More Information on the Wehmhoff Effigy Mound
of southern Wisconsin, USA

(Excerpts from the nomination form to the National Register of Historic Places Inventory)

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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 problem.

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.

Bibliographical References:

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, WI.

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, D.C.

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 65:1-31.

Sander, Phil, 1985, Correspondence, notes, and maps. On file, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706.

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