Deep History of SWT Land in Wisconsin
The oldest layer of bedrock in WI is igneous (volcanic) rock, formed during the Precambrian Era (1-2 billion years ago). This was the time of plate tectonics, when the continents and mountains of the world were formed. Next came the Cambrian Explosion (488-501 million yrs ago), when the widespread diversity of life came into being. This started the Paleozoic Era. At the time of the Mid-Ordovician (~450 million years ago), the land was under a warm shallow saltwater sea, located on the equator. Over the years, shells from marine creatures and sand were laid down as sediment (sedimentary rocks). Limestone (calcium carbonate) was precipitated from shells dissolved in seawater. Dolomite (dolostone) was formed later, when magnesium carried by seawater percolated through the limestone, replacing a portion of calcium in the rock. This process destroyed most sea life fossils. However, people have found pieces of fossilized coral at SweetWood.
The dolomite rock here is porous and filled with pieces of harder chert. Common chert is a variety of chert, which forms in limestone formations by replacement of calcium carbonate with silica. Eventually, the Native Americans used chert to make arrowheads. The previous owners when plowing the fields of SWT found arrowheads. When a chert stone is struck against an iron-bearing surface, sparks result. This makes chert an excellent tool for starting fires.
Sandstone was also laid down, made up from silica (quartz). It may be that, over many years, acidic water dissolved this silica & percolated through porous sedimentary rocks. Then it precipitated out in thin layers of tiny clear quartz crystals (called ‘druzy’ in the jewelry trade). Sparkling druzy stones are found at SWT. Red clay (iron oxides) was also found near SWT land when digging the foundation for the Caretaker’s house.
The glaciers, starting about 2 million years ago, erased the last 400 million years of geologic history from the Wisconsin geologic record. We are missing the ages of coal beds and dinosaur fossils.
SweetWood is located in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin (also called the Paleozoic Plateau). Around 85% of the Driftless Area lies within Wisconsin, with some parts in Iowa and Minnesota. The area is an elevated region of Paleozoic sedimentary rock, with limestone & sandstone outcrops, and deeply carved river valleys. ‘Drift’ is a generic term for any sediment or stones left by glaciation. (In the present, this sedimentary bedrock lies near the surface, so soil erosion can be a problem.) The last glacial period, popularly known as the Ice Age, was the most recent glacial period, which occurred from c. 110,000 to 11,700 years ago. The last Wisconsin glaciation was 71,000 to 12,000 years ago. The Driftless area was spared from this glaciation.
There is some controversy about whether the Driftless area was also spared from earlier glaciations. The latest concept of the origin of the Driftless Area is the pre-Illinoian continental glacial ice flowing over the Driftless Area and depositing on it pre-Illinoian till, which is more than 790,000 years old. When the ice retreated and uncovered the area, erosion from wind and melting snow removed it.
While glaciers moved past the Driftless Area during one advance or another, they never fully encircled it during a single advance. It is hypothesized that the uplands and Baraboo Range to the north protected the region from glaciers advancing from the north, and the ice age did not last long enough for glaciation to fill in from the east and west. The region has been subject to the regular catastrophic effects of glacial lake outburst floods from nearby glacial meltwaters. These created the steep hills and valleys we see today. The valleys in the Driftless area have 100s of meters of deposits laid down during the last 1.8 million years. SWT itself is mostly ridge top land, with deep valleys in the north and west.
Today, ‘Karst topography’ is found throughout the Driftless area. Caves, disappearing & underground streams, sinkholes and springs characterize this. Karst occurs whenever acidic water breaks down the soluble limestone or dolomite. As cracks widen, they create underground drainage systems that can transport water over long distances. The water ecology here is very fragile because water pollution from one place can easily travel to another. Rainwater quickly moves through the crevices into the ground, sometimes leaving the surface soil parched between rains. SweetWood land has no caves or springs, or at least we haven’t found them yet! There is a silt-filled spring near our Southwest boundary line. The valleys in our woods drain water that eventually feeds into the Kickapoo River. SWT is in the ‘Kickapoo watershed’. There are large springs near SWT land that provide clean drinking water straight from the earth – a precious resource that deserves vigilant protection. SweetWood now shares a well (over 400 ft deep) with the Caretaker’s home, and water is tested every year.
