Brawl in Omro

Richard J. Harney

(114) Among the Indian scrimmages, which the Doctor participated in, was one which threatened serious consequences.

Captain William Powell had a trading post near the present site of Omro; and in the summer of 1844, the Winnebagoes were encamped, two hundred strong under old Yellow Thunder, at the outlet of Rush Lake. Yellow Thunder's boy, with eleven other young bucks, came down to Powell's to rob him of his whiskey and have a spree. There happened to be at Powell's shanty, at the time, three other whites: Jed Smalley, Leb Dickinson and Charles Carron, a Menominee half-breed. They resisted the attempt of the Winnebago bucks to get the whiskey, and a general fight ensued; but both whites and Indians, well knowing the consequences of using any deadly weapon, confined themselves to their fists and clubs. Just as the struggle was at its full height, and after Captain Powell had his right arm broken, but was still using his club with his left, Doctor Linde, who happened to come on a visit, appeared on the scene. The combatants were so engaged that neither party observed the accession to the force of the whites. The Doctor quickly comprehending the situation, and the necessity of prompt action, as the whites were getting the worst of it, threw down his pack, cocked both barrels of his rifle and laid it down on his pack, and went into the scrimmage with his tomahawk. He first struck Yellow Thunder's boy; the Indian turning his head as he received the blow, the tomahawk peeled the skin entirely across the forehead. He fell senseless, when Linde struck another Indian. The fight now proceeded so vigorously that the Doctor had no time for observation, until a cessation of hostilities revealed to the sight twelve Indians hors du combat. Things now looked more serious than ever, for if one Indian was killed the band at Rush Lake would seek revenge in an attempt to kill the whole party; whereas, if no life was lost, it would only be looked on as deserved punishment, and the whites entitled to the highest respect for their victory over such superior numbers.

Measures of safety now had to be taken until it was ascertained whether any of the Indians were killed. Charley Carron was, therefore, sent out to a point, about a mile distant on the trail to Rush Lake with orders to shoot any Indians that were en route for Powell's. Then the party of whites proceeded to pack their goods into their canoes and get everything ready for a sudden start, for if one Indian out of the lot did not recover, they must, with all dispatch, get out of the Winnebago country into the Lower Fox region and down to Green Bay. If all proved well, Carron was to be notified with a signal of two shots.

Powell's arm was next dressed and set, and then the Indians were attended to, most of them getting upon their feet, having received no serious injury. The wounds of some had to be dressed, but one by one they came out all right: that is, alive; a broken arm or a badly gashed head was no very serious matter. So the young bucks very gratefully partook of the hospitalities, including a little whiskey, which concluded the ceremonies of the occasion; only regretting that their plan for getting on a big drunk had miscarried, and laughing at the affair as a bad joke on themselves. Old Yellow Thunder laughed at the discomfiture of the Indians, who, when they returned, sadder, but wiser Indians, had to own up that the good joke of stealing Powell's whiskey, though well conceived, had materially failed in its practical execution.1


Captain William Powell (1810-1885)

"Captain William Powell" — the son of Lieutenant Peter Powell, an English officer in the militia under the British in the War of 1812. After the war, he engaged in the Indian trade with the Menomini in particular, setting up a post on Big Butte des Morts Lake about 5 miles west of Algoma. His son William inherited this land when his father died in 1838.2 The younger Powell was fluent in Menomini and was frequently used as an interpreter.3 Along with Omro, a French trader, Smalley and Carron, he opened a temporary or "jack-knife" trading post in what is now Omro in order to conduct business with the Menomini.4 When the Black Hawk War broke out in 1832, Powell was made a Lieutenant in a Menomini militia.5 Apparently, he later rose to the rank of Captain. Richard Harney gives this brief sketch of William Powell: "Another early settler was Peter Powell. He built a place on the shore of the lake in 1832. His son, Captain William Powell, who lived with him at that time, acted a conspicuous part in the early day, and was very popular with both the white settlers and the Indians. He was noted for his fine address and pleasing, genial ways, and for being one of the dryest jokers in the country."6 As a pioneer, he was involved in many "firsts" in Winnebago County. He was conspicuous in the first trial in that county. "The first court was held on the 12th of November 1839. James Knaggs, vs. Francis Le Roy. — George Wright, Esq., Justice of the Peace. Capt. Wm. Powell appeared as attorney for the defendant Mr. Knaggs, in person. The necessary refreshments were kept in a jug behind a tree; the witness fees were deposited in the same apartment. Capt. Powell was triumphant in his defence; the laurels whereof are in full bloom upon his brow up to the present hour [1856]."7 One of the earliest marriages to take place in the town of Black Wolf was between the captain and Ann Howlett.8  He was a member of the Catholic Church.9

