Wisconsin Heights Battlefield Information (Geography)

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Wisconsin Heights Battlefield
Wisconsin Heights Battlefield painting.jpg
A 19th-century painting of the battlefield
Wisconsin Heights Battlefield is located in Wisconsin
Wisconsin Heights Battlefield
Wisconsin Heights Battlefield is located in the United States
Wisconsin Heights Battlefield
Location Dane County, Wisconsin
Nearest city Sauk City (in Sauk County)
Coordinates 43°14′41″N 89°43′5″W / 43.24472°N 89.71806°W / 43.24472; -89.71806

43°14′41″N 89°43′5″W / 43.24472°N 89.71806°W / 43.24472; -89.71806
Area70 acres (28 ha)
Built1832 (battle date)
NRHP reference # 01001553 [1]
Added to NRHPJanuary 31, 2002

The Wisconsin Heights Battlefield is an area in Dane County, Wisconsin where the penultimate battle of the 1832 Black Hawk War occurred. The conflict was fought between the Illinois and Michigan Territory militias and Sauk chief Black Hawk and his band of warriors, who were fleeing their homeland following the Fox Wars. The Wisconsin Heights Battlefield is the only intact battle site from the Indian Wars in the U.S. Midwest. Today, the battlefield is managed and preserved by the state of Wisconsin as part of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway. In 2002, it was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.


Knowledge of the history of native tribes before the middle of the 18th century in the area of Wisconsin Heights Battlefield is limited. Samuel de Champlain is said to have heard of native tribes living "many leagues beyond Lake Huron" during the 17th century. [2] The group Champlain heard about was known as the "Fire Nation" or the "Mascoutens." [2] The Mascoutens, along with the Kickapoo and Miami were probably settled in the area around the Fox River and claimed much of the land to the south, including the battlefield, as their hunting grounds. Eventually, the Mascoutens, Kickapoo and Miami migrated further south along the shore of Lake Michigan. [2]

The relocated Mascoutens were replaced by the influx of Sauk and Fox following the Fox Wars in the western Great Lakes and Detroit regions. After the conflicts, the remaining Sauk and Fox sought refuge together in lands further west, extending north from the Wisconsin River to the Illinois River in the south. Other settlements were established north of the Missouri River. [3]

The area known as the Wisconsin Heights Battlefield was the site of the penultimate engagement of the 1832 Black Hawk War, fought between the United States state militia and allies, and the Sauk and Fox tribes, led by Black Hawk. The battle took place in what is now Dane County, near the present-day Sauk County–Dane County line. Despite being outnumbered and sustaining heavy casualties, Black Hawk's warriors managed to delay the combined forces long enough to allow the majority of the Sauk and Fox civilians in the group to escape across the Wisconsin River. [4]

The battlefield has been described as "beautiful and romantic". Through the early 1920s the area remained privately owned. [5] On a cloudless Labor Day, September 3, 1923, 500 people gathered at the battlefield for the dedication of a marker at the site. A four-foot Bedford limestone marker was installed by a group consisting of the Madison Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), the Wisconsin Historical Society, and the State Archaeological Society. [6] The monument carried the following inscription:


Near this site the Sauk chieftain Black Hawk
and his band were overtaken by Wisconsin
and Illinois troops on July 21, 1832 [6]

For 30 years the DAR marker stood as the sole monument to the battle. The Wisconsin Historical Society installed a metal interpretive marker at the site in 1957. [7] In 1989 Wisconsin Act 31 established the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway, a 92.3-mile (148.5 km) stretch of the Wisconsin River that includes 79,275 acres (320.81 km2) from Prairie du Sac to the river's confluence with the Mississippi River. [8] The Riverway includes the Wisconsin Heights Battlefield, which is protected from future development because of its status as part of the Riverway. [4] [8] Historians continued to shed light on the Battle of Wisconsin Heights and in 1992 a new interpretive marker was installed. [7] The site was dedicated by then-Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson in 1998 during Wisconsin's sesquicentennial celebration. [7]


