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Canoe find me?

Team searches for sunken Native dugout canoe

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published May 15, 2007, 3:23 p.m.)

Richard Alter and Charlie Daniels radioed each other back and fourth Friday morning while floating on separate boats on Delavan Lake.

Together, the Delavanites tried reminiscing about where exactly they were some 35 years ago when their five-pronged diver's drag hook snagged an artifact that might have been close to 200 years old or more.

"Were we this close to shore?" Daniels would ask from a boat equipped with side-seeking radar.

"I think we were out more this way," Alter replied from a pontoon boat loaded with a state archeologist and three scuba divers itching to get wet.

In about 1971, Daniels, a dive instructor, and Alter, then a diving rookie, found a piece of an historic Native American dugout canoe, likely from the Potawatomi tribes that used to inhabit the area.

The chunk of canoe Alter brought to the surface is lost now. An old newspaper article said the find was somewhere between Lake Lawn Resort and the Harbor Inn, a restaurant where the Delavan Hotel now stands.

The team searched about three hours Friday morning with the radar and marked several possibilities, but the rest of the canoe remains lost.

"We went right over it. It's out there," Daniels said, assured they were searching the right area. "It ain't going anywhere. It's worth its weight in gold to the museums and to the Indians."

On hand for the search was Michael L. Alloway, Sr., director of the Forest County Potawatomi Cultural Center, Library and Museum.

"With the addition of a dugout canoe, it will enhance our story to the public about our history," Alloway said.

The Potawatomi, a woodland tribe, had a strong presence in the upper Midwest. City names including Milwaukee, Waukesha, Mukwonago, Mequon and Wauwatosa are all Potawatomi-inspired, Alloway said.

"Years and years ago, the Potawatomi occupied this area," Alloway said of Delavan Lake. He noted the effigy mounds on the Lake Lawn Resort property. "It could have been a village or a gathering site or a number of other important areas."

State Archaeologist John Broihahn said there aren't too many original dugout canoes found in Wisconsin.

He suspected the canoe is from the late 1700s to early 1800s and was between 12 and 15 feet long.

Natives may have purposefully sunk the canoe in winter time to keep it from drying out, or possibly to keep someone else from paddling away with it, Broihahn said.

Although unlikely, there could be other Native American artifacts found near the canoe. A dugout canoe found in Lac du Flambeau had fur-trading tools in it, Broihahn said.

Dugout canoes are made by hallowing out a log with stone or metal tools and fire, Broihahn said. They were a major mode of travel among the Great Lakes Indians and were used for trading and fishing, Alloway said.

Daniels and Alter aren't sure if they'll find it, but are sure the rest of the canoe is still resting in Delavan Lake. If they find it, it will be preserved by the state Historical Society and likely find it's way into the Forest County Potawatomi's museum.

"We know it's sitting there," Daniels said. "It's worth every effort. We will fine-tune our efforts and we'll pick it up.

"It wants to come up and see the sun. It'll happen."


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