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Indian Mounds at Canyon Camp

Updated: Sep 27, 2021

In 1926 University of Chicago archaeologists surveyed a group of Indian Mounds located on a hill overlooking the Apple River on the Robert Morris farm, later to become Canyon Camp. They located and documented a series of 8 mounds, 2 linear and 6 conical, in a north to south configuration on the ridge above the present main camp area.

The mounds probably date to the Woodland Culture which existed from 500 BCE to 1000 CE and were constructed for various purposes. The alinement often coincided with seasonal events such as the winter and summer solstices. The shapes were often ceremonial or in the case of some conical mounds, were used for burials. For that reason, the State of Illinois classifies all Indian Mounds as grave markers even though not all were used for burials. Indian Mounds are protected by State Law and fall under the prevue of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and any disturbance is prohibited.

Although the Indian Point Indian Mounds have been known to the Scouts since the property was acquired in the 1930’s, little attention has been paid to them over the years. That is until, the Illinois Department of Transportation decided to repair a bridge in the area. As part of their planning for the bridge project, IDOT was required to determine if there were any archaeological sites within a 2-mile area. It was at this point that the Illinois State Archaeology Survey became involved and a search of the records turned up 11JD18, The Robert Morris Group, at Canyon Camp, which had been surveyed by the U of Chicago back in 1926.

In the spring of 2019 ISAS contacted the Council about doing a resurvey of the site to confirm the location of the mounds. I volunteered to head up the project and at the Kiwanis Work Weekend that year attempted to locate the 8 mounds. I was successful in locating 6 of the 8 mounds.

On Saturday, June 3, Kenton Geier and his crew from ISAS visited camp and surveyed the mounds and were able to find the possible location of the two mounds that I was unable to find. At this June meeting I discussed with Kenton the possibility of preserving the mounds and restoring them so they could be utilized in our program at camp as a learning experience for our Scouts. He was receptive to the idea and referred me to Paula Porubcan, the Field Director for ISAS. She indicated the ISAS would be very receptive to the idea of working with us in the project and referred me to Dawn Cobb at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources since any work on the mounds would fall under their jurisdiction and a DNR permit would be required.

The summer and fall of 2019 was spent in the planning stages for the proposed project which would include clearing the mounds nearest to Indian Point Campsite of brush, fallen limbs and weeds. Contact was made with Dawn Cobb at the DNR and information was gathered about what type of State Permit would be required for the work. At the Woodcutter’s Ball in October 2019 a group of interested Scouters gathered to plan out the work. A plan of action was agreed upon which included clearing the mounds and relocating several of the tent platforms in Indian Point Campsite further away from the mounds. Educational materials would be developed so that the mounds could be integrated into the camp program.

It was decided that the Spring Work Weekend in 2020 would be the time to get started on the project. Then, Covid 19 came along and the Work Weekend was cancelled as was the Woodcutters Ball in the fall. With camp closed for the summer and fall, work on the project could not be started.

I kept in touch with ISAS and the DNR throughout this time and in early spring 2021, when it looked like we would be able to at least be able to do some limited work on the mounds, I applied for the Permit from the DNR and contacted ISAS and asked them to participate in our work at the Spring Work Weekend. Paula Porubcan responded immediately and said she and Kenton Greier would be there to oversee the efforts and assist us.

I applied for the necessary permit for the project from the DNR. The plan and the permit were approved for a period of one year, until March 2022. The permit can be renewed if work is not completed withing the time frame. So, all was set for the weekend of May 1 & 2.

We began our work on the mounds on May 1. It was a beautiful weekend and we had a volunteer crew to work with. Joining us in the project were Paula and Kenton from the ISAS and Jake Pulfer and Jim Johannsen from the Jo Daviess County Conservation Foundation. The work went quickly and the areas of Mounds 1,2, and 3, the mounds at the East edge of the campsite, were cleared which was our objective for the day.

Indian Point Campsite- Mound 3 After Clearing Brush

In the clearing of the mounds, it became obvious that sometime in the past all three of these mounds had been disturbed. In a discussion with Paula and Kenton, I asked if it would be possible to restore them to their original configuration. They were of the opinion that it probably could be done with no problem but referred me to the DNR for further approval. They also suggested seeding the cleared area with grass seed to prevent addition erosion.

We completed our clearing project by lunchtime and following lunch Ken and I went back to the top of the hill to investigate the possible location of additional mounds which had been indicated on the Lidar Map of the area, and we were able to locate an addition three intact conical mounds to the east of the original survey. That brings the total of known Indian Mounds in the Camp to 11. The two new sites have been designated 11JD826 and 11JD827. Paula indicated that the ISAS would be more than willing to work with us on documenting these addition mounds for future consideration for restoration and preservation but that would be a future project.

Our plans for the Woodcutters Ball on October 9, include clearing away the brush, weeds and fallen tree limbs on mound 4 and work on mound 6 and possibly locating mounds 7 and 8 in the woods to the north of mound 6.

The project once completed will include signage on the mounds and educational materials on the history of the Native Americans in the area. An Operating Gift Fund, (660) OP19-2019, of $500 has been established with the Council to help offset costs of the Indian Mound project. The $500 gift was anonymous. Additional contributions would be appreciated to help with the endeavor. Bill Determan- Project Chair

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