Ho-Chunk Mounds

Please close this window to return to previous page.

The Ho-Chunk, now known as the Winnebago, have recently been making moves to reclaim their heritage along this stretch of the river.

Jim Funmaker, Ho-Chunk (Winnebago):
This was the traveling place for people that traveled along this Wisconsin River. They camped here and all that. This was their home.

Richard Brown, Ho-Chunk (Winnebago):
The effigy mounds were kind of rediscovered by some of the research we were doing on the Wisconsin River.

Richard Brown is project supervisor for an effigy mound preserve being established by the Wisconsin Winnebago Tribe.

Our interest was in the preservation of the mounds because we’re concerned that they have been here anywhere from 600 to 1,000 years or more and we’d like to see them stay that long again. Our interest is not so much in the river frontage but the protection of the mounds.

Earthen mounds formed in the shape of animals are found all along the lower Wisconsin. Over 80 have been located at this site including an extraordinary number of eagle shaped mounds, one with a 1300 feet wing span.

Professor Jim Sheers found it. Though air photos. It stuck out. It’s a quarter mile long. You don’t really know what you’re on until you’re standing there and you look down at it and then it kind of pops out at you. It’s an eagle mound, or ghost eagle, I guess what you would call it, because it wasn’t documented anywhere. We haven’t found any documentation on it yet.

Many of the mounds were mapped by surveyor T.H. Lewis over 100 years ago, but he missed the giant eagle.

It was too big for him. He was used to seeing the mounds out here anywhere from 100 feet, 200 feet, 300 feet long.

Jan Beaver, Cherokee:
Across the river there, what they call Muskoday was a Winnebago village. Up until 1840 this area was Winnebago. We’re in Eagle Township. Eagle Creek is right over here. You’ve got Eagle Corners. You got the town of Eagle. I think people remember things.

Jan Beaver is a member of the Cherokee tribe who encouraged the Winnebago to preserve this site.

The corridor from the Mississippi all the way to salt prairie was traditionally Winnebago controlled corridor trade. I think some of what is happening in the Winnebago Nation now is thrilling to be associated with because the language, the culture, what the people want to do with education—the empowerment of the people by the people. This is a realization of it here.

The Wisconsin Winnebago are working to create the Ghost Eagle Nest, a cultural heritage park that will include preservation of the mounds, restoration of the native prairie, reintroduction of buffalo, and construction of a center for cultural exchange.

What we’re looking to the elders for direction on this. Because we can locate them, we’ve got the technology and all that. But that’s only part of the story. The rest of the story has to come from the elders. When they share that with us then we’ll have the complete package.

Archaeologists believe the mounds were built between 650 and 1250 A.D. They’ve located some in Illinois and Iowa but the majority are in Wisconsin. Until recently scientists said there was too little evidence to identify the moundbuilders.

Lyle Greendeer, Ho-Chunk (Winnebago):
Are the Winnebagos moundbuilders? How about the Chippewa, how about the rest of them? That’s a question archaeologists have. They’ll never know. No matter how far back they go. These mounds are made by their spirits. The Indians that fasted within the Indian village. In order to show the Indians, these spirits had to appear on top of the ground. That’s what these are, all of them. They’re not made by human beings. It’s about time we come forward and claim these places wherever these mounds are because they’re ours. They were given to the Winnebago people, not anybody else.

Robert Salzer:
Paul Radin was an anthropologist that worked amongst the Winnebagos about the turn of the century. Winnebago elders told him that some of their ancestors built effigy mounds. Science has proceeded from that time to the point where we became so sophisticated and so scientific that we knew that Paul Radin and therefore the Winnebago elders were quite incorrect. That it was not the Winnebagos that built the effigy mounds. More recently, however, and this is a testimony to the way science works, we are beginning to find out that we may very well have been wrong. I really am grateful the Winnebago people have stuck to their guns all these years because I’m one of these archaeologists that is beginning to perceive that they were correct and, let’s not say we were wrong, we just didn’t know enough to know that we weren’t right.

I like this place. This is sacred to me. I have a great respect for you. There ain’t too many persons like you.

Frank Shadewald [sold land to Ho-Chunk]:
Thanks. The farm has been in the family 90 years. We always respected the land and we respect the people that built these mounds.

Tom Hopinkah, Ho-Chunk (Winnebago):
Any place where these are built, it’s not an ordinary place. This is probably the tail end of it, of all the significant mound sites. From an Indian tradition and culture, I think this is, you might say, your pyramids in Egypt, your Stonehenge. The most significant thing that the Winnebago or any Native Americans retain is what’s here on this earth. It affects different people different ways, of the feeling you have when you walk on this particular site.

Doug Greengrass, Ho-Chunk (Winnebago):
For the future we plan on bringing our kids here, getting it back in the Tribe.

Doug Greengrass is a member of the Wisconsin Winnebago Business Council.

This wasn’t possible about 5 or 10 years ago. Now that we have our casinos rolling, with the money being generated by the casinos, this is made possible.

This might be in the future a very significant testing ground for our own Winnebagos to reclaim the things they have lost. I don’t mean the material things but I mean the spiritual being of being an Indian.

From Ho Chunk Stories, 1997
Video courtesy of Ootek Productions

  • Share/Save/Bookmark