Link to: Kickapoo
Valley Stewardship Alliance
Susan Lampert Smith
Wisconsin State Journal
October 29, 1997
Ho-Chunk Land Returned in Kickapoo Valley
Gov. Tommy Thompson and Ho-Chunk Nation Vice President Clarence
Pettibone will meet in the Kickapoo Valley Thursday to sign an agreement
to return 1,200 acres to the tribe.
The land will more than double the tribe's trust land holdings
of 823 acres. The deal also clears "the last big hurdle" for another
7,400 acres acquired for a failed federal dam project to be returned
to the state and managed locally as the Kickapoo Valley Reserve.
"This is a big deal for Wisconsin, for the Ho-Chunk tribe and
for the country in general," said state Rep. DuWayne Johnsrud, R-Eastman,
who represents the area. "It's a precedent-setting kind of thing,
like the heads of state meeting together. It takes you back to the
treaty of Prairie du Chien in 1825."
U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., agreed that the deal sets a historic
first in tribal and state management of land and marks "a new beginning
for the Kickapoo Valley."
"We are finally able to say to the people of the Kickapoo Valley
that the federal government can act to improve their lives and correct
a situation that has long been the symbol, to many in the area,
of a broken promise," Feingold said Tuesday.
The tribe will acquire ownership of two plots of valley land:
about 840 acres just south of Wildcat Mountain State Park and another
360 acres in the southern part of the reserve, near a rock formation
known as Black Hawk Rock. Both places are rich in archaeological
sites, including rock art and other evidence that native people
have used the land for thousands of years.
Tribal ownership likely will have little noticeable effect for
the people who use the valley for hunting, biking and other recreational
pursuits. The tribe has agreed not to develop its land and to allow
access to all but the areas that are religiously or culturally important.
The Kickapoo Reserve Board, made up of local residents, and the
tribe will jointly manage the land. The federal government is expected
to formally transfer ownership of the land by Jan. 1, 1999.
Still, conceded Marcy West, the executive director of the Kickapoo
Valley Reserve, some people who harbor bad feelings about the dam
project won't be happy that the tribe is ending up with some of
"For the people who live here and lost their farms (for a dam
that was never built), we can never do enough to make them feel
better about what happened," West said.
Interestingly, said tribal representatives, today's valley residents
and the Ho-Chunks share a bitter history with the federal government.
In the 1960s, federal land agents scoured the valley, evicting dozens
of farmers from their land for a dam. More than a century earlier,
Ho-Chunk, then known as Winnebago Indians, were evicted from their
Wisconsin homeland, including the valley.
Glenn Reynolds, a Madison attorney who represented the tribe in
the land negotiations, found soldier John DeLaRonde's description
of his part in removing Ho-Chunk Indians in 1840:
"We picked up two hundred and fifty Indians, men, women and children,
and we took them down to Prairie du Chien. Before we got there,
at the head of the Kickapoo River, we came to three Indian wigwams.
The captain directed me to order the Indians to break up their camp
and come along with him. Two old women came up, throwing themselves
on their knees, crying and beseeching Captain Sumner to kill them;
that they were old, and would rather die and be buried with their
fathers, mothers and children than be taken away."
Reynolds said the Ho-Chunk are one of the few tribes that wound
up with no reservation because a large part of the tribe kept ignoring
the treaties and returning home to Wisconsin.
"They only have a presence in this state because the land kept
calling them back," he said. Reynolds said the agreement marks a
historic moment in relationships between Wisconsin and its native
"This is a watermark," Reynolds said. "This is the first time
they've gotten a chunk of their land back."
The agreement is also important in terms of what it means to the
newly created Kickapoo Valley Reserve. The federal Water Resources
Development Act, passed last year at the behest of former U.S. Rep.
Steve Gunderson and senators Feingold and Herb Kohl stipulated that
the federal government would transfer the land back to the state
provided it reached agreement with the Ho-Chunk Tribe by Oct. 31.
