Reflecting on a “giant” of a man
With all the trips I've made to Muscoda through the years, I never took time to introduce myself to and visit with Frank Shadewald. I was too busy doing yard work on our Wisconsin River property, or visiting with or fishing with neighbors. Even though Frank lived just down the road, it seemed a little odd that I might knock on the door of someone I didn't know. I figured I would bump into him in town someday, or that someone would introduce us eventually.
I regret to report that now it's too late. Frank's funeral services are today. He died suddenly at home Saturday at age 80. His obituary in Tuesday's Wisconsin State Journal called him a “giant' of a man.
Shadewald was keeper of “Frank's Hill” in the Richland County town of Eagle. He and his hill were featured in a recent edition of Our Wisconsin magazine, but I likewise regret that I've misplaced that copy.
Though I never met him, it's not like I never took time to visit Frank's Hill. I bought our river property more than 15 years ago, before Cheryl and I wed. Perhaps 10 years ago, we drove to Muscoda in early May for the annual Morel Mushroom Festival. We took in the crafts, bought a bag of morels, enjoyed the volunteer fire department's steak fry, and also took a narrated bus tour—free, mind you—of local Indian mounds. We knew Indian mounds were in the area; heck the Ho-Chunk Nation owns the farm across the road from our property, and that street happens to be called Effigy Mounds Road. A nicely trimmed and marked effigy mound lies at the foot of that dead-end road, across the river from Muscoda and a mile or so downstream.
The highlight of the bus trip was Frank's Hill. Frank would have been there to tell his story as longtime keeper of the hill. It's so close to our land that you can see the Ho-Chunk farm's silo next to our property from atop the hill. We climbed the hill with our guide, but unfortunately, Frank wasn't there that day. Word had it, as I recall, he was caring for his ailing wife. He hadn't had time to mow the hilltop, and that was unfortunate, too, because trimming it helps make the striking Indian mounds atop it much more distinctive.
A story by the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board explains: “Frank Shadewald has made the vernal and autumnal equinoxes and the summer and winter solstices special events in the lower Wisconsin River valley. Shadewald formerly owned a farm on the river in Richland County west of Muscoda that contained a group of mounds. The farm was sold to the Ho-Chunk Nation and became part of three farms that comprised the now defunct, or on hiatus, bison ranch. Frank then purchased a nearby property that contains another very special group of effigy mounds and calendar mounds. The site is known as Frank's Hill and is on the National Register of Historic Places. There appears to be clear alignments between the mounds and celestial happenings, including the solstice and equinox events.”
Frank is gone, but online you can find photos of Shadewald's mounds.
You also can find a short video of Frank atop his hill, telling about the mounds and a couple of spiritual experiences he had.
The obituary didn't say where he might be laid to rest. Perhaps his body was cremated. If so, I wouldn't be surprised if his ashes are spread atop that hill so his spirit can join those of ancient Ho-Chunk members.