On Saturday, November 4, 2023, the Friends of Lakeshore Nature Preserve hosted a tour of the Ho-Chunk Effigy Mounds that are still visible and discussion of those that were destroyed on campus. We met at the Washburn Observatory and the weather was perfect, crisp, and clean with a blue sky and bright sun.
Our tour had approximately 45 participants and was guided by Amy Rosebrough, a State Archeologist with the Wisconsin Historical Society. Dr. Rosebrough is the leading expert on Wisconsin Effigy Mounds and their cultural significance to the Ho-Chunk and other tribes of the state of Wisconsin. Having studied effigy mounds of Wisconsin for her PhD here at UW Madison in the Department of Anthropology, she has amassed a lifetime of knowledge that she gladly shares.
She is author of two books on Effigy Mounds of Wisconsin. Her first is a 2003 book, “Water panthers, bears, and thunderbirds: Exploring Wisconsin’s Effigy Mounds”, which is for young readers with suggested activities to encourage students to engage with the effigy mounds of Wisconsin in every county. Her second, is co-authored with retired effigy mound expert, Robert Birmingham in 2017, “Indian Mounds of Wisconsin”. For those of you who missed the tour, I found this great video of her explaining much of what we learned from her. This video is almost a decade old, but the information is just as valid (https://www.c-span.org/video/?322375-1/native-american-effigy-mounds.) She also gave a Wednesday Nite at the Lab in 2018 (https://youtu.be/JDn_frvo_i0?si=QFl-F6_yrTkEgqdy).
Dr. Rosebrough told many stories of discovery and archeological logistics, including the wonders of LiDAR, and the recent findings of the 1,000 and 3,000 year old canoes that were pulled from Lake Mendota. She shared with us the significance of the four lakes region to the Ho-Chunk, the glacial drumlins that were perfect for effigy mound positions overlooking the water, and some of the history of Ho-Chunk village life right here on UW Madison campus. She passed around a hand-held replica of one of the canoes, along with many other photos, maps, and timetables, as she talked to us with an amplifier.
The highlight of the tour was a visit to the newly installed bird-shaped effigy sculpture “Effigy: Bird Form” made in 1997 by Professor Emeritus Truman Lowe, memorializing the loss Indigenous burial mounds on campus but still celebrates Indigenous traditions. You can read more about the history of this particular sculpture and how it came to be installed on campus this year: https://facilities.fpm.wisc.edu/truman-lowe-sculpture-event-on-sept-15/.
After stopping by a partially intact eagle-shaped mound near the greenhouses of Soil Sciences, we continued down the hill towards the west of campus to large partially intact crane effigy mound that sits between the new student Bakke Recreation & Wellbeing Center and Lake Mendota and the trail.
There she explained to us the difficulty in how to preserve, yet respect, the effigy mounds. What kinds of signage is appropriate? How to take out the current historical marker? What kinds of landscape management does it require? Prairie or turfgrass? How do we let people passing by know what exists there while also respecting its purpose of a burial mound to blend into the natural world and only show itself in the spring after a prairie burn?
Our guests were full of questions, concerns, and generally deeply grateful for the chance to learn so much about the effigy mounds right here on campus from such an expert. After what seemed only like 30 minutes, our two-hour tour came to an end at the new Ho-Chunk clan circle (https://news.wisc.edu/ho-chunk-clan-circle-dedicated/), which has a statue for each of the Ho-Chunk clans and sits between the new recreation center and Lake Mendota.
There she thanked us for our attention, but more importantly thanked the Ho-Chunk for sharing their knowledge with us. She reminded us all about how important it is for us to go forward working together with the Ho-Chunk nation here on UW Madison campus as it is literally their sacred burial grounds that we have our offices, classrooms, labs, and fitness centers.
Report and photos by Ingrid Jordon-Thaden.