mounded trivia roundup

Did you know tumulus is another word for mound? Time for a roundup of tangentially mound-related trivia…

Black Hawk :: lead :: joara :: tonka :: pitching

• • •

1. The attacks at Fort Blue Mounds, in south-central Wisconsin, were some of the last hostilities in the Black Hawk War of 1832, named for the Sauk chief Black Hawk (Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, 1767-1838). Black Hawk and his life were fascinating and tragic. For one thing, at the age of 45 he fought alongside the British in the War of 1812, which is perhaps the purest historical example of the “the enemy of my enemy” maxim. Moreover, how many people have an war named after them? The name was essentially “he started it” fingerpointing propaganda, but still…

Black Hawk
Black Hawk

The origins of the war date back to 1804. Well, right, they really date back ~300 years before that, but the more immediate cause was an 1804 treaty that ceded Sauk lands to the US and was generally viewed as invalid. By the 1820s the Sauks and many other midwestern tribes had been booted off their homeland, forced to move, then encroached upon again. In 1832, a fed-up Black Hawk led a group (called the “British Band”, thanks to his prior allegiances) of Sauk, Meskwaki, and Kickapoo into Illinois, in a non-violent attempt to (re)settle their prior homes.

They were chased out by militia forces (among them both Abraham Lincoln and Jeff Davis), and with the militia on their tail, the band raided or engaged with forts as they retreated back through Wisconsin over the period of three months. The misleadingly-named Black Hawk War ended with the downright-disingenously-named “Battle of Bad Axe,” in which American soldiers ignored a flag of surrender for at least the second time in three months. Black Hawk was taken prisoner (he was eventually released).

While in custody, he dictated his autobiography (read it here): Autobiography of Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak, or Black Hawk, Embracing the Traditions of his Nation, Various Wars In Which He Has Been Engaged, and His Account of the Cause and General History of the Black Hawk War of 1832, His Surrender, and Travels Through the United States. Also Life, Death and Burial of the Old Chief, Together with a History of the Black Hawk War. It was the first Native American autobiography published in the US, was a bestseller, won the 1833 National Book Club award for “Longest Title,” and evidently described his death and burial a full five years before it actually happened (I think that’s the 2nd edition title). Also, in a phenomenal  example of backhanded, sarcastic kindness, he dedicated the book to the general that had captured him. Black Hawk died in 1838, possibly of a shrinking head:

What happened to his head?
What happened to his head?


2. Fort Blue Mounds was/is in the town of Blue Mounds in south central Wisconsin. The commander at the fort was Ebenezer Brigham, who was also the first white settler in the area. Brigham traipsed in around 1828 and built a cabin. He was there in search of Wisconsin’s most precious natural resource: not bratwurst, but lead.

Brigham was on the vanguard of the “lead rush”, which brought miners with dollar signs dancing in their vision to Wisconsin. They burrowed into hillsides like badgers for both lead and housing—which is why Wisconsin is known as the Badger State (no joke). By the 1840s Wisconsin mines were producing more than half the national output of lead, and as the lead reserves began tapping out soon thereafter, zinc became important (Wisconsin once claimed the world’s largest zinc smelting facility), and then to agriculture. During that transitional period, though, many people were farmer-miners, planting crops and digging up zinc in roughly equal measure. The lead mining history of Wisconsin can be seen in town names like New Diggings or, uh, Lead Mine (actual town name).

And of course there’s Galena, Illinois, which is also named for lead and preceded Wisconsin in serving as a lead-based boom town. It was also a few years ahead of Wisconsin in igniting the Winnebago War with the Ho-Chunk population (by encroaching on their land in violation of formal agreements).

Right across the river from Galena is Dubuque, Iowa, named for the French-Canadian Julien Dubuque, who by the late 1700s had established a lead mining empire. As far as lead magnates go, Dubuque was by all accounts an OK dude—he died poor because he gave so much money to his friends, and was respected enough by the local Meskwaki peoples to be buried with high honors after his death. They even built a monument:

Dubuque monument
Dubuque monument

So, anyways, lead mining: big part of the recent history of the midwest, and my lack of knowledge in this matter is appalling. By the way, the Wisconsin Historical Society includes an amazing virtual treasure trove of documents and readings about both the Black Hawk War and lead mining. My favorite snippet, though, is about James G. Percival, the erstwhile poet named as Wisconsin’s second State Geologist, whose “timidity is unconquerable.” A man cursed with “a morbid dread of mortality, or rather the society of his fellow men,” and who “spent his days crouched in holes and caves and returned home with weary knees to a supperless cottage to feast on moonshine.”


