The Friends of Fort Atkinson Rendezvous Committee selected the "Neutral Ground" as this year's theme for the upcoming Fort Atkinson Rendezvous Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 29-30.
In 1825, the U.S. government used surveyors to create an east to west "neutral line" in the Northeast Iowa Territory as a means of keeping the warring tribes of the Sioux Indians to the north from the combined Sac and Fox tribe to the south.
Since the line was unmarked and not visible to the human eye, the government returned to the region in 1830 to create the "neutral ground" that would run 20 miles north and 20 miles south of the "neutral line," and would stretch 200 miles east to west. This 40-mile-wide buffer zone hopefully would keep the hostile Indian tribes away from each other, which, in turn, would offer more protection to the many settlers in Wisconsin.
Deputy surveyors were hired to measure and mark the "neutral ground" boundaries, which included parts of two Minnesota counties and portions of what would eventually be nine Iowa counties. All of current Winneshiek County was part of the "neutral ground," along with most of Allamakee and Chickasaw counties.
A surveyor's vernier compass was used to determine the angles for the various points of the "neutral ground" boundaries. A historic surveyor's vernier compass can be seen during the Rendezvous weekend in the state museum located on the military post grounds, and this year's souvenir medallion, designed by Fort Atkinson artist LuAnne Becker, features the surveyor's vernier compass with the background showing the "neutral ground." Medallions will be available for purchase on the post grounds during the Rendezvous weekend.
Don Borcherding, of Rochester, Minn., will be dressed in an 1840s Corp of Engineer's captain's uniform during Rendezvous Days portraying Captain Andrew Talcott, who was the principal surveyor of the northern border of Iowa later in 1852. He will present historical information on the surveying of the "neutral ground," and the equipment and process used in the government land surveying in the 1840s and 1850s.
Nathan Boone, son of Daniel Boone, was hired to survey the "neutral ground" boundaries. He completed the survey of the northern boundary but was then commissioned as a captain under General Henry Atkinson during the Black Hawk War. James Craig was hired in 1833 to complete the southern boundary survey of the "neutral ground."
The story then jumps to the 1840s when the government decided to remove the 2,000-plus members of the Winnebago/Ho-Chunk tribe still in the Wisconsin Territory and take them across the Mississippi River. With the "neutral ground" now in existence, the decision was made to take the tribal members into this region and build the military post of Fort Atkinson to monitor and keep the tribe in this region. The Winnebago/Ho-Chunk feared the warring Sioux, so the government made the promise the soldiers at the new post of Fort Atkinson would protect them from the regional tribes to the north and south.
Troops patrolled the "neutral ground" throughout the 1840s not only to make sure the Ho-Chunk remained within the region, but also to prevent unauthorized Euro-Americans and other Indians from coming into the "neutral ground." The Turkey River Indian Subagency was also established within the "neutral ground" several miles south of the military post where monthly annuities were brought in for the Winnebago/Ho-Chunk. When the Ho-Chunk were moved into Minnesota in 1848, the Fort Atkinson military post closed in 1849, and the "neutral ground" then became open to Euro-American settlers.