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'Ancient Gardens' Lecture Gives Insights
on the History of the Menominee People


Watch the 2013 lecture below


Dr. David Overstreet

The community was invited to a public address by David Overstreet, Ph.D., at 12 noon, Tuesday, Sept. 10, in the mezzanine classroom of the S. Verna Fowler Library on CMN's Keshena campus.


As the first Faculty Lecture Series presenter of the fall semester, Dr. Overstreet discussed "Ancient Gardens and the Little Ice Age."


The "ancient gardens" of the lecture title refer to raised agricultural fields found at many locations on the Menominee Reservation and throughout the Tribal Estate in Eastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Dr. Overstreet noted that such gardens were largely ignored by researchers doing excavations on the Menominee Reservation in 1919 and 1921 period. He cites the 1932 S. A. Barrett and A. B. Skinner publication – "Certain Mounds and Village Sites in Shawano and Oconto Counties, Wisconsin" – which emphasized mound sites with little discussion of village life or subsistence pursuits.


Dr. Overstreet reported on research at the College of Menominee Nation which has focused on these villages and their links to the Menominee Tribe. The ancestral Menominee constructed these raised fields, often called "garden beds," from about A.D. 1000 to 1500, Dr. Overstreet said. After 500 years of sustainable life-ways, however, there was a major population collapse shortly before the arrival of Europeans in the western Great Lakes.


For many years, this collapse was thought to have been the result of warfare, the introduction of European diseases, or climate change. Current research suggests that climate change in the form of the "Little Ice Age" (Neo-Boreal climatic episode) from about A.D.1550 to about 1880, could have contributed to the regional population collapse. In turn, maize agriculture may have been temporarily abandoned throughout northeastern Wisconsin in this period.


Dr. Overstreet said that other evidence provides a different picture. He notes that according to Major Matthew Irwin, the United States Government fur factor at Green Bay, Menominee bands were growing corn at all, or nearly all of their villages on the Menominee, Oconto, Fox, and Wisconsin Rivers from 1832-1838. General Land Office records also note Menominee cornfields at Lake Poygan, at Calumetville on the east shore of Lake Winnebago, and within the boundaries of the Menominee Reservation in the 1850s. Thus, during the latter days of the Little Ice Age, cornfields were commonplace in the Menominee world and other causes are considered for the pre-contact population collapse in northeastern Wisconsin.


Other Faculty Lecture Series programs for fall term will be given by Eric Jurgens on Wednesday, Oct. 9, and by Ryan Winn on Tuesday, Nov. 19. The programs are part of the College’s 20th anniversary celebration.