Mapping Repentance: A Lenten Series

Mapping Repentance is a series of sessions for learning, wondering, and feeling together as we explore how past injustice is part of the very landscape we live in – in very literal ways. We began this work in  February of 2021.

Link to second session here!

Link to third/fourth session here! 

SESSION I: The earth beneath our feet 

Rev. Miranda: I wrote this in 2016, building on previous histories of the parish that I’d received & on some additional research: “The property that became our grounds, complete with the 19th-century farmhouse known as the Rectory, was already owned by the Diocese of Milwaukee. The farmhouse had belonged to the Heim family, as the homestead for a farm that covered much of this part of Middleton and west Madison 150 years ago.” 

Then at some point I started to wonder: What about before that?  Who lived here before the Heims arrived?

“By the time Europeans arrived in the region, Ho-Chunks generally lived in autonomous bands ranging in size from dozens to hundreds of people. These bands pursued a seasonal itinerary, following resources over the course of the year. The “camps and villages” marked here include sites … where large groups hunted and fished as well as villages organized around the cultivation of corn.”

The area right around where Pheasant Branch Creek comes into Lake Mendota – in other words, RIGHT up the road from St. Dunstan’s – might have been a really large and important village. Here’s a description from a biography of a Ho-Chunk leader: 

WHITE CROW, Ho-Chunk Chief: His Ho-Chunk name is generally given in printed sources as Kau-kish-ka-ka. White Crow was an important leader during the first third of the 19th century, especially during the Black Hawk War of 1832, when he played both sides off against each other to protect the interests of his people. According to historian Reuben G. Thwaites (1895), White Crow “had but one eye and something of a reputation as an orator. His village, which comprised about 1,200 persons housed in tepees covered with red-cedar bark, appears to have been situated about where is now the little village of Pheasant Branch [Middleton] at the west end of Lake Mendota, Dane County.”

The Ho-Chunk were removed in the wake of the  Black Hawk War. Watch this video – about 8 minutes – to learn about that war.

“The Treaty of 1832, forced upon the Ho-Chunk in the immediate aftermath of the Black Hawk War, demanded the cession of a vast territory (see map in Lonetree), the second such transfer of land in just three years. Its terms consigned the Ho-Chunk to lands north of the Wisconsin River, with a view to their ultimate removal across the Mississippi….  In 1837, five years after the Ho-Chunk were forced to cede their lands south of the Wisconsin River, the U.S. government demanded that they give up all their remaining Wisconsin lands and move west across the Mississippi. As in the years immediately following the 1832 treaty, Ho-Chunks resisted this removal, but in 1840 the U.S. mobilized troops to round up those who refused to comply. Ho-Chunks continued to resist, and many remained in or quickly returned to Wisconsin. But many were forced to abandon their homes.”

But the land bears traces of those who were here before. Learn about Madison’s effigy mounds and what we know about their history and meaning by watching this 8-minute video:

So: The land that St. Dunstan’s now owns was seized by the U.S. Government after the Blackhawk War and the subsequent removals of Native peoples. It was then sold to two brothers from Bavaria named Heim – Joseph and Anton. They cleared it and farmed it, and built the building we know as the Rectory.  The original Heim farm was pretty extensive. Heim Avenue, a couple of blocks east of the church, still bears their name. 

One of Anton’s sons, Ferdinand, was born in 1865 and lived till 1950. I believe he lived on the Heim property his whole life (though not necessarily in the rectory). Here is Ferdinand’s letter on the occasion of donating the Heim Fox Mound to the Wisconsin Archaeological Society. 

Madison, Wisconsin, July 8, 1937.

Mr. Charles E. Brown, Secretary, The Wisconsin Archeological Society, Madison, Wisconsin.Dear Mr. Brown:

On August 21, 1915, you wrote  to me in regard to the Indian mound  located   in  my  wood  lot  northeast of  the new  Middleton  highway number twelve.   In that letter you stated that you had made a careful survey of the earthwork and you enclosed a detailed tracing of it.  You also said in your letter:

 “I was very much pleased to find this remarkable ancient Indian earthwork in such excellent condition. No finer example of prehistoric Indian sculpture in earth exists anywhere about Lake Mendota.  I trust, therefore, that you will prevent any digging into it by relic hunters and  do everything possible to secure its permanent preservation. In  case  this  woodland  is ever  cut  up into  acreage tracts or lots for summer homes, I would suggest that you cause  this  mound  to be preserved in a small  public oval, or,  if  this  is  not  possible,  compel  its  future owner  to preserve it  by inserting such  a provision in the  deed.”