The areas untouched by historic glaciers are known as refugia by ecologists. These unglaciated areas held the seeds, plants, animals, and other organisms native to the region before glaciation. The refugias were essential to the recolonization of the landscape after the glaciers receded. Historic migration routes of many plants can be traced back to these areas. The Driftless Area acted like a seed bank, preserving seed that eventually spread far and wide, renewing life on landscapes left barren by the glaciers.
The area here is considered a “dry temperate forest” with mostly oak, maple, hickory and aspen. Pine, cottonwood, elm, ash and basswood trees also grow here. A forester told Jack that SWT lies on the border between an oak savanna and a mixed deciduous forest ecosystem. SWT has a forest management plan with the Kickapoo Woods Co-op. In 2015 a PhD forester from Platteville took core samples from some of our oaks. She said our forest was very healthy, and it made her want to dance!
Humankind’s History of Local Area
The archeological evidence suggests that the Paleo-Indians first dispersal into the Americas occurred near the end of the last glacial period, around 16,500–13,000 years ago. They were big game hunters that moved around the landscape in small groups following prey species like wooly mammoth and mastodon. Mastodon fossils have been found in our area. Woodland Indians came later and created more permanent villages, agriculture, and trading that developed during the Archaic Period (8000 BC - 2000 BC). They also built large mounds some in the shape of animals. The Effigy Mounds National Monument in NE Iowa is in the Driftless Area and contains the largest collection of mounds in the world - over 200.
Numerous federally recognized tribes have been identified as having linguistic and cultural ties to the various ancestral peoples who built the effigy and other earthwork mounds at the monument site, including the Ho-Chunk Nation of WI. Effigy mounds, mounds in the shape of animals, have also been found as burial sites for the early Wisconsin inhabitants. Mississippian culture was also a significant era in the history of the early populations in Wisconsin over 1,000 years ago. In Wisconsin, these people are called ‘Oneota’.
More than 450 prehistoric archaeological sites dating between 10,000 B.C. and A.D. 1150 have been identified by archeological surveys within the Upper Kickapoo River Valley Prehistoric Archeological District (this extends north from the town of La Farge (6 miles from SWT). It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Burial Mounds in this District are conical, oval, or linear. These mounds are commonly thought to be affiliated with the Woodland Indian Tradition (500 B.C. to A.D. 1000). Generally, they are situated on prominent areas of high ground, often 100 to 200 feet above the valley floor. Some mounds were ritually constructed over a long period of time with different burial episodes adding to the size and shape of the mound. No mound sites have been found on SWT ridge-top land. If there were, local farmers have cleared and plowed the land since 1858, erasing any mounds that may have been present.
The Menominee, Ojibwe (Chippewa), Potawatomi, and Ho-Chunk peoples are among the original inhabitants of Wisconsin. (The Ho-Chunk were formally called the Winnebago, a derogatory term meaning ‘of the stinking waters’.) The Ho-Chunk tribe considered the rich forests and rivers of southwest Wisconsin as their homeland. They planted and gathered food, hunted deer and small game, and settled in villages. The name ‘Ho-Chunk’ comes from the word ‘Hochungra’, meaning "People of the Big Voice" or "People of the Sacred Language." The Ho-Chunk people were forcibly relocated west several times by the US federal government in the 19th century. In the 1870s, a majority of the tribe returned to their homelands in Wisconsin.
Ironically, these archeological surveys were performed in connection with plans for a proposed dam, reservoir, and recreational area to be constructed within this portion of the Kickapoo Valley, near La Farge. As settlers occupied the valley in the early 1900s, they cut down the trees, plowed the land and yoked the Kickapoo River for milling. Erosion of the topsoil on this hilly area led to the silting up of the Kickapoo River. (‘Kickapoo’ is an Algonquian word meaning “one who goes here then there”, describing this very crooked river.) The river’s periodic flooding became a problem.
