Indian History of Winneshiek County - 1913 - W

Winneshiek County

Indian History of Winneshiek County
Compiled by Charles Philip Hexom.  Decorah: A. K. Bailey & Don, Inc., 1913.


Biographies submitted by Dick Barton.


Old chief Winneshiek's Indian name is given by some historians* (*Fulton, "Red Men of Iowa;" Gue, "History of Iowa," Vol. 1; Sabin, "The Making of Iowa.") as Wa-kun-cha-koo-kah, but this is evidently an error. Wa-kun-cha-koo-kah* (*Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 30, pt. 2, pg. 996.) is the Indian name of chief Yellow Thunder, who migrated with his tribe to Iowa. Yellow Thunder did not remain long at the Turkey river, for within a year he and his wife (known in history as "the Washington woman")* (*Wisconsin Archeologist, Vol. 6, No. 3, pg. 150.) returned to Wisconsin; here he entered a tract of forty acres as a homestead on the west side of the Wisconsin river. He died in February, 1874. Yellow Thunder was greatly respected by his people, and was an able counsellor in their public affairs.

Other Winnebago chiefs known to have been in the county were Whirling Thunder (Wau-kaun-ween-kaw), Little Hill (Sho-gee-nik-ka) who, at Long Prairie, became head spokesman for the chiefs; Big Bear, and Kayrah-mau- nee, a son of Carrymaunee (or Nawkaw).


It is claimed by Alexander * (* In his History of Winneshiek and Allamakee counties.) that, "The name 'Wachon Decorah' is found translated in some places as the 'White Crow'; this is an error. There was a White Crow whose Indian name was Wa-haw-ska-kaw, also given as Kau-kich-ka-ka. He was a prominent Winnebago civil chief and orator and died about the year 1834 in Wisconsin , and was buried there. Spoon Decorah, a son of Old Gray-headed Decorah, stated that White Crow was a one-eyed chief.


George W. Kingsley makes the following statements: "There was a White Snake also, but he was not a chief, although a very prominent Indian. He died in Houston county, Minnesota , about the time the Decorahs lived in Iowa , his remains were left in a sitting position on the point of a hill about one mile north of the village of Houston . White Snake lost a part of his family in a massacre on the Wapsipinicon river, Iowa , a few years after the Black Hawk war while on an elk hunt, by a band of Sauk and Fox Indians by mistake. White Snake was part Sauk."

The speech referred to and partly quoted in W. E. Alexander's History of Winneshiek and Allamakee counties, 1882, and credited to Waukon Decorah, is obviously connected with this incident. Evidently the speech was made by White Snake. He complained that his tribe had been firm friends of the whites, had aided them in the Black Hawk war, and because of this had incurred the enmity of the Sauks and Foxes, who first struck at his own family. He desired some token of remembrance for his services.


And though the warrior's sun has set,
Its light shall linger round us yet.
- Translation from the Spanish by H. W. Longfellow.

Winneshiek, who seems to be a somewhat shadowy character, was a notable chief of the Winnebagoes. It appears that there was a family, like the Decorah family, that took that name. The name Winneshiek is evidently not a Winnebago name, but an Algonquian (that is, Fox) name, and is properly Winnishig and signifies "a dirty person who is lying down." He was commonly known by his Fox name. In his own language he was called "Wa-kon-ja-goo-gah," meaning "Coming Thunder;" he was also called "We- lou-shi-ga," meaning "ties them up," or "has them tied up." It is also said that his name in his own language was "Maun-wau-kon-kaw;" * (Wisconsin Historical Collections.) regarding the last two names Little Winneshiek says, "I understand that this name [We-lou-shi-ga] is a Sioux word for Wa-kon-ja-goo-gah, or Coming Thunder. The name, Maun-wau-kon- kaw, is unknown to us." The following treaty signatures show the name to be variously written: August 25, 1828, Green Bay, Michigan Territory, "Wee-no-shee-kaw;" February 27, 1855, Washington, D. C., "Wau-kon-chaw- koo-haw, the Coming Thunder, or Win-no-shik," (the first Indian to sign the treaty.)

