Aztalan State Park: Crawfish River Area Fun, History, and Scenery in Jefferson County, Wisconsin

by DerdriuMarriner

Aztalan does not look like a Wisconsin park or town name. It suggests cultural links with Mexico's Aztecs. But Aztalan's mounds and stockade trace Illinois' and Wisconsin's past.

The name Aztalan designates a state park and a tiny town in Wisconsin. It nevertheless does not appear on any of the Badgers' and Packers' state's native and settler name lists.
• It exists as Judge Nathaniel Fisher Hyer's topographic invention in 1837.
• It intends to suggest shared cultures, genealogies, and languages between the Aztec peoples of Mexico and the mysterious residents of Aztalan.

Natural and social scientists now know that such an ancestral, cultural, and linguistic pooling finds no surviving evidence in historical records, local traditions, or physical remains.
• Park and town visitors like being updated by interpreters on these latest discoveries and theories.
• They also relish accessing the year-round recreational and scenic opportunities in Aztalan.


Aztalan State Park
N6200 Hwy Q
1213 S. Main Street
Lake Mills, WI 53551

GPS Coordinates: °43.065563 °-88.859566
Telephone: 920-648-8774


Jefferson County, Wisconsin: namesake of Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826), 3rd U.S. President (March 4, 1801 - March 4, 1809) honors Jefferson County, New York, point of origin for settlers to counterpart county in Wisconsin ~

1800 oil on canvas by Rembrandt Peale (February 22, 1778 – October 3, 1860)
White House Art Collection
White House Art Collection


Jefferson County commemorates:

  • The same-named New York county origins of early settlers;
  • Third President (March 4, 1801 – March 4, 1809) of the United States of America Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826).

Since its politico-administrative creation on December 7, 1836, with 468 settlers, it enjoys a convenient location in southeastern Wisconsin. It forms western borders with Dane County, seat of the state capital named after fourth U.S. President (March 4, 1809 – March 4, 1817) James Madison, Jr. (March 16, 1751 – June 28, 1836). It gives easterly access through Dodge County to the state metropolis Anglicized to Milwaukee from the respective Native American Ojibwe and Potawatomi designations ominowakiing and minwaking for “Gathering place (by the water).”


Snapper Prairie, about 10 miles (16 km) north of Aztalan State Park: small remnant of formerly large 2,500 acre low prairie in floodplain of the Crawfish River.

Jefferson County, southeastern Wisconsin
Jefferson County, southeastern Wisconsin


Lowlands and ridges encourage county transits. Resources explain Lake Michigan, Mississippian, and Woodland settlements. They include:

  • Basswoods (Tilia americana), elms (Ulmus americana, rubra), sugar maples (Acer saccharum) in the east;
  • Black spruces (Picea mariana), cedars (Juniperus virginiana), tamaracks (Larix laricina) in the southeast;
  • Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii, scoparius) prairies in the northwest and southwest;
  • Bulrush (Scirpus spp), nut-grass (Cyperus spp), sedge (Carex spp), spike-rush (Eleocharis spp) meadow-marshes in the central-west;
  • Lakes (Bean, Blue Spring, Golden, Goose, Green Isle, Hahns, Hope, Koshkonong, Marsh, Maunesha, Mud, Perch, Red Cedar, Ripley, Rock, Rose, Round, Spence, Spring [Lower, Upper], Victoria);
  • Millponds (Hoopers, Rome, Watertown);
  • Oak savannas (Quercus spp) in the west;
  • Ponds (Cushman, Firemen Park, Kurtz);
  • Rivers (Ashippun, Bark, Crawfish, Rock, Scuppernong).


Pickerel frog (Lithobates palustris, formerly Rana palustris) transitions from Crawfish River to terra firma of Aztalan State Park

amphibious landing
amphibious landing


Year-round water access acknowledges 26 square miles (67.34 square kilometers) in wetland configurations out of a total county area of 583 square miles (1,509.96 square kilometers). It also arises from:

  • 160 frost-free days;
  • 7.9 to 84.5°F (-13.39 to 29.17°C) in temperature ranges;
  • 33+ inches (83.82+ centimeters) each in annual precipitation and snowfall.

Vegetation sustained by geographical, hydrographical, and meteorological confluences historically attracts:

  • Bear, beaver, buffalo, deer, elk, fox, moose, muskrat, raccoons, squirrels, wolves, woodchucks;
  • Birds;
  • Frogs, toads;
  • Turtles.

Its nourishing, sheltering possibilities historically draw sufficient bank- and stream-dwelling arthropods to accommodate freshwater populations of:

  • Bass;
  • Buffalo fish;
  • Catfish;
  • Drum fish;
  • Gar;
  • Pike;
  • Suckers.

Its light-filtering role encourages phytoplankton- and zooplankton-eating mussels to control algal and bacterial populations.


Map of Aztalan: 1850 survey by Increase Lapham

I. Lapham, The Antiquities of Wisconsin (1855), Plate XXXIV
I. Lapham, The Antiquities of Wisconsin (1855), Plate XXXIV


Numerous springs account for Jefferson County’s people- and wildlife-pleasing, year-round unfrozen waters. They are one of many reasons why Aztalan perseveres as a:

  • Community politico-administratively unincorporated but geographically located within the same-named town;
  • Festival annually realized on the Sunday closest to July 4th;
  • Museum operated by Lake Mills – Aztalan Historical Society, Inc.;
  • National Historic Landmark, 1964-;
  • National Register of Historic Places resource, 1966-;
  • State park, 1952-;
  • State park friends group, 1994-.