Bird's Eye-View of Omro, 1870

"Omro" — a town on the Fox River located at 44.037837, -88.744123.

Yellow Thunder
Late in Life
  Yellow Thunder's 40
  The Yellow Thunder and
Washington Woman Monument

"Yellow Thunder" — the proper form of the name is Wakąjaziga, "Yellow Thunderbird," although the shortened name stuck in English. It is a Thunderbird Clan name. Moses Pauquette adds, "He was a fine looking Indian, tall, straight, and stately, but had an over weening love for fire-water, — his only vice.."10 Jipson gives a sketch of him:

This chieftain ... lived on the Fox River about five miles below Berlin at the Yellow Banks. He was said to have been a man of great responsibility among his people and an able counselor to all their public affairs. In company with his wife, who was a daughter of White Crow, and later called the 'Washington Woman,' he made a visit with several numbers of his tribe to New York and Washington in 1828. He signed the treaty of 1829. In 1837, in company with several young men, he was persuaded to visit Washington and induced to sign the treaty made in that year. But he found that the terms of the treaty compelled him to go west of the Mississippi, he declared he would not go. But in 1840, in company with Black Wolf, he was invited into Fort Winnebago ostensibly to hold a council. When the gates were shut on them they were seized and conveyed beyond the Mississippi.

But Yellow Thunder soon returned, and visiting the land office at Mineral Point, he asked if Indians would be permitted to enter land. In receiving an affirmative answer, he entered forty acres on the west bank of the Wisconsin River. He is said to have built two log huts, and to have cultivated five acres of this land, raising corn, beans and potatoes. During his feasts about 1500 Indians usually gathered in his vicinity. In 1840, he was said to have had a summer village sixteen miles up the river from Portage.

He sold his land before his death which occurred in 1874. It is said that when he paid his taxes he placed in his pouch a kernel of corn for every dollar paid, and when he sold his land he demanded a dollar for every kernel. As he had been a devout Catholic his funeral services were conducted according to the rites of that church. He was buried near his homestead and near the grave of the Washington Woman and several other members of his family.11

Yellow Thunder's forty acres has been precisely located in the SW ¼ of the SE ¼ of Section 36 of Delton Township (T 13N, R 06E) in Sauk County.12 The center of this property is located at 43.555933, -89.725647. After his death, it was purchased by John Bennett, whose land is shown in Section 36 of the 1909 plat map of Delton Township. Yellow Thunder and his wife were reburied 1.2 miles down the road from their homestead, where a monument marks their graves. This monument is located at 43.538273, -89.718491 (NW ¼ of NW ¼ of Section 7, Westford Township, Richland County).13

Vacation Idea
Rush Lake

"Rush Lake" — Brown locates the village with some precision: "Winnebago village located about the present outlet of Rush Lake, near the center of Sec. 13. Village continued up to 1846. Cemetery on the David Lewellyn place on the south side of the highway and near the Outlet bridge."14 Lawson says, "OUTLET VILLAGE SITE. — Up to as late as the year 1846 there was according to Hon. James G. Pickett, a Winnebago village numbering from one to two hundred Indians, located about the present outlet of Rush lake near the center of section 13, of this town. The cemetery belonging thereto was located on the farm of Mr David Lewellyn on the south side of the present highway and about 40 rods east of the outlet bridge."15 See the 1887 Sectional Map of the Rush Lake area. The creek that runs through the village area still bears its Hocąk name, "Waukau Creek," from Waką́ Nįšą́nąk, "Snake Creek." According to Powell, this village was under the authority of the elder and famous Nąga Keramąnįga in 1830 and for sometime before.16

