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The Nine Mounds

Like Wisconsin and the rest of the U.S., the vast majority of the human residence in the Verona area belonged to the Native Americans.  Unfortunately, for the long period of time they were here, we have very little information about the specific native inhabitants of the Verona area.  We do have a small collection of stories recorded by the children of early U.S. settlers, and thankfully also a fair amount of archeological evidence collected in modern times.

This is what makes the namesake for "Nine Mound Road" on the city of Verona's northwest corner so special.  This name comes from a group of nine conical burial mounds noted by early white settlers a short distance to the west of this road.  Conical Indian mounds were originally noted in several places in Verona.  This group of nine is unique in their density and also for the noted presence of an additional tenth mound (an "effigy" mound) with an animal shape!  The presence of this effigy mound ties Verona into a tradition which makes the Wisconsin area unique.

A fact surprisingly unknown to many Wisconsin residents is that Wisconsin and Illinois hold a larger collection of effigy mounds than anywhere in the world.  Effigy mounds here were built in a span of 800-1200 years ago by an era of Native Americans now referred to as "Late Woodland".  These mounds were created in shapes of spiritual creatures and in some cases even humans.  They complimented the topography of the land, and different shapes had various relationships to areas with water, or higher elevations.  If you have interest in this topic, I recommend you check out the writings of Bob Birmingham who spoke at one of our monthly meetings back in 2016.

Verona was platted out by the U.S. Government in 1833.  In 1840, the first group of white settlers from Cross Plains explored what would become Verona.  In an 1877 history of Dane County, their visit was documented:

"Early one Sunday morning, in the summer of 1840, a party of ten or twelve, among whom were George and
William Vroman, James Young, Thomas Stewart and Wakefield Brothers, started out in a wagon from Edward
Campbell's house (now James Bonner's) to explore the upper valley of the Sugar river. After wending
their way down the valley for about three miles they came suddenly upon the north end of an elevated prairie, and
following the dividing ridge about a mile, came to ten mounds, nine of which were circular, while one had the
form of a mammoth*.  From this place they had a splendid view of the surrounding country, the mounds being
quite prominent and about the center of the prairie.  After agreeing to call this beautiful spot Nine Mound
Prairie, (section 8), they continued their journey in a  southeast direction, and came to what is now called the
Badger Mill creek, which they crossed."

In the story above, they are traveling south down the land today owned by Epic.  The "elevated prairie" in the story seems to be the high ridge the Epic campus sits on, with a wonderful view to the west you can still enjoy today.  *As a side note, when I told Bob Birmingham of this story he commented that the effigy mound present in this location was most likely in the shape of a bear, not a mammoth.

The nine mounds also make an appearance in the 1873 Verona plat map:


One sad lesson learned from the story of most of Wisconsin's Indian mounds is the fate cultural relics face when not valued by modern society.  Most early settlers viewed Indian mounds as a nuisance when growing crops, and plowed over them year after year causing them to disappear from sight.  Others saw mounds as a curiosity to be explored.  In 1847 one of Verona's nine mounds was partially excavated by a local doctor, and a portion of a skeleton inside was examined.  Thankfully today burial mounds are protected burial grounds and dedicated groups work to educate the public and lobby for improving laws that protect them.

Verona's nine mounds eventually disappeared from view due to plowing and agricultural use of their land.  Their presence, however, was remembered by families in the area and the road was eventually named after them.

The exact location of the nine mounds (ten, if you count the effigy) was forgotten as generations passed.  In the early 2000s, Epic purchased the land.  In 2010 as their campus expanded in the northwest direction, Epic enlisted the help of the Wisconsin Historical Society and local archeologist Phil Salkin to determine if the mounds could still be located.  Amazingly, the remnants of five of the nine mounds were found!  Epic has since protected the rediscovered mounds and their horticulture team has planted native prairie plants in that area.  They are no longer "mounds", but it is good to know that this important and sacred link to Verona's early inhabitants is finally protected.

Resources:
Author's notes:
  • The bear located with the Nine Mounds was not the sole effigy mound found in Verona; a panther was also noted near the Sugar River, south of where it joins Badger Mill Creek.  This effigy has also been lost.
  • The term "Indian Mound" is still the commonly used term for these burials, even though the term "Indian" is not typically used to represent the Native Americans who created them.





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