Wisconsin is home to a major archaeological find: 14,500-year-old mammoth bones with human-made tool marks, suggesting that people have lived in the Western Hemisphere longer than experts had previously believed. Native American tribes formed over thousands of years after the mammoth hunters arrived. These groups included the Dakota Sioux, Winnebago, Menominee, Ojibwe, Potawatomi, Fox, and Sauk. Eleven Native American tribes still live in Wisconsin today.
Though the first Europeans to reach the region now called Wisconsin were French, the area came under British rule at the end of the French and Indian War, in 1763. About twenty years later, after the American Revolution ended, the land officially became part of the new country … yet continued to be controlled by British fur traders for several years.
In the 1820s a lead-mining boom brought many settlers to the region. Native Americans fought to defend their homeland, but by 1832 most of the battles had stopped. The Wisconsin Territory was named in 1836, and in 1848 Wisconsin became a U.S. state.
Shortly before the Civil War, people met in Wisconsin to discuss stopping the spread of slavery, which resulted in the creation of the Republican Party. (The Democratic Party’s roots go back to Thomas Jefferson’s followers in 1792.) The state also became an important part of the Underground Railroad, which helped escaped slaves reach freedom in Canada.
WHY’S IT CALLED THAT?
Wisconsin’s name might have come from a Native American word meskonsing, meaning roughly “it lies red,” or "this stream meanders through something red." It probably refers to the state’s reddish sandstone.
Though badgers live throughout Wisconsin, the animal isn’t the reason for the nickname the Badger State. “Badger” was a nickname for the 19th-century miners who cut into Wisconsin’s hills to find lead then slept in their caves—just the way badgers burrow to create dens.
GEOGRAPHY AND LANDFORMS
This midwestern state is bordered by Minnesota, Michigan, and Lake Superior in the north, Lake Michigan in the east, Illinois in the south, and Iowa and Minnesota in the west. Although Minnesota is called the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Wisconsin has more than 15,000! These lakes were created during the last Ice Age about 12,000 years ago, when glaciers scraped across the land. The state can be divided into five geographical areas.
The Lake Superior Lowland is in the northernmost part of Wisconsin. It’s mostly flatland that slopes down toward the edge of Lake Superior (one of the country’s five Great Lakes). The Apostle Islands are off the coast.
The Northern Highland covers almost a third of the state and spreads across Northern Wisconsin. Sloping downward, the land is filled with woodlands and lakes and includes Wisconsin’s highest point, Timms Hill.
The Central Plain is a U-shaped, fertile region that stretches from the northwest to the northeast, dipping through the middle of the state. It contains a glacier-carved sandstone gorge called the Dells of the Wisconsin River, plus flattop hills called buttes and mesas.
The eastern side of the state is named the Eastern Ridges and Lowlands, with gentle hills and some of the world’s best farmland. Sandy beaches and bluffs lie along the edge of Lake Michigan.
Besides badgers, many mammals such as black bears, moose, white-tailed deer, muskrats, porcupines, and flying squirrels roam the state. Downy woodpeckers, eastern bluebirds, purple finches, red-winged blackbirds, and robins (the state bird) are some common fliers.
Wisconsin’s reptiles include milk snakes, named so because they often live near barns (even though they don’t drink milk!), snapping turtles, and common five-lined skinks. Eastern red-backed salamanders, American bullfrogs, and mink frogs are among the state’s amphibians.
The sugar maple is Wisconsin’s state tree, and it’s loved not only for its sap, which is used to make maple syrup, but for its leaves that turn bright red, orange, and yellow during fall. Red cedar, hemlock, ash, and black oak are other common native trees.
Wildflowers grow widely throughout the state. Some standouts are tall bellflower, crimson bee balm, fire pink, orange coneflower, and cutleaf rosinweed, which looks like a sunflower with a smaller center.
Wisconsin’s black prairie soil is extremely fertile, with corn as its number one crop. The state is also one of the top green bean producers in the country. The state’s thousands of lakes are another important resource, used for tourism.
—Painter Georgia O’Keeffe, author Laura Ingalls Wilder, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and race car driver Danica Patrick were all born in Wisconsin.
—Wisconsin’s greater prairie chicken was once hunted to near-extinction but now can be spotted in the Buena Vista Grasslands in the center of the state.
—Wisconsin is famous for its cheese… so famous that it has a cheese museum! On the second Saturday in June the National Historic Cheesemaking Center creates a 90-pound wheel of Swiss.
—Inside the Milwaukee Public Museum, visitors can walk through recreations of historic Milwaukee, a European village, and an ancient Mediterranean civilization. The museum also houses the world’s largest-known dinosaur skull.
—Visitors can explore a recreation of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s first house in Pepin, Wisconsin. Wilder was born on that land in 1867.