HORICON — Horicon was built on the site of a Native American settlement that was there for thousands of years.
So it was no wonder that when a limestone slab walkway was being installed to link the Satterlee Clark House Museum to other outbuildings on the site, artifacts would be discovered there.
Those artifacts are the inspiration for the Satterlee Clark House Excavation being held May 19 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. — and perhaps into the next day depending upon the weather and what is found. The museum complex will also be open Saturday, with donations gladly accepted to help the ongoing preservation and discovery work at the museum.
The dig is being led by UW-Milwaukee archaeology student Eric Anthony, assisted by other professional archaeologists. The public may observe, or may be allowed to participate, and to learn basic excavating techniques from leaders and assistants. Each discovery will be mapped and photographed, and detailed records will be kept to preserve the value of the discoveries.
If human remains are discovered, the dig will be postponed to allow careful documentation and removal of those remains.
Three to four square-meter areas will be excavated.
The house and other buildings are occupied by the Horicon Historical Society on what is arguably one of the most historic locations in the region. Some of the artifacts found when the stepping stones were being installed were fairly modern, and some may date back to the days before the arrival of the first white men.
“Artifacts were discovered between the house and a one-room school that also houses a collection of amateur archaeological finds,” said Dodge County Historical Society curator and professional archeologist Kurt Sampson. “Lonnie and Kevin Neu, who live nearby, oversee the site for the historical society. Their son, Lon, was digging to lay the slabs and as soon as the sod was removed artifacts started popping up.”
Lon, and others, found square nails, broken pottery, a boar’s tusk, trade beads, bone beads, part of a musket stock, pieces of glass and pieces of small porcelain figurines. Sampson calls it a potential midden — a trash pit that served both native and later occupants.
On May 19, some of the slabs and sod will be lifted to allow those present to dig deeper.
“We’ll stake out the areas and dig down,” Sampson said.
The Clark house was built in 1855, but Satterlee Clark started his career as an entrepreneur as a teenager in 1832. His father worked as a suttler, procuring supplies for the soldiers who were occupying what was then the western frontier. Clark followed in his father’s footsteps, eventually establishing a thriving trade with native people.
When Clark first came to Horicon, he described a large Winnebago Indian village of about 2,000 natives under the control of Chief White Breast. The chief’s family had controlled water traffic on the Rock River for generations. Clark described the area as having several wigwams around what is now Horicon’s downtown area, and other structures stretching to the eastern side of the river. There were many mounds around the site — many of which were destroyed as settlers built their homes and began to occupy the area.
Eventually, Clark established a trading site where he built his home. Trading was done one-on-one through a small window at the top of a narrow stair. The tight access was built, according to Clark, to prevent being overpowered by a group of potentially hostile natives.
Clark eventually became a state assemblyman, and later a state senator. He died in 1881, 26 years after he had built his house on the edge of Horicon Marsh.
That site was not only significant to European settlers, but was likely occupied by natives dating back to 12,000 B.P. (before present), or perhaps even longer.
“Nobody knows for sure how long the site was occupied, but paleo-Indian artifacts from that general area have been found dating back to that time,” Sampson said.
Hopes are high that significant items might be discovered during the dig.
“Ideally, we’ll find a garbage midden that has some layers intact that we can excavate down and see where a period begins and ends, or possibly even prehistoric features below them,” Sampson said. “The site has huge potential. What I’m hoping is that there are enough early historic artifacts that this could turn into a master’s or doctoral thesis for somebody.”