Ideas and Reflections on defending
the Town of Dunn effigy mound group
in Dane County, Wisconsin


by Tammie M. Murray
April 2001

Historically rich and environmentally sensitive land is located along Lake Waubesa, the Yahara River, and Lower Mud Lake in the Town of Dunn, near Madison. Besides being a major ecological cornerstone to the environment- essential to wildlife and migrating birds, the property is home to more than eleven effigy mounds, which is the third largest mound group remaining in Dane County. The group is judged to be in excellent condition and well taken care of by the property owner. The inventory notes that the development of this property would be difficult because of the number and location of the mounds.

The Village of McFarland has convinced the landowner that his property is essential to the healthy economy of the Village. They explained, that if the land was annexed to Village of McFarland, they could change the zoning to commercial and build a commerce park filled with businesses. This- they say, "would prevent elderly Village Residents from being taxed out of their homes." The Village of McFarland has promised not to disturb the wetlands, wildlife, or the effigy mounds.

Professional Member of the National Society of Wetlands Scientists- Calvin Dewitt, who is also a Professor of Environmental Studies at U.W. Madison, a member of the Graduate Faculty of Land Resources, and a Graduate Faculty of Water Resources Management- stated on March 26 as he spoke before the McFarland Village Board that development in this area would be a disaster to the wetlands and the wildlife that live there.

"For over 12,000 years, Native Americans have also valued this area as evidenced by the significant archeological history of this region. Development puts both the present and the past of this resource at risk."

Nettie Kingsley, chief cultural officer of the Ho-Chunk Nation, has already dealt with the Village of McFarland's "careful development around effigy mounds" when she was called to rebury human remains that were unearthed during the "careful development" of the Indian Mound Subdivision- which sits across the river on the hill opposite of the property.

The family once owned the land that is now Bong State Recreation Area. The government took the land from the family for an airfield, but when it was determined that the airfield was no longer needed, it was not turned back over to the family. When the family bought the land in the Town of Dunn, they had planned on using it for residential development.

After preparing plans for the development, agreeing to establish the 3rd Sanitary District- and paying a substantial amount of money to do so, providing necessary easements- free of charge, deeding a parcel for a lift station at a nominal fee, and paying the initial charges to the district, the Town of Dunn Changed zoning for the property to agriculture in an effort to reduce potential for development of the land. Over the past 20 years, the family has approached the Village of McFarland for annexation several times, but it was always turned down because of concerns for the effigy mounds, wetlands, and disturbance to the wildlife that lives in, and migrates through the area. While not all current board members agree, the majority feels that the possible financial gain to the Village of McFarland is worth more then the preservation of all that is this land.

While the main objective is to preserve the land and all that it is, this cannot happen if the property owner is not willing to sell the land to those that would do this. The other problem with just buying the land first, then later deciding what to do with it�is that, it omits the desires of the Native American people for the land, from the equation. If the Parks Department and DNR are able to buy the land without Native American input, and without agreements already in place, there is a good chance that the desires of the Native American people for the land- would not be fully met.

The need is for a fully formed plan, detailing and describing the ultimate preservation and use for the property. The plan must first meet the desires of the Native American people, which have the most at stake in the equation. It is also essential that the property owners feel that they are doing the right thing by selling the property to those that would preserve it. The Village of McFarland must also see the value to the Village in preserving the land, so that the owners of the property will understand there is no other option but to sell the land to those that wish to preserve it. Finding the right plan will assure success in acquiring the land and the ultimate benefits to all involved. It will only be the right plan if there is a perceived real benefit to all involved in the equation- Native Americans, land owners, Village of McFarland and its residents, the Town of Dunn, the Parks Department, Dane County residents and beyond. While difficult to do, it can be done with the involvement and imagination of the right people.

Through my talks with other Native American individuals, a common theme seems to have come forth:

  1. The desire to protect and preserve the land. (While the property is the most sensitive historically and ecologically, other properties with historical and ecological significance are also part of the proposed development.)
  2. The desire to educate the general public on the cultural significance of the land by those that can do it best, the Native American people themselves.
  3. The desire to create opportunities for Native Americans to share their history with the general public, and in doing so, develop a better understanding in non-Natives of Native American issues.
  4. The ability to provide opportunities for Native Americans to take pride in their heritage and learn more about it themselves, through the teachings and experiences of their elders, so that they are more able to pass information to future generations.

The property owners want to get the best price possible for their land. The impression is given that they do care about the historical, cultural, and the ecological significance of the land, but desire for money may be clouding their sensibilities about the realities of being able to maintain cultural and ecological integrity while developing the land. They also feel that the Village of McFarland is without other opportunities to develop commerce for the Village.