In the 1962 Flood Control Act, Congress authorized the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a flood control dam—the La Farge Lake Project. The Corps bought the land (8,569 acres), removed the houses and buildings, and began erecting a large, earthen dam across the valley floor. Overtaken by the economic and environmental concerns of the late 1960’s and 1970’s, the dam project was stopped in 1975. The dam lays 39 percent complete; a five-story concrete control tower stood on the valley floor, and the Corps had spent approximately $18 million.
Over the next 20 years nature gradually reclaimed the La Farge project area. Trees have covered the valley, which the Corps had cleared for a 1,780-acre, 12-mile long reservoir. In the 1996 Water Resources Development Act, Congress completed the circle. It directed the Corps to return up to 1,200 acres to the former Native American inhabitants—the Ho-Chunk Nation—and the rest to the State of Wisconsin. The Kickapoo Valley Reserve (KVR) Management Board now oversees the state’s portion. Two members of the Ho-Chunk Nation sit on the board. Preserving the land’s return to nature, the 1996 act directs the Ho-Chunk and the State to manage the Kickapoo Valley Reserve for low-impact tourism and education.
Modern History of SWT Land
Wisconsin became a State in 1848, but the land here was deeded to the first European settlers (the Buchanan family), from the United States government in 1858, as part of a larger parcel. The parcel changed hands many times over the years and was subdivided into smaller parcels. As described above, some of the land was farmed and the climax forests of maple, oak, hickory, (among others) were logged. They did spare a few oaks and a large cottonwood tree we now call the ‘Grandma Tree’. These activities caused erosion of the topsoil of the ridge. In the 1960s, pine trees were planted between the farm fields and the woods to reduce erosion. SweetWood members now have made terraced campsites in these pines. The woods were only selectively logged in 1980, and now are recovering well. (Some trees were used to build the caretaker’s home in 2008, but only diseased or damaged trees, or trees that needed be thinned to release the growth of nearby trees.)
One foggy day in March 1992, Jack and Kim first saw the land that would become SweetWood Temenos. It was love at first sight! Jack first discovered the Driftless area in the 1970s and fell in love with its hills, forests and valleys. When Jack and Kim first met, they both had the same vision – a place in the country to steward and call home. Jack grew up on a farm, and Kim was always seeking green spaces since childhood. They became love partners on Beltaine 1990. Together they pooled their resources and started the search for land. When Jack first showed Kim the Driftless area, she also fell in love with its wild beauty.
The 60 acres of land was first placed for sale only on the local real estate market. It didn’t sell. On the day Jack and Kim saw it, the land was listed on the national real estate market. They quickly paid the earnest money to hold it. Kim’s mother, Norma, gave them a $5K loan for the down payment, starting the process of paying off the land contract. Without her trust and generosity, SweetWood would not exist. (Later in 2007, the Goddess spoke in ritual and made Norma our first Saint of SweetWood Temenos.) Also, thanks should go to our former landlord, John, owner of the farmhouse we lived in. Jack had helped him out with some personal problems, so our rent was very inexpensive. This, and both of their full-time jobs, allowed them to pay off the land contract in only 3.5 years (in 1995).
Jack and Kim felt they have ‘ransomed back’ the land from the market. They hope that it would forever be a green paradise. Jack and Kim decided to forgo the WI property tax reduction and allow the woods to grow into a climax forest, instead of being regularly logged according to the State’s program. They explored the land and found a magical wild place. A wide variety of wild herbs and mushrooms grew in abundance. Snakes & toads were a sign of a healthy and rich forest ecosystem. They decided that the field, rented by a local farmer, should be organic (7 years later it was certified).
In 1995, the first thing Jack did was to create a 60 ft wide circle in the woods. The location was an old ‘turn around’ that was cleared when it was last logged in 1980. First, Jack and Kim cleared the thorn bushes and then hired a local man with a bobcat to level the space and put down gravel & sand. Jack then bought limestone from a local quarry and, by himself, built the walls around the circle. (He had experience as a stonemason.) Jack and Kim were married on New Year's day in 1995 in a small ceremony. After the circle was completed in August 1995, they also had a large Neo-Pagan marriage ritual there and invited family & friends. Jack and Kim Ingersoll married each other and also the Land. Their vision of a sacred place for Neo-Pagans, (and those of like mind), to gather was born.
