O T H E R  R E G I O N S











P H I L A D E L P H I A:

L I P P I N C O T T,  G R A M B O,  A N D  C O.

1 8 5 4.

Mary Henderson Eastman

Seth Eastman
Plate III. Winnebago Wigwams

W I N N E B A G O  W I G W A M S


(19) The picture shows the exterior of the wigwams of the Winnebagoes. The mode of construction has been described in another place, where the interior of the lodge has been displayed; it is simply this; young trees are bent over, in a conical form, and a sort of bower made, that is covered with bark. The winter houses are covered with skins. When bands or families remove, they only take the covering of their lodges, leaving the framework standing. The lodges have generally two doors, and are without windows. The men assist their wives in erecting them; but this is not in accordance with their ancient custom.

There is but a small remnant existing of the once powerful tribe of Winnebagoes. At one time they occupied a large extent of territory. By constant murders and depredations, they became troublesome neighbors to the people of the United States. They number now about 2,500. Their country is bounded by the Crow-Wing, Watab, Long Prairie, and Mississippi Rivers.

Their traditions say that the first Winnebago was created on the west shore of Lake Michigan. They call themselves O-chun-ga-raw, but have other names, by which they are known to different tribes.

Great efforts have been made, on the part of our government, to civilize them. Much money has been expended, and many years have been devoted by valuable and excellent men to that purpose. Yet they retain the usual devotion observed in the Indians to their early customs and faith, and especially to a wandering mode of life.

One of their principal men showed a desire to be educated, and to live as the white men near him. To encourage this feeling, the missionaries built him a house, small but comfortable, in all respects like their own. This was a compliment most gratifying to the Winnebago, and he, with his (20) family, took possession of it with great satisfaction. Shortly after, the missionaries visited them in their new domicil. The floor had been taken up, the fire was burning in the middle of the house, and a hole had been cut in the roof, though there was already a chimney there. Better for them was the wigwam of bark, than a white man's house.

The Winnebagoes show great reverence for family importance, and respect is paid to the members of any family held in such reverence. Poor and degraded as they now are, they cling to certain old prejudices, and to none more than that which awards to families a consequence peculiar to them. The family of the Walking Turtle is one of the most important in the tribe. Such names indicate the totem, or mark the family to which the Indian belongs. We may fear family pride comes as near to a virtue as any quality the poor fallen Winnebagoes may possess; for all efforts have failed to make them other than a degraded, wretched people. “The Great Spirit,” said a Winnebago, “has made the Indian red, and soap and water cannot make him white.” “I have given my life away — it is gone,” said another warrior, when he gave himself up to the United States authorities for having committed a murder. Many things might be repeated that mark the intellectual force of that people; for, in their better days their men were equally noted for strength of mind, and felicity of thought. There is now little to call forth interest in the remnant of their tribe. Their day is drawing to a close.

Very rarely have women been admitted to councils, among the Indians, and when this has occurred, it was probably owing to the possession of a remarkable talent, or by an unusual concurrence of events. Yet once the tribe of Winnebagoes were governed by a queen who sat in council attended by women. In those early times their villages were populous; the furs of the bear and moose then hung about their dwellings, and adorned the persons of their warriors. Now, the traveler only observes poverty and degradation — the consequence of intoxicating drinks, to which these Indians are slaves.

They have lost much of the warlike reputation they possessed in their more prosperous times. They have great confidence in dreams, and perform long fasts to induce them. The warrior who, in a battle, takes the first scalp, is rewarded handsomely by his people. When on a war excursion, each Indian carries, in a bag made of rushes, a root of some plant. He (21) chews the root, and swallows the juice, to make him brave; anointing his body with it, to protect him from injury. Many such superstitions influence them.

The war chief commands in battle, assigns to each warrior his post, and has complete control over the war party. He determines the fate of any prisoners that may be taken. These are carried to the village, and their captors lead them to the lodge of the war chief. If he bid them enter, they must die; if he close the door against them, their lives are given to them, and they are considered members of the tribe. Before going into battle, the Winnebagoes paint their bodies with vermilion, and with white; daubing them with clay, to appear as frightful as possible, when facing the enemy, and ringing their war whoop in defiance.

They bury their dead in the ground sometimes in a sitting posture, but generally lying down. Always the face must look towards the west, for there is “the happy land.” When death approaches, the Winnebago is calm in its prospect. The friends, as soon as the soul has gone, dress the body in new clothing, and put it in a coffin, after the manner of the whites, or, as formerly, in wrappings of bark. Sometimes the dead are placed on scaffolds.