The majority of the McFarland Village Board sees annexation and commercial development as the easiest way to provide tax relief and allow the ability for revitalization of McFarland's down town area. The Village Administrator believes he could offset costs for revitalization by tying those costs into the developmental costs of the commerce park. Current supply for commercial development within the Village is limited, and lack of imagination has created the assumption that redevelopment of the down town area would not bring in new business or be profitable to the village.

Village of McFarland Residents, while worried about rising taxes, are more concerned about protecting the land from development to assure the preservation of its cultural and ecological significance. Residents realize that development of business within the Village is needed to provide tax relief, but they would prefer redevelopment of the down town area, less sprawl, and a slower growth in residential housing within the Village. Most feel that the Yahara River is a natural boundary, and should not be crossed for development to the south.

The Town Of Dunn wishes to protect the land from annexation and development. The Town Board believes that development of these lands in the way proposed would destroy the historical and ecological integrity that currently exists. The Town of Dunn has offered to Purchase Developmental Rights (PDR) at up to $2000.00 per acre, to those that are willing to sell them. If enough money could be raised to purchase the land outright, the Town would like to see the land turned over to the Parks Department in an effort to protect it. If property owners were illing to sell their land for preservation, the Town of Dunn would be willing to provide PDR Money as part of the sales price, which could also be used as Match-Money for any potential grants.

The Parks Department has wanted to purchase the land proposed for annexation for a very long time. They are aware of the lands ecological nd historical significance, but have not been able to develop a dialog with the family to obtain it. The parks department thinks that if they were able to purchase the land, everything else would eventually fall into place- and the proper eventual use could be worked out later on.

The Parks Department feels that some of the plans for other parks in the area would tie in nicely with possible uses for the land in question.

My thoughts after discussions with all involved have led me to believe that there is the potential to meet the needs of everyone involved. The idea of a living museum similar to what is in Lac du Flambeau at Waswagoning (Nick and Charlotte Hockings land), or Indian Summer in Milwaukee, as well as what has been done by the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Oklahoma have been suggested:

The possibility exists to recreate a historically accurate depiction of Native American cultures told by Native Americans themselves in the way they desire, while protecting and preserving the land. Native people would have the opportunity to educate the general public on the cultural significance of the land by those that can do it best, the Native American people themselves. Opportunities for Native Americans to share their history with the general public, would provide a better understanding in non-Natives of Native American issues, and would provide opportunities for Native Americans to take pride in their heritage and learn more about it themselves. Through the teachings and experiences of elders, younger Native Americans would then be more able to accurately pass information to future generations.

While the Village of McFarland would not be drawing a tax base directly from the land itself, the added tourism to the area would provide new business opportunities for the community. With other grants and incentives for down-town redevelopment, Smart Growth / Design Dane programs through the county, and with some creative joint grant writing with; the Town of Dunn, The Parks Department, and the Native American people, the Village of McFarland could create the type of growth within the Village itself that is profitable, and more in tune with the will of village residents.

The Town of Dunn would meet their goals to prevent annexation of the land, and the destruction of its ecological and historical integrity. The project plan would generally correspond to the designated open space system currently in the Town, which has been adopted by the county and the Dane County Regional Planning Commission as part of the Regional Development Guide's open space corridor. The option of creating an Educational Working Farm on the 100 year old Norby farm would draw another audience to the Native American Living Museum, as well as educate the public on the plight of the family farmer- which is a situation near and dear to many Dunn residents. If purchased for preservation, other lands within the proposed annexation would also be available to recreate, on the exact locations, what once were thriving Native American Villages.

The Parks Department would increase its parkland and recreational opportunities to the public. Many aspects of the Native American Living Museum would tie together nicely with the Dane County Heritage Center at Lake Farm Park, as well as other planned parks in the area. They would have the opportunity to create a preserve along the Yahara River and Lower Mud Lake for the preservation and restoration of natural resources, and have the ability to preserve the wetland, floodplain, springs and related features to protect water quality along the Yahara chain of lakes. The Parks Department could provide and protect natural habitat for fish, waterfowl, wildlife, and help preserve archeological and historic resource sites under the direction of the Native American community.

The landowners would have the opportunity to sell their land at a fair price without having to wonder if they were doing the right thing. They could make a profit on the sale of their property without having to think that they were starting a land war, and they would be able to see to it that the rightful and best caretakers of the land, the Native American people themselves, once again had control over it.

