The 1880 History of Waukesha County has a section in their massive book about a phony Indian scare in the week of Sept. 4, 1862, one year into the Civil War.
It seems there was an event in Minnesota, where marauding Indians attacked rural settlements with many deaths. Meanwhile, many of Wisconsin’s sons had left for the armed services, most immediately stationed in Virginia, just south of Washington, D.C., and then along the Mississippi River in the south.
Somehow, someone saw “smoke” in northern Wisconsin: the “Injuns” are coming. The stories got wilder and wilder. True, the Confederates had agents in Canada, and were reportedly riling up the native Indians to start a third front.
Taking in all of these incidents and from forecasters of doom, Waukesha County got caught up in this hysteria. There were reports that Hartland was burning, and even supposed eyewitnesses who saw billowing smoke toward Hartford and then Hartland.
Scared Lisbonites, including those in the little burg of Sussex, loaded up wagons with kids, wives and the old folks, and headed to Waukesha in a panic.
The Waukesha citizens reacted by fortifying the bridges over the Fox River, but some smart man said something like this, “The Fox River is only knee deep. The Indians are not looking for a bridge to get across.”
Nevertheless, Waukesha was ready and the crowd from Lisbon was there to help repel the oncoming Indians.
A lot of foolish things were done that day, but the story goes that one prominent Lisbonite high-tailed it to Milwaukee and spirited through to the shores of Lake Michigan, where he stole a boat and paddled out into the lake. And nothing ever happened.
By Sept. 5, everyone looked around, checked the telegraphs, found out it was hysteria that had taken in the population of Waukesha County, and the naysayers came forward. “I never believed anything of this was true. How dumb can people be?”
Meanwhile, the Lisbon man out in the lake rowed back, never admitting a thing and sneaked back to Sussex and his family, and gave some weak excuse that he had been shopping in Milwaukee.
Hartland and Hartford were still there, and the great Indian scare of Sept. 4, 1862, was over, and just a bad memory. Everyone professed that they knew it was a hoax from the very beginning, and swore that, “I was not taken in.”
In the early 1980s, Sussex and Lisbon youths had the experience of finding arrowheads locally. In the April 15, 1980, edition of the Sussex Sun, 11-year-old Clinton Beardsley reported that he was hunting for fossils and odd stones on the old Ernie Pfeil housing development (near Mapleway Park) and a well-shaped Indian spear or knife head.
He took it to an anthropology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha, who identified it as an “agate basin arrowhead,” and put an estimated age on it of “80 centuries.” He said aborigines, probably following after the glaciers left Wisconsin, probably lost it where Beardsley found it.
Two years prior to this, I was involved in moving some local black earth from the Sussex Creek area south of Clover Drive (in the Sussex Wastewater Treatment Plant) to the flower planter in front of the then-Sussex Village Hall building on Silver Spring Drive. As I put the dirt into an enclosure of railroad ties, I had a nicely chipped handheld blackish “knife” turn up. Today, it is at the Sussex-Lisbon Area Historical Society.
In June 1981, I was contacted by 16-year-old Chris Tews of North Waukesha Avenue, near Good Hope Road. He showed me a collection of eight arrowheads he had found in the previous eight years living near what is today the Coolings Meadows scenic high swamp area near his home. Although he found most of the items in the extensive Cooling Meadows fringe areas, he also found some in the developing Prides Crossing area.
The Sun featured it and said that Chris’ mother Nancy, while inspecting some sewer line work adjacent to their home, found a finely honed arrowhead and added it to his collection.
The town of Lisbon will have its annual re-enactors show and tell event Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 13-14, at the Lisbon Community Park and the SLAHS will have a display of locally found Indian artifacts.