Driftless Region

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The Driftless Region is the name given to the area that encompasses the boarders of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. The topography of the driftless area is unique, unlike its surroundings which are largely flat or rolling landscapes the driftless region is characterized by outcroppings of rock and many uneven features. As the Pleistocene ice age was coming to a close, large sheets of ice which encompassed most of the northern United States began to recede. This glacial motion eroded the landscape and produced the level landscape observed in the areas surrounding the driftless region. Special circumstances spared the driftless region from Glaciation which enabled to the natural topography of the area to remain. [1]

Geological Significance

Beginning in the early 19th century explanations for the driftless phenomenon were already being formulated. William Keating was the first scientist to hypothesize about the processes behind the driftless area. A more exact explanation of the origins of the driftless region would be offered by Roland Irving a professor of geology at the University of Wisconsin. Irving postulated that the deep basin of lake Superior and other natural formations disrupted the progress of the Pleistocene glaciers in the driftless region. [2]

Early Inhabitants

The outermost regions of the glacial ice sheets were inhabited by hunter gatherer tribes for thousands of years. Evidence of habitation in the driftless region suggest that as soon as the ice receded people were living there. Many mastodon and mammoth kill sites have been excavated, these sites date back to the time of the ice recession. [3]

Ecological History

Megafauna of many varieties roamed the driftless region 12,000 years ago. Woolly mammoths, short faced bears, saber tooth cats, American lions and cheetahs were just a few of the now extinct specimens that occupied the region. None of these species are extant in the driftless region today. Scientists have speculated that these animals were not able to properly adapt to the changing climate of the region. The region has gone through many ecological shifts, tundra transitioned into forests, which gradually became prairie land. The factors dictating these changes were largely climactic and also based on the cultural behaviors of the inhabitants. [4]


As the early inhabitants of the driftless region shifted from nomadic hunter gatherer tribes, they began to develop traits and customs. Many early rock and cave paintings have been observed throughout the area. The most notable artistic features of the area are the larger than life effigy mounds. These mounds are representations of animals that inhabited the region, depictions of humans exist as well.[5]

Driftless Folk School

Viroqua Wisconsin is the home of the Driftless Folk School. Many of the cultural traditions of the area have been passed down through the generations. The school provides an organized way for anyone looking to experience these traditions to do so. Many classes are offered at the school, from beekeeping and cheese making to blacksmithing and carpentry. The idea behind the school was for the line between student and instructor to be indistinguishable student and teacher learning from one another simultaneously. N.F.S. Grundtvig is credited with the idea behind the school in the mid 1800's. [6]


  1. John Attig and Robert Dott, "From Roadside Geology of Wisconsin (2004)," in Curt Meine and Keefe Keeley, Editors, The Driftless Reader (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2017),5-6.
  2. Curt Meine and Keefe Keeley, Editors, The Driftless Reader (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2017),2.
  3. Curt Meine and Keefe Keeley, Editors, The Driftless Reader (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2017),19.
  4. Curt Meine and Keefe Keeley, Editors, The Driftless Reader (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2017),45.
  5. Edna Meudt, "Wisconsin Mounds," in Curt Meine and Keefe Keeley, Editors, The Driftless Reader (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2017),24-28.
  6. Driftlessfolkschool.org (accessed December 12, 2018)

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  • Merchant, Carolyn. The Columbia Guide to American Environmental History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed November 24, 2015).
  • Ostergren, Robert C. and Thomas R. Vale. Wisconsin Land and Life. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed November 24, 2015).

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