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Finding Nature and Artifacts Instead, Part 1

getaway-chicago logo About Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Iowa, the Getaway Guys have written 50+ articles dealing with points of cultural interest, much of which acknowledges white settlement in the early 19th century. Largely missing, were Native Americans. Looking For Tonto was their attempt to explore territory once inhabited by Indians. In their search, they were Tonto’s LONE RANGERS, lost, confused and without a silver bullet to spare.

indians1aExcept for Iowa, the other states plus Ohio once constituted the Northwest Territory, confusing because today we associate the Northwest with Oregon and Washington. To distinguish the first from the second, the former (Northwest Territory) is referred to as the Old Northwest Territory or ONT (everybody confused?). White ONT incursions began with French traders and Catholic missionaries in the 18th century, followed by English traders and a smattering of east coast colonists. By the early 19th century, what had been a quasi-manageable irritant for ONT Native Americans had become a major migraine. Crisscrossing the ONT repeatedly, Neil and Alan saw a familiar pattern: lots of communities settled by whites between c1820 and c1840, dates that coincide with the disappearance of Native American inhabitants. Struck by this pattern, they began to wonder where the Indians went, why they left and why is there a lack of evidence of their presence? The simple answer is, there isn’t a simple explanation.

indians1bInnocently ignorant, the Guys decided to explore the Beloit to Milwaukee, Wisconsin corridor in search of anything related to Native Americans. Being neither archeologists nor anthropologists what they did or did not discover was still a creditable Getaway adventure. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

North America wasn’t a Native American Garden of Eden before the arrival of Europeans in the early 1600s. Yes, the environment was largely pristine because its inhabitants were relatively few in number and their respective cultures didn’t make exorbitant demands on the land or its resources. Tribal territory was not defined by maps. With a continent at their disposal, territorial disputes were a minor affair compared to future developments. The arrival of English and Dutch colonists on the east coast wanting land to own and cultivate changed the “ownership” equation (not favorably for Indians). For ONT tribes, it was largely a French affair as trappers and traders from Canada sought pelts for a lucrative French market. Historically disinclined to immigrate, French presence in the ONT was more about trade than settlements.

indians1gCourted by both the French and the English, tribes chose sides during the French and Indian War (1756-1765). Both colonial powers sought dominion from the Ohio to the Mississippi to the upper Great Lakes in the north. The prize was land and commerce. What Indians expected to gain in taking sides is a mystery. “To the victor belongs the spoils” and their land was the “spoils." The French and their Indian allies lost. Thirteen years later hostilities erupted again. This time it was American colonists against the English and again tribes took sides. The American Revolution (1775-1783) is best remembered for battles lost and won in the original 13 colonies, but an important secondary campaign was fought in the ONT. The English and their Indian pals lost and congressional representatives of the new Republic were beholden to a male, land ownership electorate. They wanted land, Native Americans, be damned!

indians1cFrom Beloit to Milwaukee Neil and Alan accepted the fact that conclusive evidence of Native American inhabitation could be missing. They didn’t expect to find arrow heads or stumble over pottery shards, but thought there was a chance of following in the foot steps of native peoples. They started their journey at the Logan Museum of Anthropology on the Beloit College campus. The Logan’s core collection (3,000 objects) was assembled by Frank G. Logan and exhibited at Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition (1893) before its donation to Beloit College. It is housed in Memorial Hall (1869) built to honor Beloit students and community residents killed in the Civil War. The Logan isn’t a typical tourist attraction. Nestled in a pleasant campus setting, it is open to the public, but essentially a scholarly teaching collection used daily by students and faculty in Beloit’s Anthropology and Museum Studies programs. Presently, its collection contains over 350,000 objects representative of worldwide native cultures. The artifacts of interest to the Getaway Guys were Ojibwe and Ottawa baskets, parenthetically made at a later date by tribes possibly associated with tribes once in the Wisconsin-Illinois region.indians1d

Their next destination was the Rotary Botanical Garden in Janesville. Developed around the remains of a quarry, the Rotary is an interesting and admirable collection of native and exotic flora (flowers, trees and ornamentals). indians1eAlthough native habitation may be open to speculation, the Rotary is near the Rock River and native peoples were known to have chosen camp sites in close proximity to water. Regardless, this botanic garden is well worth a visit if in the Janesville area.

Next on their agenda was the University of Wisconsin Arboretum in the southwest corner of Madison. A large enclosure containing many native tree species, this arboretum is unique in large part because of its origins. The celebrated conservationist/preservationist and teacher (University of Wisconsin), Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) was the driving force behind its creation as a public park and teaching laboratory. A Native American connection may be questionable, but this arboretum recreating a landscape of native species employed the Civilian Conservation Corps, an unquestionable plus. In addition to beautiful trees, a number of CCC support buildings are still in use. Leaving the Arboretum and expecting to arrive at Madison’s Olbrich Botanical Gardens in short order, the map-reading Getaway Guys got hopelessly lost. Getting around Boston might be easier! The Olbrich is a winner, however. Consisting of indoor and outdoor delights with extensive gardens and fascinating greenhouses, it is a hidden jewel. As for a native connection, the Guys were just thankful to find it. August 2011

University of Wisconsin Arboretum

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