In 1997, the Land welcomed the folks attending the 1st Annual Freedom Gather. Most, including Jack & Kim, were members of CAW (Church of All Worlds) at the time. Our group called ourselves the ‘Upper Mississippi Valley & Great Lakes Scion Council’. The site was primitive. We had to bring everything in; water, shelter and a porta-john. When Jack & Kim moved to nearby La Farge in 1998, they were able to act as Caretakers & supervise making the land friendly for humans. Members made improvements like making paths, gardens, mowing grassland and terracing campsites in the woods. An outhouse was added in 2002.
When Jack & Kim moved from the Madison WI area to La Farge, they brought stones from their circle in the countryside around Madison to SWT. (They were part of a Neo-Pagan group called ‘Phoenix Arcana’ in 1989 to early 1990s.) Jack built the altar in the North at SWT and included these stones.
SWT became a legal entity in WI in Mar 2000. SweetWood Temenos was Iacchus’ ‘clergy project’. On paper, SWT ‘leased’ the Land from Jack & Kim, but over the years they never collected any money. They both wanted to support the growth of SweetWood. In 1999, Jack (aka Iacchus) was on his 10-day vision quest to become a Priest of CAW. He envisioned a green enclosure around SweetWood land. He called it a “Plum Blossom Vision”. His vision manifested on Earth Day weekend, April 2004. Members and friends helped to plant 600 wild plum, hawthorn and pine trees around SWT land. Jack paid a local farmer to till & furrow, so the planting would be much easier. The Sky Gods smiled upon us - it rained after we were done.
Also in 2004, SWT decided to strike out on its own, separating from CAW and became its own federally recognized 501c3 Church (a year-long process starting in 2003). The Feds backdated our own organization’s status to year 2000 (when we were first considered a subsidiary organization of CAW).
We had been holding a Freedom Gathering every year since 1997. We had to rent a big tent each time, but of course we couldn’t have a fire in a canvas structure. Member’s dues & donations grew over time, so they all paid for, and helped to construct a permanent picnic shelter in the summer & fall of 2004. An underground electricity line was run back to SWT (& eventually to the shelter). On May Day 2005, SWT started to celebrate all 8 quarters and cross-quarters of the Wheel of the year. Jack & Kim then decided to build a house next to SWT, which was finished in 2010. They made sure that a property line was drawn between their homeland and SweetWood land, so SWT was unencumbered by their mortgage. They dug a large well, so SWT could share the water. SWT contributed to installing a larger pump and paid to have the water piped back to their site.
The most expensive improvement to SWT was a bathhouse with showers & toilets. (Over the years, hauling solar shower bags & renting porta-johns grew tiresome.) Wisconsin law required a septic field, even for ‘gray water’ & composting toilets! SWT always had a pay-as-you-go monetary strategy, so building a bathhouse was years away. Then the unthinkable happened – twice. Two of our beloved priestesses, Kyril and Kris, died from cancer in 2013 and 2014. They both bequeathed enough money to build a bathhouse for SWT. Again, members and friends worked together to help finish it in the late summer of 2015. There are some plans for smaller future improvements. Land in the field was leveled in early 2017 for those who have campers, and should be ready for use in 2018. SWT is now ready to be a welcoming place for our members, friends, and others of like mind.
Jack and Kim Ingersoll are planning to gift the land to SWT in 2017, at an astrologically beneficial time.
It has been a long slow process, but the perseverance and joyful love of the people for the land of SweetWood has created a place to contemplate, recreate and celebrate. It only took 20 years! Waiting Is …
Evolution of the Driftless Area and Contiguous Regions of Midwestern USA Through Pleistocene Periglacial Processes by Michael Iannicelli The Open Geology Journal, 2010, 4, 35-54 an open access article licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http: //creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/ 3.0/)
The Blue Mounds Area Project - newsletter Spring 2012, vol 15 #1
The Geology of Bluff Country by Gary Erickson MN SW thegeologyofbluffcountryfea.pdf
Richland County Title Abstract, Southwest Wisconsin Land Title Corp.
Jack’s Vision Quest 1999.doc
Articles of Incorporation of SweetWood Temenos (Mar 2000)
IRS Confirmation Letter of 501c3 as a Public Charity as a Church (Aug 2004)