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Museum Notes


November 16, 2022

Black Hawk War exhibit at the Vernon County Museum

November is Native American Heritage Month, also called National American Indian Heritage Month. One of my regular resources for basic information about Native peoples across the country is the website for the National Museum of the American Indian:

The Vernon County Museum has a lot of information specific to Wisconsin tribes, and especially to the peoples who live or once lived in southwestern Wisconsin. A walk through the exhibit halls will give you a good introduction to this topic.

In the "Drops of Water" exhibit is a canoe-shaped basket made of bark and decorated with black ash splints. It was purchased from Ho-Chunk who camped near Bloomingdale during the summers in the early 1900's. The water exhibit also features a quote from Black Hawk about his gratitude for good, clean water.

The tobacco exhibit of course features Native peoples, with a catlinite pipe on display. Tobacco originated in the Americas and has been used by Native Americans in rituals for thousands of years. There are as many variants of pipes and uses as there are groups of Native peoples.

The heart of our Native exhibits is the American Indian room on 2nd floor. Just outside the room is a brief overview of Wisconsin tribes and of the Ho-Chunk in particular. Inside the room are cases of prehistoric stone tools, such as local farmers have been uncovering for years as they plow their fields, plus a display showing some of the material and process in producing flaked stone tools. This room is also where you can pick up brochures about Ho-Chunk history and culture, and see a small exhibit on Ho-Chunk basketry.

North American Indians are a part of the "Crossroads of Cultures" exhibit on ethnic groups in Vernon County, which includes another Ho-Chunk basket. And they feature prominently in the military area on 3rd floor, with two separate exhibits. One of the exhibits is about the Black Hawk War of 1832, which ended here in what is now called Vernon County. The other exhibit is entitled, "Captain Joshua Sanford: A Flying Tiger from Hillsboro", focusing on this World War II fighter pilot who was a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation.

In addition to the exhibits, you can learn a lot about Native peoples from the archives.

As we began preparing for our country's 250th anniversary, which will be commemorated in 2026, I look forward to using the archives to do more research on the peoples who lived here before the white settlers, and on their continual presence in the area over thousands of years.

The museum will be closed for the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, November 24, and will re-open to the public on Tuesday, November 29, at noon.


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