The Origin of Big Canoe's Name

J. O. Lewis
Wajᵋxetega, Big Canoe, 1825

Chah-post-ka-ka, called the Buzzard Decorah, was the second son of "Glory of the Morning." He was at LaCrosse in 1787 with his band when he was killed there. His two sons were called Big Canoe or One Eyed Decorah, and Wakun-ha-ga or Snake Skin, known as Waukon Decorah. The Winnebagoes explain the origin of Big Canoe's name by the following story:

(228) One time when the Winnebagoes were encamped on the shores of a great lake or bay, a French party visited them and asked for assistance in fighting the English. A large number of warriors responded and were transported across the water in large boats. On their arrival at their destination, they saw a large encampment of soldiers, which the Indians were informed were British prisoners. The next evening a body of English troops appeared (229) in sight and, not knowing that their comrades were prisoners, they came to re-inforce them. Hearing of the surrender, the English dropped anchor, and as it was already dark, laid off for the night. About midnight, Big Canoe with four companions suddenly snuck up to the boat in their canoes. Boarding the troop ship, the English believed they constituted a large surprise party and surrendered to them.

The red coats were taken in charge by the French, who bestowed upon the Big Canoe an officer's uniform and other tokens of their appreciation of his services. From this event, the Chieftain was given his name, Watch-hat-ta-kaw, meaning Big Canoe.1

Commentary."Chah-post-ka-ka" — this is for Cap’ósgaga, "White Breast," a clan name from the Thunderbird Clan.

"Wakun-ha-ga"this is for Wakąhaga, which does literally mean "Snake Skin." Waukon (Waką[ga]) means "Snake."

"a great lake or bay" — this is an oblique way of referring to Green Bay and Red Banks, the traditional place of Hocąk origins, in particular.

"Watch-hat-ta-ka" — for Wajᵋxetega (< Wac-xete-ga). The word wac means basically, "boat," so that wac-xete means fundamentally, "big boat." Was he called Wac-xete because he captured a big boat of English soldiers, or was it because he attacked this objective using a big boat? The former seems more likely.

Links: -.

Stories: mentioning Big Canoe (One-Eyed Decorah): Yellow Thunder and the Lore of Lost Canyon; mentioning Cap’ósgaga: The Fox-Hocąk War, Big Thunder Teaches Cap’ósgaga the Warpath, The Osage Massacre; about famous Hocąk warriors and warleaders: How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, The Masaxe War (Hogimasąga), Wazųka, Great Walker's Warpath (Great Walker), Great Walker's Medicine (Great Walker, Smoke Walker, Dog Head, Small Snake), Šųgepaga (Dog Head), The Warbundle Maker (Dog Head), Black Otter's Warpath (Dog Head, Black Otter), The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara (Smoke Walker, Dog Head, Small Snake), Big Thunder Teaches Cap’ósgaga the Warpath (Big Thunder, Cap’ósgaga), The Osage Massacre (Big Thunder, Cap’ósgaga), The Fox-Hocąk War (Cap’ósgaga), White Thunder's Warpath, Four Legs, The Man who Fought against Forty (Mącosepka), Yellow Thunder and the Lore of Lost Canyon, The Hills of La Crosse (Yellow Thunder), The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Fighting Retreat, Mitchell Red Cloud, jr. Wins the Medal of Honor (Mitchell Red Cloud, jr.), How Jarrot Got His Name, Jerrot's Temperance Pledge — A Poem, Jarrot's Aborted Raid, Jarrot and His Friends Saved from Starvation, They Owe a Bullet (Pawnee Shooter); about the (post-Columbian) history of the Hocągara: The Cosmic Ages of the Hocągara, The Hocągara Migrate South, The Annihilation of the Hocągara I, Annihilation of the Hocągara II, First Contact, The Glory of the Morning, The First Fox and Sauk War, The Fox-Hocąk War, The Masaxe War, The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, Black Otter's Warpath, Great Walker's Medicine, Great Walker's Warpath, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, The Spanish Fight, The Man who Fought against Forty, Jarrot's Aborted Raid, They Owe a Bullet, Origin of the Name "Milwaukee," A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Origin of the Hocąk Name for "Chicago"; mentioning the Decorah family: Origin of the Decorahs, The Glory of the Morning, The Tavern Visit, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, The Hocągara Contest the Giants.


1 quoted from Norton William Jipson, Story of the Winnebagoes (Chicago: The Chicago Historical Society, 1923) 228-229. This is an unpublished typescript.