Park name could change to honor history
The city and a group of residents are working to restore significance to Indian Mounds Park, the site of about a dozen burial mounds on the far west side of the city.
“It’s a hidden treasure,” said Matt Amundson, parks and recreation director. “Few people are aware of it or its historical significance.”
The city for years has discussed how best to preserve the mounds and educate people about the mounds, and a committee of park board members, landmarks commission members and park neighbors for months have talked about the first steps to take.
The group this week is asking the city council to approve a name change for the park—from Indian Mounds Park to Whitewater Mounds Archeological Preserve to better reflect the purpose and significance of the site.
“The big thing is just how to make people more aware,” Amundson said.
In the 1920s, archaeologist Charles E. Brown identified 12 ancient American Indian burial mounds on the site; he also noted that there could be more mounds in a nearby farm field. In 1990, UW-Whitewater professor Frank Steckel found evidence of two burial mounds—lost to decades of agriculture—in the field.
The site became a city park in the mid-1970s and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.
The site contains conical and oblong mounds as well as effigy mounds shaped like birds, turtles and mink, said Mariann Scott, a member of the committee.
Conical mounds are difficult to date because Native Americans built them for hundreds of years, but the effigy mounds nearby date the group to the Late Woodland stage, from 700 to 1300 A.D., according to the Wisconsin Historical Society.
The mounds likely are related to the mounds built south of Fort Atkinson, Scott said.
Archaeologists haven’t been able to link modern tribes to the ancient mounds, but the Ho-Chunk believe their ancestors built the mounds and entrusted them to protect the mounds, she said.
The group hopes the name change not only better identifies the site, but also sparks an interest among the community in learning more about the burial mounds.
“It’s all about education,” Amundson said. “We’d like to see school groups, civic groups and others seeking information to better understand the history of those people and this area.”
“The more you know about the mounds, the more you see when you go there,” Scott said. “In a way, it’s like time traveling.”
The city has been working with the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Ho-Chunk nation to learn more about the mounds and develop an education and restoration plan for the site.