The above, are only my thoughts and understandings based on the information I have gathered thus far. As I stated previously, it is my hope that the desires of the Native American community are made known, and are followed. I am only acting as a servant to those wishes, and I am looking for guidance on how to proceed. I am not doing this, because I feel I can do it best, but because no one else had yet realized that it needed to be done. I await the guidance of those who can, and are willing to give it.

Tammie M. Murray
6705 Sleepy Hollow Road
McFarland, WI 53558

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I have taken some time to read more specifically about the various mounds in the area (past and present) on maps which Dr. MacLachlan had published in 1914. I found that out of the 40 Mound groupings identified, many have been destroyed, and eleven of the remaining groupings lie wholly or partially within the present boundaries of the Village of McFarland. The more I read, it became more evident to me

that Native Americans year after year, generation after generation, returned to these sacred places. I cannot explain the sadness I felt as I discovered how few Effigies there are now left, and it compelled me to go to as many as I was able to, and find out what had happened to the ones that are now gone.

My exploration ended at the 'Eli Johnson Group' discussed above. (The group is south of the Yahara River, and it is the property up for annexation to the Village of McFarland- so that they can put a commercial business park on it. It is the only site out of 15 groups in the McFarland area, which all recorded mounds by Mac Lachlan still exist. Equally impressive is that the topography remains just as it was at the time the Mounds were constructed.)

This is what I found out about the other Mound Groups in the area: The Mounds in the 'Lewis Group' have been included in the Village of McFarland conservation park, and at first glance appear free of desecration and the destruction, the northernmost linear mentioned in Mac Lachlan's survey is gone, and all but the remnants of another still exists. Half of the conical Mound was bulldozed away when the water tower was constructed, and another linear was similarly mutilated. While efforts to restore Mounds to their original shape may seem to correct the situation in the eyes of the Village, I doubt that they fasted, meditated, and waited to be given supernatural guidance as to proper astrological placement and spiritual relevance to the surrounding ecology, nor did they put any thought into specific soil selection for the Mounds, or place it in ceremonial baskets 20 to 25-pounds at a time to carry it to the site as part of a long religious ceremony that went on for days and days� others in the group remain in relatively good condition which are: a 30-foot conical, a 35-foot oval, a 74-foot bear Effigy, a 180-foot linear and an unusual hook-shaped Mound.

The 'Sure Johnson Group' located north and east of Marsh Woods Park once included far more Mounds than when MacLachlan surveyed the area. Out of the 20 Mounds he did find, half are now completely gone. A conical and two linear Mounds along a cow lane are badly damaged, but still visible. In a 4-acre oak-savannah near mud lake, about half of a once 324-foot linear Mound remains, as well as portions of two others. Two oval Mounds and a 140-foot linear Mound also remain in fair condition.

The 'Eighmy Group' once contained two rather short and thick linear Mounds, one conical, and the only turtle without it's carapace Effigy of this type in MacLachlan's survey of the whole Waubesa / Mud Lake area.

Residential constructions of Autumn and Timber Lanes and subsequent other housing developments have destroyed all traces of these Mounds. One site not mentioned in MacLachlan's survey but has been located since is a linear Mound, and the remains of another located on a small wooded hill west of the 'Eighmy Group'.

On a hill north of Dale Street, one reversed 'L' shape and three linear Mounds once existed. The reversed 'L' shape still exists as well as half of one of the three linear Mounds. These Mounds were used as fill for the widening of Highway 51. Southwest of the 'Dale Group' on Taylor Road, two linear Mounds were destroyed when the hill was excavated, and others were ruined by cultivation. Six more linear Mounds, and one oval Mound located on the 'Thompson' and 'Timberman' farms, were also destroyed during the construction of Highway 51.

On 'Overlook Drive Hill' there were once two bird Effigies and one oval-shaped Mound. The smallest of the bird Effigies was 5-feet high, with a wingspread of 68-feet. The larger was said to have had a wingspread of 159-feet. During development plans it was promised at least one bird Effigy would be permanently preserved by its inclusion in a public tract- that promise was broken and now only the oval shaped Mound remains.

The 'Nondahl Group' once had a well-shaped bear likeness with a raised head and a 70-foot long body, that- and two linears have all been destroyed. Development has obliterated the 'Edwards Park Group', and In 'Larson's Park', the last traces of once- linear, conical, and oval Mounds have been destroyed by residential and commercial construction.



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County park is site of dig

by Lee Sensenbrenner
Capital Times (Madison)
June 18, 2001

TOWN OF DUNN - By the banks of what was once a rushing, frigid river filled with glacial runoff, some of the area's first inhabitants left behind marks of their civilization, clues to what is now a mystery.