From A. R. Fulton, in "Red Men of Iowa," we learn that, "He was promoted to the rank of a chief when quite young, and always maintained popularity among his people. * * * * Both physically and intellectually he was a remarkably fine specimen of his race. * * * * As a man he was modest, kind, and courteous; as a chief, dignified, firm and just in the exercise of his authority. * * * * Winneshiek was made head chief of the tribe in 1845 [at the Turkey river, Iowa], an appointment that did not affect his position as chief of his own particular band." Alexander states* (*In his History of Winneshiek and Allamakee Counties. There is no further authentic mention regarding this statement.): "He was made chief by order of the United States War Department, on account of his ability and fitness for the position. Under him as head chief, there were several chiefs of respective bands into which the tribe was divided." When the tribe was moved to Long Prairie, Minn., Winneshiek was the head chief, and in 1857, when they were at Blue Earth, he was called a worthy chief and ruler of his tribe.* (* Wisconsin Archeologist, Vol. 6, No. 3, pg. 156.)

Old chief Winneshiek was an intelligent and very kind man, and had perfect control over his people. He belonged to the Thunder clan, and was a member of the Upper phratry. Mr. Lamere says: "He is said to have been of medium size, had black mustache and chin whiskers. He was very handsome, and it is said that he always wore goggles, or dark glasses. He always carried a pipe, which was made out of a round stick about a foot and a half long with the stem hole bored through it, and the bowl bored into the other end; he carried this most all the time, and especially at council meetings would he have it with him."

Mr. Kingsley says: "We-no-shee-kah was strictly a pagan, he did not believe in the white man's way, therefore his band of followers, which consisted of about one-half or two-thirds of the tribe, were known as blanket Indians. He was a very shrewd, wise, and stubborn man, but free- hearted to everybody; no person ever left or entered the chief's great lodge without receiving something to eat. These were his teachings; he regarded all the Winnebagoes as his children and treated them as such. We-noshee-kah was no orator, therefore in council with the government, or otherwise, he always had a speaker. He was no traveler, although he made a trip or two to see his Great Father at Washington, President Polk, who, as a token of friendship, gave We-no-shee-kah a medal; struck on the reverse side were two hands clasped, an Indian's in that of a white man's [regarding this medal see statement by Little Winneshiek]. Chief We-no-shee-kah was a great father as well as a head chief. He had four wives; who, with himself and family, lived in one lodge. His principal home was about seven miles west of the village of Houston, on the Root river, Houston county, Minnesota; here he lived, during the winter, in a dirt wigwam." Fulton states* (*"Red Men of Iowa," pg. 158): "He had four wives, one of whom was the reputed daughter of Colonel Morgan, a former officer in the United States army;" there is no further authentic mention which corroborates this statement by Fulton.

That Winneshiek also had a camp on the Upper Iowa river is evident, as Antoine Grignon says, "While he [Winneshiek] was camped on the Iowa river my brother Paul and one James Reed visited his band to find out about some cattle the young Winnebagoes had stolen from the Sioux. They were given in compensation an equal amount of cattle, or a number corresponding to the number that had been stolen, and Winneshiek warned his band not to molest the cattle as they were being driven out, as the young men were making preparations to stampede the herd by waving red blankets in front of them."

P. V. Lawson, a Wisconsin historian, says* (* Wisconsin Archeologist, Vol. 6, No. 3, pg. 156; taken from Wisconsin Historical Collections 3, 287.): "The Indians in a drunken pow-wow at Prairie du Chien had killed his brother. Word of this tragedy being sent to him, he coolly loaded his pistol, and with it concealed beneath his blanket, went to the place where his brother lay. He had the murderer brought beside his victim and then suddenly shot him dead;" there is no further mention made of this incident. It is stated, * (*Wisconsin Archeologist, Vol. 6, No. 3, pg. 156; taken from Wisconsin Historical Collection 3, 287.) however, that Winneshiek was in 1829 head chief of the Winnebago village at La Crosse.

He was on the British side in 1812-15, and in 1832 refused to assist the Americans against the Sauks. When invited by the whites to join them, the matter was discussed with the chiefs and braves. "Win-o-she-kaw was opposed to the measure, and declined having anything to do with it. He said the Sauks had twice that season presented the red wampum to the Winnebagoes at Portage, and that they had as often washed it white and handed it back to them; further, that he did not like that red thing; that he was afraid of it. Waudgh-ha-ta- kau [evidently the One-eyed Decorah] took the wampum, and said that he with all the young men of the village would go; that they were anxious to engage in the expedition and would be ready to accompany us on our return."* (*Wisconsin Historical Collections, 2, - 257, 256.) A short while after this it was found that Winneshiek and Wau-mar-nar-sar had gone up the river with part of the band to hunt and dry meat.

