Teejop (Dejope): significance and history

The Ho-Chunk have called Teejop (pronounced Day-JOPE [J as in Jump]) and the shores of Waaksikhomikra (Where the Person Rests) home for time immemorial.  The Ho-Chunk, along with the Menominee, are Indigenous nations whose Creation Stories are rooted in what is now known as Wisconsin.

In Hoocąk (Ho-Chunk language), Teejop translates as “Four Lakes”, named after the deep lakes that define the landscape and that provide a high quality of life for all living beings (plant and animal) in between the periodic ice ages that covered Teejop in a mile-thick sheet of ice.

Teejop is an extraordinary cultural center more commonly known today as Madison, WI.  Ho-Chungra oral tradition states the Ho-Chunk “have always been here,” and the contemporary Ho-Chunk Nation reminds that “more than likely, we will always be here. Ho-Chunk history is not told in history books, but spans back beyond possibly three ice ages. The Ho-Chungra have traditional lands that go from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Illinois.”  In the Ho-Chunk language, Teejop means “Four Lakes”, named after the river chain of four lakes that define the landscape:

Mąą’ii yahara (Catfish River, now Yahara River),

Waaksikhomikra (Where the Person Rests, now Lake Mendota),

Čihabokihaketera (Great Tipi Lake, now Lake Monona),

Sahu Xetera (sp.) (Tall Reed Lake, or Lake Waubesa), and

Nąsąkučitera (Hard Maple Grove Lake, now Lake Kegonsa).

Evidence currently documents human activity along the lake shores of today’s campus for at least 12,000-years.  Along the Four Lakes, early surveyors documented the Ho-Chunk producing over 3,000 bushels of corn (84 tons) at the Ho-Chunk seasonal agricultural villages of Old Turtle, Four Lakes, and Broken Arm, now known as the towns of Middleton, Madison, and Monona, WI.

The contemporary campus is considered to be among the most archaeologically-rich campuses in the United States today, in part due to Teejop being located in a cultural center of the mound building peoples who created massive monumental art burial sites that circumscribed each of the Four Lakes.  In Dane County, conical mound (hemispherical) and linear mound (wall-like) burial sites were first created ~2,500-years ago, with effigy mound burial sites (representation figures) first created ~1,500-years ago. There were over 1,200 burial sites known as conical, linear, and effigy mounds in Teejop, and there were over 20,000 conical, linear, and effigy mounds located in what now comprises 41 of the 72 counties in Wisconsin.  Today, there are 34 extant mound sites on campus. Each of the mound sites are burial sites; please treat them with respect.

To get a sense of their extraordinary design, the largest bird effigy on Waaksikhomikra (Lake Mendota) had a wingspan of 624 feet, and the largest bird effigy discovered along Nįkusaxunų (the Wisconsin River) had a wingspan of 1,300 feet.  In Teejop, the monumental art effigy mounds often resembled bears, canines, birds (including bent-winged geese and thunderbirds), and water spirits.  Two effigy mounds found on the UW-Madison campus are rare or unique, the bent-winged goose (Willow Creek) and the double-tailed water spirit (Observatory Hill), and each of these sites was successfully submitted by UW-Madison to the National Register of Historic Places.

UW–Madison’s inaugural director of tribal relations Aaron Bird Bear discusses the cultural landscape of Teejop in a 2014 episode of University Place on PBS Wisconsin.