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Silver Mound is now a National Historic Landmark

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Imagine being able to go years back in time. Visitors to Archeology Day at Silver Mound between Hixton and Alma Center could say they did the next best thing. Whether a person was interested in learning flint-knapping (stone tool making), atlati (spear throwing), Native American Games, artifact displays and identification, basketry, beadwork, drilling, or trying traditional food such as fry bread and corn soup, they had it all. These all day events, gave an opportunity to enjoy a wonderful learning experience, and many families with young children were among the visitors.

Silver Mound is considered to be one of the oldest, largest and most important archaeological sites in Wisconsin and the Midwest. And according to information obtained from the Mississippi Valley Archaeological Center, much of the mound still remains relatively unaffected by modern activities, and evidence of past utilization is abundant. Experts feel that this is one of the best examples of pre-European quarrying and knapping in North America. Silver Mound at one time was rumored to hide treasures of silver but actually it is a large sandstone hill containing layers of cemented silica, forming very hard, brittle rock. This rock, is called names like "Hixton Silicified Sandstone," "Hixton Orthoquartzite," or "Sugar Quartz" and was a very heavily used material by Native Americans to chip stone tools. It was unique in that it's composed of layers of bonded silica creating a material harder than flint which held sharp edges longer. Spear-tips made from this Hixton Orthoquartzite have been found as far away as Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. Some of these points have been dated at nearly 12,000 years old, revealing that Silver Mound was one of the first places humans visited in Wisconsin.

Let more facts from MVAC and your imagination take you back to that time. When the Paleo Indians, a band of nomadic travelers and the first people known to occupy Silver Mound came 12,000-9,500 years ago, much of northern and eastern Wisconsin had only recently been covered by glaciers. The land surrounding Silver Mound was south and west of the glacier's path, and while quite cold, was lush with vegetation, providing ideal habitat for now-extinct animals such as the mammoth and mastodon — woolly elephants which were larger than their modern counterparts. These large animals (called mega fauna) provided many of the materials needed by the Paleo Indians to survive in such a harsh climate. Meat was used for food, bones were used to make tools and perhaps even houses, and fur was used for clothing to protect them from the cold weather. Since animals were probably their main food source, the Paleo Indians traveled extensively, either trailing herds or on the lookout for new ones. Imagine how glad they were to find a place where they could make tools to hunt the animals, scrape hides and other things to help them survive.

Guided tours were provided throughout the afternoon so visitors could see for themselves the wonders of this area, leaving every half hour. The one tour to the quarry pits on the back side of the mound was not for the faint of heart or weak of ankles, but ultimately worth the effort. According to enthusiastic hikers Mike and Amy Modjeski, "The tour took approximately 45 minutes. At several points, there were ropes attached to trees to help people climb up and descend the steep parts. The tour included a stop at a shallow rock shelter that had markings on the rock ceiling from camp fires and the name of the former landowner (Dwyer) carved above the top ledge. There was also an area that had been dynamited by settlers during the search for what they thought was silver (never found, but lead to the name Silver Mound) and an area that had been hand excavated by the Indians for material used for tools and implements. But for many the highlight of the tour was the one of several cave drawings on the property done by Indians who were mining the Hixton sandstone. However, the drawings that the guide showed on the tour were located on a rock outcropping under a ledge, not in a cave. The top drawing is of an upside down deer, with two antlers pointing down. They think the lower picture might be a bird. The guide, who identified herself as an archaeologist, did not know the exact date of the drawings because they had not done any dating at that particular place, but they were very old."

At noon, a dedication ceremony was held, designating the Silver Mound Archaeological District as a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service. A plaque was unveiled and will find a permanent home on the property in the near future.

The performance tent was a popular place to gather, featuring traditional dancing, drumming and storytelling. Performances from the Wisconsin Dells Singers and Art Shegonee were held. This talented group has won many awards all across the country and they sang and accompanied dancers with the beat of their drum. An explanation of each dance was given so one could follow the movements. One dance, the Men's Fancy Dance, was good naturedly called the very first aerobic workout. There was a Lance and Shield Dance and a Horse Tail Dance. Audience favorites were the Eagle Dance and the very difficult Hoop Dance. During the final dance, the Round Dance, the audience was invited to join in.

This special day came due to the sponsorship of the following: Black River Area Chamber of Commerce, Black River Falls Foundation, Black River Falls Rotary, Heller Farms, Richard and Beth Hilliker, Hixton-Alma Center KOA, Ho-Chunk Nation, Lunda Charitable Trust, Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center, National Park Service, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Humanities Council and Wisconsin Archaeological Society.

The success of the day was summed up by a little boy in a bit of frustration, who was overheard loudly, saying, "But Daddy, I don't want to go home."


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