Sauk County Historical Society creates new Sacred Sites Committee

By Kaili Berg

     The Sacred Sites Committee is a new committee of the board of the Sauk County Historical Society (SCHS), created as an outgrowth of strategic planning done in the summer of 2019. 

     The current SCHS board members on the new committee include Seth Taft, Kristin White Eagle, and Executive Director Paul Wolter. 

     “The Sauk County Historical Society has been around since 1905. Last year in the summer, we did some strategic planning, and we worked on revamping all of our committees. One of the new committees that we have is Sacred Sites, which Kristin White Eagle came up with the name,” said Paul Wolters from Sauk County Historical Society.  

     “There is a connection with the name of the Sacred Sites Committee for this area specifically,” stated Kristin White Eagle, Ho-Chunk Nation Legislative Representative for District 2. “You look at the old Badger Ammunition Plant that is managed by the Ho-Chunk Nation. That property is called ‘Sacred Earth’ by the Ho-Chunk Nation. Right next door to that is Devils Lake, which is called ‘Sacred Lake’ or ‘Spirit Lake,’ so it is all connected in a way that this is a Sacred Sites Committee.” 

     The committee makes recommendations to the full SCHS board on three sites owned by the historical society regarding their care, preservation, interpretation, and long term planning. The three sites include Man Mound Park, Yellow Thunder Memorial, and the Hulburt Creek Garden Beds. 

     The properties at Man Mound and Yellow Thunder are owned by SCHS but leased to Sauk County, which provides maintenance and management. 

     In cooperation with Sauk County’s Land, Resources and Environment Committee, the Sauk County Historical Society Sacred Sites Committee will be participating in the development of master plans for Man Mound and Yellow Thunder.
     “A lot of our tribal members saw that Yellow Thunder Memorial was more of an eyesore for a long time. It was just a little spot on the side of the road that really didn’t have any attention given to it. It could have been that type of feeling amongst our tribal members in the area that it was neglected,” revealed Kristin. “There wasn’t this important story about how important Chief Yellow Thunder really was.” 

     On May 17, an unveiling of the new permanent interpretive panel about Chief Yellow Thunder will be taking place. In addition, a presentation on Yellow Thunder will take place at the House of Wellness, located near Wisconsin Dells. 

     Yellow Thunder, Wakajazi, was a Ho-Chunk chief during one of the most turbulent times in modern Ho-Chunk history. He was born sometime in the latter half of the 18th century and belonged to the Thunderbird Clan of the Ho-Chunk Nation.

     In 1909, a small stone monument to Chief Yellow Thunder and his wife Washington Woman was constructed along Highway A, about half a mile from his property.

     Yellow Thunder’s story is one of perseverance and resilience in the face of great adversity.

     “We want Yellow Thunder Memorial to not be a park. Sauk County Historical Society, the county, and other people in the area don’t want to make it a park,” explained Representative WhiteEagle.

     The Hulburt Creek Garden Beds are a small remnant of what was once an extensive area of over 200 acres of raised bed agricultural fields that were worked by the native inhabitants of this land approximately 1,000 years ago. They are the oldest radiocarbon dated ridged areas in the upper Midwest.

     They are part of a rich Native American cultural landscape of the Wisconsin Dells area, including mounds, rock art, trails, villages, and campsites.

     In December of 2008, Bill and Phyllis Pierce donated a little over 6 acres of land, including about 3 acres of garden beds, to the Sauk County Historical Society to ensure the preservation of this unique cultural resource.  The Ho-Chunk Nation fully supported the effort.