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Ground Penetrating Radar at Potter’s Field

By David K. Williams

Dunn County’s Potter’s Field cemetery lies just east of the Menomonie city limits, in the northeastern corner of the county’s Highway Shop yard. With generous local support, in 2022 the cemetery was fenced off from the highway shop yard, thus creating a much more accessible cemetery for interested local history buffs and genealogists.

Unfortunately for those genealogists, there are only three grave sites we can actually identify with a name. Two headstones have stood in the cemetery for the past hundred years, and the discovery of a foot stone identified a third site. Records from past burials—the last burial occurred in 1952—were lost over time.

Taken from the Friend's of Potter's Field Facebook page.

Many of those buried in Potter’s Field were residents of the Dunn County Asylum for the Chronic Insane, or the Dunn County Poor Farm. But there are a number of other burials we can find in local newspapers, or county records offices. At present, research shows at least 110 burials in Potter’s Field. A sign at the site identifies the names of these former residents of Dunn County with dates of death. But we don’t know if those 110 are the total burials, or who is buried where.

New research, which might help with these questions, is in the works. Through  the involvement and interest of Dr. Harry Jol, of the Department of Geography and Anthropology at UW-Eau Claire, he and a number of his students have begun scanning Potter’s Field using ground penetrating radar.

On November 11th, eight students and Professor Jol laid out a grid 20 meters by 58 meters at the cemetery, and began scanning the grid in quarter-meter increments. The research tool pictured in the accompanying photo, sends a radar signal down to a depth of four meters (about 13 feet), which records where earth has been disturbed. Professor Jol is quick to say the research can not specifically show a burial, but the earth disturbance is labeled an “anomaly,” and is most likely a burial.

Learning where specific burials are located will help those of us who formed the group Friends of Potter’s Field about a dozen years ago, know where individual burials are. There is some indication of burial locations as the volunteer mowers bounce over the undulations of the turf, but more precise locations would be helpful, and may indicate there are more than the 110 individual burials our research has identified.

Students will be analyzing their scanning work from November 11th, which covered about a quarter of the one-acre cemetery. In subsequent scanning efforts, students hope to cover the entire cemetery. It may also be possible to note other foot stones like the one recovered, and thus put names on specific sites.

The Friends of Potter’s Field is a volunteer group which has taken responsibility for maintaining and beautifying this final resting place for some of our county’s less fortunate earlier citizens. Burials include residents of the Asylum and Poor Farm, but also lumberjacks, transients, poor people whose families could not afford burials, and even some criminals, like the 1931 Kraft State Bank robbers, who were shot by local citizens while trying to escape. Though poor, indigent or unlucky, these former citizens deserve an appropriate final resting place like everyone else.

For more information about Potter’s Field, consult the Friends’ website at Potter's Field also has a Facebook page.


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