Why, for instance, were their tools and weapons 11,000 years ago virtually identical to those used by separate populations of American Indians thousands of miles away? Was there some form of communicating that was lost during the next several thousand years, when regional populations showed highly varied, but often less sophisticated, tools and methods?

An excavation that began just weeks ago near Lower Mud Lake is expected to remain incomplete for decades. However, early finds indicate that many more clues could come from the site, which for years was farmed and now is an unnamed Dane County-owned conservation tract near Lake Farm Park.

"Every day we are excavating we are finding new things. And everything we find helps us, giving us new and significant information," said Sissel Schroeder, a University of Wisconsin-Madison anthropologist who is leading the dig.

"We're getting really fabulous stuff here. We feel this is one of the jewels we were able to preserve, and from which we'll be able to learn," she said.

The land on which Schroeder is leading a team of UW anthropology students in their dig became public through the efforts of Dane County, the UW-Madison and the town of Dunn. What resulted was a new 126-acre conservation tract that is unlike any of the other parks in Dane County.

For starters, officials ask that its exact location be given minimum publicity, fearing that important clues from the excavation could be lost if weekend crowds gathered for an arrowhead hunt.

There are no large signs marking its location, and no parking lot. While the dig continues, a network of neighbors and volunteers have set up watches to make sure the site stays undisturbed.

Dig participants say this was land preserved specifically for what it had to tell, in an area where development threatens to mask potential archaeological finds until the sprawling country estates that have sprung up nearby become artifacts of their own.

Archaeology is the scientific study of material remains of past human life and activities, as opposed to anthropology, which could include existing populations. In this case, the two overlap as researchers use unearthed clues to understand the progression of local populations.

Bill Lunney, who chairs the county Parks Commission, sees the project as a jewel that emerged through cooperation with the UW and the town of Dunn, which has worked to buy development rights to conserve land in the area.

For him, an exciting part of the effort is that it involved such a leap of faith. Under an agreement with the UW, the major archaeological work isn't expected to begin for another 50 years, when technology is expected to improve and enhance the probability of turning up important clues.

"We won't know the impact of what we're doing here for at least the next 100 years," Lunney said.

For now, researchers have been doing preliminary work, carving out pits about 18 inches deep in about a half dozen locations. Initially, they worried that much of what had been left behind by early populations would have been destroyed by more than a century of agriculture.

"We sort of expected that a lot of the sediment would have washed away and the plow zone would have kept getting deeper and deeper," Schroeder said.

Instead, what they discovered was a plow zone that went down just 10 inches. Beneath that, visible as a dark line on the wall of the pits, they found abundant and startling evidence of people living on the land since the last ice age receded.

The showpiece so far has been a thin, broken spearhead - what archaeologists call a "fluted point." This particular design, believed to be about 11,000 years old, is the first-ever example to be found in the location where it has rested for much of its history. Other points like it have been found loose, disconnected from the land that held them for thousands of years.

Named a "Folsom Point" for where it was originally found in New Mexico, the spearhead, or possibly arrowhead, shows that disparate populations of Paleo Indians were working with remarkably similar technology, despite the belief that they did not migrate widely enough to encounter one another.

"It's a stunning discovery," said Robert Birmingham, archaeologist for the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

Birmingham expects that the land will soon be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, lending it further protection from potential construction.

He said it's imperative that as much as possible be done to preserve the land in the area, which has been hotly pursued by developers. He noted a recent proposal by the village of McFarland to annex some 400 acres, threatening part of the archaeologically rich area.

Other parts of the land where the state's earliest people lived is being swallowed by country homes, such as the six-bedroom house that recently went up less than a half-mile from the excavation pits.

"This is an unusually important and sensitive archaeological area. And this is our chance to protect it," Birmingham said.

In addition to the Folsom Point and other projectile points believed to be linked to the Paleo Indians 11,000 years ago, Schroeder and her graduate and undergraduate team have unearthed the foundations of wigwams, countless chips from clay pottery and the charcoal remains of campfires.

As the research continues, the work will shuttle from field to laboratory to library, attempting to link what is found to when it was made and for what purpose.

As Schroeder stood by the edge of the dig, she looked over the area, which has filled in with prairie grass since farming stopped last year. She stood on a gentle hill overlooking wetlands, woods and a waterway - all alive with wildlife.

"Since we've been digging here, we've seen fish, deer, red-tailed hawks, geese, cranes, a swan, a turkey hen. Even a large turtle," she said.

"It's such a lush locality. It's no wonder people came back here year after year."




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