History of Juneau County
Juneau County’s first inhabitants were the Mound Builders who were here some 3,000 years ago. They vanished long before the 1800’s but left their marks with the mounds they built, some of which can still be found in the Juneau County area.
The Woodland Culture people were semi-nomadic people who are dated back to 500 – 1200 AD. They traveled in the season, following the wild harvest of fish, game and fruit. They built temporary shelters of saplings, bark and reeds near to the food supply and used them as long as needed. These early peoples lived with and were dependent on nature much more directly than those who followed them. By the mid-1600s they had evolved into separate tribes. By the 1700s the Winnebago became the most numerous and important tribe in Juneau County (in 1993 they became known as the Ho-Chunk Nation).
Their first encounter they had with the early European settlers was in 1810 with the fur traders out of Green Bay. Their life began to change with the colonization of the Europeans, which included wars, broken treaties and gradual resettlement. They had a deep love of the land in Juneau County and the Winnebago slowly filtered back to their homeland. Finally, in 1880 the Federal Government recognized their right to own homesteads and live in Wisconsin.
Juneau County’s earliest pioneers were fur traders, loggers and the others who could harvest the natural resources they found here. In 1828 a fur trader named Francis Charbonneau (also known as Frank Provonsal) was considered the first settler in the area, by setting up a trading post on the Wisconsin River, just north of Petenwell Rock. Juneau County was established in 1857 and named after Milwaukee legislator Solomon Juneau.
The rivers of Juneau County were the highways that allowed for exploration and settlements along the river’s banks that included Mauston, New Lisbon, Necedah, Elroy and Wonewoc. As trading posts, logging and sawmills began to increase, more people were drawn to the area. Timber was cut and sent down the river to the Mississippi River. Agriculture began to grow with crops of wheat, tobacco, corn, sphagnum moss, hops and cranberries as the settlers began farming the land.
In the mid 1800’s Juneau County’s geographical location midway between Chicago and Minneapolis made it an important part of railroad history and contributed to the growth of the area. The first settlers of Juneau County used the natural wealth of fur and timber found on its land and waters. Those who followed used the natural wealth they found, magnified by the sweat of their labor, and turned a wilderness into a settled land.
LIVING ON THE LAND:
Farming was the means of living on the land, but there were many struggles for the newly arrived landowners. Juneau County has some rich farmland, but much of the area was wet, had poor soil, was covered with trees or was too steep. Farms needed to be self-sufficient with big gardens, raising livestock, poultry, crops, as well as orchard crops. Wheat was one of the first crops. It was very versatile for the needs of families and their farm animals; it could also be sold. Another popular crop was hops with a boom period of 1865-69. Hops continued to be produced until 1904 when a “hop louse” arrived. At one time Sauk and Juneau County had been the number one and number two hop producers in the nation. Marsh hay was important with big bluestem marsh grass harvested for its seed. Alfalfa came into use in the 1950’s. Oxen and then horses were the means of getting this work done and needed to assist with the manual labor. Potatoes were one of the crops that did well in the sand soil in the northern portion of the county as well as in Adams County. Cranberries have a great history in the northern portion of the county, with harvestable crops in the great swamp that existed there. There was a failed attempt to drain this swamp area and create farmland. This attempt caused many families to lose their property for failure to pay their taxes. The Necedah National Wildlife Refuge and the Central Wisconsin Conservation areas were created out the old Drainage District Lands.