Home of the Young Eagle

Posted: December 14, 2010 in Environment, Heritage

Brianna Fiene

The Edgewood campus has been a place of community for centuries, and the evidence is in the dirt.

Woodland peoples built conical and effigy mounds all over the grounds for hundreds of years.  The purpose of these sacred mounds wasn’t only for burials but to gather for spiritual ceremonies as well.

This is proof of the rich Native American culture that once thrived on this very campus.  In fact, the word Sinsinawa–as in the Sinsinawa Dominicans who founded the college–can be translated from a Winnebago word meaning “home of the young eagle.”  This can be linked to our own Eddy Eagle mascot.  The image is depicted in one of the most prominent mounds on campus.  The bird mound is located between the library and DeRicci Hall.  The Woodland tribes believed the bird, specifically the eagle, was a representation of the sky spirit.

Map of eagle mound on campus

Seven conical mounds dot the walking path along Lake Wingra.  These are smaller, simpler, and round in shape.  An effigy mound has a distinct shape, usually that of an animal which represents a spirit.  On campus exists an intact bear mound.  The natives used the bear to represent the earth spirit.  This mound can be found on the Woodrow Street end of the walking path.

Burial mounds are typically found along bodies of water.  Traditionally the soil used to build a mound must come from the edge of the water.  The natives believed that water and the underworld were connected.  Long-tailed water spirits such as the turtle, the alligator, and the panther dwelled in the underworld.  Edgewood has its own water spirt mound on campus near the Siena apartments.  Resident groundskeeper Tim Andrews rediscovered the mound and has plans for its repair.

Groupings of mounds are often integrated into the natural landscape and correspond to one another.  The strategic placing of mounds is based in cosmology.  Native Americans were much aware of the movement of the stars and planets.  They were an ecocentric community and worked with one another and their environment in order to survive.  Their effigies are a testament  to the close relationship between the people, animals, and the earth.

The mound sites at Edgewood and the Vilas area indicate that our school now stands on sacred grounds.

For centuries, large numbers of people would periodically gather at Edgewood for meetings, harvests, and social activities.  Lake Wingra provided a massive wild rice  harvest that an estimated 6,000 people participated in annually in order to gather food to survive in the winter.  The mound sites at Edgewood and the Vilas area indicate that our school now stands on sacred grounds.

Conch shells from the Gulf of Mexico have been found in mounds at Edgewood.  It is now known that young men were encouraged to travel long distances and gather knowledge from other tribes.  They realized the value in sharing information in order to flourish, and they would often set aside political differences to aid young travelers in their journeys.  The strong sense of community prevails in the Sinsinawa Dominican tradition that built this school.

Many mounds here have been lost due to erosion, construction, expansion, and agriculture in the past hundred years.  One bear mound exists beneath the Predolin building, however Edgewood has made an effort to identify and avoid any deconstruction of mounds since its founding.

In the early 1900s, three surveyors identified approximately 2,500 mounds in the Dane County area alone.  Southern Wisconsin is home to 90 percent of the world’s burial mounds.

Andrews can remember digging up mounds as a Boy Scout in Richland Center.  The deconstruction and digging of mounds was once very common.  The Wisconsin State Historical Society recognized the growing problem and was on the forefront of preserving this aspect of Native American culture.

In the early 1900s, three surveyors identified approximately 2,500 mounds in the Dane County area alone.  Southern Wisconsin is home to 90 percent of the world’s burial mounds.  In one of the first preservation campaigns, the state was able to establish the Madison Landmarks Commission that cataloged and protected sites under the National Historical Preservation Act.  In 1985, the state enacted the strongest protection of mounds in the country that prohibits the disturbance of burial sites without stat approval.

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