Ho-Chunk Nation, Kilbourn, and Wisconsin Dells

If you could breathe in a photo …

I’ve mentioned that one of my favorite things to do when going to a new place (and an old favorite!) is to seek out history museums, or really, any fun museums. Another thing I like to seek out is the hiking opportunities in the area, and if they happen to blend in history along the way? Even better! The hiking opportunities are not just a chance to take in a different perspective of the area, but a restorative necessity after a long drive, or just as a general matter. Hiking feels good. And a hike that involves water, like a lake or a river or a waterfall, is the ultimate restorative necessity for me because something about being near water is so calming and meditative.


One of the spots I hit up when I was in Wisconsin Dells — yes, I’ve been terribly procrastinating on uploading all of my photos and talking about my experiences in the Dells! — was the Scenic River Walk along the Wisconsin River where many of the famed boat rides occur. Even though this wasn’t a “hike” in the traditional sense — more of a walk, but I did do an actual hike, but more on that soon — what I appreciated about it was that a.) it took you down below and behind Broadway, the main stretch of road that has all the touristy spots, and b.) the Wisconsin River!

The only downside to the paved path was that it is a fourth-mile walk. That isn’t quite that long at only half-a-mile roundtrip. Still, it was worth it for the beauty of the views, the calming presence of the Wisconsin River, and for the history along the way.

I also love clouds.

Like a lot of areas west of the original 13 colonies, white settlers through the “legitimacy” of the United States government, pushed out by use of force, coercion, and fraud, the Native Americans already living there. The Ho-Chunk Nation settled in Wisconsin sometime in the 1630s. But purportedly, indigenous people have lived on the land for thousands of years. Oral tradition of the Ho-Chunk tell of a “serpent cutting through the land to create the river, its channels, fish, and wildlife.”

“To revitalize themselves.” They had it right.

As I imagine would be the case if the government tried to force you off of your land, the Ho-Chunk people kept returning anyway. Eventually, Chief Yellow Thunder and his family purchased 40-acres near Wisconsin Dells to preserve their connection to the land.

I think it still worked out for ’em.

Prior to being known as Wisconsin Dells, the area was called Kilbourn City after Byron Kilbourn, president of the railroad. H.H. Bennett, and his son, Ashley, made the area famous and a must-see tourist spot that takes in more than a billion dollars these days, wherein the name of the area would be changed to the Wisconsin Dells by 1931 to capitalize on tourism.

What a photo of the family.

Bennett served in the American Civil War, but was wounded, and so, after the war, he took up photography. The area with its river, gorge, sandstone formations from glaciers, and bluffs made for some of the most beautiful, breath-taking landscape photography the country had seen at the time. Perhaps his most famous image is the one of Ashley leaping across Stand Rock, which he made Ashley do numerous times to get the right shot. I’ll have more on Stand Rock in another post.

A better shot of some of the sandstones.

But yeah, look at the sky! The river! The trees! It was a quick jaunt, but well-worth it, especially to learn more about the history of Wisconsin Dells, and particularly, the Ho-Chunk Nation.

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