Negotiations between the tribe and state were stalled by changes
in tribal leadership, and only began in earnest in August, sources
said. Feingold said the federal legislation also contains $713,000
for activities at the reserve.
West said a study is now underway that should finally result in
improvements to curvy and decaying Highway 131 between Rockton and
Ontario. The road project has been in limbo for more than 20 years
while the fate of the dam was argued.
In recent months, the reserve board and the Army Corps of Engineers,
the current landowner, have put out maps detailing horseback riding
and mountain biking trails through the reserve, which is rapidly
returning to wilderness.
The reserve board and tribe have joint plans for a visitor center
detailing the valley's natural and human history and increased recreational
opportunities. But none of it was possible until the state and tribe
reached agreement. Under federal rules, the tribe had first claim
on federal government land that was declared surplus.
"This is the last big hurdle," West said. "We had to have this
in place for the corps to transfer land to the reserve."
It's Official !
December 27, 2000
I received confirmation today that the Quit Claim Deed
was signed by Secretary George Lightbourn yesterday (12/26/00) - making
it official that the State of Wisconsin now owns approximately 7,320
acres. Simultaneously, 1,200 acres was transferred by the Corps to
the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Trust for the Ho-Chunk Nation. All
total the property is now truly the KICKAPOO VALLEY RESERVE.
As most of you know, it was a rush to make ownership official prior
to first of the year so the local units of government could start
receiving Payments in Lieu of Taxes in 2002. (Not to mention, we didn't
want to have to start over in educating new administration appointees
as to the history of the project.)
To say the least this is very good news for the protection and management
of the property. Thanks to those of you who helped - I greatly appreciate
Happy New Year - We'll be in Touch!
Marcy West, Executive Director
Kickapoo Valley Reserve
505 N. Mill, La Farge Wisconsin
Kickapoo Valley land released
State, tribe get share of property once saved for dam
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Dec. 30, 2000
La Farge - Federal officials released the 8,500-acre Kickapoo Valley
Reserve into the hands of the state and the Ho-Chunk Indian Nation.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed over the deed to 7,320 acres of
the reserve this week, and the property is now officially registered as
state-owned land with Vernon County, said Marcy West, executive director
of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve Board.
The corps transferred an additional 1,200 acres to the Bureau of Indian
Affairs in trust for the Ho-Chunk Nation, which has several culturally
significant sites in the area.
The corps first pledged the land to the state and Ho-Chunk Nation in
1996, but a series of hurdles delayed transfer of the land until now,
"We've waited so long, it hasn't really sunk in yet," she said.
The land was first set aside in 1962, when the corps began buying up
area properties, intending to build a dam for flood control and create a
recreational lake. Environmental concerns and a funding shortage forced
the corps to eventually drop the projects.
But the corps retained control of the vacant, uncultivated land,
agreeing in 1996 to let the land become a public nature preserve under
state ownership and controlled by a local agency.
The Kickapoo Valley Reserve Board has established trails, campsites and
canoe access points and is planning a visitors' center.
"The return of this land has been a long time in the making, and brings
the La Farge Dam issue closer to its final resolution," Rep. Ron Kind
(D-La Crosse) said in a statement.
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) said he was pleased the land transfer had
finally occurred. "This transfer will enhance the protection and
management of the property," Feingold said in a statement.
It was crucial that the land transfer occur before Jan. 1 for local
governments to qualify for state payments in lieu of taxes starting in
2002. The money is intended to compensate for the loss of property tax
revenue on public land. West said the region will receive an estimated
However, the transfer came without full funding promised from the corps
for the Department of Transportation's $20.5 million upgrade of state
Highway 131. West said $5 million has been made available, and corps
officials have said the rest will be provided as needed.
A national environmental organization this year named the Kickapoo River
Valley one of the nation's 10 most endangered landscapes needing
protection from development and growth.
Washington, D.C.-based Scenic America said raising the 6.9-mile road out
of the river's floodplain as part of the highway upgrade would require
moving massive amounts of earth and filling in more than 13 acres of