More Information on
the Wehmhoff Effigy Mound
of southern Wisconsin, USA
(Excerpts from the nomination form to the National Register
of Historic Places Inventory)
In 1985 the Wehmhoff Mound was nominated
to the National Register of Historic Places Inventory. The National
Park Service nomination form contains the following information:
The Wehmhoff Mound is a prehistoric mound built by American Indians
of the Late Woodland "Effigy Mound" Tradition. Its shape
in plan view resembles that of a panther or other mammal with
a curved tail. . .
Intensive surveys in the immediate vicinity by professional and
amateur archaeologists have located several open habitation sites
of unknown cultural affiliation, though definitely prehistoric.
Eight such sites are recorded within a one-half mile radius of
the site (Brazeau and Overstreet 1979). Their relation to the
Wehmhoff Mound . . . cannot be assessed without additional and
extensive field work.
Several other prehistoric mounds are found along nearby portions
of the Fox River, but no other effigies have been reported in
all of Kenosha County, the one possible exception being a "forked"
linear mound in the village of Silver Lake, about five miles southeast
of the Wehmhoff Mound.
Statement of Significance:
The Wehmhoff Mound is significant as a relatively well preserved
example of an unusual type of effigy mound structure, as a source
of important information on the Late Woodland stage in southeastern
Wisconsin, and as the location of a very early application of
a scientific technique -- aerial photography -- to an archaeological
Curved-tail "panther" mounds such as this are extremely
rare at Effigy Mound sites, only four others having been recorded
in a survey of all known effigy mound sites in six counties of
southern Wisconsin (Peterson 1979). Only one of these other four
curved-tail mounds is preserved, the one in the Mendota State
Hospital Mound Group; the others have been destroyed. Over 80%
of all known Indian mounds in the site area and all of southern
Wisconsin have been destroyed (Brazeau and Overstreet 1979, Peterson
1979, 1984). This isolated mound site also is unusual in not being
part of a larger mound group. Despite the damage caused by the
road which runs across the mound, the basic structure and outlines
of the mound are clear. The site thus is important as a good example
of a type (curved-tail panther) and period (Effigy Mound Tradition,
Late Woodland stage) of construction.
Information on prehistoric mortuary practices is likely to be
preserved within the Wehmhoff Mound. This inference is based on
knowledge gained from other effigy mounds in the region. Burial
pits and various types of ceremonial features such as "altars"
are often found in effigy mounds, usually in the body rather than
the tail portion of the mound. The body of the Wehmhoff Mound
has not been significantly disturbed and hence probably contains
such features, the structure and contents of which can provide
a great deal of information on prehistoric mortuary and ceremonial
practices, and, if human remains are preserved, on problems of
human biology such as paleopathology, diet, health, and genetics.
The lime-outlining and aerial photography of the Wehmhoff Mound
was felt in 1927 to be "the first time that such an experiment
has been undertaken or accomplished in any state" (Brown
1927: 105). While this may or may not be true, it certainly was
the first time the technique was used on midwestern Indian mounds.
Recently, Luther College crews used the technique to document
all known effigy mound groups in Iowa (Mallum 1982). Had the Luther
College team followed Beemer's 1927 procedures more closely, outlining
mounds with an approximately 28-inch wide strip of lime rather
than the six-inch wide strips they initially used, they could
have avoided duplication of time and effort at one large mound
group. The Luther crew found that the wider bands were needed
to give better resolution at high altitudes (ibid.: 64). Outlining
and aerial photography of mounds, pioneered in this area at the
Wehmhoff Mound, holds great promise for mapping and detailed interpretive
studies of effigy mounds and mound groups.
Brazeau, Linda, and David F. Overstreet, 1979, Archaeological
Survey and Limited Test Excavations in the Fox River Drainage
-- Waukesha, Racine, and Kenosha Counties. Reports of Investigation
No. 67, Great Lakes Archaeological Research Center, Waukesha,
Brown, Charles E., 1927, An Airplane Photograph of an Indian Effigy
Mound. "The Wisconsin Archaeologist" (new series) 6:105-110.
Lapham, Increase, 1855, The Antiquities of Wisconsin, Smithsonian
Contributions to Knowledge, Vol. 7, Smithsonian Institution, Washington,
Mallam, R. Clark, 1982, Ideology from the Earth: Effigy Mounds
in the Midwest. Archaeology 35(4):60-64.
Petersen, Robert W., 1979, The Wisconsin Effigy Mounds Project,
I. Unpublished ms. on file, State Historical Society of Wisconsin,
Madison, WI 53706.
(Petersen) 1984, A Survey of the Destruction of Effigy Mounds
in Wisconsin and Iowa -- A Perspective. The Wisconsin Archaeologist
Sander, Phil, 1985, Correspondence, notes, and maps. On file,
State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706.