3. From roughly 1000-1600 the city/settlement of Joara, in the Appalachian foothills of eastern North Carolina, formed the eastern edge of the expansive Mississippian culture—now mostly known for being mound builders. Joara was a hub of trade and transportation, although not much is known about the people who lived there. It was visited by Hernando de Soto in 1540, while he aimlessly wandered the North American interior, suffering from gold fever. In 1566, Joara was visited by a second conquistador; Juan Pardo had been sent to a) find an overland route from what is now South Carolina to Spanish-controlled silver mines in Mexico, and b) convert everyone to christianity.

Pardo set off through North Carolina, planning to create a pony-express-like set of manned checkpoints along the route to Mexico. One of the first major settlements he reached was Joara, where he made nice with the locals and built a small fort nearby—Fort San Juan was the first inland European settlement. He then turned around and headed back to the coast to fend off a French invasion, leaving behind a small crew.

The history is spotty, but it seems an initial allyship was strained by mounting Spanish requests for food, women, and canoes (probably not in that order), probable disease outbreaks, and the realization the Spaniards were not so much hapless gold-seekers as violent colonizers. Eighteen months later after Pardo left, the Joarans burned Fort San Juan to the ground, along with the soldiers housed therein (part of a coordinated attack; six nearby Pardo forts were also destroyed). In response, Spain stopped trying to colonize the American interior. Victory?

A few decades later, when English settlers came through, Joara was gone. It may have collapsed in an epidemic, or been absorbed by and dispersed into a larger settlement; the fate is unclear. Also unclear was its exact location, a mystery for 300 years until digs near Morganton, North Carolina began turning up a mixture of Spanish and Native American artifacts in the 1980s. The burnt remains of what’s believed to be Fort San Juan were uncovered in summer 2013.

Fort San Juan foundations
Fort San Juan foundations


4. Mound, Minnesota, hometown of the boogie-woogie singing Andrews Sisters and Kevin Sorbo, TV’s Hercules, is also the corporate home of Tonka Trucks (named for the purifying waters of Lake Minnetonka). The company was founded in 1946 as Mound Metalcraft, selling…assorted non-toy metal things. Check out the logo:


That’s the greatest f ever, right? Very stately. A former building tenant offered to sell them dies for making toys—a crane and a steam shovel—and so Mound started selling toys in 1947. By 1949 they were producing nothing but toys, though they didn’t change their name to Tonka until 1956. 1964 saw the release of the flagship mighty dump truck (“…it certainly is a mighty dump…”).

Semi-monthly digression on the crushing yoke of capitalist enterprise: In the 1980s, Tonka moved manufacturing from Minnesota to Texas. They started replacing metal with plastic. Then they moved manufacturing to China. Then they bought Kenner-Parker, makers of Nerf, Risk, Clue, Baby Alive dolls, Six Million Dollar Man action figures, and Happy Fun Ball. Just two years later, toymaking monolith Hasbro swooped in to acquire the entire over-leveraged Tonka/Kenner enterprise. Sometime around 2050, there will be one corporation, producing literally everything, with the labor outsourced to Jupiter. Perfectly vertical integration. The workers will not be unionized.

Additional Tonka source material here.


5. MLB rules dictate a pitcher’s mound 18 feet in diameter, height of 10 inches, 60 feet 6 inches from the rubber to the back edge of home plate. And with the mound comes charging the mound, the most sublime moment of modern professional sports. Has a pitcher ever put a mound-charger in a headlock, then bounced fists off his skull like golf balls off a rock? Yes:

"country strong"
“country strong”

Has a batter ever been sued for injuries sustained during a mound charging? Yes. Has a batter ever karate-kicked the catcher before charging, to avoid getting tackled from behind? Yes. Do baseball coaching videos give mound-charging tips? You bet. Charging the mound should be an Olympic sport.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s