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Weekly Column

Each week a small segment of Vernon County history is published in the county papers.


For the week of 11/10/2019
by Kristen Parrott, curator

November is Native American Heritage Month. Wisconsin has much to celebrate this month, since our state is home to more American Indian tribes than any other state east of the Mississippi River. These tribes include the Ho-Chunk, the Menominee, the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, the Mohican, and the Oneida.

The Ho-Chunk and the Menominee have always been in the land now called Wisconsin, according to their origin stories. The Ojibwe and the Potawatomi moved here from the east and the south several centuries ago, and the Mohican and the Oneida came here from New York in the early 1800’s.

Unlike other ethnicities in this country, American Indian tribal affiliation is also a political identity, because tribes are also sovereign nations within the larger U.S. This is sometimes reflected in the official name of a tribe, such as Ho-Chunk Nation and Oneida Nation. Because American Indians were the first people to live here, their nations are often called First Nations.

Wisconsin is home to 12 American Indian nations. Six of them are different bands of the Ojibwe people. In addition to the American Indian nations currently living in Wisconsin, others lived here temporarily at various times in the past, including the Kickapoo and the Dakota. You can learn much more about tribes in Wisconsin from the excellent website wisconsinfirstnations.org.

One of the ways in which Native American heritage affects the daily life of all Wisconsinites is through place names. Many place names in our state are based on words from different American Indian languages, with varying degrees of accuracy. But some Wisconsin place names were just made up to sound like American Indian words. It’s possible that the name of Viroqua, the largest city in Vernon County, is one of these.

The origin of the city’s name has many possible sources, the most concrete being an 1848 novel, Viroqua; or, The Flower of the Ottawas, a Tale of the West, by Emma Carra. The museum owns a copy of this book. The story is purportedly about the Ottawa tribe, but the author doesn’t seem to have had much knowledge of American Indians. So the question becomes, is “Viroqua” actually an American Indian name?

In his 1991 book, Indian Names on Wisconsin’s Map, Virgil Vogel writes about the name Viroqua and about this novel. He suggests that Viroqua is “probably a manufactured name”, and notes that novelist Emma Carra “made little effort to use credible names for her characters”.

Vogel also writes that the “terminal syllable -qua [in Viroqua] is commonly attached to Algonquian women’s names”. (Algonquian is a language family that includes many Wisconsin Indian languages.) When Lester Randall, chair of the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas, visited Viroqua this past summer, he said something similar, that a Kickapoo woman’s name often ends in -qua or-quh.

But the beginning of the name, Viro-, has no apparent origin. So it’s possible that novelist Emma Carra created the name Viroqua based on American Indian names and words that she had heard.


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For the week of 11/3/2019
by Kristen Parrott, curator

The first Armistice Day, now called Veterans Day, was observed 100 years ago, on the first anniversary of the official end of World War I. The armistice ending the war had been signed on November 11, 1918, and one year later people all over the world, including those in Vernon County, marked the day. Soldiers were still returning home from overseas postings at that time. The remains of those who had died and been buried in far-off lands had not yet been returned to their hometowns for reburial. The recent war was still very much on people’s minds.

That first anniversary prompted WWI veterans in Vernon County to form American Legion posts in their communities. The nationwide American Legion organization had just been created earlier in the year, and now local posts were being founded.

American Legion posts were named for soldiers who didn’t survive the war. The first post in the county was organized in Viroqua, and it was named for Private William A. Jacobson. Jacobson was born on Asbury Ridge in 1898. He volunteered for the army just before the U.S. declared war in April 1917. Jacobson served in the hospital corps. He was in one of the first units to go to France, and was assigned to the famed 32nd Division.

On October 7, 1918, Jacobson was killed in action near Gesnes, France, while helping the wounded on the front lines. For this act of bravery he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Jacobson was buried in France.

The post in Westby was named for Private Miles R. Syverson, who was born in Westby in 1895. He served in Company C of the 16th Infantry, 1st Division. Syverson was killed in action in the Argonne Forest in France on October 8, 1918, one day after Jacobson. He was the first soldier from Westby killed in the war. In September, 1921, his body was returned to the U.S. and reburied in Coon Prairie Cemetery.

The American Legion post in Hillsboro was named for Clifford M. Harrison, the first serviceman from the Hillsboro area to die in the war. He was born in 1892 and enlisted in February, 1918. He served in the Navy, Company O of the 10th Regiment.

Harrison died in a naval hospital in New York, probably of Spanish influenza. Coincidentally, he also died on October 8, 1918, the same day as Syverson. Harrison was buried in Mount Vernon Cemetery in Hillsboro. His gravestone indicates that he was a machinist’s mate for naval aviation, a very new position during WWI.

We’ll look at the original names of a few more American Legion posts in Vernon County later this month.

The museum is now on its winter hours of Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, noon to 4PM, or by appointment. The last meeting of the year for the genealogy class will be Thursday, November 14, at 10AM, at the museum. Teacher Karen Sherry will talk about genealogy websites.


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The previous two articles:

October 27, 2019

October 20 2019