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

Gone Herping – A Facebook Live Event

July 9 @ 10:00 am - 10:30 am

JDCF will be Live from the Hurtzville Interpretive Center in Jackson County, Iowa. Our Education & Outreach Manager, Jess Carryer, will be joined by special guest, Tony Vorwald, for a program all about herping! Herping is the act of searching for amphibians and reptiles. Habitat preferences range from dry sand prairies to swampy bottomlands. Studying […] Read More

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LIVE WEBINAR: Dr. Daryl Watson and IDNR Landscape Architect George Bellovics speaking on JDCF’s new addition to Apple River Canyon

July 22 @ 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm

This spring, the Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation (JDCF) announced the largest land purchase in its 27-year history, the Dick Dvorak Addition to Apple River Canyon. To bring this important acquisition into perspective, we hope you will join us for a live JDCF webinar. Providing historical perspective will be Dr. Daryl Watson, historian, educator, and former […] Read More

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Experience Horseshoe Mound ~ A Walking Tour

August 15 @ 11:00 am - 12:00 pm

Have you ever wondered what a guided tour of Horseshoe Mound Preserve would be like? Well, wonder no more because we have brought back our popular walking tours with JDCF Education and Outreach Manager, Jess Hepker.  Participants will get the inside scoop on geologic features that can be seen from the top of the mound […] Read More

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Meteors on the Mound

August 15 @ 7:00 pm - 11:00 pm

JDCF and the Friends of Horseshoe Mound invite everyone to Meteors on the Mound for a glimpse of the Perseid meteor shower from atop Horseshoe Mound Preserve.  Horseshoe Mound is the eighth highest point in Jo Daviess County and offers spectacular views of the tristate area from three different vantage points. This is the only […] Read More

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