Casper Bluff Land & Water Reserve

Not only does Casper Bluff Land & Water Reserve boast some of the most commanding views of the Mississippi River and its backwater sloughs, it is also an archaeologically significant site. The 85-acre site contains the Aiken Mound Group, named for the nearby community of Aiken. Our knowledge of these mounds stems from 1900, when William Baker Nickerson, an amateur archaeologist who worked for the railroads, documented 51 mounds at this location: 38 long, wall-like structures, 12 conical mounds, and one thunderbird effigy. Nickerson also observed an earth ellipse or hut-ring and two circular depressions.

Nickerson’s limited excavation of the mounds in 1900 produced pottery fragments, indicating the fill may have come from a nearby habitation site. Archaeologists from the University of Chicago visited the site in 1926; however, only 40 mounds were observed at that time. In 2006, Phil Millhouse from the University of Illinois was able to relocate Nickerson’s original map, kept at the Illinois State Museum. Using GIS technology, the location of all 51 mounds documented by Nickerson have been identified. At the present, however, only 20 mounds can be visually identified on the ground surface. Agricultural cropping and grazing have no doubt affected the integrity of the mounds.

The Aiken Mound Group is part of the larger Effigy Mound culture that existed between A.D. 700 and A.D. 1000 in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois. While most of what is known about the site is based on the mounds themselves, there is a possibility that there may still be intact archaeological features among the mounds. Skeletal remains from the Aiken Mounds have been found in adjacent crop fields. Habitation sites, while not mapped, were thought to occur in the nearby low-lying fields east of the steep river bluffs where the ceremonial mounds are located.

While the Effigy Mound peoples are thought to have abandoned the region after A.D. 1000, as late as 1875 members of the Ho-Chunk Nation performed ceremonies in the vicinity of Aiken Mounds and constructed a burial mound for the son of their leader, Green Blanket. This burial site is thought to be located one mile east of the reserve within the bottomlands of Small Pox Creek.

Upcoming Events

Better Than We Found It – A Discussion on Environmental Protection in 2020

March 6 @ 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Join Illinois Environmental Council and Galena Green Team for a discussion about how you can help protect the environment in 2020! IEC’s Executive Director, Jen Walling, will lead a presentation and discussion about on-going challenges and opportunities in environmental protection at the state and local levels, the 2020 environmental legislative agenda, and ways in which […] Read More

Find out more »

Popcorn & Program: “Racing Extinction”

March 21 @ 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm

The Emmy-nominated film, “Racing Extinction,” follows a team of artists and activists as they expose the hidden world of extinction with rarely-before-seen images of precious and endangered species. Louie Psihoyos, the documentary’s producer, is an esteemed National Geographic photographer and Academy Award winning filmmaker. “Racing Extinction” features appearances by Photo Ark photographer Joel Sartore, Tesla […] Read More

Find out more »

Early Spring Bird Walk at Valley of Eden Bird Sanctuary

March 26 @ 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm

Woodcocks, also known as timberdoodles, are one of nature’s earliest signs of spring. Learn how the woodcock dances in the sky and on the ground to attract a mate. The Valley of Eden short grassland habitat is thriving with wildlife of all kinds and we invite you to join us in viewing the sunset showing […] Read More

Find out more »

NW IL Burn Co-op Announces Annual Prescribed Burn Training

March 28 @ 9:00 am - 12:00 pm

Have you ever wanted to learn more about prescribed ecological burning? Do you own wildlife habitat that could benefit from prescribed ecological burning? Have you ever wanted to be part of a prescribed burn crew? A basic training for prescribed burn team participants will be held in the Galena Territory Association Owners’ Club Lounge focusing […] Read More

Find out more »