His mother was a sister of Wabokieshiek (White Cloud), the half-Sauk, half-Winnebago Prophet, who assisted Black Hawk. Little Winneshiek says, "For this relationship he fought in a number of battles under Black Hawk in the war of 1832." Thomas Clay, an aged Winnebago, heard Winneshiek tell this from time to time at death-wakes, where the brave men, or warriors, were supposed to tell the truth. Clay's statement* (*As given by Mr. Oliver Lamere.) is as follows:

"Winneshiek was a nephew of a Sauk and Fox Indian called White Cloud [Wabokieshiek], that is why Winneshiek was an aid to the Sauk and Fox Indians during Black Hawk's war. Winneshiek was taking, or guiding, the Fox-Indians into the Winnebago country, or to the village, and as they were crossing the Mississippi river somewhere near where Prairie du Chien now stands, a steamboat came up the river and anchored in the middle of the stream. Then some one called out from the boat and asked if Black Hawk was there among them. 'Yes,' was the answer from the Indians. 'Will he surrender or not?' was the next question from the boat. Then Winneshiek spoke up, and said: 'Uncles (meaning the Fox Indians, as that was what he always called them), tie a white cloth to a pole and I will go and surrender.' So they made a white flag for him, but as he was about to get into the stream to swim to the boat, the Fox people said: 'Perhaps after all you had better not go,' and saying thus, they held him; and the soldiers in the boat could see that he was being held. Then Winneshiek said: 'Uncles, I meant to do this that you might live, but the result shall be your fault. Just then the question came again from the boat, 'Will you surrender?' The answer from the Indians was 'No! we will not surrender,' and no sooner was it said than the soldiers fired upon them, and even at the first volley many of the Indians were killed. Then Winneshiek said: 'Uncles, thus far only, am I able to be with you, as I shall leave you here ;' and saying thus, he and his real uncles went up the bank of the river and there watched the fight. When night came upon them, he took his Fox uncles back to the Winnebago village with him. When they arrived at the village, Winneshiek's mother met him, crying: "Oh! my son, because you have aided Black Hawk in the war, they have taken your father to the fort as a prisoner.' When the soldiers learned that Winneshiek was back at his own village they came after him and released his father. Winneshiek was questioned very severely, but he was angered instead of frightened, and he would not even speak, and for four days he would not eat the food that was given him. Then one of the officers said to his fellow officers: 'You must be very severe in questioning Winneshiek. I will question him myself, to-day. So the officer went to him and as he entered he called Winneshiek by name, greeting him and shaking hands with him, he said: 'Winneshiek, I understand that some officers have questioned you, but that you were angered and would not even speak to them, and I told them that they must have acted very ungentlemanly towards you to cause you to act as you did.' Winneshiek said: 'Yes, that is the way they have-acted.' 'That is what I thought,' said the-officer, and continued. 'Winneshiek, I am going to talk with you with good words,' and Winneshiek assented; so the officer said: 'Winneshiek, as you have been spoken to roughly, which caused you to not eat for four days, and as I am going to speak to you with good words, therefore I desire that you should eat before we talk and I will have cooked for you a very nice dog that I own myself, and at noon, after you have had your noon meal, then we shall talk.' Then the officer got some Indians that were about the fort to cook the dog for him in the way they usually cook them for themselves. So when it was thus served to Winneshiek and he had partaken of it, then he and the officer talked. The officer was very much pleased that Winneshiek talked with him in a good spirit. Then he said: 'Winneshiek, I am going to ask you a question and I would like to have you tell me the truth ;' Winneshiek assented. The officer asked: 'Were you with the Foxes in the war ?' Winneshiek said: 'Yes,' and the officer asked again: 'Did you take part?' Winneshiek said: 'As you have asked me for the truth, I will tell it to you, - yes, I took part.' Then the officer said: 'Winneshiek, I thank you because I asked you for the truth and you gave it to me.' Then the officer did not question him anymore, but left. Winneshiek was kept in prison one year for being an aid to Black Hawk."

