17th annual gathering honors mounds, breaking of new ‘Trail’ — part two
Editor’s note: The first part of this series appeared in the Aug. 15-21 issue.
By Susan Johnson
We continue with the program at the 17th Annual “Honor the Mounds” at Beattie Park, Saturday, Aug. 11. Following Joseph “Standing Bear” Schranz’s talk, The Rock River Times Editor & Publisher Frank Schier, who is founder and coordinator of the Rock River Trail, gave a talk with a PowerPoint presentation.
The Rock River Trail Initiative — update
Schier said he had been “canoeing the Rock River for about 30 years. It is 300 miles long and has 30 municipalities on it. The Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin is part of the ‘Pregnant Triangle.’ We now have gotten the National Park Service as the consultant. The Wisconsin DNR and Illinois DNR said to start putting up seven signs. We got started in February. We gave two signs to the Oregon Dam, where nine people have been killed. There are two warning signs in red and black and a portage sign, and a signing telling where to launch. We also did that in the Quad Cities area at Milan. Here in Illinois,” he pointed out on the laptop, “some by Waupun, Mayville and Theresa were opened this month. Our plan is to open by Beloit, Grand Detour, and maybe even Dixon. The National Park Service said to open it up in stages. One thing that helped us is, we have a safe portage around the trails and a place for them to camp.
“Rockford Park District built five campgrounds at Sportscore I and down between Rockford Sanitary District and the Rock River. Winnebago County Forest Preseve District gave us campsites at Hononegah and Hinchcliff; Boone County Forest Preserve District gave us some. We are shipping out all the PDFs of their signs for launches and portages to all the different counties. This coming Wednesday, we have a little more graphics tuning up to do. First, we want to establish the water trail.”
He had just talked to the Illinois Department of Transportation officials today, and also with IDNR, which will put up signs in all the state parks on the river. “Then IDOT will put it up on Ill. Rt. 2 and the road that we put around to follow as close to the river as we can. That legislation is in gear in Wisconsin but has been passed in Illinois. The last part is hiking and biking. Every trail has the hiking and biking, but they are not connected. The Rock River has the highest concentration of effigy mounds in the nation. There is a story of creation about the tree of life and how there was a disturbance, and everything was put on the back of the turtle. The fact that we have the largest concentration of turtle mounds is good for this area. In Beattie Park we have one of the best collections of mounds still around. At one time, there were 12,000 [in Illinois and Wisconsin]; now there are only about 4,000 left.
Preserving a national treasure
“This is the 17th year of the observance,” said Schier. We are the ones that honor and take care of our mounds. We can thank Mac [MacVenn] and the Native American Awareness Committee for that. One reason Mac does this is, as I’ve been canoeing the river for 30 years, I’ve kept track of where the effigy mounds are.”
“Mac” MacVenn spoke up. “What Frank explained to you is that we are looking at a national treasure covering two states. I think biking and other activities, including kayaking and canoeing — we want to make the Rock River a Class A river. This touches on recreation, environment, health, and conservation of both water and land.”
Frank Schier explained, “When I started, I didn’t have anything except Fond du Lac and Madison … there is a panther water spirit there, Fort Atkinson has one, and Aztalan has one. There is Turtle Creek in Beloit in Rock County. We count every mound in Beattie Park and mounds of the Kishwaukee, what was here between Whitman Street and the park — Ogle County and the Wescott trace in Lee County. We discovered some in Dixon, Sterling and Lawrence Park, Whiteside and Sinissippi Park. Milan has Blackhawk State Park, site of the Sauk and Fox village. What has the heaviest concentration? Wisconsin had a lot” [shown by dots on map on the PowerPoint]. Schier showed on his laptop computer where Rock River runs through Horicon Marsh.
“The Blackhawk site mainly has bear mounds,” he said. “The Burlington mounds have a road going through them; this is the fate of too many mounds. Some are in the form of birds or man-shaped mounds.
“On the river here, there are the water panther, or water spirit mounds. The ones on the Rock are mainly on the Yahara at Fort Atkinson, and it is a tributary to the Rock River. Mike Molander did most of this research. As these were 1,000 years old, at least — it’s interesting. The water spirit or water panther can come out of the water or even cracks of the earth where water is present. The basic question is, what are the mounds for?
“We knew the conical mounds are burial mounds. The linear mounds are directional mounds and point to direct magnetic north. The Beattie house used to stand on the corner, and they had the option of building all the way to the river. There were mounds from here to the Whitman Street bridge. There are three or four mounds left out of at least 100. All these houses go from Main Street back. There is one mound on the Burpee Museum site. This was a big settlement area. What were they used for? Because of the north-south, east-west alignment, they were used to celebrate the equinoxes, harvest and planting ceremonies. Many of them, like the turtle, had a clan associated with them that was pre-tribal. There were pre-tribal groups that were based on animals.”
He liked the thunderbird myth the best. According to the story, it brings thunder, rain and life, along with the water spirits. Many people agree that the serpent mound is also referred to as a water spirit or water panther, which can be found in many Native cultures, as well as effigy mounds and other representations.
“Mac” MacVenn explained that the soil for these mounds was transported from about 90 miles away. Schier added that they were carried in baskets or bucketsful at a time; a lot of labor was involved. Soil testing has determined that they came from almost 100 miles away. Some researchers think many of these mounds date back to the Early Woodland Period, but Schier thought they go back to at least 1,000 B.C., when there was a large population in this area. Many of the residents were Canadian or Algonquian, who immigrated from farther north. That is why this is referred to as the Hopewell Period.
“Some of these people were 8 feet tall,” Schier noted. “The stories of giants were not just myths. The museum people say the mounds were built by Woodland people, but we think it goes back even farther than that, possibly well before the early French and Spanish explorers.
“They found a huge network of mounds containing shells from the Pacific and the Caribbean, and the East Coast, and copper from the copper mines in Michigan and Minnesota. They had a trading network set up. President Thomas Jefferson even had mounds on his property and had one of them excavated. Some experts believe the mounds had religious significance as well as cultural uses.”
Milt Mahlburg, former director of the Burpee Museum, made tapes where he had talked to many of the original farmers and settlers in this area. Mike Molander transcribed some of these tapes.
The report “Three Rivers Archaeology — The Rockford Tablet, 1874” gave the history of the stone tablet found on a farm in this area. The editor of the Rockford Journal at that time went down with a lawyer and a doctor, and they found a sarcophagus. The article, dated Aug. 15, 1874, told about this historic find. It predated the Woodland Indians, shown by the markings on it. Other tablets have been found, most related to the Cahokia Mounds. The pottery in this area was very thick and very thin in arches, showing Woodland and Mississippian evidence, using Galena dolomite. There were 12 tribes in this region in the time of contact with the French. There were signs of Algonquian and Iroquois influence. The tablets also describe the Macktown area and the area of three rivers, which was a big cultural center largely unrecognized. It was also a large wetland area. Owen Center Road and Ill. Rt. 75 area also showed burning. The local chert didn’t knapp well for making points. The burning mounds are in the Kishwaukee area. Some of this area is currently for sale.
Correction/clarification: In last week’s issue, it was stated that Grandfather Richard gave a gift to a veteran. His full name is Grandfather Richard Seago (Cherokee), and he presented 17 honor coins that were specially designed and minted for the occasion by the NAAC to veterans who were present at the event.
From the Aug. 22-28, 2012, issue
Print This Article