The grounds of UWSP: A forgotten past
By Kris Leonhardt
Continued from previous week
Over time, the presence of the Native Americans and the noted burial grounds drifted into the past. However, an email to a UWSP professor would change all of that.
“It all got forgotten, until I received an email, maybe in about 2016-17 for an archeologist over in Minnesota – a colleague of mine,” said UWSP Emeritus Professor of Archaeology Ray P. Reser. “He was working for the Ho-Chunk tribe, and they were trying to find any historic burials by going through newspaper accounts and trying to locate those historic burials so they could protect them under the state of Wisconsin burial sites law.”
Reser’s colleague referenced the September 1932 newspaper clipping with two lifelong Stevens Point residents’ recollections of the burial site.
“Of course, I had no idea of the burials, but as soon as I saw that they were in a quarry it all kind of came together,” Reser recalled.
Reser did a little more research, trying to find the exact location of the quarry.
“I found a letter (dated 1950) from a contractor in Oshkosh to the president of (UWSP), and they were trying to build what is the Student Health Center, which is right next to the Student Services Center, and those are both a little bit east of the Dreyfus University Center,” Reser explained.
“So the contractor is saying, ‘Look, we came in. We started digging a basement where you want to put this new building. We only got down about three feet, and we immediately hit all of this bedrock and an old quarry. So, we cannot build the building where you want to build it.’
“Well, the building did get built in that exact location, but if you look at the old Student Services building and Student Health Center, which are both just west of the hospital and just north of Old Main; what you will notice is both of those buildings, their basement sticks out of the ground. They were unable to go down because they hit the stone quarry.”
That gave Reser and his colleague a partial location, noting boundaries on the east and the north, which paired with the photos from the 1890s, give a good location on the south and the west.
In speaking with some Wisconsin tribes, Reser, through another colleague, was able to locate the presence of the Potawatomi tribe in the area back in the indicated burial time frame.
“A Potawatomi (representative) got back to him and said, ‘You know, we do have an oral history of quite a number of people getting sick in Stevens Point. They then traveled up to Mosinee. They were not allowed into the village of Mosinee. People came out at gunpoint and told them to keep moving.’
“North of Mosinee and a local couple filled up a buckboard – a wagon – with food and set it out so these Native Americans would have something to eat. Those Native Americans then went up to Big Bull Falls – now it’s Wausau – and then we sort of lose track of what happened to them.”
Next week: Declaration by the state