They dance solemnly around the grave. For four nights after death, fires are kindled that the soul may be lighted in its path to its final home. All grass and herbs are swept away from the grave, that the bad spirits that desire to approach it, may have nothing to which they may cling. Over the grave is placed a covering of wood or bark, and near it a post is set up, having on it hieroglyphics.

The Winnebagoes show the strongest regard for family ties. Orphans are never neglected; the nearest relative receives them kindly, and maintains them. The aged are always cared for. The chiefs consider the unfortunate members of their bands as having just claims upon their consideration. They are very expert in the construction of canoes, making them of logs, in such a manner that they are strong and durable. Much pains is taken to finish them handsomely. Before they had metallic vessels for cooking, they used wooden ones. They put water in them, and then heating a number of stones very hot, dropped them in. As these cooled, they were replaced by others from the fire. They have no regular time for meals. Some of (22) them have taken a little interest in farming, and show a desire to attain some knowledge of mechanics, as applied to the ordinary purposes of life.

Wild rice and many wild berries grow plentifully in their country. Maple sugar is made in large quantities. They have the artichoke and the wild potato.

They are very fond of dress. Red is the favorite color of the young people, green of the aged. To show their office, the chiefs wear medals, presented by the President. In winter, they all prefer white blankets; in summer, the young people paint theirs with gaudy colors, and in strange devices. The men wear handsome headdresses of eagle feathers; both sexes delight in the adorning of their persons with such ornaments as they can procure from the traders.

As usual with Indians, the men like to have their faces perfectly smooth, eradicating the beard. They wear their hair short, except one long braid from the crown, that is tied at the end with ribbon. The women wear a quantity of beads and ribbon in the hair.

The Great Spirit made the first Winnebago of a piece of his own body, near his heart. The first woman he made was the earth, the mother of the Red men. He gave them the right of their country. Their wise men talk of that great event, the overflowing of the earth with water. They declare mournfully, that before they knew the English and French, they knew not sorrow; for, that they brought them spirituous liquors, and many diseases. The old people delight in talking of this, their golden age.

The Winnebagoes have many gods. They reverence, and will never kill the rattlesnake, believing a spirit dwells within it that will, if angered, bring a terrible punishment.

The wise men say the earth is flat; the sun going from east to west during the day, hides himself under the earth at night, and passes thus to the east by morning. They believe the sun is a body of fire, much smaller than the earth. They have names for some of the stars, and they pronounce the Aurora a bad spirit, anxious to bring death upon them. The milky way is the path of the dead. The rainbow and meteors excite their superstitious fears.

Their doctors are artful and wicked. They demand large fees, that must be paid in advance of what they do; but they practise vigorously when they have secured a good bargain. They sing and dance, and sacrifice dogs. (23) They fasten snakes and toads to sticks, and place them near the bed of the patient to scare away evil spirits. They fast while using charms and incantations, in the exercise of their office. They are utterly ignorant of any science, as applied to disease; but bleed and give vapor-baths, and drum and sing, rattling the magic gourd for a cold, a fever, or an accident. Simple medicines are given, made from roots, or the bark of trees.

Indians have great faith in the practice of bleeding; they fancy this remedy extremely. In health, they often submit to it. Their doctor opens the vein with a piece of sharp flint, if he have no better instrument, and leaves the patient to stop the bleeding when he chooses. They cup with the use of a flint, and the horn of an ox or buffalo. It is curious to observe to what simple expedients those resort, who are ignorant of the resources afforded by a knowledge of science and of art.

Commentary. "their country" — this is the territory assigned to them briefly in Minnesota. Publius Lawson give an account of this short episode in the wanderings of the nation:

In 1853, a new treaty was made, by which they were allowed to remove to the Crow river. This treaty was not ratified because of the remonstrance of the people of Minnesota (U. M., 188). On February 27, 1855, they ceded their Long Prairie reservation and were granted a tract of land eighteen miles square on the Blue Earth river, just south of Mankato, in southern Minnesota (19, B. E., 804). They settled here in the spring of that year and immediately began the erection of dwellings and improvement of the land. The teacher of the reservation school reported in 1860 the enrollment of 118 pupils. In the midst of their prosperity, in June, 1862, came the "Sioux massacre," which completely wrecked their future prospects. Although they took no part in that affair, and even though they offered to the government their services in punishing the Sioux, the frightened inhabitants of Minnesota demanded their removal (U. M., 138).1

"O-chun-ga-raw" — this is for Hočągara, which means, "Great Voice." For a full discussion of this name, see Introduction.


