This post includes the first three topics on comparing the respective histories of Texas and Wisconsin. The introduction is linked here.
Click on the links to the Land and the Settlers to skip down to those topics.
Click on the links to the Land and the Settlers to skip down to those topics.
Topic: The Ice Age
Both: The Ice Age affected both states, but the specifics differ. Neither book goes into great detail. Fehrenbach mentions the Ice Age only in how it affected the early settlers. Nesbit describes how it affected the physical landscape.
Texas: To learn about the Ice Age in Texas specifically, visit the Texas State Historical Assocation’s website. What they say is that the ice sheets never reached Texas. While glaciation and melting determined relatively new Wisconsin geology, Texas geology was a little more stable during that time. Major geologic changes had last occurred in western and northern Texas about two million years ago. The overall climate was cooler and more humid than today. The sea level went down by about 300 to 450 feet during the glacial maximum. The coastal features of Gulf Coast Plain have been formed in the past 3,000 years.
Wisconsin: For the Ice Age in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Geology and Natural History Survey is a good starting point. Wisconsin appears to have never bordered an ocean or a gulf. The most recent glaciation began in Wisconsin 31,500 years ago, expanded until 18,000 years ago, and fully retreated 7,000 years later. Before the melt, there was a treeless tundra (frozen swamp) south and west of the glacier.
Going much farther south, you encountered a cool and humid Texas.
Both: Both states have distinct geographic provinces. Newer sources can and do have different counts of provinces, draw the boundaries differently, and have more qualified names. If Texas and Wisconsin share any province, then it is the vast Interior Plains. Also, both states generally slope towards the southeast.
Texas: According to Fehrenbach, there are three geophysical provinces: the Atlantic-Gulf coastal plain, the Great Plains, and the Rocky Mountain system. In general, the land slopes southeast towards the Gulf of Mexico. This is close enough to the truth at a 100,000-foot level, and accurate enough for people who don’t live in Texas. For those us who live or have lived there, the reality has a higher fidelity.
Wisconsin: According to Nesbit, there are five provinces: the Lake Superior lowlands, the Northern Highlands, the Central Plains, the Western Uplands, and the Eastern Lowlands. The highest lands are in the northern ridge, while the lowest are at Lake Michigan. So, the state slopes southeast as well. I’ve not independently confirmed or qualified this information.
Both: The authors agree that each present-day state was populated at least twice, before the Europeans showed up. Indeed, all of the Americas were settled...at least once, if not twice or more, depending on how you define “settle” vs “develop”, where you define the timing of settlements, which archaeologist you ask, and when you ask them. Seriously. Start with the Wikipedia page on the Settlement of the Americas, and have at it.
Both Texas and Wisconsin had the mound-building Mississippian culture. In Texas, the Mississippian culture began to decline before the Europeans arrived. The Caddo Nation of today is a direct descendant of this culture. In Wisconsin, this culture died out entirely.
Texas: Fehrenbach devotes an entire chapter to the first settlers, and it is more detailed and romantic than Nesbit. Fehrenbach goes into archaeological and anthropological detail that Nesbit largely avoids. The uncomfortable situation that arises is that Fehrenbach wrote the first edition of Lone Star in the 1960s. Brace yourself.
For example, he devotes ten paragraphs to describing what is essentially the Clovis culture. He makes astounding claims: that the charred remains of a camp site may be more than 37,000 years old. These Paleo-Americans had longer heads that anyone else that came after. They had flat and curved leg bones. What?
Flipping to the Bibliography, one sees that he wrote: “...Fred Wendorf, A. D. Krieger, Claude C. Albritton, and T. D. Stewart, The Midland Discovery (Austin, 1955) reveal some of the excitement and controversies concerning the mysterious first settlers” (730).
Hours of web-research later, the following is what I learned about The Midland Discovery:
You can buy it used on Amazon for about $50 or $60.
The books is out-of-print.
The book is available at two locations at the University of Wisconsin.
American Anthropologist reviewed the book in 1956.
The reviewer wrote approvingly: “The authors conclude in convincing fashion that the fragmentary human remains, representing an unusually long-and narrow-headed female about 30 years of age, came from a sand deposit of late Pleistocene Age; that they probably antedate the Classic Folsom artifacts found in the area; that they were contemporaneous with the native horse, an extinct antelope, and other Pleistocene fauna.”
The Quarterly Review of Biology also gave a positive review in 1958.
The reviewer commented that “[t]his careful study of an important find provides a welcome antidote for some of the inspirational hunches that still plague paleoanthropology.” SLAM!
While not a review of the book, a 1996 article in American Antiquity concerns investigations conducted at the Midland site and on the Midland skeleton from 1989 through 1992.
Their conclusion includes the following:
“...(3) the human remains there associated with the valley-margin facies of a lacustrine carbonate that is well dated in the region and rarely is >10,000 B.P.; and (4) all numerical dating methods applied at the site produced unreliable results. We find no compelling evidence that the human remains from the Midland site are older than Folsom age; they may be contemporary with or younger than the Folsom occupation.”
In other words, no one really knows how old anything is there at the Midland site. The skeleton is probably less than 10,000 years old.
The lead author of the book, Fred Wendorf, was an accomplished archaeologist in his own right. He is more well-known for his archaeological work in Africa, than for his work in Texas. He wrote The Midland Discovery when he was 30 years old, and lived to the age of 80, dying in 2015.
Near the end of the ten paragraphs of Clovis-folk discussion, Fehrenbach links them with the three great stone heads found at the Trinity River. A quick web search finds that few-to-no archaeologists regard them as authentic.
