Meredosia was probably a word that could send shivers up and down the spine of any frontiersman who heard it. Or who had to pass through the nearly trackless reaches of marsh and swamp bordering the Mississippi River. The Meredosia was at the edge of what is today Albany Township in Whiteside County. It was a wetland formed by the meeting of the Rock River into the Mississippi.
Also, it was fed by Meredosia Creek, a morass fed; by floodwaters and wetlands in the surround. The word Meredosia meant “Marsh of the Willows.” A pretty description but whose reputation was notorious especially in the Midwest for trappers, traders, and wilderness travelers. And avid readers Back East who kept up on the Far West they were hearing more about whether it was spelled with an “s” or a “c.” It was well known throughout the blooming Mississippi Valley.
Throughout the later eighteenth century, travelers through this area increased in number.
The Native Americans, however, had lived at a fertile outcropping just to the northern/eastern edge of the Meredosia ... For centuries and centuries. It is believed from about 500 B.C. to 350 A.D. Then they disappeared. No one knows what happened to the clan who lived there in a rather advanced level of society. We know that because of the artifacts left behind . . . Grave goods, spear points, pottery, skeletal remains in the earthen mounds whose berm, 93 in number out of possibly one hundred. Some of them are an impressive twelve feet tall. As far as is known the grave goods were for use in the after-life. A village there at the edge of the willow swamp may have been chosen for some sacred reason or became so after its use.
There were other ceremonial type symbols scattered over the terrain. The resident clan are shown to have a wide barter system there beside the fluid highway with artifacts from Minnesota & Michigan - copper, Pipestone from Ohio, conch shells from Florida, mica from the Carolinas; all used in a variety of ways and trade. They are thought to enjoy music and art, made woven goods from grasses and hides that show sophistication in the dyeing and weaving. But where did they go? ...Disease, massacre, migration? We do not know what they called themselves or what language they spoke.
Such mounds as at Albany, Whiteside County were constructed little by little on a hilltop overlooking the river. Have you seen the “Effigy Mounds” on the Iowa side of the Big River above Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin? A great example. There are also pyramids such as Monk’s Mound at Cahokia, Illinois whose largest triangular pyramid is great in area than the biggest pyramid in Egypt! Aztalan in southeast Wisconsin, Dickson Mounds in central Illinois which we are deprived of seeing though it’s a magnificent example of its kind, a lesson from another day. We have the Albany Mounds at our doorstep.
A well-used trail marked the edge of the Mississippi, the Indians having trod it out over centuries although it became known as the “Military Trail,” the government naming it as a public pass way by the late 1700’s. It was much-used by the fortress.
The Military Trail wasn’t just one path but perhaps two or more, utilized by season and weather . . . In low water times the path edged the Great River, stepping stone by stepping stone! In flood times higher ground was sought ... Up on the ridges where goods had to be dragged and portaged. Through the Meredosia caution had to be taken ... A groping foot sought the bottom of a water-filled hole ... How deep was it? Would it swallow man or a team of oxen or horse? Travel through such morass should be done with more than one wagon in order to help one another. It’s no wonder travelers might get lost ... Perhaps quicksand, banditti, nearby natives, lightning and flood. Many were the hazards.
The few settlers arriving in the early decades of he 1800’s felt safer when the forts were constructed riverside, in this area, Ft. Armstrong at Rock Island (for an arsenal—see recent PDQ Me), upriver to Ft. Crawford at Prairie du Chien, confluence with the Wisconsin River up into Minnesota. The Black Hawk War, 1832, caused abandonment of the large metropolitan Native American towns. That at the Rock River confluence with the Mississippi and the Prophets Town upriver on the Rock. An ancient civilization was moved and another begun. Trees overgrew the mounds, grasses took over the sinuous berm, farmers plowed what had once been a vigorous culture. Many Albanyite realized that they had a rare commodity in their backyard. In the 1880’s there was a scientific “dig” and again in 1910 by the Academy of Science, Davenport, Iowa. The Davenport Public Museum, its successor, would gather its equipment, hop aboard a boat and spend a day or two in an “excursion” into the remains of the Meredosia or what was left of it.
It became a “party” place ... Creatures seeking fun and the outdoors, packed a picnic basket and went to Albany Mounds to show curiosity, a bird for their bird lists, a short-term romance or, perhaps, a new career. Realization eventually dawned that the Mounds were much more than bargained for. And shouldn’t they be preserved? Talk circulated for years ... save the mounds but not until the 1980’s when the Albany Chamber of Commerce began talking it up that serious plans began to take form. The state legislation was contacted, heads were scratched and papers were ordered for survey and so forth. Once studies started locals and conservationists realized just what a treasure was there beside the rivers ... in Wildlife, animals and fish; plants, roots, herbs—twelve thousand acres of wealth for generations of the Native Americans which had dwindled in numbers and finally ceased to be buried in the awesome mounds. In the 1960’s when awareness set in till the 1970’s business went slowly forward towards it becoming a state historic site with the state purchasing over two hundred acres. Much of the originality of the Marsh was decimated in the late 1920’s when the Hard Road and Toll Road was part of improvement of the highway system (next week). Since then other changes have been made with docks and marinas added, changes occurring meanwhile. Marshes, swamps and wetlands have ceased to become a roadblock to progress of travel as you will note.