Man Mound Park

by William C. Schuette



Long before white settlers came to the Midwest, indeed, long before Columbus discovered America, Effigy Mound Builders were creating their ceremonial and burial mounds in southern Wisconsin and nearby states.  At one time over 900 mounds existed in Sauk County alone.  Over 75% of them have subsequently been plowed under, erased by floods and destroyed by construction or looters. One early Honey Creek farmer noted that, “We were rather irked by the large number of Indian mounds  we had to plow down.  There must have been at least 25 on our land…Some were shaped like animals and some like birds, and all were from three to five feet high...I suppose we should not have destroyed them. But they were then regarded merely as obstacles to cultivation, and everybody plowed them down.” 

The Effigy Mound Builders began plying their skills as early as 300 AD and continued the practice until around 1400 AD when they either abandoned the practice or were assimilated into other Native American cultures.  William H. Canfield first surveyed the Man Mound in 1859. At the time, it was one of only two known man-shaped mounds in the state, the other being located near LaValle.

In 1905, H.E. Cole, local historian and photographer, and A.B. Stout, science teacher at Baraboo High School, were conducting an archeological survey of area mounds and of the Man Mound in particular.  They soon learned that the owner of the property was about to commit the property to the plow!  The two men launched an immediate appeal to the Wisconsin Archaeological Society and the Sauk County Historical Society in an effort to obtain the grounds upon which the mound was situated.  A committee was formed and a movement organized to raise $225 to purchase the property. Among those on the committee were H.E. Cole and Jacob Van Orden.

Donations of small amounts–between $1 and $15–were suggested so that many more people could participate in the acquisition. The Wisconsin Federation of Women’s Clubs and the Wisconsin Archeological Society also helped procure funds.  By the end of 1907, the money had been raised and the property purchased.Cole immediately began clearing the land of vines and brush, seeding grass, setting boundaries and installing hitching posts.  Jacob Van Orden donated a plaque commemorating the mound’s discovery and preservation.

On August 8, 1908, a group of 200 assembled at the Warren Hotel and proceeded to the site of Man Mound Park to dedicate the land and the marker. “...vehicles of every description being in waiting and the trip through the picturesque county began,” noted a reporter. A cloud of choking dust enveloped the queue of travelers as they traveled to the site over the dirt roads in their open-air autos and horse-drawn carriages. John M. True, of Baraboo, spoke to those assembled. “We are pleased to note the increasing interest that is being manifested in the discovery and preservation of this class of relics of a people long since forgotten, of which the Man Mound is considered of the greatest interest and importance of all of Wisconsin’s celebrated emblematic earthworks.”

Man Mound was partially destroyed in the early part of the last century when the lower parts of its legs were excised during road construction.  The Sauk County Historical Society is the current guardian of Man Mound Park and the County maintains the property.