At this point, to be charitable to Fehrenbach, he was reporting the latest information as of 1968. I suspect that he found The Midland Discovery, read about the Trinity River heads, and integrated both with the knowledge he read from then-current books on archeology and pre-historic humans. Yes, he could have been cautious, and stuck with only the Clovis reports.
But, these entries are in the 2000 edition of Lone Star. However, Fehrenbach warns in the foreword in the 2000 edition that “the narrative [of the 1968 edition] was largely drawn from contemporary sources” (xiii). He saw no reason to change the book. As a result, one comes away with a rather dramatic and inaccurate knowledge of early Texan settlement.
The drama with the Midland Discovery and the Trinity Heads consume ten paragraphs over two pages in a 15-page chapter. If the above is not enough to make you quite skeptical of this author’s reporting, then consider the slow build-up and blunt finale to this passage:
“There was, simply, very little fat, and the campsites of the early Amerinds have revealed mortars and pestles, seeds, and remnants of roots among their small bones, as well as cracked human femurs. Broken and sucked human marrow bones have been discovered preserved in the ancient muck of the coastal prairies in great quantity – proof that where the Old Americans [Clovis] had been able to live well on mastodon and elephant meat, the aborigines who replaced them came to depend on other foods. In modern times all Texas tribes except one – the late-coming Comanches – practiced at least some form of ritual cannibalism, a grisly ceremonial residue of a harsh past” (8).
Grisly web-research showed these statements to be largely accepted by the public and historians, including that the Comanches did not practice ritual cannibalism.
That said, what are some of the tribes that the Spanish, French, and Americans encountered?
In rough order of mention, there are the following:
Comanches (not cannibals)
Mayans (built vast cities)
Basket-Makers (lived in caves)
Mount Builder (culture was influenced by Mexico)
Caddo Confederacy (numerous and powerful)
Choctaws (resembled the Caddo)
Fehrenbach describes the Caddo Confederacy in some detail, talking about their political system, their countryside, and bows. He describes them as peaceful and weepy, not prioritizing “the cult of courage” (12).
Anyways, he also mentions the following:
Karankawa (even worse)
Coahuiltecans (they used the resources of the countryside more fully than anyone else)
Tonkawas (lived on the Central Plateau for a very long time)
Apaches (raided like no one else)
Navajo (splintered from the Apache)
The Apache were the polar opposite of the Caddo. The only reason that the Apache didn’t take over the Caddo is (according to Fehrenbach) because the Apache didn’t want the Caddo’s land. The Apache lived off of buffalo, and the Caddo lived in piney forests.
He describes the Apache as extreme: extremely fragmented, extremely democratic; they rarely-to-never took orders from anyone; leaders had little influence if they made mistakes or failed. Fehrenbach concludes the chapter by commenting that since the Apaches feared nothing, there was nothing to unite them.
Stepping away from the relatively noisy and not-entirely-accurate trees, and focusing on the close-enough-to-2017-opinion forest, one sees foreboding in this chapter. The Apache were tenacious enough to combat the U.S. military well into the late 19th century. One also notes the decidedly non-Texan Mayan, Toltec, etc. Why would Fehrenbach mention them?
In case you didn’t already know, here’s the spoiler: Texas was once part of Mexico. Spain colonized much (if not most) of the Americas. Whatever Spanish policy was in place, it affected the Native Americans in both present-day Mexico and Texas.
Whether in Texas or Aztec Mexico, history seems to consist largely of bad guys trying to slaughter each other, and the good guys living only because bad guys haven’t slaughtered them (yet). The fearless aggression and lack of coordination are among the themes that run through Fehrenbach’s book.
Wisconsin: Nesbit’s book is far less dramatic. His writing on the Native Americans is also much shorter.
There were three settlement periods in Wisconsin’s early history: the Clovis of 10,000 B.C. to 7000 B.C., the Aqua-Plano of 7000 B.C. to 4500 B.C., and Boreal Archaic and Old Copper of 5000 B.C. to 500 B.C. The Boreal Archaic developed into Early Woodland, and the Hopewell began to replace the Early Woodland by 100 B.C. Then, this remarkable passage:
“[The Hopewell] were related to similar cultures originating in present Mexico: sedentary, with capabilities in farming, construction, tool-making, and pottery well beyond those of the preceding cultures on the upper Great Lakes. They built burial mounds as well as impressive earthen structures for defense and ceremonial purposes. Based more on agriculture and hunting, the Hopewell culture was more stable than its predecessors; nonetheless, these people were gone before the Europeans arrived” (12).
Whoah. Fehrenbach also talks about how the Mound (or Mount) Builders of the Mississippi culture died out before the Europeans arrived. He also mentions that the Caddo are descendants of the Mound Builders, with which Wikipedia agrees.
Anyways, he moves onto the tribes that the Europeans did encounter, within the context of Wisconsin history. He mentions the following:
Huron (they lived east of Lake Huron)
Chippewa (north of Lake Huron, and all around Lake Superior)
Menominee (in Wisconsin)
Potawatomi (western lower Michigan)
In case you don’t know the Great Lakes, Wisconsin has Lake Superior to the north, and Lake Michigan to the east. Lake Huron is on the east side of the State of Michigan.
Nebsitt concludes this chapter by describing how the fur trade affected the Native Americans so that they ultimately resembled the Chippewa hunting culture, versus the Huron farming culture.
History is fascinating for so many reasons. It is profound to realize that climate and the land affect cultures, and how people’s cultures physically affect the land itself. History is terrifying in its violence, pitiable in its suffering, and most striking of all...eery in how certain cultures apparently just...disappear.