At the time of the Black Hawk War the Wisconsin Heights Battlefield was a marshy area located in the hills along the Wisconsin River. [9] The battlefield is located within the Black Hawk Unit of the state managed and owned Lower Wisconsin State Riverway, along Highway 78, about a mile south of County Road Y, south of Sauk City. There are trails, a historic marker and a parking area at the site. [4] Though the area around the battle site does not include modern amenities, such as plumbing and toilets, the trails within the Black Hawk Unit of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway stretch three miles (5 km) over rugged terrain. One of the trails, the Wisconsin Heights Battlefield Trail, branches from the main loop and travels through the battle site. [10]

The battlefield has three key areas affiliated with the clash that can be viewed at the modern-day site: "Militia Ridge," where companies of Illinois and Michigan Territory militia formed up for battle; "Sharpshooter Lookout," an overlook where Sauk and Fox warriors opened fire on the militia; and "Spy's Ravine," the area between the ridge and lookout. The whole of the battlefield is best viewed from Sharpshooter Lookout. [7]


The Wisconsin Heights Battlefield is the only intact battle site from the Indian Wars found in the U.S. Midwest. [11] This significance led to its inclusion in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on January 31, 2002. [1] It is one of five 1832 Black Hawk War battle sites listed on the National Register. The others are Kellogg's Grove, Apple River Fort, Fort Blue Mounds, and Stillman's Run. [1] The Wisconsin Heights battle site is marked by an official Wisconsin historical marker. [12]

It is not entirely certain that this is the site of the Battle of Wisconsin Heights, but historical sources identify this town and section, and the terrain matches ridges and swamps in descriptions of the battle. Archaeologists working with the Wisconsin DNR have looked for evidence of the battle by visual inspection, by metal detector, and by ground-penetrating radar. Along with modern shotgun shell casings and pop-tops, they found several lead balls from the era of the Black Hawk War, two cartridge case buckles, and a fastener for a leather bag. These don't seem like much evidence, but no archaeological evidence at all has been turned up at other Black Hawk War battlefields. [13]


  1. ^ a b c "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  2. ^ a b c Cole, Harry Ellsworth, ed. A Standard History of Sauk County, Wisconsin: Volume I, Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1918, pp. 166–184. Retrieved September 16, 2007.
  3. ^ James Lewis, " Background," The Black Hawk War of 1832, Abraham Lincoln Digitization Project, Northern Illinois University. Retrieved September 16, 2007.
  4. ^ a b c Dennis McCann, " Black Hawk's name, country's shame lives on", Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, April 28, 2007. Retrieved September 16, 2007.
  5. ^ O. D. Brandenburg, " Historic Site of the Black Hawk Battlefield at Wisconsin Heights, and pretty is the dale to which the Indians fled," Madison Democrat, September 26, 1920. Retrieved September 16, 2007.
  6. ^ a b " The Society and the State," The Wisconsin Magazine of History, December 1923, vol. 7, no. 2, p. 250. Retrieved 16 September 2007.
  7. ^ a b c d The Battle of Wisconsin Heights, July 21, 1832: A Virtual Tour!, Old Lead Regional Historical Society. Retrieved September 16, 2007.
  8. ^ a b Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board. Retrieved September 16, 2007.
  9. ^ William Rudolph Smith, The History of Wisconsin: In Three Parts, Historical, Documentary, and Descriptive, B. Brown: 1854, pp. 228–230. Retrieved September 16, 2007.
  10. ^ Martin Hintz, Hiking Wisconsin, Human Kinetics: 1997, p. 103. Retrieved September 16, 2007.
  11. ^ David Gjestson, " In the shadow of Wisconsin Heights," Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine, June 1998. Retrieved September 16, 2007.
  12. ^ " Prairie du Sac and Sauk City, Highways 12, 60 & 78," Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board. Retrieved September 16, 2007.
  13. ^ Laura Abing; Kevin Abing; Jeanne Ward (February 1998). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: Wisconsin Heights Battlefield". National Park Service. Retrieved May 9, 2019. With four photos.

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