FOX 47 - Road Trippin'

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Road Tripping: Lake Mills, Aztalan

LAKE MILLS- Fox 47 took another Road Tripping, this time about 30 minutes east of Madison to the Lake Mills area.


It's an area full of history, especially Native American history. We visited Aztalan State Park, a place rich in some of the country's oldest stories.


When we met Bob Birmingham, an archaeologist and author of many Aztalan publications, he started our tour across a vast field where more than 900 years ago Wisconsin's first organized town was established. It was a very complex, native civilization, home to about 500 people.


Southern WI was the northern frontier of this very complex society we call Mississippians that mysteriously disappeared around 1200ad.


"They came here, moved in with some local native people and built a town that epitomizes their religious and cultural beliefs,” said Birmingham.


The inhabitants built large platform mounds of dirt that still stand today, all modeled after the great town of Cahokia in East St. Louis, Illinois.


"Upon those mounds were buildings that had a great deal of religious importance to the people in the town,” Birmingham said.


The largest mound was built for the leader and its engineering is quite impressive. The area was once filled with homes, temples and other examples of a very civilized society.


"Aztalan fits into not only American history, but world history as well as a representation of the development of early civilization."


This form of society disappeared around 1200 ad


"Cahokea, the great city was abandoned, Aztalan was abandoned,” Birmingham said.  “Where did these people go? It's quite probable they were absorbed into other surrounding native populations."


Oneoda was the new culture that developed following the Mississippians, moving us into the modern tribal-era when Europeans arrived.


Modern tribes such as Ho-Chunk and other southern states tribes such as the Cherokee share many aspects of the Mississippian culture.


The site is what drew European settlers to the area. In the late 1830's land surveyors found the ruins, walls, platform mounds and places where houses stood. This discovery came right after the settlers forced the Native Americans off their land.


Birmingham said explorers didn't believe a ancestors of current tribes could create such an advanced society.


"The thinking was there couldn't be Indian people because they're too uncivilized, they couldn't be their ancestors,” said Birmingham.


So they wrongly assumed a connection to the Aztecs, which lead to the name Aztalan, the Mexican homeland of the Aztecs.


Explorers and scientist started visiting the area to learn more about it and its relationship to American history.


As a result, settlers became attracted to the area and formed a settler town a short distance away, also named Aztalan.


There you can see the small village the earliest settlers created.


If you continue into town, downtown Lake Mills offers a variety of shops, a charming town square and a majestic library.  All just a simple jaunt from madison.


Aztalan is open year-round. There's a fundraising campaign underway to finance a Visitors center at Aztalan. You can find out more here. http://i94.biz/aztalan/aztalan.html  


DNR State Parks site:






Road Tripping: Lake Mills, Aztalan

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