"Jed[ediah H.] Smalley" — he ran a trading post in Omro before it was settled as a village. The site of the village was then known as "Smalley's Landing." He was among a group of traders who set up temporary or "jackknife" posts as early as 1836.17 A visitor reported that in 1845 he stopped at Smalley's place and obtained a meal of "the only solids available," a dish of peas.18 In 1846 he was the tax collector for Winnebago County.19 In that same year he was a defense attorney in the first case tried at that frontier outpost.20 In 1847 and 1856 he was made Clerk of the Court, and later became a judge.21

"Charley Carron" — Along with Capt. Powell, Charles Omro, and Jed Smalley, Charles Carron set up a trading post in what is now Omro. His standing as half Menominee gave him some advantage in trading with that tribe.22

Webster & Walker
Dr. Christian Linde

"Doctor Linde" — Christian Linde, afterward a prominent physician of Oshkosh, and the first doctor in Winnebago County, was born in Denmark in 1817, and graduated with a medical degree from University of Copenhagen in 1834. In 1842 he immigrated to America with his brother Carl and purchased 280 acres of land from Colonel Charles Fuller along Lake Winnebago where the Northern State Hospital was later built. There they erected a log cabin for their home.23 This parcel of land can be seen in Section 31 of the 1889 Oshkosh Township plat map where the "State Hospital" is indicated. In 1843 he married Sarah Dickenson, daughter of Clark Dickenson. In 1844 his brother and partner died on the lake. In 1846 he moved to Green Bay, but returned in 1847. That same year he sold his land to Lucas Miller and built a house and office on Main Street in Oshkosh. In 1849 Sarah died and in 1850 Dr. Linde moved with his son Fred to Fond du Lac where he entered the fur trade. In 1852 he married Sarah Davis who later died in child birth. In 1853 he went into partnership with Lucas Miller, Nelson Davis, and Caleb Hunter and laid out the town of Mukwa on the Wolf River. In 1858 he married Huldah Henning. Ca. 1860 he opened an office in Oshkosh, where later (1872) his son Fred joined his practice. In 1874 Hulda died, followed in 1881 by his son Fred. Dr. Christian Linde himself passed away November 24, 1887 at his residence at the corner of Washington street and Linde avenue.24

Links: ...

Stories: mentioning whiskey (fire water): Little Fox and the Ghost, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, Turtle and the Merchant, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Chief Wave Tries to Take the Whiskey, Chief Wave and the Big Drunk, Sodom and Gomorrah; mentioning drunkeness: The Drunkard's Self-Reflections, Chief Wave and the Big Drunk, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Chief Wave Tries to Take the Whiskey, Jerrot's Temperance Pledge — A Poem, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, Version 1, Little Fox and the Ghost, Version 1, Migistéga's Death, Version 1, The Spanish Fight, Snowshoe Strings; mentioning the Big Knives (white Americans): The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, The Scalping Knife of Wakąšucka, Little Priest's Game, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, A Prophecy, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, The First Fox and Sauk War, The Cosmic Ages of the Hocągara, Turtle and the Merchant, The Hocągara Migrate South, Neenah, Run for Your Life, The Glory of the Morning, First Contact, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Migistéga’s Magic, Yellow Thunder and the Lore of Lost Canyon, Mighty Thunder, The Beginning of the Winnebago; mentioning traders: Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Migistéga’s Magic, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Turtle and the Merchant, How Jarrot Got His Name, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, The Tavern Visit, Origin of the Hocąk Name for "Chicago"; mentioning Yellow Thunder: Yellow Thunder and the Lore of Lost Canyon, The Hills of La Crosse.

