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The Historic Landscape

Cultural geographer J.B. Jackson asserted that "Landscape is history made visible." That premise formed the foundation of our 2022 season theme. Investigate the historic landscape of 1832 from geographical, ecological, and cultural perspectives.

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A Landscape of Families Exhibit and Website

On the frigid morning of November 8, 1832, over four hundred forty Ho-Chunk (Hoocąk) family representatives gathered here at the Fort Winnebago Indian Agency. Indian agent John H. Kinzie carefully recorded their names, villages, and the sizes of their families in preparation for the annual payment for land which had been sold under pressure to the U.S. government. The census penned that day offers an unparalleled look into the people who have called this region home for millennia.​

Each name on the register represents a family who was at that very moment on the cusp of losing all that was familiar and known, for in only a year's time, seventy-five percent of these families would be driven from their homes. By the end of the decade, the faces of Wisconsin's cultural landscape had dramatically changed.

The Historic Indian Agency House and the Ho-Chunk Nation Museum & Cultural Center have partnered to bring the cultural landscape of 1832 to life and to educate through the powerful material encapsulated in the 1832 annuity register. The result is an outdoor exhibit entitled, "A Landscape of Families," which now stands on the very site where the census was taken nearly two hundred years ago. It provides a final glimpse of Ho-Chunk families in enjoyment of their homeland prior to the start of forced expulsion from their villages. 

The exhibit is further enhanced by extensive, interactive online material on a dedicated website. Meet by name the people who lived throughout Wisconsin and northern Illinois two centuries ago. Discover the locations of and information about their villages. Follow their descendants’ stories which continue today. Allow primary historical sources to take you on a day-by-day journey through the unfolding of the events of 1832-1833 and beyond.

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Investigate the Historic Landscape in-depth

Cultural geographer J.B. Jackson said, "Landscape is history made visible." What does that mean? What is a landscape? What are the components of a landscape? How do people interact with the landscape? Do physical and cultural landscapes change over time? How and why?


On Location: The 1832 Landscape
(2022 Online History Video Series)

Explore the historic landscape of 190 years ago—the homeland of the Ho-Chunk Nation. Present-day footage features several locations related to the people and places of the region's historic landscape at the time the Fort Winnebago Indian Agency house was constructed in 1832. This series dovetails with "A Landscape of Families": an outdoor exhibition created on our grounds in conjunction with the Ho-Chunk Nation Museum and Cultural Center. An accompanying website provides in-depth historical and cultural enhancements related to the exhibit.

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New Exhibit: Rediscovering Fort Winnebago

A local family story going back to at least the 1880s claimed that an unusual barn on a Town of Marcellon farm was actually a barracks which had been moved from the site of Fort Winnebago. For all its historical importance, little remains of Fort Winnebago today beyond an archaeological footprint. None of the timber frame garrison buildings were thought to be in existence. Could a fort structure have eluded the public eye for nearly 200 years, surviving into modern times? By 2021, time was of the essence to investigate the story surrounding what had now become an unassuming pile of old timbers residing in a cow pasture. Does the remarkable tale stand the tests of buildings archaeology and historical research? Visit our Rediscovering Fort Winnebago exhibit to examine the evidence.

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Historic Prairie Restoration

In 1941, when the Agency house had been a museum for only a decade, the museum's garden committee sought to persuade the Wisconsin Conservation Commission to establish the museum estate as a wildlife refuge. To build their case, the planners contacted conservation legend Aldo Leopold to review the site. Leopold found that the site was not well-suited for a mammal or bird sanctuary. However, he discovered a myriad of native prairie plant species — rare survivors from the day of the Kinzies (early 1830s) when Portage was positioned on the northern edge of a prairie ecosystem covering much of southern Wisconsin. While hopes of a wildlife refuge were stymied, Leopold's optimistic report on the site's prairie potential set the stage for ongoing efforts to steward this valuable remnant of the early days through prescribed burns and other revitalization efforts.  

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Free Book for Children

In 2022, children who attended events at the Historic Indian Agency House received a free copy of Native People of Wisconsin by Patty Loew, compliments of the Madison Reading Project.

Thank you to Michael and Sally Connelly for making a significant portion of this season's programming and exhibitions possible in honor of NSCDA-WI president Barbara J. Meyer. 

The Historic Landscape: 2022

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