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No Tonto Here! Olbrich Botanic Garden, Madison, Wisconsin

Finding Nature and Artifacts Instead, Part 2

getaway-chicago logoSeeing cool stuff, but short on evidence in Part 1, Tonto’s LONE RANGERS continued to search for native evidence in Wisconsin.

East of Madison near Lake Mills is Aztalan, the best evidence of a preserved Indian habitat between Milwaukee and Beloit. Situated on the Crawfish River and occupied between c900 and c1200 AD, these natives were related to the Mississippian culture centered in Cahokia, Illinois. They were not Potawatomie, Sauk, Winnebago or Menominee, but a somewhat mysterious people who flourished and disappeared for reasons still unknown. Rescued from development in 1919, today's indians2bindians2a Aztalan State Park contains a number of large mounds and a re-creation of the log palisade that once protected this settlement. Nothing of their domestic architecture remains, but in the early 20th century archeologists were able to identify and determine the scope of this advanced culture. While exploring this site on a late April afternoon, only the Guys and couple of other people were present. Aztalan is almost spooky.

Next was the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, otherwise known as the Domes. Just off I-94 and about 15 minutes from downtown Milwaukee, Mitchell Park’s distinctive Domes were constructed between 1957 and 1967 and consist of modernist structures two devoted to tropical and arid environments and a third dome dedicated to thematic plant exhibitions. indians2cMitchell Park is just one of many facilities belonging to the Milwaukee County Park System. Not unexpected, in the arid zone the Guys wandered past date palms, golden barrel cactus and bougainvillea. In the tropical environment they encountered cacao, sausage and chicle trees, plus species of birds, lizards, frogs and toads. Although Mitchell is a sizable park (established in 1889), the Conservatory occupies a relatively small portion. A significant portion is devoted to more prosaic pursuits, such as boating, swimming and baseball.

Located in Hales Corners (still Milwaukee County), the Boerner Botanical Gardens and the adjacent Wehr Nature Center are, so to speak, bookend nature partners with the Mitchell, the former being essentially an outdoor affair and the latter an indoor facility. The Guys found the Mitchell interesting, but the Boerner and the Wehr fascinating. Featuring formal gardens with cultivated plant species, plus rusticated enclaves containing native specimens, the Boerner is part natural and part CCC engineered during the Great Depression, and to Neil's and Alan’s eyes both work well visually (aside from a geologist or topographer, who can tell?). indians2dindians2fThe Wehr is a slightly different story: consisting of a large dammed lake surrounded by walking paths, this CCC project was once a recreation destination with boating and swimming. Today its core purpose seems to be an abandonment to nature, providing a habitat for native plant species and an assortment of wildlife, including deer, birds and a bunch of nutty otters frolicking in the lake. The Guys circumnavigated the lake encountering dragon flies of many kinds and chipmunks uncommonly friendly.

The Logan Museum of Anthropology, Aztalan State Park and, finally, the Milwaukee Public Museum tell a convincing tale (incomplete) of Native American habitation between Beloit and Milwaukee.indians2g With other traces erased or open to speculation, these three help confirm Neil's and Alan’s hypothesis that native cultures once resided where positive cultural and informative entities now exist, hopefully making Native American expulsion less odious. The Milwaukee Public Museum is a jewel box. Since Neil’s teaching days at UW Oshkosh in the early 70s, “Streets of Old Milwaukee” there was always a favorite, but almost 43 years later, he and Alan found its Wisconsin Native American collection to be equally informative, if not more so. While its artifact collection with copious information intrigued Alan, its panoramas depicting Indian life before the incursion of Caucasians captured Neil’s imagination. If a picture is worth a thousand words, the museum’s panoramas tell a compelling story. What tribes occupied the stretch between Beliot and Milwaukee when or why is somewhat elusive, maybe Winnebago, Menominee, Fox or Potawatomi or Sauk, too. Tribal living patterns were not defined by longitude and latitude.

indians2iindians2jDue to duress or coercion, by 1840 almost all ONT Indians were dispersed into Iowa and Kansas. Efforts at assimilation had failed. Agriculture as an assimilating effort did not work and education for young Native American males proved to be a dud. Endless meetings with federal representatives were held and countless agreements signed, to no avail. Negotiators on both sides could not reach a definitive agreement and both were guilty of dishonesty. To say Caucasians were entirely to blame is an over simplification. The situation was not black and white. By the mid to late 1830s federal officials were under increasing pressure to clarify land rights in the ONT and Native American representatives were using any canard they thought useful to resist (military confrontation having been a loser). indians2hBy then, ONT Indians were virtually wards of the state, having grown dependent on federal financial allotments and survival provisions. Their former trade economy with whites had collapsed and ruinous debt left them insolvent. Their forced move westward made them out of sight and mind, temporarily.

In April and June of 2011 Neil and Alan traveled from Beloit to Milwaukee and they saw nothing (except Aztalan) directly related to Native American habitation. What may have existed had been erased by “progress." While some land has been preserved for nature and cultural enlightenment, most is devoted to private agriculture and urban development. This adventure gave the Getaway Guys a chance to wrap their minds around something other than white development.

Note: Tonto (Jay Silverheels, 1912-1980) was a Mohawk, not an ONT tribal descendent. He was the Lone Ranger’s faithful companion on the radio, in the movies and later TV. Neil, at PS 12 on Staten Island had a chance to meet him in about 1948. September 2011


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