City of Madison Landmarks Commission: Landmarks and Landmark Sites Nomination Form: Vilas Circle Bear Effigy Mound and the Curtis Mound
The Madison Landmarks Commission designated the Vilas Circle and Curtis Indian Mounds (ca. 700 - 1200 A.D.) as a landmark on May 19, 1975:
Native American Mounds in Madison and Dane County (1994)On the western edge of Vilas Circle Park is an Indian effigy mound in the shape of a bear. It is 82 feet long and is almost intact except for part of the rear leg which was lost to road development. There is also one linear mound of an original group of two remaining on private residential property south of Vilas Circle. The bear, in the religious beliefs of the mound builders, probably symbolized life on the earth's surface, including people; birds probably symbolized sky spirits; and mounds described in the past as "lizards" may have represented water spirits. It is not clear exactly what the linear mounds represented.
Wisconsin has the highest concentration of effigy mounds in the United States and the Madison area has one of the highest concentration of effigy mounds remaining. Most mounds were lost to 19th century agricultural practices and city development. The mound builders were farmers who also engaged in hunting and gathering. They lived in small villages and migrated from one to another based on the seasonal availability of natural resources. The mounds often, but not always, have burials associated with them, but their exact purpose is not entirely understood. Mounds tend to have been built in places with beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. The mounds are considered sacred by modern Native Americans and should be treated with respect.
Published by the City of Madison and the Native American Center
When Vilas Avenue was platted in the 1890s, the developers created a small oval park in the 1400 and 1500 blocks to preserve a large Late Woodland bear effigy. The mound is at the west side of the park. Part of the rear leg [of the bear] was destroyed during street reconstruction. The bear was once part of a large group that consisted of the bear, seven linears and a conical mound. One of the linear mounds remains nearby on private property (inaccessible).Bear Mound Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places: Wisconsin.