the woods were immense quantities of grapes and large luscious blackberries, raspberries and gooseberries and black currants in abundance.

There were shellbark hickory nuts and large hazel nuts, of which many bushels could be gathered.

Just think of all the squirrels that jumped and chirruped among the branches of the trees--the gray squirrel, the black squirrel, the red squirrel--there were hosts of them.

Although snakes are rather repulsive, they are, however, a part of the grand creation; and as climatic condition was favorable to them, during the time of wilderness, the snakes were numerous on Koshkonong Prairie and its surroundings.

Koshkonong was abundantly supplied with the purest of spring water and rivulets leading into Koshkonong Creek.  The bottom of many of the springs were like so many boiling caldrons with the white sand bubbling up in the bottom and yet a cold, bright, sparkling and refreshing water to drink on a warm summer day.  These springs and rivulets did not freeze during the winter season and on a clear frosty cold winter morning would appear like so much heated water, evaporating steam, although the temperature was the same as during the summer.

Near Mayhew Tavern is a knoll or round hill called Dyre-natten, or knatten (Deer Knoll).  I presume some person had seen deer upon the top, perhaps gone there to enjoy the summer breeze on a warm day--by which it derived its name.  I never was upon the top but I was told that upon this hill the country could be seen for miles in all directions.  What a grand view on a clear summer day that must have presented to the eye and imagination in the year 1841 when Koshkonong was a wilderness in its natural grandeur.

J. Fenimore Cooper in the Pioneer of Leatherstocking Tales is very eloquent in describing the scenery as it is viewed from the Catskill Mountains in New York.  But if the top of the Deer Knoll upon Koshkonong Prairie had been Leatherstocking's place of view upon the varied and grand scenery of the wilderness, it would probably have been the pinnacle for eloquence in describing Creation.  It was the land of Canaan, as Tønde Bjørn exclaimed when his eyes first beheld the grand country.

Signed: A. A. Anderson


[Neil Hofland here.  Tønde (barrel maker) Bjørn was Andrew’s father, Bjørn Anderson Kvelve. Uncle Andrew was no slouch when it came to eloquence.]

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