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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 11/22/2017
by Kristen Parrott, curator

November is Native American Heritage Month in the United States. This celebration doesn’t seem to get much attention, but if you go looking for information, it is available.

To begin with, there’s a website: Native American Heritage Month. This site connects you to a wealth of useful articles, videos, and images. I wanted to know more about how the month got its designation, so I clicked on “About” and then was directed to the Library of Congress website. There I learned that, “Since 1995 Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama, and Trump have issued annual proclamations which designate November as National American Indian Heritage Month, or since 2009 as National Native American Heritage Month.”

Now I wanted to know why the name had changed, and seeing references to the National Museum of the American Indian, a Smithsonian Institution, I went to its website, nmai.si.edu. Under a list of frequently asked questions, I found the following: “What is the correct terminology: American Indian, Indian, Native American, or Native? All of these terms are acceptable. The consensus, however, is that whenever possible, Native people prefer to be called by their specific tribal name. In the United States, Native American has been widely used but is falling out of favor with some groups, and the terms American Indian or indigenous American are preferred by many Native people.”

The reference to tribal names reminded me that Wisconsin Public Radio is running a series of programs about Wisconsin’s tribes every Monday in November at 8PM. The programs are also available at the website wpr.org – search for “tribal histories”. Of special interest to our region is the program about the Ho-Chunk Nation: “By the banks of the Lemonweir River in what for ages had been Ho-Chunk territory, Andy Thundercloud shares the oral tradition of his people. Thundercloud tells of a traveling people who migrated across the land to become many different tribes, of the importance of maintaining the traditional language, and of the wonderful way of life he has known.”

So, bringing the subject to the local level, what information does our museum have about American Indians? An exhibit room on the second floor is devoted to prehistory and to American Indian history. Here you can learn about people who lived in this region during the Paleo era (11,500-8000 B.C.), Archaic era (8000-500 B.C.), Woodland era (500 B.C.-1000A.D.), and Mississippian/ Oneota era (1000A.D.-1650A.D.), and you can see stone tools that were made in those eras. You can also pick up free brochures about the Ho-Chunk of the modern era, covering such subjects as art, education, and commerce.

The museum’s reference library contains several useful resources, including Indian Nations of Wisconsin, by Patty Loew, and Wisconsin Indians, by Nancy Oestreich Lurie. And of course we have a large file and many books about the Black Hawk War of 1832, which ended tragically on the banks of the Mississippi River in what is now Vernon County. A “Black Hawk Trail” brochure is available free at the museum and other locations, and on our website, vernoncountyhistory.org.


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For the week of 11/15/2017
by Kristen Parrott, curator

Have you ever heard of “yard-long” photographs? These are wide format, or panoramic, photos, usually vintage black-and-whites. They can be as long or longer than a yardstick, or a little shorter. Yard-long photos were especially popular during the early 20th century. Many of the images are group shots, row after row of tiny people in old-fashioned clothing.

During World War I, wide format photographs were often taken of U.S. military units. The museum owns several such photos, and a few are now on display in the WWI exhibit area. At first glance the photos all looked rather alike to me, but once I began to study the images they became more distinctive. Best of all, Vernon County people are found in each of our photos.

The simplest photo is of the 341st Infantry Band, with just 32 people in it, all in one row. Oscar Skolos of Westby is 10th from the right with his clarinet. He served overseas from September 9, 1918, to July 10, 1919.

Some of the photos were printed with long captions. Here is my favorite: “Above you see the best company in the 90th Division – Company A, 359th Infantry. Existed six months in France; six months in the army of occupation at Crön, Germany. Fought in St. Mihiel offensive of September 12 to 16, 1918, and Meuse-Argonne offensive of October 22 to November 11, 1918. Over the top six times.” Sidney I. Austin, originally from Ferryville and later Viroqua, served with this unit and is probably in this photo.

In most of the photos the soldiers are dressed in full uniform, but in the photo of the 333rd Machine Gun Battalion, at Camp Grant, Illinois, the men are doing calisthenics in their undershirts and trousers. Hope it wasn’t too cold that day! Bernard James Riddle from the Town of Webster is in this photo. He was a private in Company C of this battalion, and served overseas with the 33rd and 86th Divisions in France, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

These extra-long images are hard to store. One good preservation method is to keep the photo inside a picture frame with glass, like all the photos in our exhibit. Sometimes you’ll find a wide format photo that has been stored rolled up into a tube, and then in order to be viewed it needs to be humidified first, gently eased open while the paper fibers still contain water, and pressed flat.

Stop by the museum sometime to see the “yard-long” photos in our WWI exhibit. Another good place to see examples of this type of photo is at the Library of Congress’ website, under “Panoramic Photographs”. If you want to see their yard-long WWI photos, narrow the search to “World War 1914-1918”.


yard-long photos
Display of "yard-long" WWI photos


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The previous two articles:

November 8, 2017

November 1, 2017