The name’s back-story begins with stockaded mounds being:

  • Discovered by Timothy Johnson (June 28, 1792 – January 29, 1871), 1835-/1836-;
  • Mapped and named by Judge Nathaniel Fisher Hyer (March 2, 1807 – September 12, 1885), 1837-;
  • Surveyed by Increase Allen Lapham (March 7, 1811 – September 14, 1875), 1850-.


depiction of Yacatecuhtli in Patterns of Merchants in Codex Borgia, Mesoamerican ritual and divinatory manuscript written prior to Spanish Conquest of Aztec Empire (February 1519 – August 13, 1521):

Presently housed in the Vatican's Apostolic Library, the namesake of The Most Rev. Dr. Stefano Cardinal Borgia (Dec. 3, 1731 – 1804) was discovered among Cardinal's effects in 1805 by Prussian explorer Alexander von Humboldt (Sept. 14, 1769–May 6, 1859).
Codex Borgia, p. 55 (cropped)
Codex Borgia, p. 55 (cropped)


Literate North Americans associate hierarchy, maize, pyramids, and squares with Aztecs. They assume the chronicled truth of Aztecs and the Nahuatl language being non-native to Central Mexico. Water-plentiful Wisconsin becomes a possible origin point since:

  • Aztlán, the Aztecs’ legendary homeland, means “near water”;
  • Aztec long-nosed god maskettes honoring Yacatecuhtli, patron god of pochteca (itinerant, long-distance merchants) number among Aztalan’s copper earrings;
  • Aztec settlement of Mexico overlaps with Aztalan’s abandonment during the 12th – 13th centuries.

But researchers generally favor highlighting Illinois’ and Wisconsin’s respective Mississippian and Woodland peoples since the meticulous examination of on- and off-site evidence by Dr. Samuel Alfred Barrett (November 12, 1879 – March 9, 1965) as Milwaukee Public Museum Curator, 1909-, and Director, 1920 – 1940.   


restored earthen mound with screen of posts

Aztalan State Park, Jefferson County, southeastern Wisconsin
Aztalan State Park, Jefferson County, southeastern Wisconsin


The 172-acre (69.61-hectare) park claims:

  • 11th – 13th century-built burial and storage pits, circular residences, conical and effigy mounds, fish weirs, garbage dumps, gravel knoll, flat-topped pyramids, rectangular trench-houses;
  • 20th century-reconstructed palisades, steps, watchtowers.  

Milwaukee Public Museum-stored artifacts include bone-, metal-, stone-made:

  • Abrader-stones, awls, axes, celts, chisels, drills, hoes, hammer-stones, knives, paint-stones, pestles, scrapers, spades;
  • Arrowheads, hooks;
  • Baraboo pipestones;
  • Beads;
  • Burned clay-and-grass bricks;
  • Chunkey game-playing disks, spears;
  • Ear-spools;
  • Gulf, river shells;
  • Hixton silicified sandstone from Silver Mound;
  • Lake Michigan and Woodland grit-tempered, Powell Plain and Ramey Incised shell-tempered pottery;
  • Mississippian tri-notched projectile-points;
  • Upper Peninsula copper.

Aztalan’s treasure-piece is the 25-year-old, 5’6” (1.68-meter) “Princess” buried with 18 funerary beads and covered with 1,978 beads in three 54-inch (1.37-meter) belts.


Samuel Barrett noted "Princess" burial as "unique in Wisconsin archaeology": young female, 20 - 25 years of age, with deformity of spinal column and wrapped with three belts decorated or woven with clam shell beads:

belt around shoulders with 585 beads, belt around waist with 846 beads, and belt around lower part of legs and ankles with 547 beads, for a total of 1,978 clam shell beads (Samuel Barrett, Ancient Aztalan, p. 243)
S. Barrett, Ancient Aztalan (1933), Plate 36, Figure 2, opp. p. 474
S. Barrett, Ancient Aztalan (1933), Plate 36, Figure 2, opp. p. 474
Public Domain, via personal collection



Locals and visitors frequent Wisconsin’s Aztalan State Park for:

  • Fun;
  • History;
  • Scenery.

Fun is the natural outcome of:

  • Boating, canoeing, fishing, and kayaking the Crawfish River;
  • Jogging, skiing, snowshowing, walking 2 miles (3.22 kilometers) of open-prairie, ungroomed trails;
  • Hunting and trapping designated open areas;
  • Picnicking in open and reservable shelters;
  • Sight-seeing.

It easily links with equally enjoyable educational experiences through the archaeology and history lessons inherent in human- and nature-made landforms and reconstructed, restored and surviving monuments. As a result, visits to Aztalan State Park tend to be delightfully habit-forming since a day is not enough to:

  • Determine if the fish weir and surviving mounds really are haunted;
  • Enjoy the four-season beauty of Wisconsin's most mysterious site.




My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


Historic marker for Aztalan State Park: Wisconsin State Natural Area #408

Jefferson County, southeastern Wisconsin
Jefferson County, southeastern Wisconsin

Sources Consulted


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The Wisconsin Archaeologist 79(1&2):223-248.

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Aztalan State Park, Jefferson County
Aztalan State Park, Jefferson County
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Aztalan: Mysteries of an Ancient Indian Town by Robert A. Birmingham and Lynne Goldstein

Aztalan has remained a mystery since the early nineteenth century when it was discovered by settlers who came to the Crawfish River, fifty miles west of Milwaukee.
Aztalan-themed books

Wisconsin watercolor map: black t-shirt ~ Available via AllPosters

Wisconsin Watercolor Map
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Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved.
Updated: 01/03/2022, DerdriuMarriner
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