County is located within the unglaciated, Driftless Area of Western
Wisconsin. Pepin and Eau Claire Counties form the northern border of the
county, while Trempealeau County forms the eastern border. Three rivers
also border the county; the Chippewa on the west, the Mississippi on the
south and east and the Trempealeau on the lower eastern border. All of
Buffalo County drains into the Mississippi River.
land area of the county is 712 square miles, or 448,364 acres.
There are 17 civil townships; Alma is the county seat.
With a total population of 13,975, density is between 19 and 20
people per square mile, about the same as the mid-80ís.
are 22 named and unnamed lakes in the county; all small and shallow
totaling 358 acres. Of the
named lakes, Mirror Lake in Mondovi is the largest with 44 acres.
One-half of the lakes have maximum depths of less than five feet.
are 8,390 acres of water and 73 miles of trout streams in the county.
All or part of 15 streams are classified as trout streams and are
stocked with brook or brown trout.
Trout habitat in most Buffalo County streams is marginal due to
silt or sand-covered stream bottoms.
Some natural reproduction occurs, but trout populations are
largely maintained by stocking adult-sized fish.
of the larger, warm-water streams, which flow into the Mississippi,
contain northern pike, walleye, bass, sunfish, and other sport fish
species as well as rough fish. The
Mississippi River and its backwaters provide an extensive and varied
fishery resource including a commercial fishery.
first permanent settlement of Buffalo County occurred in 1839 at
Fountain City, which was formerly called Holmes' Landing after a family
who traded with the Sioux and Chippewa Indian Tribes. Over the next few
years many German, Swiss and Norwegian homesteaders settled in the
county, attracted by the County's lumber industry, good soils, abundant
water and excellent pasture land. In 1848, Twelve Mile Bluff, now called
Alma, was established.
the time Twelve Mile Bluff/Alma was settled, the county possessed
limited timber resources, but was caught up in the middle of the logging
boom which was centered in the Chippewa Valley, an area of over 10,000
miles of dense hardwood and coniferous forest. Logs were rafted down the
Chippewa and Buffalo (formerly Beef) Rivers to mills which had sprung up
all along the Mississippi River. Two (2) of these sawmills one built at
Buffalo City in 1857 and one in Alma in 1865 provided another source of
development in the county began in the early 1850's, mainly in the
valleys or up on open ridges. The land was relatively easy to break at
the time since portions of the county were natural prairies or oak
openings. Poor roads and a lack of adequate transportation though forced
most farmers to settle close to the shipping routes along the
Mississippi River. Before the railroads came in the 1880s, practically
all grain was shipped out on Mississippi River steamboats. This all
changed though with the completion of the Winona, Alma and Northern
Rail, and by 1890 grain was shipped almost entirely by rail.
first grain was grown in the county around 1852 in what would later
become an extensive wheat producing area. During the years from 1860 to
1870, wheat acreage soared from 5,608 to 41,703 acres.
Civil War increased the demand for grain and brought prosperity and
wealth to those with large acreages under cultivation. After the war,
Buffalo County was rapidly settled and new agricultural land cleared of
timber or brush. At the height of the wheat-growing era there were
64,290 acres grown in the county.
with intensive cropping, soil fertility declined and farmers were
plagued with insects, disease and soil erosion. Many settlers chose to
move west rather than follow a program of crop rotations and
fertilization. In time, with the falling of wheat prices and the advent
of railways, farm enterprises shifted to milk and cheese production,
with local creameries appearing around the 1880s. This in turn was
followed by the introduction and proliferation of pure-bred livestock,
including dairy, beef and sheep.
agriculture is still the number one source of income in the county,
though more diversified than in the past.
relief of the county is characteristic of the Driftless area, with
extremely varied topography consisting of high ridges, long narrow
valleys, and areas of steeply sloping land in between.
Bluffs rise above the river bottoms by 500 feet in some areas. Only a small corridor along the Mississippi River was ever
glaciated, where terraces have been formed from glacial meltwater
are underlain by sedimentary bedrock consisting mainly of Cambrian
sandstones and Prairie du Chien dolomitic limestone.
The limestone once covered most of the surface of the county, but
with erosion much of the original plan has been deeply dissected and
worn away; such that it is found only as remnants capping the ridge tops
and higher hills. This is
underlain by sandstone and, at lower levels, a sandy shale or shaley
sandstone. Outcroppings of
bedrock are common, including sheer bluff faces along the Mississippi.
alluvium, and colluvium form the uppermost geologic deposits and, in
addition to the bedrock, are the parent materials for many of the soils
in the county. Soil types
range from shallow silty clay loams on steep rocky land to deep silt
loams on the valley bottoms, with smaller areas of sandy outwash soils.
Aeolian silt deposits range from .5 to 16 feet deep, with
decreasing depths from southwest to northeast.