On July 3, 1937, a plat  called  Heim’s Woods  was  recorded   in  the   office  of  the   register of  deeds  for   this county.  This is a plat of the wood lot above mentioned. I am enclosing a copy of it for the files of The Wisconsin Archeological Society.  As agreed between you and my attorney, Leon E. Isaacson, a plot of ground in which the mound is located has been dedicated to The Wisconsin Archeological Society.

It  gives  me  a  feeling  of  satisfaction  to  give  this mound to  your  society  and  to know that  it  will be pre­ served  for the future. I want to thank you personally for the suggestion contained in your letter of more than twenty years ago. I still have your letter and also have a clipping from the Milwaukee Sunday Sentinel of August 29, 1915, which describes  the  mound  in  detail  and  publishes  your  tracing of  it.  

Undoubtedly,   when you wrote   the letter, you thought you were looking a long away ahead in predicting that “summer homes” would someday be located on the above property.  Little   did we then   think   that in about twenty years permanent homes would be built in this area.

 Very truly yours,  Ferdinand J. Heim

Where is the mound? Very close – across University Avenue from St. Dunstan’s and a bit northwest, on Mound St.  It’s the closest remaining effigy mound – but we can’t help wondering if there were others, before the area was cleared and plowed.  The mounds that remain around Madison’s lakes create incredibly rich and beautiful arrangements.  This blog entry also has images of some of the local effigy mound groups. 

Here’s a description of the mound: “It is the  effigy  of  an animal  with  a pointed  nose, erect pointed  ears,  a  quite  long  body,  slightly   curved  tail,  and sturdy legs.   No effigy  just  like  it  is in any  of  the groups now or formerly existing about  Lakes  Mendota,  Monona, or Wingra  at  Madison.    Its  body, from  the  tip  of  its  nose  to its  tail,  is 97  feet  in length, and  its  tail  about  50  feet  in length.  The greatest width of its body is 16 feet.   Its legs are each 38 feet long.  Its body is 3 feet high at its highest part.”

We don’t know what the fox mound meant to the people who made it and the people who honored it for centuries thereafter. Robert Birmingham writes, “In much Native American cosmology, animals, celestial bodies, and spirits embody the forces and blessings contained within different parts of the cosmos.” (Spirits of Earth: The Effigy Mound Landscape of Madison and the Four Lakes, Robert A. Birmingham)

We do know, though, that the Ho-Chunk were deeply connected to this land, ancestrally, spiritually, ecologically and economically. Being forced off this land was a tremendous trauma and grief. “Ho-Chunk people cherished the landscape and resources of Teejop for centuries before Europeans arrived, and they continued to do so in the face of conquest, removal, and erasure.”

In a 1915 interview, Ferdinand Heim shared some memories of his father’s stories about Ho-Chunk – then called Winnebago – Indians still camping on the land when he first bought it in 1848. Heim recalled, “A favorite camp ground was on the Lake Mendota shore on the   present   Magnus Swenson estate.   The number of Indians which he remembers as camping in this vicinity was from thirty to fifty.  They lived in wigwams and existed by hunting, trapping, and fishing.   They were great beggars, stopping at the farm houses at all times for food supplies.  His father was obliged to erect rough fences about his hay mows in the Middleton Beach marsh to protect them against the foraging Indian ponies.”

Heim recalled the Ho-Chunk’s visits back to their ancestral land as an annoyance. Others shared that “good riddance” point of view. From an account written in 1895 by a man who participated in the removals:  “Governor Dodge emphatically represented the feelings and interests of the settlers, and after the removal of the Indians had been accomplished in his message to the special session of the Territorial Legislature, which met in August 1840, he said, ‘The removal of the Winnebagos will enable our enterprising citizens to extend their settlements to a desirable and interesting country north of the Wisconsin River.’ The presence of these Indians had given the pioneer settlers great annoyance and their peaceable removal west of the Mississippi River was a subject of congratulations among the settlers, to which the Governor had given expression in his message.”  (Source)

Other documents of the period, though, point to the pain of this dislocation. An 1833 document recounts Native leaders begging to be allowed to stay. 

A trader remembers a Native encampment at what is now Tenney Park. 

A French-Canadian trader recalls with poignancy the removal process and the grief of the Native people being forced off their land: “Good God! What harm could these poor Indians do among the rocks?” 

The land we live on and imagine ourselves to own was lived on, and deeply loved, by the Ho-Chunk and other groups, for many centuries before white settlers arrived. They did not want to leave.

Pause to reflect:

What have you learned?

What do you want to know more about?

What are you feeling?

NEXT WEEK: STILL HERE – the Ho-Chunk Today. This will mostly be learning from a series of short videos.

Further Reading: 

Some good very local history – worth a read, and note a brief appearance by Lou Maher, one of St. Dunstan’s departed elders:

Good information on mounds here & LOT of further reading at the bottom of the page:


6205 University Ave., Madison WI

St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church