Jackson County is known for its recreation destinations, ATV trails and tourist spots, but what it might not be known for is its hidden important historical sites.

Tucked back on the hillside in rural Alma Center is a little spot called Silver Mound that holds a special historical value for researchers and human history in general.

“This is one of the first sites in the area that Paleo people visited,” lecturer at UW-La Crosse Constance Arzigan said.

The importance of the site is tied to a special rock inside the mound, which contrary to the mound’s name, isn’t silver.

What makes Silver Mound special is the Hixton Silicified Sandstone (HSS) that comprises the mound and provided high quality material to early humans.

This special type of stone supposedly was harder than flint and held sharp edges longer making it an ideal raw material.

“It got its name because it had a kind of shine in the sunlight with this silver color and people thought it might be silver,” Arzigan said.

Material from Silver Mound has traveled pretty far according to the Mississippi Valley Archaeological Center, who say HSS has been found as far away as Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.

What is more impressive to Arzigan is that the earliest visitors would have to quarry out the material by hand, which just further shows how important it was if people were willing to expend that effort.

“It’s really fun to just walk into it and see where these people used to be,” Arzigan said.

It wasn’t just Silver Mound that drew people to the area though, the MVAC says that in addition to high quality materials, the receding glaciers also left behind some areas full of vegetation and roaming mastodons for people to hunt.

“We see at the mound that people from hundreds of miles away had visited the site,” Arzigan said.

They can tell this by the different artifacts and materials from other places that have been found in the area, meaning that Silver Mound was an important spot where people communicated and traded.

Silver Mound was first discovered back in 1846 when it was noticed by some surveyors, but it wasn’t explored from an archaeological perspective for a few more decades.

According to the MVAC website, Will C. McKern was the first professional archaeologist to explore the mound in 1928.

Since then, some excavations and research has been done by other universities over the years to find out more about the previous visitors.

The site became a National Historical Landmark in 2006 and archaeologists have been working to preserve and protect it since.

Silver Mound currently sits behind the KOA Campground in Alma Center, hidden back through thickets and a short hike.

Current owner John Bierbach said he knew about the site when he bought the campground, but it didn’t influence his decision to buy it.

“Not many tourists come by to see it, but that’s because I don’t think they know about it,” Bierbach said.

Some archaeological enthusiasts have come through the campground to check it out, but it’s mostly visits from universities that frequent Silver Mound.

The easiest way to access the mound is through the KOA Campgrounds and taking the hike up to Silver Mound.

Arzigan and Bierbach both stressed a reminder that it is illegal to take anything from the Silver Mound site since it is a historical landmark, but people are allowed to visit it and see where history was made.


Stephen Knoll is a reporter for Jackson County Chronicle. Contact him at 715-284-0085.

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