People who live in the Rock River valley might be surprised to hear the history that has taken place practically in their backyards. Luckily these places have begun to gain exposure through research and hard work by people dedicated to preserving the unique history of our region.
One such place is the Nature at the Confluence Center in South Beloit. This new “environmental center” sits in a strategic spot where Turtle Creek and the Rock River meet. The website states that the learning center opened in 2017.
The location gives no indication of the significance of the area. Many people might not even notice the new tower set back from the road as they drive by in their cars. There is little left to tell the story of the Native American village that once stood in the area surrounding these waterways. Yet in the early 1800’s this area was home to over 690 people.
According to the website for the center, the Ho-Chunk people once lived here in a village they named Ke-Chunk (translated as Turtle Village). This was a major settlement of the native people. U.S, States Indian Agent, John Kinzie described the village as having 35 lodges in 1829. Kinzie stated that Ke-Chunk was the largest of the 36 villages in this region. It is believed that these Ho-Chunk people migrated here from the village at Lake Koshkonong. One of Ke-Chunk leaders, White Crow was believed to have once settled there. Other tribal leaders that lived in Ke-Chunk included Whirling Thunder, Walking Turtle,and Little Chief.
White Crow was believed to have played a part in the Black Hawk War in 1832. Black hawk would have known of this substantial village and stopped here in an attempt to persuade the Ho-Chunk people to join him in the battle. White Crow was concerned about the survival of his people during this turbulent time caught between the U.S. Military and the marauding bands of Natve Americans that roamed this area.
Some historians think that the Ho-Chunks helped Black Hawk, possibly hosting and feeding the large band as it moved through the area in the Spring and early summer of 1832. They probably feared the consequences of this action because by the end of June 1832 the village was deserted. The Illinois Militia led by John Wakefield traveled through the area hunting for Black Hawk and his men and reported a large deserted village. Other leaders in the area defended White Crow and the Ho-Chunk. They stated that the Ho-Chunk left the area rather than join Black Hawk in the battle. The Ho-Chunk never returned to Turtle Village. By 1836 White Crow and his people lived in the Portage, Wisconsin area.
The early settlers of Beloit and South Beloit would tell of the Native Americans who would pass by and stop to visit the land which their families once lived and died. These people believed that that land was a sacred place.
That sacredness was lost for a time. The land became a dumping ground with discarded tires and garbage cluttering the wooded area between the three waterways. The area most recently became a camp for the homeless and transients in the area.
But that was before the City of Beloit, The City of South Beloit, The Ho-Chunk People and a whole lot of other people joined together. They decided to clean up the area and turn it into a space dedicated to the Native American Heritage of being stewards of the land and water. It is well on the way to becoming a sacred place once more.
The group has done wonders so far and could use help completing this monumental task. The Learning Centre though closed during the winter but offers free programs all year long.
Copyright © 2020 Kathi Kresol