Ask most individuals where they are from and they will provide you with the name of a village, town, or city. They will identify some place where a number of people live and houses or buildings have been built. This is usually the case even if they live far from others. We all live our lives in communities. These communities give us a sense of place and a framework to understand the world. Not only do they have a place in space they also have a physical appearance. An appearance that is made up of buildings and houses, the arrangement of these structures, the natural environment in which they stand, and in the memories they evoke.
Communities also take other forms. They may be groups of people who are unified because they share a common interest: scuba diving, stamp collecting, or football. They may be groups of people united because they share religious or spiritual beliefs. People we work with on a regular basis form an important community that can be central to our lives and can at times dominant our day-to-day living. These communities may extend beyond the towns and cities in which we live. Today they can extend across the continent and around the world with the globalization of our lives.
Because communities play such a central role in people’s lives, much has been written about them. Writers, historians, sociologist, and archaeologists have spent time talking about what communities are and what they mean to the people who live in them. The stories on the accompanying pages are about communities that have much in common, but differ in aspects of time and space. Aztalan was a thriving agricultural and trading community that grew up on the banks of the Crawfish River starting around 1000 years ago. It came to be a large fortified community with an impressive stockade, large religious shrines, and a vibrant downtown. By 800 years ago, however, it became a ghost town. Why? What factors lead to the departure of the people who called Aztalan their home? What do the Aztalanians share in common with the people who once lived at Old Belmont or Powers Bluff?
Old Belmont, Wisconsin’s territorial capital, began to take shape in the late summer and early fall of 1836. Prompted by the need for a meeting place for the delegates to the territorial legislature Old Belmont was built on a section of flat prairie in southwestern Wisconsin. The legislatures arrived in October 1836 and by 9 December 1836 the session was over, the legislatures were gone, and the furnishings were being sold. This small political town lived on, however, and even today a cluster of homes, buildings, and historic structures mark the location. Old Belmont was a political creation; it became a small rural community and finally a Wisconsin historic site.
Prairie Band Potawatomi and members of the Ho-Chunk, Ojibway (Chippewa), and Menominee nations that came together to form the community of Powers Bluff also acted in part out of political necessity. Power’s Bluff, or Tah-qua-kik, in Wood County Wisconsin was occupied from ca. 1905-1930. The community rapidly became the center of regional and pan-Indian ceremonial activities involving the Dream Dance or Big Drum and the Medicine Society. Despite being under intense pressure to assimilate the residents and visitors to Tah-qua-kik used the community to preserve traditional beliefs and practices. It grew to between 70 and 100 residents in the early years of the twentieth century and contained a small number of log, frame, and tarpaper houses, ceremonial structures, two dance areas, and two cemeteries. Life was difficult, however, and by 1930 the people moved on to other communities. While the people moved away and the physical evidence of the settlement faded, the community did not pass from the memory of the residents or their families.