Themes: Hocąk men try to steal whiskey from a trader, but are driven off: Chief Wave Tries to Take the Whiskey.


1 Richard J. Harney, History of Winnebago County, Wisconsin, and Early History of the Northwest (Oshkosh: Allen and Hicks, 1880) 97. A redacted version of this story was published in, An Early Settler, "Early History of Omro," The Omro Herald, November 30, 1939: 11-12. Reprinted in Mariam J. Smith, The History of Omro [Wisconsin] (Omro: Omro Public Library, 1976) 40.
2 Publius V. Lawson, History of Winnebago County, Wisconsin: Its Cities, Towns, Resources, People (Chicago: C.F. Cooper and Co., 1908) 1:169.
3 Reuben Gold Thwaites, "Report on the Picture Gallery," Wisconsin Historical Collections, IV (1859/1906): 80-115 [103]. See Boyd's letter certifying the appointment of William Powell as interpreter in 1832: "Papers of Indian Agent Boyd — 1832," Wisconsin Historical Collections, XII (1892): 266-298 [293].
4 Lawson, History of Winnebago County, 1:318-319. See the license granted to him for fur trade at Butte des Morts: "Papers of Indian Agent Boyd — 1832," 295.
5 Augustin Grignon, "Seventy-two Years' Recollections of Wisconsin," Wisconsin Historical Collections, 3 (1857): 197-295 [294]. See Boyd's listing of Powell as 2nd Lieutenant and Interpreter: "Papers of Indian Agent Boyd — 1832," 279, 281.
6 Harney, History of Winnebago County, 114. Cf. the similar remarks by Lawson, History of Winnebago County, 1:169.
7 Martin Mitchel and Joseph H. Osborn, Geographical and Statistical History of the County of Winnebago (Oshkosh: Mitchel & Smith, 1856) 66.
8 Harney, History of Winnebago County, 286a.
9 "Documents Relating to the Catholic Church in Green Bay, and the Mission at Little Chute, 1825-40," Wisconsin Historical Collections, XIV (1898): 162-205 [174, 195].
10 Moses Pauquette, "The Wisconsin Winnebago," Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, XII (1892): 399-433 [431]. Thwaites, Notes to Wau-Bun, Caxton Club Edition (1901), 404 nt. 50.
11 Norton William Jipson, Story of the Winnebagoes (Chicago: The Chicago Historical Society, 1923 [unpublished]), 252.
12 A. B. Stout, "The Archeology of Eastern Sauk County, Wisconsin Archeologist," 5, #2 (Jan.-April, 1906): 227-288 [239]. Publius V. Lawson, History of Winnebago County, Wisconsin (Chicago: C. F. Cooper & Co., 1908) 1:68-69.
13 Find a Grave > Chief Yellow Thunder. Viewed 26 April 2018.
14 C. E. Brown, "A Record of Wisconsin Antiquities," Wisconsin Archeologist, 5, ##3-4 (April-Oct., 1906): 416.
15 Publius V. Lawson, "Summary of the Archeology of Winnebago County, Wisconsin," Wisconsin Archeologist, 2, ##2-3 (Jan.-April, 1903): 78.
16  William Powell, "William Powell's Recollections, In an Interview with Lyman C. Draper," Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin for 1912, 3-178 [152-153].
17 Harney, History of Winnebago County, 295a; Lawson, History of Winnebago County, 1:315, 1:318-319.
18  Harney, History of Winnebago County, 111.
19 Harney, History of Winnebago County, 250.
20 Harney, History of Winnebago County, 255.
21 Harney, History of Winnebago County, 126, 234.
22 Lawson, History of Winnebago County, 1:315, 1:318-319.
23 Lawson, History of Winnebago County, 1:324, Harney, History of Winnebago County, 234.
24 Publius V. Lawson, History of Winnebago County, 1:213. Oshkosh Public Museum, Personal Record.