A few weeks ago one of our Daily Times staff members asked if we had any knowledge of why that short little street on the north side of town would have been called "Mound Street."
Mound Street is a short one, one block in length, and it connects Elizabeth Street with North Avenue. The street sits on a hill and overlooks the Rock River.
That was an interesting question, one that made us scratch our head, do a little research and ultimately get some help from Ken Riedl, Watertown historian, who is as fascinated by our local history as we are.
Ken found a mention of Mound Street in the "Watertown Remembered" book written by Dr. Elmer C. Kiessling that shed some light on the issue. "Watertown Remembered" is an excellent resource when learning about Watertown history. Doc Kiessling spent a great deal of time and effort on research to get the book published several decades ago.
Here's what that book had to say in one of the earlier chapters: "When one of them died (presumably an Indian), a straggling band would be likely to accompany the corpse, wrapped in cloth and strapped to a pony, to some burying ground in the vicinity.
"There was such an Indian cemetery above Elizabeth Street north of the River.
"Indians did not bury deep into the ground but heaped earth over the corpse. The short Mound Street, which branches off from Elizabeth, memorializes the new obliterated burial mounds. If the deceased died during the winter, his carefully wrapped body might be suspended from a higher branch on a tree until frost disappeared and the body could be buried. Indians regarded their funeral rituals and burial grounds with the greatest reverence. But some settlers thought the funeral processions were only a ruse to obtain whiskey or engage in thievery.
"In 1841 a troop of U.S. dragoons passed through the county, rounded up a number of Indians and removed them to the west, but most of them returned. The Watertown Democrat of July 31, 1873, estimated their number in the county at between seven and eight hundred.
"At that time an intensive effort was made by the Indian agency and Indian relatives in the West to persuade them to leave Wisconsin and take-up permanent residence on a Nebraska reservation.
"Around Watertown some of them made their home on Indian Hill, the first of the hills east of Watertown on Highway 109 (now County Highway R). Miss Margaret Ott remembers her grandfather, William Bittner, telling that when he crossed this hill on his way back to town with a wagonload of pigs or cattle for his butcher shop, Indians would help him hold back the wagon on the downhill slope so that it would not run into the shanks of the horses. For this favor they expected him to supply them with free sausages.
"Other Indians were encamped around Mud Lake, south of Reeseville, and in the area between the Crawfish and the Rock rivers, north of Milford.
"They hunted and trapped and occasionally came to town with their squaws, papooses, dogs and a pony hitched to the travois on which they had piled their muskrat skins, which they sold for 10 cents apiece. Indian boys would offer to shoot pennies off hitching posts with bow and arrow. They sometimes got into fights with the white boys."
From this account by Dr. Kiessling, Mound Street certainly does have a direct connection to the Indians and their burial spot along the banks of the Rock River.
Indian remains have been found in several areas of Watertown and while we don't recall any being found in this exact area where Mound Street is located, it certainly is named after the Indian mounds in that general area.
It's one more tidbit of Watertown history which has been right before our eyes but we never connected the dots or even thought about the possibility of its being named after Indian mounds in the area.
The search for information on Mound Street brought back some memories for us about another street in Watertown which had an unusual name and made a lot of people wonder how and why it got that name.
We'll get to that story in this column at another time.
Watertown has lots of interesting street names and there often is a story behind why they were named.