"totem" — this is not completely inaccurate, although it is at least an oversimplification. Clan names are given which reflect the nature and deeds of the "totem" animal or supernatural being (Thunderbirds and Waterspirits). "Walking Turtle" is Keramąnįga, whose Thunderbird Clan name was Nąga, "Tree," a reference to the fact that Thunderbirds so frequently strike trees with their lightning weapon. The name Keramąnįga is a name he won out of respect for his performance in battle. Kera means, "the Turtle," a reference to the Spirit of War; and mąnį means, "he walks" (with -ga being a definite article used almost exclusively in personal names).

"queen" — this refers to Glory  of the Morning (Hąboguwįga), whom Carver encountered in his western explorations in 1766.2 She is something of an anomaly, and her exact powers are hard to determine. See, Glory of the Morning, and Carver's Travels.

"the first scalp" — technically, it is the first one to touch (honąk) the body of a slain enemy who achieves the first war honor. However, it is like this person who also is able to obtain the scalp and in older times, the whole head. See the more extensive discussion in the Glossary ("war honors").

"lighted" — on account of this aspect of the rite, the Four Nights' Wake is called by the Hočągara, the "Ghost Lighting" (Wanáǧi-Hatažáhira).3

Hocking Brothers
Hočąk Graves, Waupaca, 1911

"a covering of wood or bark" — this forms a wąǧ-homįk or "ghost house" over the grave.

"a post" — the "hieroglyphics" with which the post is decorated consists of depictions of the exploits of the veterans who attended the wake.

"green" — usually it is blue, however, the Hočąk word here is čo, which denotes a color in the spectrum running from green through blue.

Sculpture from Cahokia

"one long braid" — this is known as a "horn" (he). The Hočąk "culture hero," Redhorn, takes his name from such a "horn." The Mississippian figure above is thought to be an early form of Redhorn from Cahokia with this style of hair, the braid hanging over his left shoulder.

"the overflowing of the earth with water" — no counterpart to the myth of Noah's Flood has yet been encountered in the corpus of Hočąk mythology.

"cup" — the practice of bleeding and of cupping are no doubt medical practices borrowed from the whites. It was based on the humoral theory in which it was considered efficacious to remove excessive sanguineous humors to restore the balance among the four types of humors. There were two forms of cupping, called "wet cupping" and "dry cupping." The former involved making an incision on the area to be cupped so that the device would literally draw out blood; in the latter, the object was to cause a blister, which represented the displacement of the blood to a desired innocuous site. In recent times, when glass cups were used, the standard procedure was that

... both the site and the cup were warmed in water. Cups were then placed on the skin with one edge raised approximately one and a half inches. It was usually the lighted torch that was then placed under the center of the glass for two seconds and then quickly withdrawn to create a vacuum. The vacuum created would also pull the glass away from the operator’s fingers. The skin then rose slowly into the glass, occupying one-third of the volume. The glass was left on for a minute then removed ...4

The use of horns in the place of cups receives support from Schoolcraft who describes the use of cupping among the Hočągara:

They frequently cup a patient for headache, and other local pains. The operation is performed by scarifying with a flint, knife, or lancet, and applying the tip of the horn of the ox or buffalo; a vacuum is next produced by the operator applying his mouth to the small end of the horn, and exhausting the air; the operation is thus performed as efficaciously as by the use of cupping-glasses.5

Notes to the Commentary

1 Publius V. Lawson, "The Winnebago Tribe," Wisconsin Archeologist, 6, #3 (July, 1907) 78-162 [114].
2 Captain Jonathan Carver, Travels through the Interior Parts of North-America, in the Years 1766, 1767, and 1768 (Dublin: Printed for S. Price, 1779) 30-33.
3 The same is said in Paul Radin, The Culture of the Winnebago: As Defined by Themselves, Special Publications of the Bollingen Foundation, #1: 58, nt. 6.
4 Gunwant Sandhu, "Bleeding Out the Evil Spirits," in Proceedings of the 13th Annual History of Medicine Days, March 19-20, 2004. Ed. W. A. Whitelaw (Calgary: Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary, 2004) 270-275 [273].
5 Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Information Respecting the History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States, 4 vols. (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Company, 1856) 4:242-243.


Mary Henderson Eastman, Chicóra: And Other Regions of the Conquerors and the Conquered (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Company, 1854).