Kingsley says: "We-no-shee-kah and his band after being moved about from one reservation to another were finally removed from Blue Earth, Minnesota, to Usher's Landing, or Fort Thompson, S. D. Here a part of the band starved to death and others died of exposure. He took the remnant of his band and started down the Missouri river in canoes, in hopes of going to St. Louis, and hence up the Mississippi to his native haunts in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota; but the old chief got as far down as St. Joseuh, Mo., and there winter overtook him and his little hand. The old chief took sick and died very suddenly. At this time the old chief evidently was on the Kansas side of the Missouri, as Mr. Lamere says: "He died in Kansas, or just across the southern line of Nebraska among the Iowa Indians." One wife and the family came through the next summer. Little Winneshiek, a son of the old chief, says: "My father traveled extensively in the interest of the tribe, he with other chiefs were in Washington on two occasions for the purpose of ceding large areas of land at each time to the Federal Government;" he further says: "Your county was named in honor of my father, Chief Winneshiek, who was considered the head of the Winnebago tribe at the time they were occupying the Turkey river district in Iowa. Ours was the family to which Geo. Kingsley referred to as moving to Wisconsin after my father's death."

No one knows who gave the county its name; this, like certain other things concerning the earliest history of the county, has apparently never been recorded. At an old settlers' meeting held in Decorah, July 4, 1876, Mr. A. K. Bailey delivered an address in which it was strongly intimated that this might have been the work of Hon. Eliphalet Price. Alexander accepted this as good enough history and gives it as such in his history of the county. However, Mr. A. K. Bailey corrects this by a later article* (*From a paper prepared by A. K. Bailey, for deposit in the corner stone of the new Court House, and republished in the "Illustrated Historical Atlas of Winneshiek County," Sec. II, pg. 3.) in which he states: "The very recent discovery that the county was named legally [February 27, 1847], and its boundaries described, more than four years before the organizing act [1851] was passed (which has until now [1903] been considered as the beginning of county existence), makes this credit to Mr. Price improbable."

YOUNG WINNESHIEK, or WINNESHIEK the YOUNGER, so-called in history, was a younger brother of old chief Winneshiek, or Coming Thunder. It is stated* (*Wisconsin Historical Collections, 2, - 331.) that he was a son of the old chief, but this is an error and does not refer to his son Little Winneshiek who says, "Young Winneshiek was named Ah-hoo-sheeb-gah, or Short Wing, by his fellow tribesmen; he was a younger brother of my father and did not participate in the Sauk and Fox war [1832]." It is said* (*Wisconsin Historical Collections, 2, - 331.) that during the so-called Winnebago war, in 1827, Young Winneshiek was held as a hostage by Colonel Dodge for the good behavior of the tribe. This statement is made by several historians* (*Fulton, Gue, and Sabin; the latter two, it seems, have taken their accounts from Fulton. They were probably under wrong impressions in reference to "Young Winneshiek" as their statements (according to Historical data) seem to apply to more than one person.) in which connection they also mention him as taking part in the Black Hawk war, 1832; Mr. Clay's narrative refers to chief Winneshiek, an older brother of Young Winneshiek. Little Winneshiek's statement (as given above) confirms Mr. Clay's narration. It is stated in Alexander's history that Winneshiek was a noted orator. Obviously, this refers to Young Winneshiek, for in the Report of the Indian agent for 1840* (*Wisconsin Historical collections.), there is a speech made by Young Winneshiek, in which he refers to himself as "a boy," protesting against the removal to Iowa. Kingsley testifies that old chief Winneshiek (Coming Thunder) was "no orator."

Antoine Grignon says, "Young Winneshiek was a bright young man. He died rather young, at Black River Falls, Wis." When the Winnebagoes were being removed from Blue Earth, the chiefs Decorah and Winneshiek (evidently One-eyed Decorah and Young Winnshiek) fled with their families and other members of the tribe to Wisconsin. Young Winneshiek had a village on the Black River and died there in May, 1887.


(meaning, Striking Tree and Younger Winneshiek) is the youngest son of Chief Winneshiek, or Coming Thunder. He is seventy years old and is still living in Wisconsin. He is more commonly known as Little Winneshiek. No-gin-kah says, "John Winneshiek and I are the only sons of Chief Winneshiek living and his other descendants produced by our deceased brothers and sisters diverge into a very large family." He further states that, "The medals issued to Winnebago chiefs by the United States Government are lost, the one described by Geo. W. Kingsley was lost by one of my elder brothers. I have only one medal in my possession, on which is engraved King George the 3d and Latin inscriptions [this medal, (with the exception of a slight variation in size) conforms to a description of the one issued by the British military authorities in 1778]."

John Winneshiek's Indian name is Ko-sho-gi-woy-ka, meaning "One that goes low;" he is seventy-eight years old.