Permanent Exhibitions

People of the Waters

People of the Waters is a long-term exhibition about Wisconsin’s prehistoric past that illustrates Native American culture which stretches back over twelve thousand years. The exhibition also celebrates the survival of Wisconsin’s Native Nations and the state’s eleven tribal groups.

The storyline and interpretive elements of this cutting edge experience are based on the most recent research. The Museum’s effort to tell this story resulted in national recognition by the American Association for State and Local History in the form of their prestigious Award of Merit in 2018. People of the Waters was reviewed for its scholarly work, creativity, and the involvement of multiple stakeholder groups. It was judged against museum projects from across the nation and selected for its excellence.

People of the Waters features interactive media kiosks and a dynamic forty-foot long glass wall that showcases an array of artifacts from the Museum’s extensive collection, representing at least 13,000 years of history from Paleoindians through the Fur Trade. Learn more about the over 1,000 artifacts that make up this incredible exhibition through the Virtual Exhibition.

As the earth rapidly warmed, the massive two-mile thick ice sheets began to recede. When they disappeared, the glaciers had gouged and transformed Wisconsin’s landscape, creating the vast Winnebago watershed we enjoy today. An animated, multi-touch video program takes guests on a journey through the last Ice Age.

Walk inside a full-sized recreated Oneota longhouse from 1,000 years ago to learn about daily life in a Native village. Uncover the past in a walk-over archaeological excavation to find out how artifacts left behind help archaeologists determine how people lived and how early people used the region’s diverse natural resources to survive.

Explore the history of trade, dating back thousands of years, and the way two radically different cultures came together and the effect on both. An innovative web-based Trap and Trade game allows players to experience first-hand how trading occurred, and discover how materials and goods from around the world made their way to and from Oshkosh. Download the free app.

These prehistoric cultures did not just disappear. Groups like the Oneota, who lived here between the years 1000 and 1670, gave rise to modern tribes. A Living Cultures area includes both historical and modern images of Native people in Wisconsin, in partnership with Wisconsin Public Television Education. Learn how Native cultures live on and hear the Menominee names of some local places through an interactive map of Wisconsin.

People of the Waters will continue to inspire visitors for many years to come. It provides an enriching and exciting K-12 field trip opportunity that aligns with and enhances classroom instruction. Also available online for download are complete lesson plans for all grades at the Elementary School, Middle School, and High School levels.

The Oshkosh Public Museum is the only museum in the east central region of Wisconsin that offers such a clear-cut educational experience. Essentially, People of the Waters appeals to anyone with an interest in discovering more about the region’s cultural history and understanding how past events shape our lives.

If you would like to schedule a group visit to the Oshkosh Public Museum, please contact Katrina Achilli at or call 920.236.5776.

The Museum wishes to extend a sincere thank you to the many individuals, organizations and foundations for their contributions, for through their generosity this important project was made possible. A special thank you goes out to the exhibition's major sponsors and contributors: Alberta S. Kimball-Mary L. Anhaltzer Foundation, Associated Bank, John E. Kuenzl Foundation, Oshkosh Area Community Foundation, City of Oshkosh, and the Frederick Schattschneider Durow and Marion Hughes Durow Trust Fund.

A huge thank you also goes to our exhibition team and extraordinary content experts for their guidance and dedication of their time and talents: Mike and Karen Ann Hoffman of the Menominee Nation Clans Committee, the Ho-Chunk Nation, Dr. Jeffrey Behm (UW Oshkosh), Dr. Ray Reser (UW Stevens Point), Dr. William Mode (UW Oshkosh), Dr. Joseph Peterson (UW Oshkosh), Jack Steinbring (Ripon College), and Split Rock Studios of Minnesota.

With the Wisconsin Act 31 Coalition, Wisconsin Public Television Education created the Wisconsin First Nations website, a robust collection of authentic and accurate classroom and professional development resources for exploring American Indian Studies in Wisconsin.

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