Mindy Moon never expected to find the mysteries buried under the old cottonwood tree behind her house.
Moon, who lives along Pleasant Street in New Lisbon, was disappointed when the more than 100-year-old tree blew over in a strong storm that whipped through the county last month. She called local stump remover Mike Edwards to extract the tree and what he found just below the roots was fascinating.
Edwards discovered a few very old glass bottles and kept digging. He found several more, both large and small, until about 50 were unearthed. Many of the bottles are still intact and contained the engravings of Dr. Peter Fahrney and Sons, a doctor based in Chicago in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Fahrney made concoctions to treat blood disorders and other ailments, especially for soldiers affected by the Civil War.
Edwards dug a little deeper and just below the bottles found what appeared to be remains, small bone fragments and ashes.
“At first I thought they were animal remains, but I had my wife look at pictures and she’s a nurse and she said, ‘No, those are human,’” Edwards said.
Edwards told Moon about the findings and she was very surprised and somewhat shaken. She contacted local authorities who said there were no missing persons or cold cases which would relate to the discovery. Besides, the fragments are so decomposed they’ve likely been there for several decades.
“Mike came across this burnt substance and at the time we really didn’t know what it was, I was thinking it could have been burnt garbage, who knows?,” Moon said.
After finding the suspected remains, Edwards and his wife talked to Juneau County Coroner Linda Mitchel-May. The coroner gave them masks to protect them from any harmful chemicals along with materials to store the fragments for testing. Moon has contacted the Wisconsin Historical Society and is working on getting an archeologist to test the remains.
Mitchel-May said her department typically works with a forensic scientist from UW-Madison to analyze remains and create a DNA roadmap. The corner hasn’t confirmed it is human remains, but she finds the discovery very intriguing.
“She wanted to go through the historical society, which is good. I think she’s going through the right people,” Mitchel-May said. “I’ve kind of backed away from this. Mindy expressed taking it on herself and that’s fine.”
It might take weeks for results to come back proving the remains are human, and if they are, who they belong to.
“Since the bones are old and there are no missing persons, it’s probably just a burial site,” Moon said. “Once the archeologists deal with it we can hopefully give it a proper burial.”
While he had no way of knowing, Edwards said he’s worried he may have disturbed an ancient Native American burial plot. Moon said if archeologists determine it is a burial site, she will have the chance to name it.
“I was freaking out and wondered why the construction guy was extracting bones and not the police and the coroner,” Moon said. “But they followed their protocol and didn’t do anything wrong. I’m going to put up some no trespassing signs and a fence in the time being and I can’t touch anything out there until we find out what it is.”
Moon has lived in the home since 2012 and currently has it on the market. Through a recent remodeling process, she didn’t find any suspicious items hidden in the walls.
“At first I thought the bottles might be from the bootlegging days,” Moon said. “But then we found out they’re old medicine bottles.”
Until the fragments are analyzed, the mystery of what’s under the old cottonwood lingers.